Today marks 20 years since the release of the iconic WWF No Mercy on Nintendo 64. The culmination of a series of WWF and WCW games from the THQ/AKI combo, No Mercy was as good a wrestling title as you’ll ever find. And while it’s never been re-released for multiple reasons, its legacy is as strong as ever in 2020.
But what if No Mercy hadn’t marked the peak of its generation within the virtual sports entertainment genre? What if it had merely been the stepping stone for an even greater release, one that corrected the very few faults that No Mercy had and introduced new features to dazzle wrestling fans? Believe it or not, it almost happened.
The Nintendo 64 console was discontinued in 2001 due to the release of the GameCube. Before that, though, THQ and AKI had already begun working on its next N64 offering, WWF Backlash. Supposedly, as details are sketchy, the game was around 20% complete before the project was pulled. Anytime that a game is cancelled during development, it’s a shame, but for it to happen to No Mercy’s successor? Are you kidding me? There’s a realistic chance that we missed out on what would have probably been the greatest wrestling game of all-time.
How do I know that? Because the devs had a quality standard which wouldn’t have been compromised. Unlike modern WWE 2K titles, these people had pride and wanted to give fans the absolute best product possible. It’s sad that it never happened, though, and it’s also disappointing that we don’t even know what the game would have offered.
But I can take an educated guess. In this article, I’m going to explain what I think WWF Backlash would have included, and also what it may have avoided. Of course, we’ll never know for sure, but here is one person’s take on why WWF Backlash may be the greatest wrestling game that was never made.
Let’s set the stage by reminding ourselves that this game would have likely released in November 2001, coinciding with WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It on PlayStation 2. That title actually had a streamlined roster compared to SmackDown! 2 Know Your Role, though there are two factors to probably explain this. One is the jump from PS1 to PS2, which meant that some character models weren’t completed in time. The other concerns the WCW/ECW connection, which I’ll come back to shortly.
It’s easier to begin with those who wouldn’t have made the grade. Chyna, Road Dogg, The Kat, British Bulldog, Viscera and Grandmaster Sexay had left the WWF, while Shawn Michaels was in the bad books, making his appearance very unlikely (though not impossible). The storylines involving Gerald Brisco, Pat Patterson, Paul Bearer, Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young had ended, while Jerry Lawler was also out of the company for a while. Big Boss Man, D’Lo Brown, Val Venis, Mark Henry, Bull Buchanan, Essa Rios and The Godfather were off TV by autumn 2001 (though most would resurface). I’ll assume that Ken Shamrock wouldn’t have had another surprise cameo, and I’ll also assume that there was no room to have Howard Finkel, Earl Hebner or one of The Godfather’s Ho’s as bonus characters (especially if Godfather himself wasn’t included).
That sounds like a lot of upheaval, but we’re about to discuss those who would have debuted in the game. William Regal, Raven, Molly Holly, Jerry Lynn, Rhyno, Spike Dudley and Tajiri all appeared in SmackDown! Just Bring It, making their inclusions here very likely. Haku, K-Kwik and Justin Credible also showed up in WWF Raw on Xbox, so they’d have appeared as well. I’ll also guess that Fred Durst would have appeared so that The Undertaker could have his Limp Bizkit theme song Rollin’ in the game (that was why he showed up on both Just Bring It and Raw). Also, Big Show would have returned after his OVW-related absence from No Mercy. So far, so good, but now we come to the big issue: the WCW/ECW Alliance.
In March 2001, the WWF purchased WCW. By the summer of 2001, both the WCW and ECW brands were on WWF television, along with many wrestlers who previously worked for those companies. Now, Just Bring It controversially avoided featuring any of these performers, which greatly reduced the game’s value. But due to the faster turnaround for building characters on an N64 title, I doubt Backlash would have made the same mistake. And so I would anticipate almost the entire Alliance crew to show up on this game. That would mean Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Billy Kidman, Chris Kanyon, Gregory Helms (whose Hurricane transformation might have been too late for the developers), Lance Storm, Mike Awesome, Shawn Stasiak, Sean O Haire, Chuck Palumbo, Chavo Guerrero, Hugh Morrus, Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson. Not forgetting Paul Heyman, who could have been a playable character just like Jim Ross. I won’t include Kronik, since they probably arrived (and left) too late in the development stage, nor Buff Bagwell, who was already out the door before WCW and ECW joined forces on-screen. Jazz would have arrived in the company right as the game was released, preventing her involvement.
