RetroMania Wrestling Review

RetroMania Wrestling is intended as a sequel to super popular, coin-chugging arcade grapple em’ up WWF WrestleFest, with it currently being available on PC and all of the eighth gen consoles. I had held off playing it because I wanted to have a bash at the Nintendo Switch version. Firstly, this was because I always like to have an excuse to justify my Switch’s existence, lest it become essentially the most expensive paperweight in my flat. Secondly, it was because I felt the Switch would naturally make the best platform on which to play RetroMania Wrestling, especially as it would mean that I could play it on the go as and when I liked, which seemed perfect for an arcade-styled wrestling game. Ultimately, I’ve enjoyed my time with it, and I’ll do my best to explain why in the coming paragraphs.

 

Backstory

I’ve gushed about WWF WrestleFest on more than one occasion here on Gaming Respawn, with it being one of my favourite arcade games due to how fun and accessible it is. Considering how beloved the game is (and to a lesser extent, its elder sibling, WWF Superstars) and the much welcomed new wave appreciation for retro games of yore, it definitely felt there was a space in the market for a new release to transport the WrestleFest formula into a modern setting. Enter developer Retrosoft Studios, who have slapped down the cash to the right holders of the original WWF WrestleFest arcade game in order to create a long awaited sequel.

Retrosoft Studios haven’t been able to get WWE on board for RetroMania Wrestling, sadly, so they’ve headed to the world of independent wrestling instead, getting the likes of Colt Cabana, Tommy Dreamer and Zack Sabre Jr. to represent the world of modern wrestling whilst getting in classic fighters The Road Warriors and Austin Idol as well. Sadly, Retrosoft were unable to get classic tag team combination Demolition in so that fans could have them clash with The Roadies, although they did try in all fairness to them, but overall, there is a roster of 16 wrestlers that come with RetroMania Wrestling, with plans to eventually add more via DLC if the game proves to be popular enough (one wrestler called Chris Bey has already been announced, as have James Storm and Mr. Hughes).

The wrestler most familiar to fans of WWE would likely be John Morrison, who is currently a member of WWE’s roster but did this deal before returning. Overall, I quite like the roster on offer, with it having a good mix of guys, and it’s likely that you’ll find at least a couple of pixelated battlers that you’ll enjoy playing as. 16 might seem like quite a small number when you consider just how many people they shovel into the WWE 2K games, but it fits with the retro theme of the game, and as Showdown: Legends of Wrestling proved, it doesn’t matter how big or varied your roster is if the game itself is cack.

 

Gameplay

Retrosoft have wisely decided that lifting the entire gameplay wholesale from WWF WrestleFest without any tweaks or additions would probably be the wrong way to go, especially as 100% arcade-styled gameplay doesn’t always translate to a home experience. Instead, they have kept core elements from the original game so that it still “feels” like a game in the series whilst also adding some nuance to the gameplay so that it isn’t just a case of mashing buttons like the original game essentially came down to. There are still going to be moments in a match where you’ll have to button bash to gain an advantage, but there’s far more going on than just thumping the Y button until you win.

In some ways RetroMania Wrestling uses a grapple system not too unlike the Fire Pro Wrestling games, with an emphasis placed on timing and gradually working your way up to using the bigger moves as the match builds. You initiate a grapple by walking into an opponent, at which point you have to time a button press just right in order to enter a grapple state. Should your timing be correct, you will then have an option of sending your opponent off to the ropes with an Irish Whip by pressing the X button or performing one of three differing levels of grapple move. Pressing Y and a direction on the D-pad will see you perform a low strength move, B button is for medium strength moves and A button is for high strength moves.

As the descriptions suggest, each of the three levels of moves perform differing levels of damage, with the high strength moves most likely being the trademark attacks your wrestler is known for. For instance, pressing right and A button when in a grapple with John Morrison (or Johnny Retro, as he is known in this game) will see you perform his “Moonlight Drive” spinning neck-breaker move. However, you can’t just go straight into delivering all of your wrestler’s biggest moves, and if you try some of the more dangerous attacks early before your wrestler is ready, then you will likely see them countered quite easily by your opponent.

