1996 came and went during a downtime for the World Wrestling Federation: Hulk Hogan was gone and making waves in rival promotion WCW, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had yet to prove himself as a franchise player, and Monday Night Raw was littered with superstars such as “Fake Razor Ramon,” evil hockey player “The Goon,” and guy-with-a-jockstrap-on-his-face “Aldo Montoya.” The Rock was getting heckled as smiling-dufus “Rocky Maivia,” Triple H was losing matches to “Freddie Joe Floyd,” and current World Champion Randy Orton was just starting high school. It was a scary time.
And yet, during this pro-wrestling depression, Acclaim saw fit to release one of the better pro-wrestling titles for the PSX/N64 generation of video games: WWF In Your House. I say “better” in the sense that it’s better than Acclaim’s other sports entertainment titles—it, like pretty much anything else in this specific genre, doesn’t hold a candle to THQ’s digital masterpieces.
There are three modes of play in WWF In Your House: WWF Season, in which you successively defeat a bunch of wrestlers; Intercontinental Championship, in which you successively defeat a bunch of wrestlers and then win the Intercontinental title; and WWF Championship, in which you successively defeat a bunch of wrestlers and then win the World title. Those people at Acclaim, they sure know how to mix variety into their fake sport concoctions! There’s also modes for 2-4 players, including battle royals and tag-team matches. It would have been nice to see a single-player battle royal mode, or even something zany like an exhibition mode, but I guess too much programming space was spent on having The Ultimate Warrior shoot bolts of lightning from his fingertips.
Speaking of The Ultimate Warrior, this game features ten superstars from the era in which it was released. And I’m not talking world-class jobbers like the Brooklyn Brawler, either—most of these characters are main-event level, or at least close to it. You’ve got “the bizarre one” Goldust, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, “The King of Harts” Owen Hart, “the blue blood” Hunter Hearst Helmsley, “the stinky elephant or whatever” Vader, and “I once had a feud over the letter ‘T'” Ahmed Johnson.
Each character comes with his own specially-designed arena, meaning that you never have to brawl in a drab wrestling venue. Shawn Michaels has us fighting at a rock concert, The British Bulldog has us fighting on the streets of London, and The Ultimate Warrior has us fighting in a Scottish field. You’re still fighting in a ring, mind you; it’s just that this ring is located in the center of, say, a house of cards. The ring is also often littered with various power-ups in the shape of the WWF logo, some of which can kill you, some of which can heal you. I bet if you tune into Smackdown! this Thursday night, you won’t be seeing Billy Kidman pick up a little toy and suddenly no longer be bleeding from the face. Only here, man. Only here.
The graphics in this game are actually a lot better than the ones in future Acclaim WWF titles; instead of the blocky, polygoned superstars of WWF Attitude, you’ve got digitized brawlers that look something akin to the bloodlust buddies of Mortal Kombat. I know, it seems weird that I’m saying Genesis-level graphics are superior to those of PlayStation, but trust me on this one. I’d rather see Bret Hart made up of pixels than Bret Hart made up of approximately four squares.
Unfortunately for the game’s audio, WWF In Your House features commentary, which almost never bodes well for any game ever. Your talking team for this game is Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect, though Perfect only chimes in about once for every ten or fifteen sentences that McMahon shouts out, and typically all he has to say is, “That was good, but it wasn’t perfect.” As you well know if you’ve played any game that features commentary, it gets repetitive and annoying, and unfortunately, there’s no way to shut it off outside of muting your television. Though it might not be that great if you could shut it off anyway, because the game features no background music, so you’d be kicking The Undertaker’s deceased derriere in total silence. The game also doesn’t feature any of the wrestlers’ entrance themes, unlike previous titles, which is something I’m saddened to not have. I remember I used to turn on WWF Royal Rumble for the Super Nintendo just to hear Shawn Michaels’ entrance theme ’cause it sounded so cool.
Despite all my complaints, I’ve actually had a lot of fun with this title. It controls a lot better than future Acclaim WWF titles, featuring a “pick-up-and-play” control scheme that doesn’t have you memorizing button combos just to get past the menu screen. It’s also a lot more creative than pretty much any wrestling title there is, with the power-ups, unique arenas, and various objects flying out of your body whenever you get punched. This game reminds me of a souped-up SNES wrestling title, which is a good thing. (Unless you’re talking about WWF Super WrestleMania, anyway.) It could certainly stand to have a few more modes of play, and maybe even a few more wrestlers (come ON, where are The Grimm Twins??!), but any wrestling fan out there should be able to have a good time with this title. Just don’t go into it expecting N64’s No Mercy.