Comedian and HBO host John Oliver once said “wrestling is better than the things you like.” The same can’t always be said of wrestling games, but WrestleQuest, a new role-playing game (RPG) from Mega Cat Studios, had the potential to give truth to that statement. Unfortunately, though, WrestleQuest is marred by a litany of issues. Some are directly tied to its gameplay mechanics, while others are related to its presentation. Together they mean that what could’ve been a promising offering for fans of wrestling has its charm wear off in a short span of time.
Your journey in WrestleQuest starts with podcast hosts regaling you of an exciting tale, one where athletes come from humble beginnings, taking on all challenges before reaching the big leagues. You’re introduced to one of the main characters, the Muchacho Man Randy Santos, an obvious nod to Macho Man Randy Savage. With big goals and big dreams, Randy is joined by friends who are also seeking to prove themselves in the squared circle.
Soon thereafter, you meet Brink Logan and his siblings from the cold north. Without the pink and black motif, you might not notice that Brink is a reference to Bret “The Hitman” Hart, until he starts talking about being the “excellence of execution,” along with moves alluding to the Sharpshooter and a getup akin to a mob hitman.
Things get chaotic from there, as you fight alongside a humanoid stag, possibly alluding to all the moose in Canada; a toy box mechanic who always wears a cap and has the “five moves of doom” hinted at; a soldier who’s more akin to a G.I. Joe character, a fish who’s also a high-flyer, dubbed as the “Loachador” for obvious reasons, and more. There’s even a black character, The Brooter, who does a big boot, and an ability related to eating vitamins–which was a bit too on-the-nose given Hulk Hogan’s past racist tirade.
All in all, WrestleQuest’s characters present a wacky world where athletes are joined by animal counterparts, action figures, and Transformers-esque robots. This is further exemplified by the game’s use of bright and colorful visuals, with retro vibes harkening back to the days of classic RPGs. The presentation evokes SNES titles such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, with lone characters moving across the map before entering dungeons and towns. Battles, meanwhile, are turn-based affairs where you duke it out with an opposing group. These enemies range from other toys and animal creatures to bizarre contraptions.
In-game, wrestling legends aren’t just celebrated or idolized, they’re worshipped–complete with large statues telling you of their deeds. You’ll meet personages such as the aforementioned Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, the Road Warriors, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Sgt. Slaughter, and more. Some would join as managers, while others could become summons.
I found these facets quite endearing, not just as someone who’s been eager to try more classic-themed wrestling titles, but also one who’s been looking for a game that showcases what wrestling is: an over-the-top spectacle where both cartoony and serious concepts co-exist.
Unfortunately, the charm and humor soon wear off as WrestleQuest’s quick-time event-driven combat system reveals a lack of depth and variety. I personally have no issues with QTEs in games; if done correctly, they make for engaging and exciting moments, where you’re not just watching a scene, but actively participating in one. WrestleQuest, however, forgoes moderation. Instead, it relies heavily on QTEs, almost to an egregious and exorbitant level. Every character’s basic attack requires one or two perfectly timed button presses. Miss, and your character could either get countered, or their attack will deal less damage. The same can be said for many skills, which also need buttons to be pressed when prompted. Ditto for defending against certain abilities, just so you can mitigate some of the hits.
This further extends to the pin system, which requires you to time your button press just as the arrow hits the green marker. For veterans of past WWE 2K titles, you’ll remember this as one of the most hated mechanics during a match. In this game, however, a poorly timed click also causes a downed wrestler opponent to get healed partially and get back on their feet. Naturally, you’d get attacked soon thereafter, causing a tiresome back and forth. You’re more likely to enable the auto-pin setting because of this.
There’s also another option that allows you to deal maximum damage, though this makes the game too easy to a fault. Another recently added option slows down QTEs, though that doesn’t change the fact that many combat actions still require them. Since QTEs are a core gameplay mechanic, it’s as though your only option is to continue playing even when it becomes tedious, or to remove the challenge entirely, with nothing in between.
Combat also includes the hype system, where certain actions boost or lower hype, providing boosts to your three-person party depending on the thresholds that you reach. There are also managers that add passive boons, as well as tag team and triple team maneuvers. Sadly, all of these take a backseat to questionable mechanics that, rather than creating a deep and dynamic system, becomes an overused and repetitive gimmick instead. Turn-based combat is often more engaging when it entails deep, tactical options, as opposed to depending on numerous timed button presses for multiple actions.
Another one of WrestleQuest’s flaws is its pacing: it jumps from one team to the next, almost without rhyme or reason. You can guess that the presentation might be akin to a movie or a show: we see the heroes come from different backgrounds; we see how all have separate adventures; and, finally, the whole gang is united. The concept works on paper, but is deeply flawed once you play for a few hours.
There were instances when certain ideas were introduced, such as fixing cars, only for that mechanic to be of no use when it abruptly switches to a party that’s in another area. There were moments when I was in the middle of a quest and I’d reach an objective, but then the game jumps to another character’s perspective, and that person is tackling a different quest. Likewise, there were parts where a new teammate joins the crew, only to immediately return to the previous squad’s section, without so much as being able to see that teammate’s capabilities.
Ordinarily, an RPG gives players a quest objective, which they finish before moving to the next one. Along the way the player encounters different characters, a boss, a new biome, or is taken on a narrative arc that has time to breathe so players can immerse themselves.
WrestleQuest upends this format for something much more chaotic and incohesive, as though it’s simply trying to tick the boxes for various ideas, tropes, and environments with no rhyme or reason. At one point, you’re exploring a sci-fi-themed location, but then another squad is in the desert, which then shifts to a third group in a graveyard, only for that group’s quest to remain incomplete since you’d return to your squad in the sci-fi area. Lather, rinse, and repeat for over a dozen hours. This kind of contrasting shifts could be utilized to interesting effect if there was some narrative conceit or some other gameplay or aesthetic idea causing it–Chrono Trigger, for example, takes players through vastly different environments quickly, but it’s all driven by a time-traveling and reality-hopping story. WrestleQuest doesn’t have anything like that, it just feels random.
For the sake of transparency, there were technical issues that I experienced during the course of our WrestleQuest review. There’s a possibility that you won’t encounter these at launch, but they’re worth noting, nonetheless. The biggest was a bug in a location where my team had to split up to interact with three gates. Getting discovered by a spotlight caused a character to get teleported to the middle path, with no way of returning to the other areas. Since the game only autosaves the latest save state, that meant loading a manual save instead. And, as you may have guessed, my last manual save was several hours prior, which meant I had to redo entire sections.
WrestleQuest has the right tools to make for a memorable wrestling RPG experience, with its quirky characters, vibrant atmosphere, and countless references. Unfortunately, though, its over-reliance on a rote combat system, poorly paced narrative, and issues under the hood make for a frustrating experience. Far from being Mr. Perfect, it is, instead, the Genesis of McGillicutty.