This is because each wrestler has a momentum bar that you can see below their names, which is made up of three boxes. You must fill up one of these boxes before you can perform middle strength moves and then fill up the second one before you can start cracking your rivals’ skulls with the higher strength moves. If you manage to fill all three bars, then you will have a momentary chance to perform a punishing finishing move. What you need to input to perform your finisher depends on the situation in which it takes place. For the likes of Idol and Cabana, you will need to press diagonally down to the right on the D-pad and press A button whilst in a grapple, whereas for wrestlers who perform their finishers off the ropes, such as Jeff Cobb or Nikita Koloff, you will need to send them off with a whip first before pressing the A button.

To fill the momentum bar, you will need to successfully perform attacks and insult your opponent by taunting them with a press of the right shoulder button. You will need to make sure you are at a safe distance before taunting though; otherwise, you leave yourself wide open to an attack, and any momentum boost you would have gained from the taunt will be lost. Along with grapple attacks, you can also climb to the top rope to come down with devastating Axe Handle Smashes or Flying Splashes, attack your opponent on the floor with stomps or submission holds, like Boston Crabs, or you can even take the fight to the outside and brain your hapless foe with a metal folding chair (although you will have to make sure to get back into the ring before the referee counts you out if those rules are in place).

Overall, RetroMania Wrestling offered a much deeper gameplay experience than I was expecting, and it was greatly appreciated on my end. I love WWF WrestleFest, but there’s no doubt that it was very much of its time, and the gameplay did need to be adjusted a little bit for a modern setting. As previously mentioned, sometimes you and your opponent will both time your grapple attempts at the same time, which will lead into a brief moment of button bashing where you throw punches at one another hockey-style to decide who gets the right to win the grapple. This is done just like in the old WWF WrestleFest game, and it gave me a palpable shot of nostalgia. I do love as well how the wrestlers in the game walk around just like the body slammers in the original game did, with their hands by their side like they’re trying to get across how big a marrow they saw at a recent church fete was.

I found that there were a few minor issues with the gameplay, the main one being that it’s very easy for both you and the computer to spam attacks at the legs, which can drain you of a lot of energy, and you don’t really have any recourse to block or counter them. If you stand at a downed opponent’s legs in the right place and press the Y button, you will perform a move that changes depending on which wrestler you select. More technically-minded grapplers, like Cabana and Sabre Jr., will apply a spinning toe hold, whilst more brawler-styled types, like Austin Idol, will drop an elbow to the crotch, and bigger meat-head type power guys, like The Road Warriors, will perform a big Giant Swing.

These attacks are really effective due to the lack of any real ability to stop them, which means they become a very easy way for the computer-controlled wrestlers to take away close to a quarter of your health bar with just three attacks, growing their own momentum bars in the process. I also found that it could be really difficult to swing the momentum back in cases like this as once you have your momentum bar full, then your propensity for countering grapple moves increases, meaning that if you get an opponent down and wear them down with leg attack moves on a few occasions then it becomes a real pig for that opponent to ever really get back into things. I found I would defeat some opponents really quickly sometimes if I was able to do the spinning toe hold on them five to six times and vice versa.

One way to offset this a little bit is to activate a second wind option in the menu, which will randomly allow you or the opposing wrestler to get a shot of energy at a critical moment to allow them to fight back. Interestingly, the default settings have second wind completely turned off, which makes me think Retrosoft don’t really intend for you to use it that much, although I personally found it added an exciting random element to matches, not unlike WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game from Midway where sometimes a wrestler would pop up from a pin attempt like a movie monster for one last attack.

