Game Title: RetroMania Wrestling
Developer/Publisher: Retrosoft Studios
Platforms: Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PS4
Release Date: Steam (Feb. 26, 2021), Xbox One (March 23, 2021), Switch (March 30, 2021), PS4 (TBA)
I didn’t have too many arcades nearby where I grew up, and only one that I knew of had either of the classic WWF arcade games developed by Technos Japan; those being WWF Superstars and WWF WrestleFest. Superstars was a good game building upon its own predecessor, Mat Mania (also available on the above platforms as a retro title), but the one most are going to recall is WrestleFest. And imagine my joy when I randomly found a cabinet during a family trip. Quarters were spent aplenty.
The original game featured a solid roster from the early ’90s era, including Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Big Boss Man, Mr. Perfect, Sgt. Slaughter, Earthquake, Jake Roberts, Ted Dibiase and Demolition (Smash and Crush). The game had two primary modes: a Royal Rumble and a tag team story mode where you’d pick any of the available wrestlers, make a team and work through the roster in an effort to earn a tag team title match with the Road Warriors. And if you’ve played the game, or are lucky enough to own a retro cabinet now, you know how beloved it is and why it’s held in such high regard compared to other games from the era typically synonymous with the NES. Although there was a mobile remake with a revamped roster released in 2012 on iOS, it didn’t quite hit the same mark and has since been removed.
Enter Retrosoft Studios.
Retrosoft independently developed and published the game as a passion project, and upon striking a deal with Technos, were able to secure the rights to dub their game the “official sequel” to WrestleFest. In doing so they not only attempted to recreate the arcade game’s magic on home consoles and on Steam, but they succeeded in doing so.
As with any wrestling game, the roster is important and while it doesn’t sport any huge names from the business due to licensing issues specifically with WWE, the team secured the rights to include both Hawk and Animal of the Road Warriors as fully playable characters in contrast to the original game, in addition to Tommy Dreamer (Impact), Jeff Cobb (NJPW), Johnny Retro (a.k.a. John Morrison…see the gag there?), Austin Idol (NWA), Colt Cabana (AEW), Warhorse, Nikita Koloff, Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW), Brian Myers (Impact), Matt Cardona (Impact), the bWo (Stevie Richards, Blue Meanie and Nova), and NWA champion Nick Aldis. Additionally, Impact wrestlers James Storm and Chris Bey have been confirmed as DLC, as well as the infamous Mr. Hughes who’s known for stealing Undertaker’s urn. This brings the total to 19 announced characters.
While nothing has been officially confirmed yet, through various Q&As online the team has said a women’s roster, further DLC for the men’s roster and potentially a CAW mode are on the table, in addition to securing the rights to the roster from Technos’ Mat Mania arcade game.
While its fun and eclectic — yet very niche — roster is nice, how does the game play and is it worth picking up? To that, it depends on your playstyles and tastes in wrestling engines.
Engine-wise it bears no resemblance to the 2K series both graphically and in terms of functionality. Staying true to its roots, the gameplay’s grappling system is a combination of the Fire Pro Wrestling series, WrestleFest and a sprinkling of the 16-bit Genesis and SNES classics. If you’re familiar with how Fire Pro works and enjoy it, you’ll be able to slide right into the gameplay rather easily like I did after a few matches once you have the timing down.
Grapples are initiated by simply walking into your opponent at which point they begin to lock up, and you’ll be required to input one of your attack buttons to win the grapple. The timing works roughly within the same window as Fire Pro, meaning you’ll need to press your attack as your character’s foot is about to hit the ground. Given that it’s not the most accessible system, if you’ve had issues with Fire Pro in the past for this reason or the perceived lack of agency, the developers have included a grapple assist option you may turn on. With it turned on, your character will flash green to indicate you’ve successfully executed the move. If you succeed, you’ll enter a headlock, at which point you can utilize weak, medium or strong attacks on your opponent with four separate moves assigned to each depending on whether you press up, down, left or right in conjunction with the attack button. Easy peasy? Not so fast.
Realistically it never makes much sense to be able to pull your biggest moves off early in the match. Similarly to how Fire Pro works in terms of match building, as well as past games that have used spirit meters or momentum bars, to progress in the match toward its conclusion you’ll need to build up your momentum by executing weaker moves to fill up your bar (which can also be filled by taunting). Once you pass set, marked thresholds you’ll be allowed to execute bigger moves (without being reversed automatically) and continue on until your meter fills and your finisher activates. In addition to the core grappling, each character has a handful of striking, ground, running, corner, turnbuckle and special move attacks.