Finally, we come to legends. Andre The Giant appeared in No Mercy as a nice surprise, and I anticipate that he would have been back again. I also feel that The Undertaker might have had a retro character, a basic combination of his Phenom attires from own the years. Then, we come to the Gimmick Battle Royal participants from WrestleMania X-Seven earlier in the year. There’s no way all of them would have been included, but I feel that Sgt Slaughter, The Bushwhackers and Doink all would have snuck in, since Sarge was a true company legend, and the other three personas are fun for a giggle.
Honestly, due to some high-profile departures and/or demotions, the WWF Backlash roster probably relies on the Alliance involvement. Without the WCW/ECW guys and girls, Backlash’s roster is a step down from that of No Mercy. But I’m confident that the game would have included The Alliance (or at least the key members like Booker, DDP and RVD), meaning that WWF Backlash would have just about provided a stronger crew than No Mercy.
Therefore, the final roster for WWF Backlash would have been: Andre The Giant, Al Snow, Albert, Big Show, Billy Gunn, Billy Kidman, Booker T, Bradshaw, Bubba Ray Dudley, Bushwhacker Butch, Bushwhacker Luke, Cactus Jack, Chavo Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Chris Kanyon, Christian, Chuck Palumbo, Crash, Diamond Dallas Page, Doink, Dude Love (who I’m throwing in for the sake of completing the full Mick Foley “set”), D-Von Dudley, Dean Malenko, Debra, Eddie Guerrero, Edge, Faarooq, Fred Durst, Funaki, Gregory Helms, Haku, Hardcore Holly, Hugh Morrus, Ivory, Jacqueline, Jeff Hardy, Jerry Lynn, Jim Ross, Justin Credible, Kane, K-Kwik, Kurt Angle, Lance Storm, Linda McMahon, Lita, Mankind, Matt Hardy, Michael Cole, Mick Foley, Mike Awesome, Molly Holly, Paul Heyman, Perry Saturn, Raven, Rhyno, Rikishi, Rob Van Dam, Scotty Too Hotty, Sean O’Haire, Sgt Slaughter, Shane McMahon, Shawn Stasiak, Spike Dudley, Stacy Keibler, Stephanie McMahon, Steve Austin, Steve Blackman, Steven Richards, Tajiri, Taka Michinoku, Tazz, Terri Runnels, Test, The Rock, Tommy Dreamer, Tori, Torrie Wilson, Triple H, Trish Stratus, The Undertaker, The Undertaker (Retro), Vince McMahon, William Regal and X-Pac. There’s 85 characters to provide a real upgrade on the No Mercy line-up, making this a truly awesome roster. This lives and dies based on The Alliance, though.
The Match Types
As great as No Mercy was, it was definitely lacking in major match types compared to its friendly rival over on PS1. Know Your Role included many more stip bouts, as well as additional formats for regular stipulations. And Just Bring It would take this further with extra match options and the ability to have up to eight characters in the ring. I definitely don’t think Backlash would have been able to equal the SmackDown! series in this regard, nor do I believe that it could have allowed more than four grapplers in the ring at one time due to the limitations of the N64 hardware.
However, I do believe it would have included a few major stipulation matches that were absent from No Mercy. Hell In A Cell would be the most attractive, because the thought of a No Mercy-style match on top of that huge structure sounds extremely exciting. TLC, meanwhile, would also have been a true car wreck to play out, even if I feel the N64 console might have struggled to deliver the fast-paced thrills and spills that the stipulation demands. And Table would have rounded things off with a brawl that was very popular back in 2001. Lastly, I also think that I Quit would have snuck in, albeit as a more brutal Submission match. Ditto for Ultimate Submission, as this would be a basic tweak of the Iron Man rules.
So, the full set of match types for WWF Backlash would have been: Exhibition (the usual single, tag, three-way, four-way and handicap options), Steel Cage, First Blood, Hardcore, Hell In A Cell, I Quit, Iron Man, King Of The Ring, Last Man Standing, Royal Rumble, Special Guest Referee, Steel Cage, Table, TLC and Ultimate Submission. By 2001 standards, this would have been truly awesome, even if there still would have been more choice over on the Sony platforms.