Overall though, I’d say these were mostly minor gripes, and the gameplay in RetroMania Wrestling is a fitting evolution of the original whilst still being faithful to it at the same time.

 

Graphics

I really liked the visuals in RetroMania Wrestling, but then again, I’m a sucker for that classic retro-styled look in games. It’s amazing to think that when I first really started reading video game magazines in the 90s, the reviewers tended to always throw some snark a game’s way if it dared to have a 2D retro look (because those early fifth gen 3D games have sure stood the test of time, haven’t they?), but these days I think most of us have come to appreciate that visual style. The wrestlers may be 2D, but they are far from bereft of personality, and the many different arenas all have interesting stuff going on if you’re willing to cast an eye into the background (with the UK-based arena even having a ruddy big dragon in the crowd! I wonder if he had to pay for two seats).

Some of the arenas are bright and colourful, whereas some are more focused on realistically recreating real-life, such as the NWA Powerrr set. Heck, one of the stages sees you quite literally fighting in the underworld, with lakes of lava and a heavy metal band thrashing away whilst you partake in combat. I also really like the exaggerated caricatures of the wrestlers that are used in cutscenes, with them again just oozing with character and personality. They really give the wrestlers that larger-than-life feel that WWF WrestleFest managed so well, and there are a lot of cute visual touches here and there that harken back to the original game.

The classic retro “look” might not be for everyone, but I personally loved it, and I think any fans of the original game will likely enjoy it too. They have even gone as far to do Saturday Night’s Main Event-styled fonts for the wrestler’s names right before matches start, which is just a whole different level of dedication to detail. You can tell that those responsible for the visuals had a real reverence for the original game and wanted to bring what made it so striking from a visual perspective into the new game, and I’d personally say they have succeeded.

 

Sound

RetroMania Wrestling doesn’t really have much in the way of really catchy tracks, aside from the one that plays in the menu, which did a good job of getting stuck in my mind after many listens, but what music that does play over cutscenes and during matches is decent and suits the action that is going on. Each wrestler has their own retro-styled entrance music that plays when they enter the ring, and I personally found those particular tracks to be amongst the best music in the game. Colt Cabana and Zack Sabre Jr.’s themes, in particular, are really catchy and sound a bit like 8-bit versions of the tunes they enter to in real life, and I love the foreboding music that The Road Warriors enter to.

The game includes commentary as well from Cabana and Ian Riccaboni, and though it can start repeating itself a bit after a certain point, I generally enjoyed it, especially the puzzled way Cabana always says “Johnny Retro?” whenever Johnny is competing in the ring. Ring announcing is also provided by Josh Shernoff, which is a nice callback to how Mike McGuirk would do introductions in WWF WrestleFest.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that the sound in RetroMania Wrestling is amazing or anything like that, but it’s certainly not bad and makes a solid accompaniment to the action taking place both in the ring and backstage. If the commentary isn’t something you enjoy, you do have the option in the menus to adjust how regularly it happens, and you can even turn it off entirely if you’re not a fan. I left it on because I quite enjoyed it, but I can understand how some might find it a bit samey after a long playthrough.

 

Longevity

This is probably the one area that the game in its current form suffers from a little bit, although there are definitely positive steps that have been taken by Retrosoft, and I’m sure they have an intention to add more into the game down the line if it manages to find a loyal player base. RetroMania Wrestling has four main gameplay modes. There is “Versus”, which is essentially Exhibition Mode where you can face off against computer-controlled opponents in singles, tag and multi-man, or go at it with other human players in local multiplayer.

As it currently stands, there isn’t an online mode included yet, but Retrosoft have said on the FAQ page of their website that they may look to add this down the line if the game proves to be popular. You are free to play with the rules and stipulations in Versus mode, and this can lead to some fun bouts, especially when you put eight wrestlers in an Eight-Man Tag Falls Count Anywhere match and just enjoy all heck breaking lose. I found I spent quite a lot of time in Versus mode honing my skills before taking on the other modes, and I think that you could certainly have a lot of fun in this with friends. Obviously, the whole Covid-19 pandemic has meant getting together with pals to play video games in person has become a tad more difficult, so if Retrosoft can sort out an online multiplayer mode, then I think it would be greatly appreciated.

