It’s the bread and butter of professional wrestling — a strictly mandatory part of any performer’s arsenal. It’s one of only a few genuinely indispensable in-ring skills, alongside running the ropes and learning to land on your back without shattering every bone in your spinal column. The humble, workmanlike, ubiquitous body slam is a tool of unparalleled versatility. It can function as a transition move; it can set up more powerful follow-up strikes or mat-based submission shenanigans; it can be employed defensively, granting momentary respite to the babyface struggling against a monster heel’s onslaught.
Consequently, you’d expect video games to make every effort to simplify executing this truly essential offensive option. Running the ropes, after all, usually comes with a dedicated a button. Landing in (relative) safety is automatic. When it comes to the humble body slam, though, you’d be wrong!
For reasons as obscure as the Wyatt Family history, wrestling games really, really love complicating what should be the simplest maneuver available. Some do it mildly (in recent 2K games it’s usually a two-button affair). Some do it moderately (WWE No Mercy requires two buttons and a direction). Then we have these… There are seven wrestling games that aren’t just awkward. They make it an absolute, unbearable pain to perform a simple body slam.
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Tag Team Wrestling (1983, Arcade)
The first wrestling game ever made is noteworthy for several reasons. For one, it inspired the widely beloved cartoon character (and Telltale Games adventure protagonist) Strong Bad. The sampled referee count also hits a higher note than Tony Chimel introducing Edge in one of the Rated R Superstar’s surprise returns. Then there’s the unconventional control scheme, whereby you choose your offense from a rollover menu.
After locking up with your opponent, each press of a selection button shifts between different strikes and throws. Meanwhile, a second button executes the highlighted move. Sometimes. The body slam is the sixth choice in the sequence — tucked snugly between a dropkick and something called “The Rabbit Killer”— but a three-second limit to choose means you’re most likely to wildly mash and hope you land on something harmful.
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: four minutes. Although, given the frantic mechanics involved, my ability to consistently repeat the feat was severely limited.
Rock‘n Wrestle (1985, Commodore 64)
This is it. This is the pinnacle of video game wrestling complexity. Beam Software’s Rock‘n Wrestle extracted astounding depth from the simplest of hardware.
In order to perform any of its numerous attacks you had to press the fire button (yes, C64 controllers had just the one), push the stick towards your opponent to extend your arms, then (button still pressed) move in the opposite direction to draw them into a headlock. Keeping your (surely sore by now) thumb on the button for another couple of seconds lifts your opponent, at which point your stick direction determines the type of throw inflicted upon their soon-to-be-broken bodies: left for an airplane spin, neutral for a piledriver, etc. The only problem is, while I was clearly promised a body slam in the promotional material, it’s impossible to actually execute one. The game doesn’t actually include the move.
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: Not only did I have to peek, it turns out there is no body slam in the game. After following directions to perform the move advertised as such, my character executed a gorilla press slam instead. Serves me right for trusting an Australian studio’s knowledge of pro wrestling.
Kinnikuman: Dirty Challenger (1992, SNES)
One of numerous adaptations of the Yudetamago classic manga series, Kinnikuman: Dirty Challenger, weirdly plays out on a single 2D plane. It also features a bland selection of awkwardly executed moves. As such, it was unsurprisingly met with almost universal derision upon release.
The finger magic required to perform a body slam is reminiscent of a Street Fighter IV Ultra Combo. After the two wrestlers and/or superheroes automatically lock up, you need to push away from your opponent, then down, then up, and finally shortly follow up with a press of the B button for a poorly animated rendition of the move.
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: 13 minutes. It wasn’t easy finding the right combination. Admittedly I did spend roughly half that time trying to capture this evocative snapshot of Kinnikuman having an intimate moment with himself as a crowd of thousands cheered.
WWF Super Wrestlemania (1992, Sega Genesis)
As with most licensed output from defunct developer Acclaim in the 90s, this game featured different wrestlers between the Genesis and SNES version. It’s a Pokémon–like split that, unfortunately, necessitated owning both 16-bit consoles if you wanted to body slam ’em all. For some peculiar reason, only the Sega game is features signature moves (and the Ultimate Warrior).
The control scheme, which became known as the “tug-of-war” system, is similarly crude in both versions. You lock arms by pressing A, then start mashing on another button. Assuming that button is B and your mashing skills are faster than your opponent’s (who will be doing the same action to reverse you), their character will suffer the damaging effects of a body slam. At the same time, your gamepad will suffer the damaging effects of rather senseless mashing.
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: five minutes.
Hammerlock Wrestling (1994, SNES)
The problems in this unlicensed entry with impeccably named characters (Mondo Fundi vs. Spud Marmoset, anyone?) lie not so much with the complexity of the controls as with an overwhelming, needlessly busy screen that short circuits your ability to move, strike, or even grasp a basic idea of what’s going on in the ring.
Only a narrow strip of the screen (about a third of it) represents the actual action. Sections above and below are reserved for close-ups of the characters grunting and scowling for your ceaseless enjoyment. Worse, when either wrestler manages to apply a hold, the perspective shifts, the action switching to the top third, while the main window at the bottom displays a “spectacular” pre-rendered animation of the move. Assuming you manage to not sprain your optic nerve following the action, mashing on the B button should do the trick.
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: three minutes. The ensuing headache lasted for no less than 30, however.
WWF Attitude (1999, Nintendo 64)
The console that hosted Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time also gave us what is still widely regarded as the greatest WWF/E licensed game of all time. I’m talking about No Mercy, and it is surely no coincidence a game so highly praised features a perfectly sensible body slam.
Would that WWF Attitude, published a year earlier, be nearly as accommodating. After several minutes of fruitless fiddling with inherently idiosyncratic N64 controls, I gave up and looked at the conveniently provided on-screen prompts. You grab your opponent by pressing the left C button and then, supposedly, need to move back and forth twice before pressing B. Only the move never worked… Usually it defaulted to either a punch or the similarly executed snapmare.
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: I failed executing even a single body slam with these fiddly, fussy controls — even after consulting the onscreen prompts.
Def Jam Vendetta (2003, PlayStation 2)
A left field favorite, this hip hop infused title is fondly remembered for its array of legendary rappers (DMX, Ludacris, and Ghostface Killah, among others) as playable characters, no-nonsense brawling, and intuitive combat controls. Not so much with the body slam, though.
You press the DualShock’s X button to engage with your opponent, but here’s the (pun inevitable) catch: You must only pinch at the input. Anything longer than momentary pressure and you activate a second, more powerful (not to mention more easily reversible) set of attacks. Once you’ve learned to time it right, you simply have to follow up with a second button press and a downward thrust on the right analogue stick.
At least you get some nice upgrades for your troubles. As your character gains levels, the vanilla version of the move (labeled Power from Above) transforms into a harder-hitting body slam (evocatively titled Ruff Stylin).
-Time it took to perform the move without consulting a guide: four minutes, all the while bobbing my head to Method Man’s “Bring the Pain.”