The controls themselves are fairly streamlined, utilizing only 6 buttons and the analog stick or directional pad to control your actions inside the ring. They are not quite as simple as 2K’s games, but fall well short of the intricacies of Fire Pro Wrestling World to make them more accessible overall. The controls make this game one of the better pickup-and-play wrestling options on most platforms, and easily the most rewarding wrestling game on the Switch with no real competition in sight. The grappling will still be a stumbling block for some though, especially if you’re simply not a fan of that method of grapple initiation in wrestling games.
If you’re a stickler for graphics, this won’t be your cup of tea. The graphics in this game are intended to be a throwback to ’80s/’90s-era WWF arcade games with their hand-drawn animations and pixelated characters. The moves are executed not nearly as fluidly like either the 2K or Battlegrounds series of WWE games, opting instead for a little more jarring frame-by-frame animation style where it appears something like Retro/Morrison’s Starship Pain is done in a handful of movements as opposed to the fully-realized acrobatics you’d see in 2K. While this certainly isn’t a polished AAA game, the character models are accurately reflective of their real life counterparts in terms of their taunts, moves and attire (entrance and in-ring).
Graphically where the game does shine for sure are its environments, namely the various arenas you’re able to choose from. Each one is unique and is finely detailed depending on the locale. In all there are 17 arenas to choose from at launch, including:
- RetroMania Arena
- School Gymnasium
- Stevie Richards Fitness
- The Ballroom (basically it’s the Hammerstein Ballroom)
- Japanese arena (Korakuen Hall?)
- RMW Warehouse arena
- Beach arena (Bash at the Beach, Beach Break, etc.)
- Universal Wrestling College (Austin Idol’s school)
- Pro Wrestling Tees warehouse
- Hell (Warhorse’s arena)
- British arena
- Too Many Games arena (convention floor with gaming booths, arcades, YouTube personalities, etc.)
- Major Wrestling Figure Podcast (Cardona and Myers)
- STOMP In Paradise (Cardona and Myers)
- House of Hardcore (Dreamer/ECW Arena)
- NWA 70th Anniversary show
- NWA Powerrr studio
Each arena features its own detailed nuances, such as the Too Many Games stage that features content creators like RGT 85, indie wrestler Daredevil Dave Doll, or if you have a keen eye the Dragon Lair arcade cabinet. Or, if you look closely in the rafters in the House of Hardcore stage, the game pays homage to both Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge of Public Enemy, Terry Funk and 2 Cold Scorpio , in addition to Meanie and Dreamer.
Each arena has its own distinct character that works within the graphics engine and complements the game as a whole with its rich environments and fans standing and cheering like games of old. Adding to the presentation in all arenas are Joe Galli on ring announcing, and ROH/AEW commentary combo Ian Riccaboni and Colt Cabana (who also commentates on his own matches). The announcing can be repetitive, but it can be adjusted in the game options to be less frequent.
Retrosoft Studios packed quite a lot into their game. Within the Versus mode alone, players can choose singles, tag team, trios, 8-man tag, triple threat and fatal 4-way matches, in addition to being able to toggle the time limit between 5 minutes and 15 minutes, or simply have no limit at all. Players can also set steel cage matches, and are able to choose between modern chain-link fencing or the classic blue-barred steel cage. Finally, you’re able to setup “Falls Count Anywhere” matches, or simply turn the ring out count off (you can set it to 10, 20 or 30 seconds too).
The game truly shines in its other modes though.
The Retro Rumble is what you would expect it to be. As the player you have the ability to select which member of the roster you want to control in a 16-man (for now?) Rumble match. Much like the VS. mode, the Rumble boasts its own special set of rules and options. The mode allows you to set the number of entrants to anything from 8-16 wrestlers, set the maximum number of wrestlers in-ring at any time from 2 to 8 (creating a defacto Gauntlet Match), how many wrestlers start the match, the time between entrants arriving to the ring, randomizing where you as the player enter, and whether or not you want to sit back and watch the AI battle it out. Eliminations are a bit quirky and tricky to pull off, or are unclear as to the conditions for it, but I’ve had success throwing wrestlers out with slams, back body drops and running clotheslines. Eliminations can also be done by pinfall; while it’s not a traditional Rumble rule set, it adds options for you as the player.
One of the earlier additions to the game was 10 Pounds of Gold, which is an allusion obviously to the NWA and its famed Worlds championship. The promotion became involved in the game early in development, which is also why two of its arenas are featured as ring options. Much like the original WrestleFest, in this singles mode you can choose any one grappler from the roster and proceed to work through a series of matches (5) until you reach Nick Aldis and contest the NWA title in a 2-out-of-3 falls steel cage match. Should you win, the game doesn’t end. Instead, you then need to defend the title a set number of times until you must rematch Aldis in another 2/3 falls cage match. This comes up a little short and feels under-whelming as a final match because it repeats the stipulation, so there’s nothing to distinguish it from the previous encounter other than you coming out with the NWA title around your waist. This mode would benefit greatly from additional match options to differentiate it from the first match.
