Busted speed tech: Thunder’s test of strength

Back in 1999, there was a game mechanic so busted, even myself as a teenager had to sit back and think – “Holy crap, this is broken.” Pro wrestling was at its peak, and I had to soak in every wrestling game I could, good or bad. THQ’s PlayStation One release of WCW/NWO Thunder was one of those titles that was so bad mechanically, it remains a slightly guilty pleasure to this day.

After midnight tonight, we will enter 2019’s second 12 Hour Challenge event, which has participants selecting a speedrun game that is new to them. They then learn and play the speedrun over a period of 12 hours to grab their best personal time. Each challenge has an optional theme, and this event’s theme is “As Seen on TV,” which features games based on a television series. With WCW/NWO Thunder’s “test of strength” feature buried deep in my mind, I have to admit the game certainly stood out to me while I was combing my shelves for potential titles.


My copy of WCW/NWO Thunder. It has no book, but it’s a fair trade considering I got this from a record shop for $1.

Developed by Inland Productions, Thunder was the successor to WCW Nitro on the PlayStation. According to the GameFAQs entries for the games, these two games released a rough nine months apart from each other.

On the surface, the series elected to be more chaotic in nature compared to the methodical nature of the franchise’s Nintendo 64 titles. It was way faster in pacing and a variety of moves could be done by pressing two face buttons in succession. Other wrestlers would routinely interfere in the matches and weapons litter the outside of the ring. Pulling a quote straight from the WCW Nitro instruction book, this line shows the attitude taken by the series:

“Rules: Do you see a ref in there? Anything goes.”

While Nitro usually gets snubbed in favor of other wrestling titles, I’ll admit it was some goofy fun if you had a willing second player. The matches are flat-out chaotic and if you had even a pixel of energy remaining, it was still possible to mash (hard) out of a pin. This made the versus matches a crazy marathon that boiled down to who got tired of mashing first. When you add in a healthy roster of unlockable characters, bizarre Easter eggs and a dose of well-used full-motion video, I will stand firmly on the grounds that WCW Nitro does have some positives going for it. No doubt carried by its white-hot WCW license at the time, this game actually sold enough to warrant a green-label “Greatest Hits” re-release.


It’s likely most everyone will agree that the best parts of Nitro and Thunder on PS1 were the FMV “rants.”

However, a fast-grab was made to get a new game out, and Thunder was a victim of tossing as many new things as possible on top of Nitro’s shaky foundation. You got a roster update, and all of the red interface elements and fire from Nitro was replaced with blue interface elements and lighting. Battle royals were added with four-player support and a steel cage match made its debut, but the engine from Nitro was still largely in place. For whatever reason, Inland Productions attempted to shoehorn a few technical mechanics into the mix, including a proper grapple move.

One of these mechanics was the “test of strength” – the move of legends and the reason we’re all here today, talking about WCW/NWO Thunder 20 years later.

For those unfamiliar, the test of strength spot in professional wrestling is a sequence where the participants challenge each other to an overhead knuckle lock in an attempt to use leverage and strength to overpower and gain a dominant position over the other wrestler. The basis of this sequence originates from the Greco-Roman approach to wrestling, and, while it has been used as a transition sequence in a few video games, it’s a basic command input – up plus circle – that can be used by players in Thunder at any point in the match.

When normally implemented into a wrestling video game, the test of strength normally resolves a “tie” – if the players clash moves, the sequence is a sort of “mini-game” that determines who gains a favorable position. In Thunder, though, it’s a mashfest that lets you send the AI crumbling to its knees. The crazy thing is, the dominant player in the test of strength gains health as it depletes from the opponent. A full mash during the sequence damages the opponent approximately 50%, sending all of that health to your wrestler if they happen to need it at the time.

While it was a blessing for the repeated plays needed to unlock everything, it took my virtually no time to learn a CPU match could be blown through in about 20 seconds using the following string: TEST OF STRENGTH -> TEST OF STRENGTH -> ANY KNOCKDOWN MOVE -> PIN. It’s also worthwhile to again note, the test of strength is a basic move that can be done universally. Alex Wright can flatten The Giant with solid mashing. Commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan can bring Goldberg to his knees.


Any belt in Thunder can be yours once you learn the TWO MOVES OF DOOM.

While you can debate how meaningful the content is, WCW/NWO Thunder is actually jam-packed with features. However, at the end of the day, all you really need is your TWO MOVES OF DOOM to truly put away anyone in the game. When you consider that approach of this underhanded tactic, it does, in fact, make Thunder “speedrunnable.”

This certainly made Thunder a viable option for the 12 Hour Challenge, but, the thought of mashing buttons like a madman over a period of 12 hours didn’t sound like it was the wisest approach to the event. Still, the concept intrigued me enough that I did a short video that features two speedrun attempts of the game’s TV title mode (five 1-on-1 bouts). I did one attempt as Alex Wright and another as “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, and, despite neither attempt being “perfect,” Das Wunderkind won the belt in 3:56 and The Hulkster claimed it in 3:49 – that breaks down to us mowing down 10 wrestlers in an average of 46.5 seconds per match.

While actually doing the speedruns, it also brought me to another realization of why actively running this wouldn’t be super interesting. The game is rightfully full of pageantry, but this means surfing through a buffet of FMV, camera flourish and load times.

  • When you start your run, an FMV of your wrestler’s entrance plays, followed by an FMV of your opponent.
  • Your opponent’s FMV runs in between the remainder of the matches.
  • The game LOADS these transitions.
  • When you win, your character repeats their taunt animation as the camera rotates around the ring. I wouldn’t exactly call this sequence brief, and, unlike the FMV, it cannot be skipped.

By my calculations, Hulk Hogan won the TV Title in 3 minutes and 49 seconds, but only spent 1 minutes and 16 seconds ACTUALLY WRESTLING (27.2 seconds per opponent). This means approximately two-thirds of the run was spent waiting for the next match to start. Perhaps, some would say, this is just like the television product?

As much as I say otherwise, I get the feeling I will return to explore WCW/NWO Thunder at some point, but it definitely won’t be for the 12 Hour Challenge this weekend. As of Aug. 1, 2019, there is no page for Thunder on SpeedRun.com, which is surprising since WCW Mayhem has a page … with no posted runs. Perhaps this will fuel somebody to do something with the game, but, personally, my angle is in revealing how much the test of strength busts WCW/NWO Thunder.

I have officially signed up for this weekend’s challenge, but, my approach this time will be in beat ’em up obscura …

Stay “Tooned” for more on this weekend’s adventure!


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Categories: GemuBaka Feature, IndieSnack


Arcade enthusiast and game collector. Affiliate Twitch retro streamer and games archive writer at Gemubaka (http://gemubaka.com). For business only: gemubaka at gmail


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