RetroMania Wrestling Xbox One review: Wrestlefest

The state of wrestling games is in flux at the moment, between the horrid mess that was WWE 2K20 and the somewhat mixed response to the arcade-style WWE Battlegrounds. In fact, the only solace that gamers had for some time was the old-school Fire Pro Wrestling World – and without availability on all platforms, its audience was more limited than expected.

However, now we have RetroMania Wrestling, a game from Retrosoft Studios that takes the formula of the 1991 classic WWF Wrestlefest and runs with it in its own special way. Perfect it is not, as it doesn’t really have all the features needed to be a winner. However, there’s more than enough retro goodness to keep you putting fools in a headlock.

The gameplay works similarly to Wrestlefest when it comes to the attacks you can use. You have weak, medium and strong, but it’s all based around a system of timing. So aside from some grappling moments, it’s all about when you can hit the buttons the right way. Do so and you can gain leverage in a match. Don’t, and, well, we hope you like getting body slammed. Not everything is clearly explained, but RetroMania has an excellent “pick-up-and-play” mentality that works fundamentally well. In fact, after a few matches, you may be tempted to throw friends around locally (in-game, mind you).

That brings up an interesting flaw with the game’s lack of online multiplayer. Locally, it works really well, and makes for some good match-ups. Except without an online component, it’s a little more limited than 2K’s WWE fare. Perhaps a future update can fix that.

Fortunately, there’s more than enough variations of matches to keep you busy; and there’s a decent story mode that walks you through what this revamped wrestling world is all about. It’s not overwhelming, but not half-bad either. The game also has a superb roster for an indie game, including everyone from The Blue Meanie to Tommy Dreamer to Matt Cardona to a variation of John Morrison, in the form of Johnny Retro. It’s not hustling and bustling like WWE’s games, mind you, but it’s still pretty cool. And there’s more to come via DLC, as well. That said, it would’ve been awesome to have some sort of customization tool, so you could bolster the roster along the same lines as, say, Fire Pro. As it stands, though, not bad at all.

On top of that, RetroMania has a terrific style going for it. You can tell that the devs are big fans of old-school wrestling games, as this chews it up at every turn. The animations are sharp and the characters and in-ring details are very clear to see, even on a portable Nintendo Switch game screen. It runs very fluidly too, even with the default 2D camera set-up. Wrestlers barely overlap and you can see all the action clearly. The themes are a lot of fun, too, and the “attitude” is just about right when it comes to classic wrestling action.

Overall, RetroMania Wrestling is a nice blast from the past, especially considering we never got a console port of THQ’s Wrestlefest reboot from years ago. This feels like a title that flashes back to the good ol’ days of wrestling games, when it wasn’t really about the fantastic engine or the features, but the easy-to-adapt-to action and fun roster. It’s a bit light on certain features, and has no online wrestling community (at least, not yet), but as it stands, it’s a blast from the past that’s worth adding to your collection. And it sure beats taking a steel chair to the sternum, tell ya what.

RATING: 3.5/5

2K needs to loosen up on WWE video games

At one point in time, WWE wrestling video games were the hottest thing in town. You couldn’t get enough of games like WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64, as well as the WWF Smackdown! games on the PlayStation 2. And then there was the THQ “golden era,” which not only gave us great wrestling sims, but also fun off-shoots like the arcade style WWE All Stars and the ridiculous sleeper WWE Crush Hour.

WWE Battlegrounds is fun — but more is needed.

But then, in 2013, a jarring change took place. Following the closure (at the time) of THQ, 2K Games acquired the license to WWE games. And instead of simply branching out and making a variety of titles based on the brand, it focused on singular, yearly releases in the WWE 2K series. It did have its spin-off WWE Supercard series for mobile, but, outside of that, it was status quo for a number of years, with the talented team at Yuke’s making each entry.

But then something happened – something bad. In 2019, 2K released WWE 2K20, the first game to be produced solely by Visual Concepts, removing Yuke’s from the development picture. And many things went wrong with the game, from a poor DLC model featuring Halloween-style costumes to terrible control issues to the worst kind of glitches you can imagine. We actually included a highlight (lowlight?) reel below, to give you an idea of just how screwed up things got.

As a result of poor sales and a whopping amount of negative feedback from fans, 2K put the brakes on WWE 2K21, opting to work with Saber Interactive on the arcade-style WWE 2K Battlegrounds instead. Though not entirely universally acclaimed, it was a modest hit for the company, possibly hinting at future entries down the road.

With that, 2K is at a crossroads. There are reports that it plans to release WWE 2K22 later this year, as it’s already begun recording with a number of superstars with this past weekend’s Royal Rumble. But this seems like as good a time as any for the company to get creative, and not necessarily stick with the yearly game plan – especially if it ends up being as bad as WWE 2K20 was.

So what can it do? Well, we have some suggestions.

Arcade-style is working

Considering that WWE 2K Battlegrounds is pretty well received – despite its microtransactions to unlock certain wrestlers in the game (though you can use currency) – it’s time for 2K Sports to stick with that plan. This seems like a good a time as any to consider a re-release of WWE All Stars.

Let’s explain why that works. The game was a hit when it was released in 2012, with a number of buff superstars duking it out in over-the-top fashion. And 2K does have the rights to the series, since it still kind of makes the rounds digitally. Not to mention that, with its current pay structure, it could easily reform the THQ San Diego studio that worked on the original, implementing a new roster and maybe even some new tricks up its sleeve.

While an arcade-style game might compete with the likes of Battlegrounds to some extent, it would also be a hit with old-school gamers. And it’d sell like hotcakes on the Switch, just as Saber Interactive’s game has. Something to consider.

