WCW’s Backstage, All-Access Pass to Assault

We Love You Scott Steiner

Bring me the head of Cactus Cass! Hardcore art by @sproutsnout.

Well, the time has finally come for me to talk about professional wrestling on this website! It was inevitable, really: Not just because I’m a big wrestling fan, but also thanks to the rich history of bad wrestling video games. And where better to start than with what is widely considered to be the very worst game of the whole genre, centered around one of the worst wrestling promotions going in the year 2000? I’m speaking of none other than World Championship Wrestling, and the infamous WCW Backstage Assault.

I’m gonna be honest with you guys: I adore WCW, even at their absolute dirt worst. In fact, the periods of time considered to be the worst in their company history (the Jim Herd era of the late 80s, the Hulk Hogan era of the mid-90s, and the Vince Russo era of the early 00s) are some of my favorites in the history of the whole wrestling business. It’s unfortunate we never got a WCW game in the era of Arachnaman and Robocop run-ins, but Backstage Assault’s focus on the late Russo era of “worked shoot” booking** is as fine a substitute as any. We’ll be going into a bit of detail about what defined this period in WCW’s history, and how it impacted the game at hand.

It should be noted that the game review portion of this article is going to focus primarily on the original PlayStation version of the game rather than the Nintendo 64 conversion, as the PS1 release most likely outsold the N64 / is probably the more “definitive” version of the game. Outside of a lack of FMVs and slightly worse character animations on the cartridge though, the two versions of the game really are largely identical. So, with that out of the way, it’s time to hit the music and fire up the pyrotechnics: Cactus Cass is here to crush another crappy game! Does that make me sound cool? I might need to workshop this gimmick a little.

** For the non-wrestling fans who might be reading this article, I’m going to try and define some of the “insider terms” that get tossed around when discussing the business. A “work” is any action that a wrestler might take that is presented to the audience as legitimate, though in actuality it is all according to plan or storyline. By contrast, a “shoot” refers to actions taken by wrestlers that are legitimately not on the script, with wrestlers often going into business for themselves. Therefore, the combination of the two terms as “worked shoot” refers to moments in wrestling storyline that are presented as if the talent are “going off the script,” though in actuality these moments are still very much pre-planned. Wrestling writer / booker Vince Russo was infamous for his over-reliance on worked shoots and for “exposing the business” to those who still believed that wrestling was fully legitimate.

He’s Trying to Disrespect Big Al by Shaving his Beard

WCW had rose to prominence in the 90s on the backs of newly-hired ex-World Wrestling Federation superstars, such as Hulk Hogan and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Tossing them into the mix with WCW and the NWA’s** homegrown talent provided fans dream matches they had never previously imagined possible. The heel stable known as the nWo (New World Order) – whose introduction truly began to turn the company’s fortunes – was founded by more recent WWF defectors in Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in ‘96. These successful incorporations of the competitions talent into WCW’s roster would influence the direction of their booking for the years to come, leading to yet more legends making the jump to the now-prospering promotion.

During this boom period for WCW, they would reach out to game publisher THQ and developers AKI Corporation (originally known as The Man Breeze, now known as Syn Sophia) to develop a handful of wrestling games based around the promotion. The first was a WCW-themed localization of Virtual Pro-Wrestling, re-packaged and re-titled as WCW vs. the World in 1997. The next entry in the series, later-1997’s WCW vs. nWo: World Tour, would be a step closer towards the style of wrestling game AKI would come to be most commonly associated with (and which would be perfected with 2000’s WWF No Mercy). The final AKI contribution under the WCW license would be 1998’s WCW/nWo Revenge, which was both a critical and financial success for the companies involved.

