Monday night marks the 1,000th episode of Raw, WWE's weekly flagship show. Since its inception in 1993, we've laughed at the antics of Degeneration X, cheered as Mick Foley won his first World Championship, watched with envy as Stone Cold beat up the boss and in embarrassment as a masked Triple H simulated sex with a corpse!
WWE video games date back even further, however, making their debut during the wrestling boom of the 1980s, and releasing with increasing regularity ever since. Mirroring the quality of Monday Night Raw itself, WWE video games have experienced countless highs and lows, scoring a victory with one release and a crushing defeat with the next. To celebrate the WWE's milestone broadcasting achievement, we take a look back at the history of its games.
Though largely forgotten, the title generally considered to be the first officially licensed WWE video game is MicroLeague Wrestling, which debuted 25 years ago in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Atari ST.
Bizarrely, MicroLeague Wrestling was a turn-based title, building up matches with a series of text-based interviews, before giving players access to a move list and some dodgy, albeit impressive at the time, video clips.
The first WWE wrestling game to adopt the now-standard one-on-one fighting formula came in 1989 with the launch of Rare's WWF Wrestlemania for the NES. The game featured about as much actual wrestling as a Divas Battle Royal, containing a move-set made up of a handful of strikes and slams, not to mention a top turnbuckle move for the likes of Macho Man Randy Savage.
By comparison, NES sequel WWF WrestleMania Challenge was far more complex, introducing a bigger roster, as well as tag-team and elimination matches.
In May 1989, Technos Japan Corporation's arcade title WWF Superstars would introduce another wrestling video game staple: the grapple. It could be used to set up additional slams, specials and Irish Whips, which in turn led to running moves and strikes.
It also featured flashier visuals than its console counterpart, with raucous crowds, pre-match interviews and much bulkier sprites.
Challengers Come and Go
Its sequel WWF Wrestlefest is perhaps the most loved release of this era. Launching in 1991, it was louder, more colourful, had an increased roster of 12 superstars, Royal Rumble matches and better overall presentation.
So beloved was WWF Wrestlefest, in fact, that it was actually remade for iOS devices earlier this year, with Android, PC, PSN and XBLA versions still to come.
As the likes of Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior went through challengers on-screen, early '90s wrestling games racked up their fair share of development studios.
Ocean Software released WWF WrestleMania for the Amiga, Amstrad, Commodore 64 and Atari ST in 1991, followed by sequel European Rampage Tour a year later.
Rare, meanwhile, would return to the squared circle to release WWF Superstars for the Game Boy.
With the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo involved in a video game feud to rival anything seen in the WWE - trading blows like competitors in an Iron Man match - publishers LJN and Acclaim Entertainment would bring stability to the WWE video game franchise, tag-teaming with developer Sculpted Software to release a string of largely enjoyable console games, such as Super Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, Rage in the Cage and Steel Cage Challenge.
Welcome to Monday Night Raw
With Monday Night Raw making its TV debut in 1993, it wasn't long before a video game tie-in was released. WWF Monday Night RAW was very similar to previous Sculpted Software releases, increasing the roster and adding moves such as the legendary DDT, not to mention new endurance-based game modes.
It would also mark the end of LJN's involvement with the franchise, with publishing duties switching solely to Acclaim for the following few years.
Perhaps symbolically, as wrestling's popularity began to fade, the video games started to suffer. With digitised graphics resembling Mortal Kombat and fast paced, over-the-top arcade action, WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game and WWF in Your House were certainly unique, but then so was wrestling flop Mantaur.
Despite the relatively flashy visuals, both games were poorly received, marking a less than impressive PSOne debut for the WWE.
After a lengthy break by video game standards, console wrestling would return in 1998 with WWF War Zone, the first 3D wrestling game and the second to feature the Monday Night Raw brand.
Though slightly clumsy and awkward by today's standards, WWF War Zone was a huge leap forward. The visuals were impressive and the commentary was great, despite some odd sound effects. It also featured genuine backstage interviews, not to mention dynamic camera angles and a deeper combat system. It was a fitting way to begin the Attitude Era.