To me, an exciting element of No Mercy was how several PPV arenas were included that weren’t part of the “Big Five”. No Mercy itself, Backlash and Armageddon were all featured, and this was a novelty back in 2000. For the 2001 release, I envision that WWF Backlash would have completed the full set. So, No Way Out, Judgment Day and Unforgiven all would have made their first appearances, along with a return for Heat. As for the July PPV, I feel that Invasion would have been a late inclusion rather than Fully Loaded.
Therefore, the full set of arenas for WWF Backlash would have been: Raw Is War (mid-2001), SmackDown (mid-2001; not the giant fist set, which may have been a stretch so late in the development stage), Heat (mid-2001), Royal Rumble 2001, No Way Out 2001, WrestleMania X-Seven, Backlash 2001, Judgment Day 2001, King Of The Ring 2001, Invasion 2001, SummerSlam 2000l, Unforgiven 2000, No Mercy 2000, Survivor Series 2000 and Armageddon 2000. Had the N64 life cycle continued through to 2002 and beyond, the UK-exclusive PPV events Rebellion and InsurreXtion would have likely showed up at that point.
The Backstage Areas
No Mercy gave us five backstage areas: a corridor (which was very effective, by the way), a locker room, a parking lot, a boiler room and my personal favourite, a bar. Each area was uniquely designed (the pool table in the bar was just awesome), and bear in mind that this was the first N64 title to offer backstage brawling, meaning that this was a huge step forward from THQ and AKI. So, how could Backlash improve on this?
Well, we were never going to have the number or scale of areas seen in the SmackDown! titles. However, I would definitely expect a new design to each of the aforementioned rooms, with a larger corridor allowing to access for more rooms. That would definitely include an office for Vince McMahon and co., a second locker room with the APA’s office, the interview stand (remember the old-school mesh fence on Raw?) and possibly a restaurant, since we already had a bar. I would have loved to have seen one final door lead us to WWF New York, the company’s entertainment complex during that era, and an area that we did see in SmackDown! games. Assuming that we got these areas, the backstage experience on Backlash would have been truly spectacular, at least by 2001 standards.
Now, No Mercy’s greatest strength was its gameplay, providing a perfect combination of being easy to learn yet difficult to master, all while being both fun and realistic. Therefore, and with the N64’s lifespan almost at its end, I doubt the actual wrestling engine would have been altered, except for two things. Firstly, I envision that the action would have been sped up ever-so-slightly so that it didn’t look too slow compared with the gameplay in the SmackDown! series. And secondly I feel that the finisher situation would have been modified. So, instead of having a limited “special” window, each time a player reached that point, they would store a finishing move to use at their disposal. Therefore, rather than having to cram in three finishers within 30 seconds (or, worse yet, spending 5 minutes building momentum only to miss their opportunity), they could wait until the most opportune moment to hit their signature moves. Otherwise, though, expect the same gameplay from No Mercy to have been used in Backlash, which is hardly a bad thing, right?
It’s hard to say how THQ and AKI could have provided revolutionary graphical upgrades for WWF Backlash, given that the hardware was already being pushed to its 64-bit limits by No Mercy. Lighting probably could have been touched up to make for brighter venues amidst the gorgeous colour hues in arenas and backstage settings. And the devs might have tried to make the most of face-scan technology as far as the N64 console could have allowed them. Otherwise, though, visually the game wouldn’t have looked too dissimilar from No Mercy, aside from brand new on-screen HUDs and a fresh menu for match selections, the creation suite etc.
This is an interesting one. Anyone who plays WrestleMania 2000 or No Mercy knows that the theme songs were provided in mono form, making them sound a bit, well, different. Yet WWF Attitude from Acclaim proves that stereo music could be featured in an N64 game. My personal feeling is that Backlash would have trodden down the same path as previous THQ titles, with its theme music in mono form. However, I would suggest the potential for them to provide clear-quality theme music for players who had an expansion pak for their console. That could have also opened the door for commentary by Jim Ross and Paul Heyman, even if their announcing work would have likely consisted of mere soundbytes whenever a finisher was executed (this was the early 2000s, remember). Might this have also allowed for ring announcements by Howard Finkel or Lilian Garcia? And I feel that anyone who had a licensed theme song at the time would have seen it included, such as Rollin’ by Limp Bizkit, The Game by Motörhead and Glass Shatters by Disturbed.