After dominating the-then WWF in television ratings for a period of nearly two straight years [between 1996 and 1998], the WWF had mounted a comeback that would propel their popularity into the stratosphere. There are a myriad of factors responsible for the ascent of the WWF and the decline of WCW, but I’m going to go ahead and give the most simple explanation here: WWF’s RAW television program was becoming progressively more “edgy” and connecting more with the late 90s audience, while WCW’s Nitro was becoming increasingly more stale, safe, and predictable. If you were watching an episode of Nitro between ‘98 and ‘99, you could pretty much guess the outcome of any given main event match, as the nWo was pretty much guaranteed to interrupt the match and disqualify it for the benefit of their stablemate.

By contrast, the WWF seemed all sorts of fresh and exciting on something like a routine basis. The talent was more motivated to perform to the fullest of their abilities, the writing was generally better (if not a bit too gross-out at times), and they played host to the single hottest feud in the history of wrestling: The wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin versus the WWF president Vince McMahon. WCW would attempt to jump on this bandwagon by positioning their own company head Eric Bischoff as a heel figure, but to much less success obviously. Over the course of 1999, WCW had become increasingly more desperate, to the point where they were bringing in guys like The Ultimate Warrior**** for exorbitant prices in the hopes of seeing even short-term ratings boosts. They once paid top dollar for KISS to perform a live concert on television and introduce a new wrestler going by the moniker of “The [KISS] Demon.” This resulted in one of the lowest-rated segments in the history of Nitro, and within a year The Demon had severed his ties with KISS and joined a stable lead by the Insane Clown Posse. This is all absolutely true, and the world of professional wrestling is incredible.

But perhaps the most desperate and damaging move made by WCW in this time was the hiring of ex-WWF writer Vince Russo, who claimed responsibility for the birth of WWF’s “Attitude Era” that had brought about their ratings boon in the first place. As anyone worth listening to in the industry will tell you, Russo needed an editor to filter out and block his more ridiculous ideas, and his only real strength was in developing storylines for non-main eventers on the card to actively engage in. When he was brought onto WCW, he was more or less given free rein to do as he pleased, and proceeded to write some of the worst wrestling the industry had ever seen. As mentioned earlier, he had a penchant for worked shoot-style booking, constantly breaking the immersion of programs and making a mockery of the industry as a whole. An early backstage segment in this booking era on the WCW Thunder show featured a conversation “filmed in secret” between wrestlers Buff Bagwell and Scotty Riggs, which I will reprint verbatim here:

Buff Bagwell: “You’re pinning me? One, two, three?”
Scotty Riggs: “That’s the finish they gave me!”[1]

This match ended with Bagwell applying a ““shoot”” small package pin to Riggs, which the referee was ““reluctant”” to count as it went against the supposed ““scripted finish”” for the match. Booking like this intended to come across as ““real”” came across as ridiculous and fake to any viewer with common sense, and wasn’t even particularly appealing to those without it. However, going forward, these backstage segments would become regularly recurring on both Nitro and Thunder, taking more and more time away from in-ring wrestling on the programs. A compromise would eventually have to be made. No, it wasn’t to impose a hard limit on total time spent backstage: It was to incorporate more out-of-ring matches featuring the WCW Hardcore Championship,***** allowing for wrestling to occasionally intersect with the time spent backstage.

Largely unrelated to the quality of the television product, and more to do with the transfer of development duties from AKI to apparently less capable hands, the WCW video game franchise also began to suffer. Still under the THQ publishing banner, Inland Productions would develop and release 1998’s WCW Nitro and WCW/nWo Thunder: Two largely identical games both failing to meet the standards set by AKI’s installments. After these releases, publishing duties would move to Electronic Arts, and development duties to Kodiak Interactive. Their first release would be 1999’s WCW Mayhem, which again failed to meet the high bar for gameplay set by AKI, but which made a number of significant advancements in terms of presentation; featuring running audio commentary by announcers during matches, a full suite of PPV-themed arenas, and the ability to battle backstage. Keep that last point in mind just a short while longer.

