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Virtual Madness: Lucha Libre’s gaming history

Despite pro wrestling video games being a part of the industry for over 30 years, there haven’t been a lot of lucha libre-centric games out there. The high flying nature of the wrestling and its vibrant masks are perfect for a gaming audience. But when it comes to officially-licensed fare, the industry is almost completely barren outside of including individual wrestlers and a single AAA game.

However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story, as those individual wrestlers who have wound up as legends and trailblazers have also been featured in a number of games. Lucha libre’s has also bled into mainstream fighting games and wrestling/fighting game offshoots, as well.

Long before WrestleFest was a twinkle in the eye of Technos Japan, they crafted Mat Mania for arcades. This game was loaded to the brim with legally-questionable cameos, but was noteworthy for being one of the first appearances of a lucha-themed wrestler in a North American game: “The Pirania” took a few cues from Mil Mascaras, alongside a shark-themed mask. Instead of graceful dives and flying cross chops like Mascaras, the Pirania’s offense includes backdrops, head-biting, and choking alongside a flurry of head-grabbing punches. He’s strictly rudo and has no desire to play by the rules. While this fits into the good vs. evil dynamic of an arcade game well, it’s a bit disappointing to see such an early representation of a lucha-styled wrestler so lacking in aerial attacks.

Mat Mania

Still, for a 1985 release, it is impressive to see Mil Mascaras’ international fame pay off in being referenced in a video game this early on in the medium’s life. Before Mat Mania, all fans of masked wrestlers had to work with were the Strong Bads. This grouping featured one Road Warrior-style character and another in a mask, but it’s more of a Super Strong Machine mask than a lucha mask. Technos crafted both games and without Tag Team Wrestling, there wouldn’t be Mat Mania. This also makes these games the predecessors to the late-’80s WWF Superstars and early ’90s WrestleFest arcade games that have held up quite nicely over the decades.

Capcom’s usage of pro wrestling may have begun with Zangief in Street Fighter II, but it has since risen to include a surprisingly robust roster over time thanks to not only Final Fight featuring Mike Haggar, but also the Saturday Night Slam Masters series. With the first game being a mix of a pro wrestling game with fighting game button combinations and the second being a fighting game in a pro wrestling ring, they each offered different experiences, the first being that it offers the best wrestling-style experience. The lone Mexican wrestler in its cast is El Stingray, who is an undersized high-flyer who resembles Rey Mysterio Jr. a bit in terms of his in-ring size while his attire is straight-up Lizmark Sr.

Saturday Night Slam Masters

In a game that in many ways feels like it’s far ahead of its time, with the ability to use an array of weapons, including bottles, steel cases, tables, and chairs, it also features a fairly diverse roster. Having a small-in-stature wrestler like Stingray battle the massive Titanic Tim does feel like a David vs. Goliath affair when you factor in that Tim has some anti-air attacks to counter those flying at him. However, Stingray also flies off the ropes and over them with a smaller stature than anyone, making him slightly harder to hit.

Capcom kept up with their lucha love when El Fuerte joined the fray in 2008’s Street Fighter IV. His character art very much resembles what was used for El Stingray in Slam Masters, only he’s a lot thicker and more muscular, with a surprisingly power move-heavy arsenal, using suplexes, power bombs, and musclebusters to get an edge up close. From afar, his wall dives allow him to take foes out quickly while somersault kicks further showcase the agility that a luchador should be showing in video game form. Given the white and gold color scheme for his outfit and timing of the original SF IV release, it seems like his appearance was a mix of the original Mistico/Caristico’s gear and a touch of Sabu or Hayabusa with the gold waistband.

The Virtua Fighter series has been wrestling-centric thanks to both Wolf Hawkfield and Jeffrey, who beyond being wrestling-based characters in a game were later turned into roles for wrestlers to play in All Japan Pro Wrestling. This was done as a tie-in to the Japanese Sega Saturn and arcade game All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua, making this a rare example of life imitating art with a wrestler playing a gaming character role over a decade before TNA Wrestling brought the Suicide character from the game into a real-life on-and-off for 13 years.

