WCW Backstage Assault: the worst wrestling game ever made?

HONG KONG, CHINA - 2021/01/21: Japanese video gaming system brand by Sony Computer Entertainment, PlayStation, logo is seen at its official store in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2021/01/21: Japanese video gaming system brand by Sony Computer Entertainment, PlayStation, logo is seen at its official store in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

WCW was dead and buried in 2001, but before they went under they came out with WCW Backstage Assault. It is the last video game offering from the company and quite possibly the worst wrestling game ever made.

Everyone remembers WCW/NWO Revenge with fondness and appreciation. The game revolutionized wrestling gameplay. THQ’s offering on the Nintendo 64 was the saving grace for WCW’s video game license. After Electronic Arts got a hold of the license, WCW Mayhem and WCW Backstage Assault were the last two games to be made before Vinnie Mac bought out the company. While WCW Mayhem was passable as a game, WCW Backstage Assault is considered the cherry on top of the dumpster fire known as WCW branding.

You can’t blame them. WCW did not intend to make their only game for the PS1 or N64 in 2000. The idea was to make WCW Backstage Assault for the newly announced Playstation 2. Huge plans were made to give the game a full script, top-of-the-line graphics, a story mode, interactive areas, and innovative hardcore matches. WCW intended for Aki to produce the game (the same developers as Revenge). When it seemed like WCW was not going to survive to see the Playstation 2, the developers shot out an emergency game to the last generation consoles. Kodiak Interactive picked up the slack and this abomination was born.

How bad could it be since it was based on the WCW Mayhem engine, which was not horrible? So glad you asked. WCW Backstage Assault is based on the niche that some of WCW’s matches turn into backstage brawls. WCW Mayhem invented the idea that two wrestlers could leave the arena and start a fight somewhere else in the building. WCW Backstage Assault made the whole game around that concept. Wrestlers could move from the truck-loading docks to the locker rooms in one swift movement. There was no ring or audience in the game. The idea seemed cool even though WCW was not really known for hardcore brawls. The WWF and ECW were doing it better. In fact, Smackdown 2: Know Your Role came out for the Playstation after this game and featured both in-ring and outside matches.

The problem was that the graphics made wrestlers non-descript homogenous skin blobs, the gameplay felt wooden, the animations were vastly inferior to Smackdown, and they gutted out most of the match types. You could only have two people in an arena. The arenas were wide-open spaces that had a few crates or blocks a wrestler could jump off of.

The gameplay was tiresome and mostly inaccurate. Goldberg and Kevin Nash had a chokeslam that he could perform at any time. Fit Finlay could lay down tombstone piledrivers with ease. Sting’s finishing move was a sidewalk slam (that was the default finishing move for any wrestler who did not have one that could be performed face to face). Let’s not forget that hit detection was a mess. Booker T could jump off a truck onto Jeff Jarrett and miss him entirely. The whole idea of the game was to pummel your opponent until your momentum meter filled up so you could perform your finisher. Usually, the momentum meter would fill up so fast that you could perform your finisher several times before your wrestler was ready to be pinned.

Not going to lie. Being able to Irish whip your opponent into walls or set them on fire was fun, but the table mechanics were lacking. Your wrestler had to Irish whip the opponent into a table several times before it would break. When a table did break it would just shatter into particles.

WCW Backstage Assault was the first game to feature prominent female wrestlers at a WCW game. Asya, Torrie Wilson, Major Gunns, Ms. Hancock, Daffney, and Elizabeth were all present and accounted for. This was also the first game to feature Vampiro, Shane Helms, Crowbar, David Flair, and Sid Vicious. You could even play as Vince Russo. Since the move set on the wrestlers was limited a lot of them had similar move-sets.

Perhaps, the best use of talent was from Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Tony Schiavone who provided commentary. WCW was one of the first wrestling games to provide varied and reactive coverage of a match. Bobby was funny and Tony liked to freak out when someone used a weapon.

Other modes included a single-player campaign called Hardcore Challenge. Players could unlock new body parts when they completed the challenge mode so they could make their own wrestler. The CAW mode was better than Mayhem but still limited compared to what the Smackdown series was already doing.

When this game came out in 2000 the reviewers gave it unfavorable scores. Metacritic puts this game at 40%. Backyard Wrestling 1 and 2 for the Playstation 2 and Xbox tried to vie for the title of worst wrestling game but ended up scoring a 46% and 50%. The game was not all bad. Each wrestler had a video package of their Titantron and entrance music on the Playstation version. The N64 version of WCW Backstage Assault had to nix the videos because of hardware limitations, but reviewers scored the game slightly higher than the PS1 version.

Wrestling games that don’t feature rings usually stink. You can read my article about WWE’s failed Revenge Mode on Wrestlemania XIX.  I would love to see WCW Backstage Assault remastered and beefed up for the PS5 or Xbox X, but Vinnie Mac probably buried this game in the desert next to those Atari E.T. games.