By late 2000, WCW had reached the bottom of the barrel, in terms of both ratings and quality of programming. Not only that, but it was now hemorrhaging money rather than earning profits as it had in years prior under Bischoff’s purview. Behind the scenes, the acquisition of Turner Broadcasting by AOL Time Warner would result in the ousting of the network’s titular media mogul Ted Turner, who had long been a champion for hosting wrestling on his station. Time was running out for WCW, but there was still time left on the proverbial ticking clock, and hope that things might somehow turn around. As WCW struggled with last-ditch efforts to right the wrongs of their bad booking, Kodiak Interactive were putting the finishing touches on what would be the last WCW video game. Indicating the sort of direction the television programming had gone, and building off a novel feature from WCW Mayhem, this game would focus on one specific aspect of wrestling — one specific facet of the industry that had never been explored in as much depth.

WCW Backstage Assault takes place entirely backstage, with no in-ring matches whatsoever.

** The NWA was the abbreviation for the National Wrestling Alliance, which served as a committee to determine world champions and booking across multiple associated wrestling promotions. Many wrestlers with NWA associations would find their way to WCW, who still maintained some ties to the organization while the WWF was mostly content to sever ties.
*** “Heel” refers to the designated “bad guy” characters in wrestling storyline. The opposite of a heel is a “babyface,” who the audience is meant to get behind as the hero. These roles are rarely permanent in wrestling, and so a heel or face might eventually “turn” to the other side in order to refresh themselves / change things up some.
**** Jim “Warrior” Hellwig was an atrocious wrestler even at the peak of his popularity, achieving fame on the strength of his steroid-built physique and high-energy gimmick. He was also a thoroughly terrible human being, who once infamously proclaimed “queering doesn’t make the world work” and who verbally berated students in attendance at his college speaking engagements. In spite of all this, the WWE currently honors him on an annual basis with their “Warrior Award,” given to one recipient every year at their Hall of Fame show.
***** The term “Hardcore” in wrestling is used to refer to a style associated with high-risk, stereotypically “low-quality” fighting, often incorporating a number of weapons and props (sometimes called “plunder”). The promotion Eastern Extreme Championship Wrestling made this style increasingly more popular in the States in the late 90s period, to the point where both WWF and WCW saw fit to incorporate hardcore divisions and championships into their promotions.

Screamin’ Norman is in the Casket

Can I just repeat that last fact one more time? WCW Backstage Assault – a game ostensibly about professional wrestling – features no gameplay mode that allows for in-ring matches! What does that tell you about the state of WCW at the time of development, huh? And unlike other wrestle-centric games which have taken the action out of the ring (WWF Betrayal on the Game Boy Color, WWE Crush Hour for PS2 and GameCube), there’s not even a loose plot or storyline to follow that might justify the direction. Rather, you’re given all of three game modes, all of which have you participating in the same type of No Disqualifications / Falls Count Anywhere matches ad infinitum. You can choose to play strictly singles matches in Exhibition Mode, pursue one of three belts in the Hardcore Challenge, or try and survive a small gauntlet of challengers in a Hardcore Gauntlet mode.

Each of these modes has a number of unlockables waiting for you to pursue them, which will grant access to a small number of stages and costumes, as well as to a surprisingly large number of hidden wrestlers. Names such as Rey Mysterio Jr., Scott Hall, and even Bret Hart are all hidden behind obtuse challenges that the game reveals to you as hints on pre-match screens. But perhaps the most tricky pair of unlockables exist in a chain together, and give you some of the most useless “rewards” in the history of wrestling games: KOing an opponent with a briefcase in the (unlockable) Media Center arena will unlock Vince Russo as a playable character, who you must in turn win the WCW Hardcore Belt while playing as in order to unlock Eric Bischoff as an additional playable character. Because those two guys are the talent wrestling fans will be chomping at the bits to unlock and play as.

Let’s talk more about the roster of selectable wrestlers. WCW sure had quite the talent pool on-hand in 2000, and almost nothing to do with most of them on their television product. In fact, so many of them appeared so infrequently on TV by this point, I reckon the developers didn’t even know what most of them were supposed to look like? That’s the best explanation I have for why the character models are as godawful as they happen to be, with faces for many of “B-teamers” bordering on unrecognizable. It’s honestly kind of shocking how poor the presentation is in Backstage Assault, especially considering the leaps forward that direct predecessor WCW Mayhem had made in that department. And while I’d hesitate to call any other wrestling game of the era a visual tour de force, most of them at least made the effort of making different wrestlers distinct in a different manner of ways.

