With only a few weeks until the bell rings and WrestleQuest runs wild into the hands of the public, I’ve been allowed to lace up my wrasslin boots and take on the game’s opening hours. As an avid wrestling fan, I’ve been excited to try this unconventional RPG take on my favorite form of sports entertainment. While I harbor a handful of gripes, what I’ve played in a few hours has convinced me to buy a ticket to see Mega Cat Studio’s full match card.
WrestleQuest’s aesthetics took some getting used to, but I find the overall tone of its wrestling-forward world refreshing. Forgoing the portrayal of gritty, realistic regional wrestling promotions, Mega Cat opts for the vibe of a kid smashing together toys in their living room. Matches can break out anywhere, anytime, against anything. From other grapplers to robots and stuffed rats, nothing is safe from being power bombed or elbow-dropped.
That’s not to say there isn’t any real-world influence. Wrestling legends like “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Jake “The Snake” Roberts are deified with massive statues scattered across the land. The game drips with reverence and respect for the sport’s history and bleeds into the characters inhabiting the world. In a strange inclusion, even prolific podcaster (and Nature Boy Ric Flair’s son-in-law) Conrad Thompson chats it up with toy versions of classic wrestling names just like he does in reality. However, their chats in WrestleQuest focus on the superstars of the toy box world.
Most of my time with WrestleQuest was in the boots of Randy Santos, an up-and-coming worker with big dreams. Randy takes heavy inspiration from Macho Man down to inheriting his gravelly voice and brash charisma. His schtick is sometimes too much, but I’d be lying if the Santos’ Muchacho Man persona hadn’t grown on me a little. Not every character is as much of a carbon copy, though the influences shine through just the same. Brink Logan, a northern tag team wrestler from a storied family (which includes a stag brother, brother) that the story switches to at times, resembles Bret “Hitman” Hart in spirit but thankfully has a style much his own.
The main event of WrestleQuest is its matches. In the early hours, the bell-to-bell action doesn’t reach the dynamic feel of an actual match, but the details are present and appreciated. Every layer to the turn-based battles feeds the wrestling fantasy in fun ways.
For starters, basic attacks may cause the opponent to bounce off the ring ropes, opening up an opportunity to deal more damage by responding to a random button prompt. Once enough damage is dealt to knock down a wrestler you have to pin them. Pinning requires a simple timing mini-game that, when successful, takes them out of the fight for good, while failing recovers their health enough to return to fighting shape.
An expendable resource called AP is required to perform out a powerful Gimmick. Gimmicks are special attacks and buffs that often call back to signature moves and finishers from wrestling’s biggest stars. I only dipped my toe into Tag Team moves, which combine the party’s abilities for massive attacks, and calling out Managers to demoralize the opposition or pump up the team. Both mechanics encourage more thought and strategy, especially when deciding to prep for a team attack versus relying on individual Gimmicks to rile up the crowd.
Pro wrestling is nothing without the crowd of cheering and booing fans in attendance, and like any real match, winning them over in and out of the ring is essential. A hype meter is ever-present in matches, and every attack will swing the bar one way or another. Land a sick Gimmick, and the meter fills. Miss a follow-up move off the ropes or fail a pin attempt, and the crowd dies down. A filled hype meter provides bonuses that improve the party’s effectiveness or can reduce rewards like experience after a match if the bar is low. During my preview time, I didn’t have to pay much attention to the hype meter, but it may be fruitful in the long run to learn to manage it well.
The hype building sometimes starts before the bell rings with two huge aspects of the pro wrestling experience: promos and entrances. Promos let me talk trash on the mic and build the respect or disdain of the fans through multiple-choice options. Although, more impressive are the fiery customizable entrances known as Walk Ons. My choices were slim, but I had a blast picking my pyrotechnics, theme music, and fan interactions, such as throwing a pile of steel chairs onto the entrance ramp. Each Walk On I played arbitrarily selected a handful of my chosen elements, prompting button presses to successfully look like a cool dude strutting to the ring and getting the audience on their feet.
Following the introduction, WrestleQuest starts to show its promise when Muchacho Man hits the grimy streets of Boxwood, and the weirdness of the world begins to show. Tasked by a local principal/wrestling promoter to confront a crocodile rival, I embark on a dungeon crawl, fighting alongside a skateboard-wielding kid and a chemical-tossing science teacher. Throughout the trek across a grimy junkyard I battle mechanical menaces, beefy wrestlers, and a gigantic rat boss. The event culminates in an interesting decision with karmic repercussions that side my interests with greedy opportunists who only see wrestling as a scripted spectacle or the home-grown indie workers who prefer matches to be real.
The age-old concept of pro wrestling being “real” or not is woven throughout my short time with the story is intriguing, and it’s one of the driving forces to make me want to see more of what it offers. On the contrary, matches haven’t shown significant complexity yet, but the pieces are there to exhibit something more remarkable as the game goes on. I’m hopeful that WrestleQuest follows through on its promising themes and continues to entwine the trappings of the sport I love with the absurdity that mixing and matching figures from a random chest of toys can bring.