War Zone released as the now infamous Attitude Era was taking off, a legendary period of time in which wrestling reached new heights of popularity thanks to the efforts of characters such as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind, The Undertaker and Triple H.
Following the release of WWF Attitude in 1999, a title very similar to WWF War Zone, Acclaim lost the WWE license to THQ, a publishing agreement it holds to this day. As WWE began to crush its rival WCW in the television ratings war, and with THQ at the helm of its virtual division, wrestling video games were about to enter their very own golden age.
Like a wrestler winning gold in their first match, the debut of WWF Smackdown in 2000 put developer Yuke's firmly on the map. Smackdown had a season mode, which was packed with storylines, backstage brawls and a whole manner of new game types.
Subsequent titles would become part of Sony's annual release schedule, each time adding more match types and wrestlers, and expanding the season mode.
Elsewhere, Dreamcast release Royal Rumble would enjoy a reasonable amount of success, while WWF WrestleMania 2000, which was the first THQ-published title, preceding Smackdown, would showcase AKI Corporation's talents with the WWE license.
In fact, it was AKI Corporation who would craft No Mercy, the title many consider to be the undisputed champion of wrestling games.
Much like the actual WWE, No Mercy featured branching storylines that changed depending on the outcome of matches, giving the game enormous replay value. It also contained one of the more extensive custom suites, featured more match types than ever before - including the Ladder match - and even more backstage brawling.
The Brand Split
THQ would release countless titles in the following years, such as WWF Betrayal and Road to Wrestlemania for Nintendo handhelds, a PC card game called WWE Authority and even a shoddy Twisted Metal clone by the name of WWE Crush Hour - proving, much like the doomed XFL American Football league, that WWE should stick to what it knows best.
Traditional wrestling games, meanwhile, would continue to be split among consoles. The Nintendo Gamecube welcomed sporadic Wrestlemania releases, as well as the underwhelming Day of Reckoning series.
The Xbox, on the other hand, had the unimpressive Raw games, while the PSOne and PS2 would continue to support the far superior Smackdown franchise.
Eventually, as the WWE split its roster into two, with half wrestling on Raw and the other half Smackdown, WWE video games began to gain focus.
WWE Smackdown became Smackdown Vs. Raw, and as the years went on and the current console generation got under way, these games would enjoy multi-format releases, eliminating the inconsistencies of the past.
The Smackdown Vs. Raw series made numerous innovations, including the analogue control scheme, which replaced traditional button commands, and the introduction of fighting styles, which placed far greater emphasis on a wrestler's size, strength, speed and agility.
Like the action on-screen, which had become PG-friendly and predictable, Yuke's wrestling series settled into a steady rhythm, playing it safe with each annual release, culminating with Smackdown Vs. Raw 2011.
Hall of Fame
Currently the WWE seems to have caught the retro bug, releasing iOS and digital ports of its Wrestlefest arcade game, as well as last year's over-the-top WWE All Stars, a follow-up of sorts to the inferior Legends of Wrestlemania, which also focused on superstars of the past.
Even WWE 12 took a step back, shaking things up by ditching the Smackdown Vs. Raw moniker, while replacing its analogue control scheme with a more traditional button-based gameplay style. It worked too, despite a few issues with the game's single-player storytelling.
Upcoming release WWE 13 also revisits the past, celebrating the Attitude Era's superstars and OMG moments. Expect beer trucks, ATVs, broken Spanish announcer tables, collapsed wrestling rings and even an appearance by Mike Tyson.
As for the future, with Raw about to air its 1,000th episode, WWE appears to be stronger than ever, marching forward with the momentum of a Royal Rumble winner with a guaranteed Wrestlemania title shot. And so long as Raw continues to captivate audiences, WWE video games will remain a part of the annual release schedule, and that's the bottom line because Digital Spy said so.