You’re also given the customary suite of character creation / customization options with which to create your own wrestlers, though the options here are as lacking as they are tedious to sort through. When it comes to clothing / accessory / most any option which requires the loading of new textures or models, they all take ages to load and display on your character, which makes the whole ordeal more of a chore than is worth bothering with. Add to this that these options are presented one at a time – in seemingly no particular order – and you’ll probably settle on playing as a stock character before too long. The game as a whole has a big problem with interfaces, including the world’s most needlessly convoluted character select screen; which presents players eight rows of eight selectable wrestlers, but only displays two wrestlers on-screen at a time. Add to that the fact that it takes five seconds to load the actual portrait image for any given wrestler, and I am hard-pressed to think of a worse character select in any video game I have ever played.

At some point, I settled on alternating between mostly playing as Diamond Dallas Page and Bret Hart — the last of whom I couldn’t be bothered to unlock by beating the Hardcore Gauntlet five times, so I eventually just downloaded a save file off of GameFAQs that already had “most secrets unlocked.” There are minor move and stat variances between characters, but I honestly had a hard time telling the difference between any two talents featured in the game. As for why I picked those two guys:** Bret Hart is a favorite of mine because he’s become such a crotchety old man at this point, it’s hard not to love him. On the other hand, DDP is legitimately one of the best human beings to have ever been a part of the wrestling business (right up there with Mick Foley and Owen Hart), and the Diamond Cutter will always be a cooler finisher than the RKO.

Match commentary is stitched together from a mix of recycled WCW Mayhem lines and a few new bits of freshly-recorded voiceover, all recorded by the two-man announce team of Tony Schiavone and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. For the most part, it’s inoffensive enough. It gets awful repetitive awful quick, but the seams between them calling moves and calling the wrestlers by name aren’t super noticeable or anything. Uh, the music is pretty generic for the most part, which funnily fits in well with the “stock music” approach taken to many of the wrestler’s entrance themes in the company (I love me some “Basketball Highlights #12”).*** Damn, I’m running out of excuses to not have to talk about the gameplay here… Ah, sod it, let’s not put it off any longer.

Backstage Assault is a truly awful game to attempt to control. First, let’s go over the inputs in a purely technical sense: You’re given three striking buttons plus a grapple button (which doubles as about a half dozen other functions we’ll get into), between which you’ll perform different directional combinations to perform different moves. The triggers will allow you to block, run, taunt and pin. The analog sticks… will not be used over the course of this game, restricting movement exclusively to the D-Pad. Now, I imagine the thinking here was that since the direction your character faces is tied to a lock-on on your opponent, having full analog control would just “complicate” things. In execution though, the strict eight-way input results in much clunkiness, especially when holding down the run button and freeing yourself from the lock-on.

Adding to the lack of control is the multipurpose square button; primarily meant to initiate grappling, but which also initiates your finishers (from grapple), allows you pick up enemies off the ground, allows you to pick weapons up off the ground, tosses weapons currently in hand, and finally (I think?) to climb on top of objects so you can jump off of them. Now, I want you to imagine a scenario where you’ve knocked your opponent down near a climbable object where there is also a weapon lying next to them, and desperately trying to get the game to commit to the one action you’d want to perform in that situation using the square button. Yeah, good luck with that one.

The bottom line on the control situation is, they felt more or less serviceable in WCW Mayhem (though a number of reviews of Backstage Assault complain that the controls didn’t even feel great back then), but that game took place within the context of in-ring competition primarily. When you take the action out of the ring and into relatively open backstage spaces, the same controls no longer feel quite as fitting. You can’t always take a “one size fits all” approach to control schemes even when dealing in games within the same genre, y’know?

