Professional wrestling has been a unique pastime for many years, but there's still a sense of reverence for the pseudo-sport's golden age. As great as it is to be in 2023 in a professional wrestling landscape populated by The Bloodline, All Elite Wrestling, and an indie wrestling boom unlike any other, many fans of a certain age have a romanticized view of the 1980s. It was the Rock 'n' Wrestling era, the development of the first true national U.S. wrestling territory, and unforgettable larger-than-life heroes like "Macho Man" Randy Savage. WrestleQuest pays its deepest respect to this era of wrestling in one of the unlikeliest ways, and that's through a turn-based RPG. Mega Cat Studios has put together a strong, if somewhat imperfect, adventure that should appeal to both wrestling fans and RPG aficionados alike.
Showcase of the immortals
WrestleQuest follows several different stories all told through a narrative device that hardcore wrestling fans should find familiar: a Conrad Thompson podcast. Conrad shares the studio with real-life legends Diamond Dallas Page, Jeff Jarrett, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts as they primarily tell the tale of fictional grapplers "Muchacho Man" Randy Santos and Brink Logan of The Honest Bucks, though more playable protagonists step into the squared circle over the course of the story.
The game's story can best be summed up by wrestlers striving to be the best in the world. It can get confusing at points just because it's presented as a real competitive combat sport. Muchacho Man definitely takes it as one, which makes him both the game's biggest hero and the butt of a running joke, where outside parties wonder about this weirdo who believes wrestling is real. As a wrestling fan, it's bizarre to see dialogue exchanges between characters along the lines of, "If this was real, I'd kick your butt." Fortunately, the story is worth sticking with because it's ultimately a tale of the best qualities of professional wrestling and what it means to so many people.
One thing Mega Cat tries to pull off is a karma system, where dialogue choices and character actions can either turn them into a beloved babyface or a despicable heel. By the end of the game, I felt like more could have been done with this system because the main way to influence the scale is through binary dialogue selections. The system ultimately didn't feel like it went as deep as it could have, just because the selections were so few and limited.
Cream of the crop
While WrestleQuest's story can be nitpicked, like pretty much any pro wrestling angle, it's more difficult to find fault with its turn-based combat system. It's an inventive usage of the wrestling formula in which playable parties take on various enemies inside the wrestling ring. Boss fights are primarily one-on-one or tag team battles against other wrestlers, so the idea is not only to deplete their HP, but then pin their shoulders to the mat for a count of three. It's a fun and whimsical take on a tried-and-true formula and one that adds a surprising amount of strategy. In trios matches, for example, an opponent may be down on the mat, but players must determine who is the best candidate to go for the pin and whose offensive capabilities can safely be skipped.
Special abilities, called Gimmicks, are fun takes on pro wrestler moves, like the Muchacho Man's flying elbow or The Loachador's corkscrew bodypress. These are not only fun to look at, but they help feed into the Hype meter, a mechanic where winning over the audience can grant the party various buffs or unlock specific moves. The Hype meter is another mechanic that encourages players to rethink their traditional approach to RPG combat, since audience buffs can help greatly in the long run, especially when combined with passive Manager buffs that are found over the course of the story.
Random encounters are more straightforward and don't feel as much fun. In fact, it's less fun in two ways. Non-human foes simply fall upon losing their HP, which takes out the fun of the pinfall element. On top of that, taking on a party of exclusively non-human enemies means you can't be pinned and are instead KO'd upon running out of HP. Part of the fun of WrestleQuest is being on the brink of defeat and frantically mashing the button to kick out of a pinfall to lead to a desperate babyface comeback. That doesn't happen with non-human encounters and that led to a few Game Overs, so I wish these situations were less frequent.
WrestleQuest's other main weakness involves switching between protagonists. Everyone levels up at their own pace, so it's possible to revisit someone else's story and notice that they're noticeably underleveled. This has also led to a few Game Overs, especially as I got switched to a third protagonist who was severely unprepared for his journey ahead. Level grinding is never fun, and it's actually more difficult to do it in WrestleQuest since fallen enemies usually don't return. Worse, every party has their own inventory. While that makes sense from a logical standpoint, going from a party with an abudance of healing items and money to a party with almost no items and no cash on hand almost made me Scott Steiner-level angry. One might think the solution here is to avoid combat, but if there's an enemy that picks a fight with you, there's no running away. One would think that a pro wrestling RPG that pays respect to the 1980s would let players channel their inner Honky Tonk Man and run away from a fight if the odds are against them, but that's not the case.
Players will explore more environments than they might expect from a pro wrestling story. Some will feature interesting puzzles that may require parties to split up in order to fulfill multiple objectives. There aren't many of these instances, which is for the best, considering how much harder the run-of-the-mill enemy can get later on in the story. It should also be noted that environments can often have hazards that will hurt the party when making contact with them, just because the hitboxes on these can get inconsistent and lead to some minor aggravation.
IT'S STILL REAL TO ME, DAMMIT!
WrestleQuest is a game that's easy to love, though it has its fair share of flaws. Exploring this world that shows a clear love for the world of wrestling is a lot of fun. Most of the characters walk that fine line between being homages and caricatures. Even if they have a few groan-worthy lines, using their in-ring moves is a lot of fun. WrestleQuest's combat is innovative in the best way, like a Ladder Match in 1994. It's easily the highlight of the game, and I'd love to see how much more Mega Cat Studios can build on the idea in the future.
With intuitive combat, a mostly endearing story, and enough Easter eggs to fill the Gobbledy Gooker's nest, WrestleQuest is a must-play for fans of this great pseudo-sport. For everyone else, think of this RPG as a fine form of entertainment, much like professional wrestling itself.
This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. WrestleQuest will be available this Tuesday, August 8 on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch for $29.99 USD. It will also be available on mobile devices at no extra charge to Netflix subscribers. (EDIT: WrestleQuest's release date has been delayed to Tuesday, August 22 due to the discovery of a save-wiping bug. Shacknews did not encounter this bug during our time with the game.) The game is rated E.
- Inventive combat
- Endearing story with novel narrative device
- Fun characters
- Copious Easter eggs
- Karma system could have been better
- Battles against non-human foes are less fun
- Characters can feel underleveled as the story goes on