Along with Versus mode are two other modes that are odes to the original WWF WrestleFest in the form of 10 Pounds of Gold and Retro Rumble. 10 Pounds of Gold sees you take control of one of the wrestlers in the game and working your way through an arcade ladder mode where you have to defeat differing combinations of the other wrestlers in the game until you can earn yourself a shot at NWA World Champion Nick Aldis. If you manage to defeat him in a gruelling Two out of Three Falls Cage bout, you will then have to defend the belt until facing him once again in a climactic battle. This is not unlike the Tag Team Saturday Night’s Main Event mode in the original game, and it even has a neat callback as Hollywood Nova smashes a board showing how many matches you have left, not unlike how Hulk Hogan did in the original game.

RetroMania Wrestling also has a Royal Rumble battle royale mode (called the “Retro Rumble” here), which sees you trying to outlast up to fifteen other wrestlers, with a maximum of eight wrestlers appearing in the ring at any one time. This is still the wild, frantic fun that it was in the original WWF WrestleFest, with the added bonus that you can now tweak the rules to change how long it takes for wrestlers to enter the ring or how many are allowed in the ring at any one time. Just like in the original game, you will get to see the closing credits if you manage to survive the Rumble itself, and I must admit to getting a pang of nostalgic pride when I managed it for the first time.

The fourth mode is the main single-player campaign, which sees you taking control of Johnny Retro and guiding his career after he returns from a serious injury. Along the way he will interact with other wrestlers in the game, and you can choose to either have him act valiantly or dastardly, with the story progressing in different ways depending on the options you select. Having the branching paths does give the mode some replay value, but you can finish it in under a couple of hours, and it does feel a little on the short side. I won’t spoil what happens, but the story does end on a bit of a cliffhanger though, meaning that there could be more story to come down the line.

I found there was an occasional bug in the story mode too, with the game sometimes not acknowledging the selection I’d made and acting like I’d made a different one than I actually had, meaning I had to exit and go back in so that I could continue on the path I wanted to go down. Sometimes the match rules wouldn’t play ball with the story either, such as when I got booked in a Falls Count Anywhere match, but count outs were still on, meaning that the stipulation was practically a non-factor, which annoyed me as I’d geed myself up for a wild brawl, only to meekly go back to arm drags and snapmares.

And indeed, the possibility that more content might be coming for RetroMania Wrestling might mean the game will have a bit more meat to it down the line. In its current form though, RetroMania Wrestling is a little light when it comes to longevity. In the aforementioned FAQ, Retrosoft have said they’ll consider adding Create-A-Wrestler mode and that more wrestlers will be coming as DLC, but that’s ifs, buts and maybes down the line. At the moment I need to judge on how the game currently is, and until we’ve all had our jabs and are allowed to be around one another again, there’s just not a lot of game there for the single player at the moment. I really think the online multiplayer component is probably the area they need to work on the most as it will inject instant life into the game if you’re able to go online and body slam other people. Here’s hoping that is something Retrosoft has waiting in the wings for us.

 

Conclusion

RetroMania Wrestling is a really fun game to play, has a really enjoyable retro look and feel, and it’s tantalising to think of what might be on the horizon when it comes to additional modes and wrestlers. However, in its current form, the game is a little light on overall content, with the lack of online multiplayer in particular taking a bite out of the game’s longevity. The single-player experience could do with a bit more meat on the bones, but overall, I like the game and would recommend it.

Developer: Retrosoft Studios

Publisher: Retrosoft Studios

Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Switch, PS4

Release Date: 26 February 2021

Gaming Respawn’s copy of RetroMania Wrestling was provided by the publisher.

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