The Major Modes
This is the most intriguing part of the whole game in my opinion. The Championship mode was very warmly-received for No Mercy, mainly because of the branching story arcs. So, rather than simply trying to win every match (which you could do), to actually complete every single story path available would require you to lose the occasional bout, and at specific stages too. It was a novel concept that ensured the mode would have tremendous replay value.
I feel the same formula would have been utilised in WWF Backlash, but with a twist. I mentioned earlier about how all 12 PPV arenas would be in the game. And so I feel that the game would have one Season mode covering an entire annum in the Federation, from the post-WrestleMania episode of Raw to Mania itself. Crucially, though, the branching story arc formula would remain. So, each month you could embark on a new path depending on your title hunt, your team status, your friends and foes and so on. Want to win the Hardcore Title via the 24/7 rule? You can. Want to sneak your way into the Triple H/Stephanie McMahon relationship, as Kurt Angle attempted to? You can. Want to emulate Shawn Michaels by winning the Royal Rumble match from the #1 spot? You can.
Remember that voiceovers weren’t used for single-player modes during this era, so the idea of there being so many distinct story paths with multiple endings isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound in 2020. I would love to say that a variation of the ongoing Invasion storyline would make it into the game, but I feel that would only have been a possibility if this game was released in spring 2002, meaning it wouldn’t have materialised.
I should also mention that I would fully expect Survival to return. This time, the larger roster would mean that each character would only have to appear once for the most part, since you’d only need 15 cases of double-duty to reach the magical 100 figure. I would say, though, that a clearer on-screen breakdown of how to earn specific levels of cash for Survival progression (based on time in the ring, eliminations by pinfall etc) would have made this version even better than the original.
The Creation Suite
As far as Create A Wrestler is concerned, I would expect the game to make a minor upgrade towards 20 main slots; since four characters can sit within each slot, that makes 80 potential original newbies. Create A PPV would likely remain the same, but I’m wondering if THQ and AKI would have pushed the boat out to give us Create An Arena, even if it was on a minor scale (like simply choosing from the aisles and arenas already in the game, with the option to change the colours of ring ropes, posts etc). If so, that would make for a big improvement on the creation suite within No Mercy.
The SmackDown Mall would likely remain as the hub to purchase additional content, and if anything, it would likely grow in size. I would definitely expect the aforementioned legends to be available here, along with the Heat arena and also some unique props used on WWF television in late 2000/early 2001. Golf carts, anyone?
In this area of the game, the question is whether WCW championships would be included or not. I’m going to say “no” simply because getting the Alliance crew in at all would have been an achievement, so it would simply be the standard seven WWF titles of the era available to defend and capture in the exhibition mode. Sorry.
Other random predictions that I’ll mention in one batch here would be: I would expect no issues with blood and/or cartridge memory for this game (No Mercy originally shipped with a bug that wiped away game memory, with replacement cartridges removing the blood option; it’s a testament to how awesome No Mercy was that few hold this serious problem against it); we definitely would have been to choose customised fan signs for each wrestler in the manner of Just Bring It; fan audio itself would have been refined a bit with some authentic chants making it into the game (and to ensure a less cartoonish feel); weapons would have been accessible from under the ring rather than in the crowd, with new weapons like Moppy likely coming into the game; turnbuckles would have been removable; the opening video would have been updated and still been totally awesome; we would have finally seen The Rock remove his damn elbow pad for the People’s Elbow; and entrances would have actually played out in full (though the tron videos likely would have remained pixelated as hell).
The more I read this back, the more I regret that we never got to play this. At the very least, WWF Backlash would have maintained the No Mercy standards, but there are so many ways that the game could have improved upon No Mercy. I wouldn’t have expected a complete overhaul of the gameplay or graphics, especially given the N64 being on the verge of extinction. But overall, it’s a real shame that this project never came to fruition. There’s no doubt in my mind that had it been produced and released, we’d be talking about WWF Backlash as the greatest wrestling videogame of all-time.