Wrestling and gaming have gone hand in hand together for decades now, but it’s rare that a game about wrestling actually experiments with the formula. Aside from WWF Betrayal, the Game Boy beat ‘em up, and Crush Hour, the Twisted Metal clone, pretty much all wrestling games focus on the wrestling itself, both in and out of the ring, so a game like WrestleQuest is actually quite refreshing in theory. However, while WrestleQuest turns the world of wrestling into a self-referential RPG full of charm and humour, some old school design choices seriously hamper this game’s chances at a main event push.
Instead of taking place in the real world, WrestleQuest smartly crafts a toy box world that seemingly runs on action figures, plushies and wrestling. This Toy Story for pro wrestling aesthetic allows WrestleQuest to play with the more ridiculous elements of wrestling pretty easily, though that doesn’t make it any less jarring when real-life wrestlers and personalities like Jeff Jarrett, Sgt. Slaughter and Conrad Thompson start showing up.
The game itself follows two different protagonists, a Macho Man Randy Savage send-up called Muchacho Man, and walking Bret Hart reference Brink Logan. Muchacho Man is a spice obsessed himbo who still believes that wrestling is a shoot instead of a work, brother, setting out into the world to become the champion of the biggest promotion in the land, PAW. Unfortunately for Muchacho Man, the political and murky underbelly of wrestling might just send him back to developmental.
Meanwhile, Brink Logan is a talented journeyman who was originally content with doing the job and making other talent look good, but after catching the eye of a prominent promoter, he’s given the opportunity to shine on the biggest stage yet. How this affects the relationship with his tag partner, Stag Logan, is what drives Brink’s side of the narrative forward, as you travel across the land laying the smackdown on whoever stands in your way.
The dual protagonist narrative as a concept is decent enough, but here it doesn’t feel like it’s been executed in the best way. The character you’re controlling swaps a bit too regularly, meaning it’s hard to really build up any momentum or develop proper attachment to one particular party as you’ll be whisked away to the other plotline before you know it. Perhaps a better solution might have been two separate campaigns following each protagonist, giving the player time to sit with each character and appreciate their individual stories.
While the pacing and the structure of the story has its issues, the writing of the jokes and humour is decent enough. If you’re a terminally online wrestling fan down with all the lingo and the smart mark humour, WrestleQuest’s jokes and writing will definitely get a pop out of you, even if it’s just for silly puns like Loachador. Do you get it? He’s a fish luchador.
As for the gameplay, WrestleQuest borrows heavily from the turn-based RPGs of old, only with spells and special attacks being replaced with “gimmicks,” because every good wrestler needs some flash and pizazz behind them. Gimmicks come in many different flavours, allowing you to perform stunners, frog splashes and other wrestling manoeuvres, or whatever move is relevant to the characters themselves. The mechanic chucks wrenches at people, the teacher can give allies an apple which heals them, there’s a mercenary with a big gun; it’s all very Golden Age/New Generation era WWF where it felt like the gimmicks of the entire midcard and below were just occupations.
In a vein similar to the best turn-based RPG ever made, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, WrestleQuest employs the use of minigames in its combat to keep the player invested. Unfortunately, they don’t really evolve much beyond “hit the button in time to do more damage” or “mash the right button and hope the enemy is KO’d immediately”. They just feel like flimsy additions to the game rather than something genuinely enjoyable.
Still, the combat does have some merits, including the hype meter that gives players additional bonuses for building up their “hype”. Using gimmicks, taunting your opponent and playing into one of five hype types (powerhouse, showman, technician, sidekick and underdog) grants hype, which can improve your damage, increase your defence and even recover your AP, letting you perform more powerful moves.
There are also dramatic moments, which come into play during vital boss battles. These moments are designed to inject some story into the fights, usually by letting your opponent get some licks in before you mount a comeback. The idea of objectives in a turn-based game is a bit more novel than usual, and the rewards of new gear and stat boosts make for a nice incentive, but the counter-intuitive nature of losing to win sometimes can be quite the hassle. Having a character be KO’d in order to win via the dramatic moments can put you in a very dicey situation, especially if you forgot to visit the local shop for healing items and the like.
Speaking of shops, navigating the actual world of WrestleQuest is probably the biggest flaw that the game has. The mini-map is merely a circle with an exclamation point telling you where the objective is, meaning you have no bearing on where you are or which paths might lead to secrets as you’re exploring either the towns or the various dungeons. There’s no fast travel either, meaning you’re just left to wander aimlessly, hoping you find some secrets or chests along the way.
Actually controlling the characters as they move through the world also feels like more trouble than it’s worth in what should be a simplistic game, as they’ll regularly become stuck on environmental objects like bushes or fences. This is either because the camera can be too zoomed out, meaning it’s hard to see what you’re actually navigating, or because the characters love slowing down when they move into a wall. In a game where dungeons have traps that can damage and even kill you, sending you back to the last manual save, having basic movement feel this frustrating is almost a death sentence.
Mileage might vary with WrestleQuest then, as the writing and jokes might be able to sustain you through this lengthy adventure, even if the gameplay is simply passable. There’s definitely imagination and love on show here, but the game itself isn’t quite ready for a world championship push just yet.
A code for WrestleQuest was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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There’s charm and appeal to be found in WrestleQuest, but this old school RPG doesn’t have enough to stay in the main event.
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