Growing up, my friends and I were obsessed with Nintendo 64 wrestling games. That was all thanks to THQ, the AKI Corporation, and their AKI Engine. The AKI Engine made playing as your favorite on-screen personality simple yet refined, introducing a grappling system that allowed you to perform moves a heck of a lot easier than the Mortal Kombat-level button input-system other games used. Each wrestler had individual specials, taunts, and submission moves that reminded you of who they were supposed to represent, and lent itself to a variety of gameplay tactics depending on who you chose.
It premiered on the N64 with the release of WCW vs. nWo: World Tour in 1997 (aka Virtual Pro Wrestling 64 in Japan), and was then improved upon the next year with WCW/nWo Revenge, which included new wrestlers, animated entrances, weapons, and improved finishing moves. Alas, this would be the last game THQ and AKI would produce for WCW, as the WWF (now the WWE) swept in and grabbed the license out from under them, putting out WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and then WWF No Mercy, a game that is regarded to be one of the best, if not best, in the genre.
Wrestlers gained further frames of animation, making motion more fluid; a story mode was introduced; the create-a-wrestler became a full-fledged feature, instead of just a pallet swap; and you could even fight backstage and in ladder matches. Still, fans of WCW were left wanting, as the rest of its attempts to get back into the video game world (WCW: Mayhem and WCW: Backstage Assault) were...bad. Very, very bad.
Right around the time WCW disappeared and was absorbed into the ever-growing WWE, AKI stopped making dedicated wrestling games. Their last attempts were the Def Jam series, but even that ended after the Playstation 2, Gamecube and Xbox era. While AKI has not produced anything new officially, this didn't stop fans from wanting more. Enter the mod community, and WCW: Feel the Bang.
Developed by GenHex, OSR, and WLF of the Nextwave-64 community, WCW: Feel the Bang is essentially the sequel to Revenge we never got. Even better, it's free. Utilizing the No Mercy engine, and running on the Project64 emulator, it injects brand new textures, facial sculpts, entrances and finishing moves for over 50 wrestlers from throughout WCW's history, including "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Diamond Dallas Page, Sting and Ric Flair. There are even deeper cuts like Billy Kidman, Disco Inferno, Ron Simmins and Sub-Zero clone, Glacier. There are over 30 different stages to choose from, and gameplay modes that weren't in other iterations of N64 WCW games such as ladder matches and battling inside the steel cage.
One of the things that adds replay value to the game is Challenge mode, which you have to get through in order to unlock certain wrestlers. Want to play as Hogan? You have to defeat Hall and Nash on Hard in a handicap match. Feel like playing as La Parka? Hit your opponent 20 times with a steel chair on Expert mode. And yes, Eric Bischoff, the former head of WCW is a playable wrestler you can unlock if you take on the Imposter Sting in a steel cage. The creators of this mod really did their homework and pay homage to both the good and the bad, as you can even perform the dreaded "Finger Poke of Doom" that nearly ruined WCW's credibility as a company if you set up a match between Hogan and Nash.
While I did thoroughly enjoy the time travel experience Feel the Bang brings to the table, the game is far from a finished product. In the latest build (version 1.1), I ran into some weird bugs like teleporting out of the ring once or twice, glitchy camera angles, and Project64 running out of memory randomly. The game is also somewhat difficult to set up for beginners; I had to turn to a YouTube video just to make sure all my Project64 settings were right. And in order to listen to high quality music, you have to futz with a Hex Editor. I personally skipped the music step, since Nintendo 64 quality sound just adds to the personality of the game (I will note that not every wrestler has their personal music included at this time, but most do).
Still, if you want to imagine what life would have been like if WCW (and the N64) had stuck around just a bit longer, then WCW: Feel the Bang is calling your name. Not only is it free, but it's free fun. And please, let the rumors that AKI (now Syn Sophia) are working on an AEW game for current systems be true. Then we'll have officially come full (squared) circle.