Speedrunning on the Lex Express

Over the past couple of years, I can’t name a game I’ve sunk more time into than Midway’s WWF: Wrestlemania, usually billed as Wrestlemania the Arcade Game due to its more-accessible console ports. I was a big fan of the WWF (now WWE) through most of the 1990s, so, from the get-go, I had a lot of excitement toward this very unique fighting game.

I feel that it is inevitable the game will get a fully-fledged breakdown on this site, as more and more is discovered about the coin-op release even to this day. Even in 2019, off the top of my head, major tech was found for three different characters that could shake up the tier lists (one of those is highlighted in my recent post detailing “the best of 2019” for GemuBaka). And, with that, I’m only slightly joking of meeting up with LRock617 for a summit to update the character rankings for an official 2020 tier.

I’ll point out at every opportunity I get that LRock is the reason I know much of anything about the game on a deep level, and virtually any speedrun I’ve witnessed for the game originated from his Twitch adventures. I’ve given arcade version speedruns a very casual whirl for the game, doing an on-location stream of the game at Galloping Ghost Arcade to 1CC the game with all eight characters on normal difficulty, and my stream hosted an all-clear on the maximum difficulty (a rough 4 hours).


In September, I became the “proud” owner of the SNES version of WWF: WrestleMania the Arcade Game

With WWF: Wrestlemania, one of the most curious cases is the port of the game done for the Super Nintendo. This game was ported by Acclaim to the mainstream 16- and 32-bit consoles, and they take a pretty big presentation hit compared to the arcade original.

The Playstation version is a mighty fine port, and, while the SEGA Genesis version had its graphics and sound taken down quite a few notches, it was still largely playable. I own a copy of the 32X version, which made some improvements over the Genesis, and I’ve never personally played the MS-DOS or SEGA Saturn versions.

This Super Nintendo version, though. It quite famously omits both Yokozuna and Bam Bam Bigelow, chopping the character roster down to six. While the 1 V 3 matches create a bunch of slowdown in the Genesis version, the system could actually handle the match. This feature is completely cut from the SNES version, and, the 1 V 2 matches on SNES really tax the system. With only three characters able to be on screen at one time in the SNES version, the two-player co-op mode creates a handicap gauntlet in your favor and the 1 V 3 and 1 V 8 modes have the next available CPU jump into the ring after you eliminate one opponent.

It’s a truly woeful port compared to an arcade game that oozes with personality and unique gameplay quirks. With the cart maybe costing you $5 these days (and, you know, emulation), though, it’s become a interesting look at version differences and, perhaps on some levels, a kusoge curiosity.

What I find interesting about the speedruns for the SNES port is, while virtually any Midway arcade run I’ve ever seen has its rules default to the highest difficulties you can select, the generally-accepted routing for this version is a true Any% free-for-all.

Knowing the base gameplay is arguably less important than being able to navigate the lag-filled gameplay, and, since the CPU never reverses grapples on the very easy difficulty, players can utilize all-out offensive strategies that absolutely would not fly in the arcade runs. The run even goes as far to reduce the player’s maximum health so they do not receive a “PERFECT” fanfare that wastes time in between rounds and the music is turned off because it – like everything else in this version – slightly bogs the game speed down.

Surprisingly, the SNES Any% Intercontinental Championship route for the game is the most-participated leaderboard I’ve looked at for gauging interest on Speedrun.com. The top of the leaderboard uses Shawn Michaels’ chain wrestling to the players’ advantage, and, without much investigation, it seemed to me this would be the way to go.

I happened to finally get a SNES cart of my own toward the end of 2019, and, following some exploration in the game, I took into consideration how much time opponents were spending in a state where they couldn’t be damaged (in a recovery state after knockdown). I figured if there was a way to avoid knockdown, there would be quicker ways of doing the run. After a little more gameplay, it seemed to me that Lex Luger would be the ticket due to a grapple/striking reset coupled with his high damage output.


The high damage output was the key here, as Razor Ramon actually has a very consistent reset, but his lower damaging strikes added to the timer. The gamble with Lex Luger, though, is, the way the reset works on opponents is not consistent, as the strike setups differ based on your opponent and if you are close to the ropes.

The beginning of round one is spent doing Luger’s standing kick – it gets a very fast double damage output for being the first strike. However, more importantly, if you do not back the opponent to the ropes, it will always do a run that avoids the headhold grapple and waste precious seconds on the speedrun.

The premise of the reset is simple – Luger can hold forward and combo power kick for multiple strikes. The game would normally want you to complete the string with kick (a rising knee that does knockdown), but you can then instead press power punch to do a strike and then reset back into headhold.

What happens from that point differs on the opponent. For Bret Hart, Lex Luger and Doink, you can combo multiple headbutts and go back into grappling. For HBK, Razor Ramon and Undertaker, power punch instead goes into an overhead smash.

On top of that difference, especially for the overhead smash, there is an ideal number of kicks you can do before pressing power punch. Razor lets players do four kicks into overhead smash for what I think is the fastest damage per second in the game – you want Razor to appear as much as possible in your run. I use three kicks for HBK because if you do four, he recovers too fast before the punch hits him – even in mid-air – and will likely run away.

The Undertaker is absolutely bizarre, and you want to avoid him in a run as much as possible. If he is near the ropes, it seems completely random whether you’ll get headbutt or overhead smash. If you get the headbutt, Taker will recover immediately and likely get away from your reset. Sometimes if you do three kicks, there is a longer-than-normal recovery after Luger’s overhead smash that lets Undertaker get away.

For the other characters, the headbutts are mostly consistent, but they result in lower DPS, unfortunately.

The DPS is the key because, when you are in handicapped matches that absolutely devastate the game’s performance, eliminating that first character is crucial to a fast run. In fact, it’s so important to the World Heavyweight route, that keeping one character eliminated as much as possible shaved nearly 2 minutes off the top leaderboard time for me in my run.

There is still room for improvement in my runs according to the sum of bests in my splits, but I’m not sure how eager I am to dive back in. Getting better times at this rate is entirely RNG based on which opponents show up in the route. Still, it feels great to pinpoint something that improves a speedrun that has rested for a period of time.

You can see my two submitted runs with the links below:



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Categories: GemuBaka Feature


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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  1. The April Fool’s Gauntlet: 5 Wrestling Speedruns | GemuBaka - April 9, 2020

    […] WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game (SNES) and WCW/nWo Thunder (PS1) need no introduction, as each already has its own dedicated page on GemuBaka. This video adds to the mix WWF: King of the Ring (NES), WWF Raw (SNES) and WCW: The Main Event (GB). […]

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