The final mode in the game is the Story Mode in which you control Johnny Retro (Morrison) as he mounts a comeback following a pair of career-threatening injuries suffered at the hands of Zack Sabre Jr., who broke both of Retro’s legs during a previous match. The story progresses along and offers some choices in how it unfolds through a series of dialogue options that will either endear you to wrestlers like Stevie Richards and the bWo who take part in your rehabilitation, or Tommy Dreamer, who only speaks in “All Caps.” The journey will take you around the world and see you team with or face the majority of the roster until finally you meet up with ZSJ in Japan for the story’s conclusion. You do have a choice in what your final match is, however whether you choose to end your blood feud or chase glory on another path, the pre-credits ending scene is the same (I played through twice). The ending does feel unfulfilling, but it is clearly left as a cliffhanger to imply there is more to Retro’s story; it definitely indicates there is more content inbound from the team, however it is unclear if it will come as a free update or paid DLC.
Whether this is a game for you comes down to your tastes, or in the case of the Switch, desperation. If you’re a solid fan of the 2K style and only that franchise, this game is nothing like that in any capacity. If you’re a fan of Fire Pro Wrestling, this game will definitely be in your wheelhouse and sport a roster that aside from ZSJ was not part of the fairly recent Fire Pro Wrestling World game on the PS4 and Steam. What this game is though is a more accessible, highly customizable wrestling game that is easier to learn than Fire Pro and doubles as a stepping stone toward learning and understanding how to play that game.
RetroMania Wrestling stands on its own merits though with its art style, detailed arenas, fairly deep game modes, solid (albeit niche) roster and a wide swathe of match customization options. If there were going to be any criticisms levied on the game, it could use even more match types, a more interactive cage, more weapons (beyond two chairs) and perhaps some of the more subtle things like more ringside interactivity akin to what WrestleFest offered. Additionally, the duplication of the Aldis matches in story mode is very glaring.
The game isn’t without its quirks. For example, during Fatal 4-way matches (with eliminations turned off), although fun and chaotic, they can also be frustrating as it becomes more difficult to secure pinfalls. This can be a frustrating turnoff. I opt to use submission wrestlers like ZSJ to eek out quick submission wins, but that isn’t always an option. Also, frequently during pinfall breaks the person performing the pin will end up on the mat while the wrestler formerly being pinned will get up and immediately pin the other wrestler. What ensues then if it’s a 4-way is the game will snowball pinfall attempts with each successive break, devolving into a pin attempt chain until you sensibly are able to break it up by initiating a standing grapple. This is the only instance of this, and but it’s notable all the same.
The game otherwise performs as expected, perhaps even beyond expectations considering it was developed by a very small team over the last two years. The final product shows the love and care put into the game to fine tune it despite some minor quirks in isolated situations. And although the story mode might leave you unfulfilled, if you played WrestleFest you know full well what’s rushing your way.
RetroMania is a very good wrestling game. Although it may not appear accessible at first glance, it boasts an array of tweaks to tailor the experience to your tastes, building upon previously mentioned options to also include scalable difficulty, second winds, momentum, match length (momentum speed gains) and the aforementioned grapple assist. It’s additionally a good gateway to Fire Pro Wrestling, but stands on its own merits as a very good option for fans of wrestling games.
If you’re active on Steam, or own an Xbox One or PS4 (release TBA), you’ll have no shortage of options. RetroMania performs much better than 5 Star Wrestling, or something like the formulaic 2K Battlegrounds. If you own Fire Pro Wrestling World or any of the WWE 2K games that work as they’re intended to, this game can still find a home in your library as it’s dissimilar enough and stands on its own. It might be a little steep at $29.99US (currently on sale on Switch), but in terms of polish and quality it holds more value than something like Wrestling Empire that’s set about $10 below RetroMania’s price point.
Conversely, if you’re a Switch-only owner, your options are more limited. It doesn’t appear Fire Pro Wrestling World will ever be ported, and WWE 2K18 to my knowledge still crashes at the main menu. That leaves Pro Wrestling on the NES app, a woeful game in “3 Count Bout” from the Neo Geo, Mat Mania (arcade port), and the intentionally buggy chaos that is Wrestling Empire. If you have a Switch, even if you’re a multi-platform owner and have one of the other mentioned games, RetroMania is a solid purchase if you’re a wrestling game fan and would also like to have a game to play when travelling or commuting. On the Switch it fills a glaring hole that the 2K games failed to fill, and is otherwise left void by other titles in the genre that fall short. Even then, with the promise of more content on the horizon RetroMania is a great, easy-to-pick-up wrestling game that’s ripe with nostalgia and worth its price tag.