Wrestlefest?

Speaking of old-school games that deserve a second chance to shine – what about WWE Wrestlefest? The original WWF version released in arcades under Technos back in 1991, becoming a huge arcade hit. In 2013, THQ attempted to rejuvenate the brand with a mobile-only release, featuring an updated roster and old-school style gameplay.

This seems like a perfect opportunity for 2K to consider a comeback of sorts for the brand, getting together a team of developers that understand the old-school nature. What’s more, it could be offered for a lower price, and maybe even for mobile like the last Wrestlefest was. Of course, we have to have Switch as well, just because.

Another good game to consider, especially since it was so much fun the last couple of times around. And, hey, no heavy mechanics necessary – Visual Concepts can rest easy on this one.

Other great ideas

In the past, we’ve seen WWE Crush Hour light things up pretty nicely; and there was talk about a cancelled game called WWE Brawl that featured insane one-on-one fighting mechanics. We’re not sure why it didn’t come out – lack of interest, maybe? – but it should’ve been given a chance. Maybe this is a good time for 2K to consider its resurrection, based on what we’ve seen in the video below. And keep its separate from the sim stuff, obviously.

For that matter, 2K could also bring its existing mobile properties to the console front to see how they fare. Supercard, for example, could easily be a huge sim title, especially with online play. And there’s also WWE Champions, which could be fun for a few rounds as well.

These are just some quick ideas, but it gives you an idea of the diversity that 2K could easily go for when it comes to all things WWE. It shouldn’t just stick to the straight and narrow because, as we’ve seen in the past, that isn’t always the best way to go. Diversification and invention can go a long way for the WWE games here. They just need to give them a chance.

Interview: Retromania Wrestling brings back the old-school headlock

The state of wrestling games right now is a little mixed, to say the least. Sure, we have Fire Pro Wrestling to keep us occupied. But there’s also WWE 2K20, one of the worst wrestling games released over the past few years, riddled with glitches and unwanted content.

While 2K attempts to fan the flames with the exciting-looking WWE Battlegrounds, there’s a new champ on the horizon – Retromania Wrestling. A spiritual successor to the classic WWF Wrestlefest from Technosthis classic looks to channel old-school gameplay and visuals, with a roster of indie favorites including Tommy Dreamer, The Blue Meanie and many more.

Michael Hermann of Retrosoft Studios sat down with us to discuss the forthcoming game, which will put gamers in a headlock on consoles and PC. Grab a steel chair and have a seat as we delve into this soon-to-be classic.

Getting Started

DVS: Why do you think big companies aren’t taking a chance on arcade-style wrestling games anymore? You’d think that something like a Wrestlefest or WWE All-Stars remake would be doing big business right now.

Michael: Well, in general, I think part of the reason is there is only one wrestling company up until recently for the last few years. We use to get a lot of different games but lately that has not been the case. Also, from a development standpoint, wrestling games are pretty challenging to make so that may be another reason you don’t see as many of them. 

Hey, fans, remember when you could watch wrestling in person…?

DVS: Where did you guys come up with the idea of doing your own wrestling game? Were you playing Wrestlefest one night and something just went off inside your heads, or…?

Michael: More or less, haha. Several years ago I wanted to figure out how to get the Macho Man into the original WrestlefestRetromania is the result. We could not get Macho Man, but we have a pretty cool roster none the less. This project started as a hobby and eventually morphed into a commercial project.  

Building the Roster

DVS: How did you go about putting the roster together? We see some “fantasy” stars in here, but also real wrestlers like The Blue Meanie.

Michael: Actually, all the wrestlers in the game are real wrestlers at this point. (we may add some fantasy start later). It was pretty easy to sign the guys. A person working with me by the name of Mike Archer was pretty connected to a lot of talent which made it easy for us to sign talent to the game. By the way, Blue Meanie is awesome!

DVS: How did some wrestlers react when you pitched them the idea of your wrestling game? Were they excited to be involved with the old school again?

Michael: It was mixed but all positive. Some of the guys are gamers and were really excited to be a part of it. Others were excited but it was more from a business standpoint and a chance to continue to build their brand. All the guys are cool to work with.  

Modes and More

DVS: How many different modes will be included in the game? Will there be a special steel cage match? We’ve seen hints of one.

Michael: Singles, Tag, 6 Man tag, 8 Man Tag, 3-Way, 4-way, Story mode, and Retro Rumble. And yes, there will be cages!!! 

DVS: How has the anticipation been for the game thus far? We heard you had a big showing at PAX East back in February.

Michael: It has been great! We get over 100 comments a day across our social media which has grown to about 65,000 strong. People are very interested in what we are doing and that feels great. PAX East was great. A couple of hundred people were able to play the game and we received a ton of great positive feedback. Definitely still a lot of work to do, but it was super encouraging that we are on the right track.

DVS: Is the game just about finished? Do you still anticipate a summer release?

Michael: Right now the target is July. But due to recent world events, we may have to push a little bit, but we are still working towards that goal. 

Did someone say Legion of Doom?

DVS: Will you be expanding the roster at all with additions?

Michael: We are now going to have 16 wrestlers at launch and will have some DLC. The amount will be determined by how successful the game is. 

The Dream

DVS: If you could have one old-school wrestler that isn’t in the game yet, who would you like it to be? Licensing be damned.

Michael: My first favorite wrestler was Magnum TA. He was in the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions. He was my favorite when I was 10 years old and I hope to be able to get him in the game someday. 

To learn more about Retromania Wrestling, be sure to visit its official page!