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Behind the Line: No Mercy is the best wrestling game ever

WhatCulture had a video of Simon Miller talking about the greatest wrestling game, which is obviously WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64. (Yes, WWF applies since they hadn’t changed the name yet)

While I agree with the conclusion, as an ABSURDLY MASSIVE fan of the game, I have to comment on this, even if it isn’t my normal kind of topic.

First of all, get the credit right. The developer was AKI Corporation, now known as Syn Sophia, not Yuke’s. Yuke’s have made the more recent WWE games. But that’s not what’s important. Let me start in on the great internet past time of complaining with some counterpoints to what Simon said.

Points raised by Simon

The game feels like a real wrestling match? Interesting statement, but it’s not because of any of the reasons Simon mentioned. If you’ve ever watched much All Japan Pro Wrestling, you’d see how much of an influence it had on AKI. The series started with Virtual Pro Wrestling, which was an AJPW game. The game looks, moves, and is paced like an AJPW match. Even when you get knocked off the apron and fly into the guardrails, the motion is modeled after the bump in AJPW. In America, people fall to the floor, rather than flying into the guardrail.

He talks about being able to let go of a pin. Perhaps No Mercy was an early adopter of this, but it’s not unique to the AKI games, so it shouldn’t make it the singular greatest. Similarly, he talks about targeting a body part. This has been in other wrestling games as well. Hit the legs to prep for a leg submission. Both of these were in Power Move Pro Wrestling. In fact there, rope breaks weren’t automatic. You had the 5 count before you were disqualified if you didn’t let go.

From that point, he talks about getting a quick submission because Kurt Angle is a submission bad-ass. Hate to burst your bubble, but I’ll bet that you have the quick match setting on. Quick submissions are way too common with that setting.

Now, let’s get to what truly makes WWF No Mercy and the other games in its series so special.

Simulating Wrestling

To really convey a feeling of wrestling, No Mercy is about managing momentum, not health. In fact, there is no health meter.

Damage accumulates, and enough on one body part makes the submission almost a sure thing, but that isn’t the deciding factor. What is important is “Spirit”. The more you are on offense, the higher your spirit is. The more damage you take, the lower your spirit goes. The higher your spirit, the better your chances that your moves will succeed, and the more likely you will counter a move from your opponent. Conversely, the lower your spirit, the lower your chances that your attacks will succeed, and less likely you can counter.

This would be the recipe for a cascading pile of suck if you ever started to fall behind, but there are several self balancing elements. If you are taking damage, the faster your spirit moves, both up and down. It will even get to the point where if you are hit with a weak attack, your spirit goes UP, or every wrench of a submission hold you apply adds to your spirit. So, the more damage you take, the more dangerous you become.

Additionally, there are grabs that cannot be countered ever. They don’t do much damage, in fact they are all the weakest moves in the game, but they will work to get your opponent off their feet.

Add to that the fact that offense isn’t the only way to affect spirit. Being outside of the ring will slowly drain spirit. Taunting also raises your spirit while draining your opponents. This means you can throw your opponent out of the ring and taunt to gain some ground.

It’s this managing of momentum, reflecting crowd support, that reflects the drama of a good pro wrestling match. Health isn’t really a thing, it’s really all about momentum, meaning stories organically develop during the match. Now that’s wrestling.


No Mercy had deceptively simple controls that, when you know them, are stunningly intuitive for the depth they offer. The basics are Strike, Grab, Block, and Dodge. You can block strikes, and dodge grabs. Strikes hit someone dodging, and grabs connect on someone blocking. Within that there is a lot of variation. For example I can count at least 17 different types of strikes and 39 grabs on standing opponents that depend on differences in position and command. This is all with only 4 buttons involved (strike, grab, run, and direction). And yet this isn’t confusing at all, because of the regularity of the controls.

If I were to compare No Mercy to any fighting game, it would have to be Smash Bros. That’s because every character has the same command list. All moves are done with the same inputs. The only changes are the particulars of strength, timing, hit boxes, and so forth. Also, some characters have some extra moves in certain situations, but those are mostly optional.

There are no confusing command sequences to input. Quick grab up B, strong grab down A, running weak strike, standing strong strike. All characters have these moves with the same command inputs. This is just like Smash Bros inputs. It’s the mixing of them that allows for great depth, and in the end means you have to play more toward your opponent, rather than to your characters advantages. Dramatic. Now that’s wrestling.

Esport potential

You’ll notice that when discussing Spirit, I mentioned “chances”, meaning there’s a randomness factor in this. This is true, and this is not something that’s desirable in esports. If a player can be penalized for a random number, then where is the skill? Core-A-Gaming speaks about this premise at length here:

I propose a counterpoint.  While there is a random element, you have to get through with skill first. With fast enough reflexes and enough skill, a player can defend all offense thrown at them in a 1 on 1 match. All strikes can be blocked, and all grabs can be avoided. It’s only if a player fails to defend themselves do they become subject to chance. Even then, though, they have agency to manipulate the odds by managing their spirit and the momentum of the match. This is like Poker, subject to a degree of luck, but you’re playing the players, not the cards your dealt.

Judge Greg and I have played No Mercy in local competitive leagues, and the drama is real. The pacing is tense for both players and audience. It is both sport and show. Now that’s wrestling.

No Mercy does have issues

All of that said, while No Mercy is the best wrestling game, there are still some design flaws.

  • Throwing someone out of the ring can’t be countered in any way, meaning there’s a lot of cheap spirit draining that can happen.
  • The hip toss is easy to counter, and while it’s a weak grab, when countered the opponent has you in a strong grab.
  • Certain submission holds are exceptionally difficult to escape. The irish whip sleeper can take a long time to get to the ropes because of body position.
  • It’s too easy to hit a finisher off of an irish whip. The player has to grab with a strong grab to hit the finisher, but with a weak grab, they can whip into the ropes and hit the finisher off the rebound.
  • Taunting gives a good meta game of spirit management, but it is exploitable. It can lead to a game of keep away while taunting as a form of indirect offense.
  • DQs can be a bit iffy. Throwing an item from outside the ring to the inside and hitting someone isn’t a DQ, but standing on the announce table and throwing it in and it hitting someone is. (Yes Greg, I still remember when that happened.)
  • Quick match setting goes way too far to shift the balance, as mentioned above with submissions.

These are all design issues that can be tweaked and improved upon. They reflect some balance issues, and some functionality oversights. It runs much more smoothly than WWE2K17, though. 2K17’s career mode has more potential by a wide margin, but it’s too opaque and grind-y. Climbing the ranks takes forever, and I don’t know why I keep losing feuds in 2K17. Even with over 15 years of progress, I’m more likely to play through a No Mercy career again before I get to the title in 2K17.

There is one thing that I would have really liked to see in No Mercy, and that’s a 5 count for a rope break before DQ like Power Move Pro. Also, Power Move Pro had better title music.

Ok, I’ve talked about wrestling twice in a row now. Something different next time, I promise.


Kynetyk is a veteran of the games industry.  Behind the Line is written to help improve understanding of what goes on in the game development process and the business behind it.  From “What’s taking this game so long to release”, to “why are there bugs”, to “Why is this free to play” or anything else, if there is a topic that you would like to see covered, please write in to or follow @kynetykknows

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