Even when you do finally get into the flow of how the game is supposed to play and feel, there are still factors at hand that leave it feeling like a complete mess. For one, the camera has something of a mind of it’s own, meaning angles may shift without warning in the middle of action — sometimes adopting a “skycam” view that never failed to throw me off-guard. I think it’s supposed to be tied to how far away you are from your enemy, but there are times where the camera remained at ground level while I was standing at the opposite end of the arena from my opponent. You’ll forgive me if I come away with the assumption that there’s not much rhyme or reason to it.

Perhaps one of the most noticeable flaws though comes in the form of the character animations themselves, which are incredibly stilted and awkward to look at. Many of the animations lack any transitions between one another, with some that are intended to loop (such as the animation for covering an opponent for the pin) failing to do so smoothly. Further exacerbating this issue is the matter of magnetism, wherein characters and objects will instantly teleport into position regardless of angle or distance in order to begin animations as quickly as possible. This is especially noticeable when it comes to picking up weapons, which will magically move from off the floor and into your hands with no in-between frames. These animations translate even worse to the N64 version of the game, where animation keyframes were further reduced in order to save precious system memory.

“Among my duties for this game, I was the animation programmer. […] We doubled the number of moves we had in the game, but we didn’t double the [RAM] budget. And so all I could do was put more compression on the moves. And when you compress a move, it gets jittery — it makes it look worse. Basically just removing frames, making it lossy to some extent. It was the worst in the world for the animators, because they’re in there like, blood sweat and tears, trying to make it look as good as they can, just to get it in an engine where the guys look epileptic.” ~ Dave Lang[2]

It’s not as if the character models the game is working with here are particularly complex, or really even all that good-looking. Every wrestler suffers from the same combination of wide upper frame and skinny legs. Combined with animations that are goofy-looking at best (and broken at worst), the characters all come across as oddly cartoonish while standing against the dirty, industrial environments. I mean, this isn’t helped by the fact that most wrestlers ring gear can be described as “garish” in terms of color and style, but the game does its best to try and approximate that apparel as textures in the game. Where it frequently fails is in trying to render stuff like business attire, where the upper and lower halves blend into each other and come out the other end looking like jumpsuits rather than pants-and-jackets.

Credit where credit is due: The variety of plunder and weapons littering the arenas is acceptable, with some destructible bits of environment to boot. The bathroom area is particularly fun to mess around in, letting you literally rip the sinks out of walls and destroy urinals as you toss your opponents into them. I feel like maybe a little bit more could’ve been done with trashing the scenery, especially considering that it’s such an integral aspect of backstage brawls in wrestling, but I’m willing to give the game the “technical limitations” excuse in this one category. I’ll also mention that the game does some decently cool stuff with fire, such as allowing you to set wooden 2x4s on fire to add to their damage.

I’ll also credit the game for allowing intergender matches, which are a feature sorely missed in modern wrestling games. Like, I “get it” as far as the WWE being a bit reluctant to put man-on-woman violence on display, but there’s also the part where male and female wrestlers should been seen as even match-ups so long as they’re within the same weight class, and so long as- oh, right, this review of an awful wrestling video game might not be the most suitable soapbox for my “gender politics in wrestling” sermon. In any event, it’s fun pitting Major Gunns against General Hugh G. Rection “Capt. Rection” and watching bully Bill DeMott get his ass beat. Also, Daffney is rad.

I like the idea of the “momentum” bar at the bottom of the screen determining who has the advantage in grappling situations, rather than leaving it to repetitive obtrusive minigames or however the WWE2K series is handling that stuff now. Layering a long-term damage system on top of this as well, where the game will tell you when to “GO FOR A KO,” also helps in giving matches another method by which they can end. I also appreciate that the game finds a way to incorporate aerial maneuvers without having the typical ringposts to leap from, using climbable scenery in their stead.

