Wrestle War's Unauthorised Hulk Hogan Cover Got Sega Into Legal Trouble 1
Image: Sega

The Sega of the 1990s must have been a very exciting place to work. The company had gone from industry also-ran to one of the world's most recognisable entertainment brands in a short space of time thanks to the commercial success of its 16-bit Genesis / Mega Drive console, which – with the timely arrival of Sonic the Hedgehog – actually managed to challenge the seemingly unstoppable Nintendo in the West.

One person who has valuable insight into what the company was like during this period is Mike Fischer, who started off as a Product Manager at Sega of Japan in 1990 and has worked at Namco, Microsoft, Square Enix, Amazon and Epic Games during his amazing career.

He recently spoke to The Retro Hour Podcast about the Sega portion of his professional life. He offers up a cool story about the domestic port of the coin-op Wrestle War, which shows how the company was literally learning as it went along – and that sometimes meant making fairly obvious mistakes:

I remember we were working on a game called Wrestle War, and I was walking by the artist's working area he literally had a photograph of Hulk Hogan in one hand and was painting Hogan as the cover of this game.

I said, "you know, I think there might be a copyright issue. I'm not sure if you're allowed to use his image." He basically shut the door on my face.

And then, of course, we shipped it and immediately got sued. And if you look at the UK version, they've just painted his blonde hair over with this big black bouffant.

Of course, Sega wasn't the only company to pull this trick in the late '80s and early '90s – Hollywood stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone both had their likenesses used without permission for video game cover artwork – but Sega was perhaps flying a little too close to the sun with Hogan, especially given how big a star he was at the time, and the fact that Wrestle War lacked the official WWF (now known as WWE) license. At the time, it was split between Technōs Japan (arcade) and Acclaim (home consoles).

Wrestle War's Japanese cover went beyond merely using Hogan's likeness, too; it also featured Bruiser Brody, Road Warrior Hawk, Stan Hansen and Abdullah the Butcher – again, all without permission.

Fischer adds that, prior to him joining the company, Sega had initially released Super Shinobi / Revenge of Shinobi complete with Spider-Man, Batman and Godzilla characters, despite not having the license to do so. This was another example of how naive the company was when it came to using the IP of others, but this would change over time; Fischer later talks fondly about working with Disney, Michael Jackson and F1 star Ayrton Senna on licensed video games.

[source youtube.com]