Well, it happened last week with UWC being revealed to the world. This discovery was made by video game collector Stephan Reese who uploaded footage of the title onto his YouTube page along with a brief explanation of how he came into possession of the cart:
Since then, video game and wrestling fanboys alike have been enthusiastically sharing the video and openly debated what this could actually be. WWE.com ran a quick story about it, but even the largest wrestling company in the world didn’t really have much explanation to where the hell this game came from.
I messaged Stephan Reese and asked the collector what it was like to be the one responsible for bringing UWC to light:
Reese: “I… didn’t get excited initially. First, I thought, ‘There’s no fucking way. This has to be a Famicom port of something.’
Honestly, it didn’t get real till it started to get serious coverage. I was expecting, ‘Hey, a few people will think this is neat.’, but what I got was, ‘This is breaking the Internet!’.”
Stephan is a cosplay/convention enthusiast who has the autographs of several Doctor Who “Doctors” tattooed on him, a co-host of a podcast where he talks about his gaming hobby (Collector’s Quest) and a man that puts me to shame when it comes to his video game collection.
While I have a shelf filled with all of the vintage games from my childhood complete with custom cases, Reese has an entire wing of his house devoted to his obsession. When you have full game sets of every North American release for the Nintendo (including the notoriously rare Stadium Events), the Super Nintendo, the Dreamcast and more, you can’t just leave them tucked away in a garage somewhere. Add in the multiple arcade games Reese owns along with shelving from defunct toy stores and authentic Nintendo signage/memorabilia, and you have yourself an impressive homemade gaming museum you could potentially charge tickets to.
This UWC title made its way into Reese’s hands through a deal he made with a former Nintendo employee. He explained to me how the deal went down:
Reese: “I purchased it from a former Nintendo employee, that’s all I’m willing to say about that. I have to protect my source.
[It was a] single purchase. They didn’t have an NES to test, and by their recollection, it was a WCW prototype. So, it was a shock that it wasn’t. I didn’t know it was unreleased until I tested it.
I THINK the game is basically complete. The cart it’s on was submitted to Nintendo. You don’t really do that ’til pretty late in development.”
This unnamed former Nintendo employee (probably a grown-up Nester, if I had to guess) didn’t realize the gold he had before it was too late. Reese would later reveal feelings of guilt surrounding the whole deal since the purchase cost him much less than you’d expect a rarity like this would have gone for.
UWC is also a bit of a mystery with several questions surrounding its discovery:
- The name suggests that the title was named after the Universal Wrestling Corporation, a name given to Jim Crockett Promotions by Turner Broadcasting Systems after they acquired the wrestling promotion, but the 1989 copyright date makes no sense. The “Universal Wrestling Corporation” was nothing more than a place holder for a promotion that’s always been known publicly as World Championship Wrestling starting in late 1988. Is the UWC branding just a bizarre coincidence?
- The game has a roster filled with NWA wrestlers, so could this have been something that the National Wrestling Alliance had started working on before Crockett was purchased?
- The developers SETA never ended up releasing any game resembling UWC at all, so what happened? Even if the deal was a bust, why didn’t they eventually release this seemingly complete title with all of the licensing taken out?
- The only WCW game for the NES that ended up getting released would’ve also have been developed around the same time by a completely different company altogether. Why?
- If this was actually submitted to Nintendo, why did it not get accepted by them? How did UWC just fall to the wayside for thirty years before getting uncovered?
The period between the “Universal Wrestling Corporation” branding and “World Championship Wrestling” branding is so brief that this would mean that Turner would have IMMEDIATELY greenlit this deal after their purchase of Jim Crockett Promotions. I can’t imagine that anyone there working in the wrasslin’ business was like, “STEP ONE —> VIDEO GAME”, but who knows? It’s likely that we’ll not be getting any concrete answers to this soon (or even ever), so maybe we should just focus on what we do know and what already has been publicly revealed.
UWC would’ve not only been the first video game for the NWA/WCW but all of the names included would’ve made their video game debut here. Fictionalized versions of The Road Warriors were included in Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag for the PC Engine in mid-1989, but I wouldn’t say that counts. Don’t hit PUBLISH on that “correction” in the comment section below, I’m right!