Of course, none of this detail work takes away from the total lack of depth behind the core gameplay. The obvious omission of traditional matches and tag team matches really take away from how much content is left available. When the only available multiplayer mode in your late 90’s wrestling game is a 1v1 versus mode, that’s a disappointment no matter how you try to spin it. You’re only gonna get so much mileage out of a game consisting entirely of singles matches between largely identical characters, even with the best of controls and mechanics (which, of course, this game sorely lacks). Something like a proper Career Mode, with choices to make and storylines to follow,**** would’ve gone a long way in expanding the game’s value. Of course, in a game where there isn’t even a ring to wrestle in, I reckon there’s only so much you can do.

WCW Backstage Assault is an ugly game through and through — and I’m not just talking graphically. It is a step backward in pretty much every aspect from it’s predecessor in WCW Mayhem, talking in terms of breadth of content and every aspect of presentation. It’s the result of lazy business practice, attempting to sell what would barely amount to an “expansion pack” as a standalone game with a full price tag attached. Electronic Arts had noted that the tactic had worked before when repackaging WCW Nitro as WCW/nWo Thunder, but failed to offer an alternative of equal value when it came to stripping down Mayhem into Backstage Assault. As if that wasn’t a bad enough look for the game, the brief backstage brawls in WWF No Mercy blow the game centered entirely around backstage fights out of the water.

Worst of all, though? They didn’t make David Arquette a playable character.***** Unacceptable.

** For the record: My favorite wrestler of all time is Volk Han, who championed in what is also my favorite wrestling promotion of all time, Fighting Network RINGS.
*** Chris Jericho’s first book, A Lion’s Tale, comes as highly recommended reading by me. If you’re looking for some more insight into how WCW operated in the late 90s, or simply for a primer on what it’s like to be part of the wacky world of wrestling, Jericho’s book is something like a must-read. See also; Mick Foley’s For All Mankind, and Bryan Alvarez and R.D. Reynolds’ The Death of WCW.
**** Oh my God, can you imagine a No Mercy-esque story mode set in 2000-era WCW? Imagine if they got Russo himself to write the stupid thing. I don’t care how good or bad your gameplay is at that point: I’d play through that mode a hundred times.
***** Yes, David Arquette briefly wrestled for WCW as a stunt to promote the wrestling-centric “comedy” film Ready to Rumble. Not only that, but Vince Russo went so far as to book Mr. Arquette to win the WCW Heavyweight Championship. In fairness to David here, he was a lifelong wrestling fan who was vehemently against the move to have the belt put on him, but Russo was nothing if not persistent and effectively badgered him into taking part in the angle.

You Belong in WCW, ‘Cause WCW Sucks

There is an apparent rumor that I cannot substantiate, which claimed that a conversion of WCW Backstage Assault to the PlayStation 2 had been planned. If this is true, I imagine it wouldn’t have taken very long after the initial PS1 / N64 releases for those plans to be indefinitely scrapped. Jeff Gerstmann in his GameSpot review wrote “EA’s Backstage Assault is a novel idea, but in the end, it doesn’t have enough variation to make it worthwhile. This one is only for the hard-core WCW fan.”[3] Of course, by this point the “hard-core WCW fan” was a dying breed, and most other critics were far more brutal with their scathing takes on the game. Comparisons to the then-recent WWF No Mercy certainly didn’t help matters, either.

VGChartz estimates WCW Mayhem as having sold 2 million copies across the PS1 and N64.** Between the PS1 and N64 releases for Backstage Assault, the numbers seem to add up to just 350 thousand sold. Say what you will about the accuracy of VGChartz, but I’m certainly willing to wager that the sales numbers gap between Backstage Assault and Mayhem is pretty significant either way. I wouldn’t chalk this up to Backstage Assault having come out “too soon” after Mayhem (there was a little more than a year-long wait between them), or even necessarily to the tremendous drop-off in popularity of the WCW product (Nitro in late 1999 was posting something like an average of 3.5 in Nielsen ratings, versus 2.5s in late 2000). The simple fact of the matter was, wrestling fans wanted more wrestling in their wrestling games than WCW was willing to provide them with. WWF, in spite of the prominence of their own Hardcore Division (as well as their “24/7 Rule” in effect on the division’s championship***), had never lead their product too far astray from the fundamentals of presenting a ring-centric product.

