Wrestling video games are a bit sucky.
Without reservation or exception, I would say that wrestling games are amongst the most unimaginative, monotonous, uninspiring video games on the market. Be they on console, mobile, PC or handheld I have never found a wrestling video game that has truly been a great game.
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They aren’t terrible pieces of technology, for the most part, they do what they say are going to do on the box. However every year, after promising new experiences, we get more or less the same game, slightly slicker graphics, a new feature or two the developer can point to as ‘revolutionary’, new wrestlers, updated gear and a new storyline or two to run through. Ultimately though year in year out it is the same game mechanics, the same arenas, the same situations and the same set of moves you’ll realise you can repeat match in match out to get the win. If it’s a particularly entertaining year there might be some funny glitches we can all laugh at for a minute before settling into the same old cycle.
It isn’t just me that feels this way either, there are some content creators that push the 2K games and Fire Pro Wrestling to their limits but as far as games go they aren’t pushing any kind of critical boundaries or taken seriously as combat games either. In the ever growing E-Sports community you won’t find any prominent tournaments or eye watering purses on offer for the best pro wrestling gamer in the world. It is telling that when The Elite and The New Day went head to head at E3 in 2018 they weren’t playing a wrestling game, be it 2K or Fire Pro but Street Fighter.
Earlier this week the developer of AEW’s new game, Yukes, asked the question on Twitter, what are you most looking forward to in the upcoming AEW game? The responses were predictably filled with the same kind of suggestions that often get thrown about when wrestling games are announced: GM Mode, extra promotions, more obscure match options like backstage brawls or intergender matches, the inclusion of certain legends, in-depth create a wrestler. All of them are nice but left me feeling bored with the game already.
Why is it that in a medium that is so full of colourful characters, creative stories and wild moves are we so happy to just restrict wrestling games to such simple, repetitive and frankly mediocre concepts that generate zero buzz outside of the wrestling bubble?
Many years ago one of my favourite developers of all time Bioware released a game called Jade Empire. The game was a fighting game, set in a medieval, far-east inspired, open world. The gameplay is driven by a motley crew of engaging characters who join your party and a classic martial arts story of revenge with apocalyptic stakes. As you played through you learned new styles of martial arts that allowed you to fight enemies of ever-increasing strength and skills.
Why can’t a wrestling game be more like that? As a martial arts game, I feel like it would be the perfect template for an open world wrestling game. Why can’t they leverage the creative characters in wrestling, create a fictional world for them to inhabit and link them together with a story that drives the character through it? Create a wrestler at the beginning, pick the style they fight with and maybe some elements of who they are, guide them through a story where you make choices that ultimately define what happens are and slowly pick up new moves, techniques or styles as you wrestle your way through the world.
This kind of game would be quite a departure but would give the developers artistic licence to make these characters we know and love feel unique and truly epic, instead of just another name in a list of possible wrestlers. Think fighting your way through a graveyard to find, consult, ally with or fight The Undertaker, having to scale a snowy capped mountain for Sting, a Japanese dojo for Kenny Omega or a rainbow wonderland for The New Day, the possibilities are only limited by imagination.
This kind of open-world combat game would be quite a departure but wouldn’t be without its commercial merits. Games such as Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption, The Witcher or the most recent God of War are just a few of the open-world adventure games that have been commercially and critically successful on a scale that dwarfs any recent wrestling game. If pulled off correctly a game like this could be a door into the fictional world of wrestling for people who don’t currently watch it.
This is just one suggestion too. Perhaps a different option for those who love the business aspect would be to go full Management Sim, not just half way as some games offer. Mirror a game like Championship Manager. If addictive multilayer fun is what you’re going for then a wrestling roster could make for an incredible Smash Brothers style fighter. Just don’t keep trotting out the same old game with a new coat of paint every single year.
I love wrestling and I love video games, however, as with wrestling, I don’t like to spend my time on mediocrity when it comes to video game. I want there to be a great WWE game, a great AEW game and a great game for any other wrestling company that wants to make one, but as things currently stand unless there is a significant rethink in what constitutes a wrestling video game there will never be a truly great one.
That wraps it up for me this week. Given the chance how would you reimagine wrestling video games? Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on Twitter @Sir_Samuel.
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