The playable characters of the UWC are:
- Road Warrior Animal
- Road Warrior Hawk
- Jimmy Garvin
- “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton
- “Sweet” Stan Lane
- “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
- Barry Windham
The roster included ended up being completely different than we would end up seeing in WCW Wrestling. Not only were we denied Jimmy Garvin and Barry Windham in an NES game BUT THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS TOO!? It would be a full decade before Bobby Eaton would be featured in 1999’s WCW Mayhem, and that was probably only largely due to how he helped with MOCAP! Stan Lane hasn’t even been in a video game yet!! What a dark timeline we live in!
From everything that’s been shown so far, the gameplay looks more advanced than a majority of the wrestling titles that ended up being released here in the States. UWC doesn’t get into Fire Pro Wrestling territory, but it looks to have been deeper than any of the offerings put out by WCW or the WWF from that era.
In-ring action has several context sensitive attacks that depend on the wrestler you choose. Cross body blocks, running lariats and vertical suplexes are the usual standard maneuvers in these early games, but Road Warrior Hawk can also be seen pulling out a standing claw to Bobby Eaton’s face as well as reversing a headlock into a bridging belly-to-back suplex? Well, alright then!!
The fight can also spill out to outside of the ring, but it looks like this is only achieved through physically throwing, clotheslining or suplexing your opponent out to the floor. Not sure yet if there are any hidden weapons available to find like the wrench in WCW Wrestling, or if there are even turnbuckle attacks. Although, one of the ways that UWC is similar to WCW Wrestling is how the developers wanted you to beat the game several times before ever getting to the end. Starting your journey to becoming the WCW World Heavyweight Champion requires play-throughs in the BEGINNER and PROFESSIONAL difficulty before graduating to the final MASTER level.
As of the time of posting this, no one’s sure if there’s any actual ending or credits included whenever you get through the MASTER level. In his attempt, Stephan ended up getting washed against his first opponent in this difficulty. We might need someone to whip up some Game Genie codes to help him before more can be ascertained.
Tag-Team action is also available, but Stephen couldn’t figure out how to pull off a successful tag as your partner is never shown on-screen. Still uncertain whether this was a completed feature as well, but it is kinda funny to see that there is no way to create your own teams in the game. Every wrestler included in UWC has his set tag team partner, so you have no choice in the matter. You can either be The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express, The Four (Two?) Horsemen… or Sting and Jimmy “Jam” Garvin.
So, what happens next?
After Stephan Reese’s discovery, the cart was shipped out to Frank Cifaldi of the Video Game History Foundation to ensure that it gets properly archived. VGHF made news late last year whenever they released an NES version of Sim City that also was seemingly complete but ultimately canceled after its lone appearance at 1991 trade show.
REESE: “I wanted to get the ball rolling [with VGHF] ASAP. When I posted that video, I’d had the cart in my possession for less than a day.
I had been talking to Frank already because of the [Minoru] Arakawa [retirement party] video I had found the week prior, so I reached out immediately. They will dump [UWC] and archive it. It won’t be released until I say so.”
I’m not sure how long Frank’s process of archiving and saving this game for prosperity will take. I’d imagine that there will be an update within the next few mon–oh, he already did it?
Speed run of dumping and verifying the ROM from a one-of-a-kind unreleased game pic.twitter.com/0OGlHw9fHK
— Frank Cifaldi (@frankcifaldi) March 9, 2019
Well, how about that? All that’s left is for Stephan to publicly detail his next move, so it’s now just a waiting game:
Reese: “I’m not ready to announce [my plans] at this time. Just that I promise the ROM will be publicly released.”
For my own curiosity, I had to know if there was any chance that Reese is a wrestling fan himself. Uncovering a quirky piece of history like this is pretty exciting if you can recognize the weirdness around this game even when only focusing on the wrestling portion of it:
Reese: “I was a fan way back in the day when the [WWF] was still pushing the ‘this is totally real’ thing.
I mean, I remember watching Bossman get cuffed to the ring. That’s when I was watching, when my favorite wrestler was Tatanka.”
Well, we all make mistakes when we’re younger. I’m just glad that Reese was kind enough not to hoard his discovery and keep this hidden in his gaming vault. As we all wait for the UWC ROM to become available, maybe we should all go back and retry WCW Wrestling again. I guarantee you that it’s still as difficult and impenetrable as you remember it being whenever you played it as a child.