Street Fighter IV

El Blaze is the first lucha-themed character in the long-running series, and has an aerial-centric style that does a lot of damage at great risk to him. Because his attacks have a long windup to them, they can be countered a bit easier than others, but his small frame does help him evade attacks fairly well. His dive and ‘rana-heavy move set feels natural for a luchador-themed roster member, and his attire definitely evokes Rey Jr. more so than most, again with a few cues from Caristico, which just goes to show how influential he was to the scene at that time.

The Yuke’s-produced New Japan Pro Wrestling series pioneered 3D wrestling games with Toukon Retsuden in 1995 and took them to a whole new level with its highly-polished sequel in 1996. The third entry in 1997 saw the doors opened up to freelance wrestlers outside of New Japan, which led to a rare implementation of a Mexican wrestler in a Japanese game with the inclusion of Dr. Wagner Jr. in Toukon Road 2 on the N64. Complete with a full intro and legally-clearable version of “Bad Medicine,” this version of Wagner feels pretty authentic and since the game excels at both in and out of ring action, it does a surprisingly good job at allowing you to recreate his more current brawling-heavy style as long as you get back in the ring by the end of the 20 count.

While Fire Pro Wrestling has long been a bastion of pro wrestling’s many styles, it took a long time for lucha libre to enter its rings. The second GBA entry, Final Fire Pro Wrestling (or the content-reduced version for North America, Fire Pro 2) featured lucha stars as did its second PS2 entry, Fire Pro Returns. In addition to paying homage to stars like Mil Mascaras and Juventud Guerrera, the Fire Pro games then added a creation suite that allowed players to fly over the ropes, off the ropes, or off the turnbuckles with a variety of attacks; the series gets more right than it gets wrong. The creation suite lets you make past and present icons of the industry and includes a ring with a logo resembling the Corona beer logo, making for some vintage thrills.

Fire Pro Returns

Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring is the lone officially-licensed lucha libre game to date. Fittingly, it features Dr. Wagner Jr on the cover, who was one of the luchadores to be featured in several games spread across different eras. With a roster that blends the then-current stars of 2010 alongside legends like Konnan and Vampiro, and stars of today that were on the rise like Psycho Clown, the game feels very accurate to the spirit of lucha libre.

There are rudo and tecníco-leaning referees, including the legendary Tirantés. A wide variety of arenas are also featured, like big arenas, bullrings, and run-down gyms, showing that it isn’t just glitz and glamor in pro wrestling.

Its gameplay isn’t the greatest, but it does feature items like light tubes that aren’t seen in most wrestling games on the market, plus it has some fantastic commentary. Moody Jack and Konnan offer commentary in both English and Spanish, and it’s amazing to hear Konnan bury AAA’s replacement Psicosis for not being as good as the original in a game featuring the replacement.

The game feels a lot like a slowed-down version of the TNA Impact game, but it does a fantastic job of getting across the history of lucha libre with its story mode showcasing clips of the ’60s and ’70s alongside playing up the more soap opera-ish manner that stories in lucha are told. It may not fully succeed as a game, but it does a top-shelf job at making the feeling of a Mexican wrestling show come alive in gaming form. Sadly, there hasn’t been a lucha game since then. With the surprise success of Lucha Underground in 2014 and 2015, it would have been a great license to use for a game.

The setting of the Temple was tailor-made for gaming stunts, and its stacked roster represented a moment in time where you could build up a top-shelf roster of world-class talent that’s based all over the world with stars of the past, present and future with folks like Rey Fenix, Johnny Mundo, Vampiro, and Dr. Wagner Jr. featured alongside Angelico and his insane dives and the best use of trios teams in an American company yet. With MLW bringing in Azteca Underground as a spiritual successor, maybe we’ll see that get some kind of video game representation – even if it isn’t in an MLW-only game. An existing project like The Wrestling Code with MLW stars would be just fine and give that project even more credibility when it comes to licensing talent.

Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring

With AAA’s legal issues regarding which entity called AAA owns what part of the company and in which part of the world, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a new AAA game any time soon. Hopefully, we do get some kind of lucha-themed game down the line as it’s a type of wrestling that is both hugely influential, but also quite under-represented when it comes to the gaming industry. The Fire Pro Wrestling series has probably done the most justice to it over the years with its regular inclusion of lucha stars in an unofficial capacity, and Fire Pro World’s creation suite helps ensure that that all stars from across the world can be replicated in the game. It would be great for that to happen, and for the talent to possibly receive residuals for it.

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