Within a year of the game’s release, WCW died an abrupt but unsurprising death. Some folk will point to the aforementioned AOL Time Warner merger and a change in management as the reason for this, claiming that the new head of programming installed at Turner hated wrestling and would’ve used any excuse to cancel it. But you know what? If Nitro had still been turning a profit and presenting anything close to a watchable product, Turner brass probably would’ve kept it around at least a little while longer. The fact of the matter is, WCW was a shell of its former self, too much of the audience had been alienated, and the ratings had slumped too low as to be deemed salvageable. Those involved in the (mis)management of WCW in its twilight years have no one to blame but themselves for sinking the once-great product.

As for the “where are they now” epilogue: Much of the WCW talent eventually made their way to WWF (or to the “spiritual successor” promotion Total Nonstop Action), to varying degrees of success and career longevity. Electronic Arts would obviously do just fine for themselves without a wrestling promotion to work in cooperation with. Developers Kodiak Interactive, on the other hand, would put out only two more games (Monsters Inc. and Circus Maximus: Chariot Wars, both in 2002) before closing in 2004. I can’t say they deserved much better? Maybe if they hadn’t been saddled with some hideous concepts and licenses to work with, they could’ve had a chance to have shined. It’s hard to say when they only had a grand total of five games under their belt, and none of them really seemed to gain much critical or financial traction.

There’s a sick part of me that wishes WCW had somehow flourished through the 2000s and into the future, while maintaining the same hideous form it had inherited in our reality. Sure, TNA filled much of the void left behind by WCW – hell, they even brought Russo back to write for them – but it never felt quite the same. Look, I enjoy great five star technical wrestling matches as much as the next Meltzerite,**** but there’s just something about “bad wrestling” that I can’t bring myself to look away from. WCW in 2000 was ripe for ridiculous video game fodder, and it sucks that Backstage Assault is the “best” we got out of it. I guess in a sense though, that does make it the perfect encapsulation of WCW at the time: Desperate, half-baked, and doomed.

** Dave Lang puts the number at the 2.2 million units mark. He also goes on to claim that projections for the game were somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 million units, indicating that Mayhem had fallen far behind the mark in spite of posting these relatively strong numbers.
*** The “24/7 Rule” allowed for the Hardcore Championship to change hands anywhere at any time, so long as a referee was present to count a pinfall. This lead to “impromptu matches” taking place in all manner of backstage locations, in Newark airport,  and even an amusement park at some point. However, that didn’t mean that the belt was exclusively contested for outside of the ring, which made these out-of-ring matches feel like special occasions.
**** Referring to fans and followers of the wrestling journalist and “living encyclopedia” of the wrestling industry, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. Funny story: Once in 1995, Meltzer accurately reported in an issue of the Observer that Randy Savage had suffered a legitimate injury before the World War 3 PPV, which he was initially booked to win but which odds quickly shifted to Paul “The Giant” Wight winning. To spite Meltzer, Hulk Hogan cut a promo at the beginning of the show where he tossed the issue of the Observer into a burning trash can, instructing the audience / Meltzer to “OBSERVE THIS, BROTHER!” Randy Savage would go on to win the match… Further exacerbating his very much genuine injury.

[1] Ferrara, Ed, and Vince Russo. “Episode #86.” WCW Thunder. TBS. San Diego, California, 28 Oct. 1999. Television.
[2] “Thursday Night Throwdown: 04/25/2013.” Giant Bomb. 25 April 2013. Web.
[3] Gerstmann, Jeff. “WCW Backstage Assault Review.” GameSpot. 19 Dec. 2000. Web.
Cass is a self-professed "Bad Game Historian" -- which is to say, they are a historian specializing in bad games, rather than an incompetent game historian. That being said, both descriptions may very well be correct.
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