Rediscovering the Nostalgic Arcade-Style Wrestling
All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has been a breath of fresh air for wrestling enthusiasts seeking an alternative to the WWE. But it’s not just the wrestling itself that has fans excited; it’s the possibility of reliving the arcade-style wrestling games of the past. Those who grew up playing games like WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64 have been eagerly awaiting a return to that immersive and exciting gameplay. Unfortunately, 2K’s simulation-focused take on WWE doesn’t quite deliver the same experience. Enter All Elite Wrestling: Fight Forever, the promotion’s highly anticipated debut game, aiming to transport us back to those nostalgic glory days.
But before you get too carried away with excitement, let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. While the new footage shown this week during a full match preview was promising, actually playing the game was a different story. I had the opportunity to test the game at Gamescom, and I left unsure of what to expect from the final product. While AEW: Fight Forever has the potential to bring back the magic of arcade wrestling, it still needs significant polishing before it can step into the ring. After all, even the most captivating gimmicks can only captivate an audience for so long.
Unveiling the Gameplay Mechanics
To get a proper feel for the game, I pitted Kenny Omega against Adam Cole in a dream match scenario. The first thing that struck me was that AEW: Fight Forever doesn’t attempt to emulate the live TV experience. Wrestler entrances are not fully recreated; the camera merely shows the character models briefly walking down the ramp before the match begins. There’s no ringside commentary either, leaving players to immerse themselves in the roar of the crowd and the sound of impact during the game.
This stripped-down approach may be appealing to some fans, especially those who prioritize gameplay over simulation aspects like in WWE 2K22. However, the absence of these additional details does leave the overall experience feeling somewhat lacking. If significant elements like these are missing, what other features might be sacrificed in the final game?
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Navigating the Ring
Unfortunately, the core wrestling mechanics of AEW: Fight Forever’s N64-throwback style didn’t entirely win me over. Throughout my match, it felt like I was mostly spamming attack buttons to throw strikes. The right trigger serves as a dedicated Irish whip button, which is undeniably amusing, but it was otherwise challenging for me to execute impressive moves intentionally. Climbing onto the top rope seemed to happen by accident, and reproducing successful aerial moves proved to be a mystery.
When I revisited the demo with a more deliberate approach in a match between Hikaru Shida and Paul Wight, I still came away with similar feelings. The game heavily relies on grappling to set up flashy moves, making many significant moments feel somewhat predictable. While this may not be a drawback for die-hard fans of WWF No Mercy, it can feel somewhat out of place considering AEW’s explosive and unpredictable nature. In comparison, WWE 2K22 feels more like an AEW game, while AEW: Fight Forever feels more like a WWE game.
Aerial moves also exposed some of the game’s technical shortcomings. When I executed a high-flying move, my opponent would awkwardly teleport toward me to facilitate the intended animation. While this quirk is also present in the WWE 2K games, it felt more noticeable in AEW: Fight Forever. Those hoping for a cleaner alternative to 2K’s games should expect a similar experience.
Paying Attention to the Small Details
Over the course of a match, the accumulation of minor details started to impact my overall experience. For example, the character models’ size felt slightly exaggerated to capture that classic arcade feel. However, it also posed logistical challenges. I found it difficult to position my opponent for a pin without accidentally triggering a rope break. Kicking a downed opponent felt futile, as those attacks often failed to connect. The game includes a dedicated reversal button, but it wasn’t always clear when to press it and which moves could be countered.
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My match didn’t flow as smoothly or look as clean as the one showcased by THQ Nordic at Gamescom. The gameplay felt stiffer, with few standout moments apart from my decisive One-Winged Angel finisher (even the AI-controlled Cole only pulled off one exciting move). Credit should be given to the WWE series for its ability to allow players to trigger visually impressive sequences simply by button mashing. In contrast, these moments felt sparse in AEW: Fight Forever, which seems at odds with its more accessible “pick up and play” approach.
For purists, this may not be a cause for concern. After all, the older wrestling games didn’t offer much in terms of flashy moves either, considering the limitations of older graphics. AEW: Fight Forever certainly captures that essence, but the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia play a significant role. Newer fans expecting a fully modern AEW game may find themselves puzzled as to why a game intended for the 2020s feels as rigid as one from the 1990s.
That being said, it’s too early to sound the alarm bells. THQ Nordic seems aware that the game requires further refinement, as no release date has been announced yet. With some tweaks, AEW: Fight Forever has the potential to thrive as a nostalgic party game. The build I played felt early in development, similar to the initial game trailers. However, like everything else related to AEW, its true advantage lies in being wholly different from its wrestling promotion rival. Perhaps some rough edges will be forgivable if the game successfully restores the genre to its N64 glory.
All Elite Wrestling: Fight Forever is currently in development for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.
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