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.

WWE 2K Battlegrounds Is a Step In the Right Direction, But Is It Enough?

WWE 2K20 was nothing short of a disaster. 2K Sports parted ways with long-time series developer Yukes, letting Visual Concepts completely take the helm. What followed, however, was one of the worst technical failures in this generation of gaming. Between horrifying glitches, rushed visuals and lackluster features, the game couldn’t measure up to previously released entries in the series.

So, obviously, the publisher needed to do something about it, because the buzz behind a potential WWE 2K21 was minimal at best. This morning, it revealed just what it’s doing — it’s skipping the sim route for this year and going with something more arcade-like. In this case, WWE 2K Battlegrounds. The debut trailer is below.

WWE All Stars Successor, Is That You?

WWE 2K Battlegrounds looks to be a spiritual follow-up to the classic THQ wrestling game WWE All-Stars, which was more arcade-based and over-the-top than the usual sim. THis looks to be in the same vein, with John Cena possibly being fed to a crocodile at some point. The character models look a bit ridiculous, but the game looks to be including both male and female wrestlers alike, including Charlotte Flair and “The Man” herself, Becky Lynch.

The game is currently in development at Saber Interactive, the team that also brought the NBA Jam-like NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 out for platforms a little while back. So it has an understanding of how arcade-style fare is supposed to work. It’s got the repertoire to back things up, but the real question is if it’s enough.

Does This Mean the End of WWE 2K Sims?

At the moment, 2K Sports has put WWE 2K on the backburner. It’s not finished, by any means, but the company is going through a refocus “to ensure the development team at Visual Concepts can create a great game that will entertain grizzled 2K veterans, as well as newcomers who want to climb through the ropes and step into the ring for the very first time.”

Flair is ready. WHOOOOOOO!

It has also hired Patrick Gilmore to take over as executive producer of the series, stemming from his previous work at Amazon Games, where he put his effort into the forthcoming MMO New World.

It sounds like the series might return for next year, with WWE 2K22, but it’s unknown at this point in time.

Could WWE 2K Battlegrounds Pull Off the Upset?

There’s a slight bit of doubt behind this new arcade-style game, if only because it may throw off some people that are expecting a sim for this coming year. However, this is definitely a step in the right direction, for two reasons.

First off, it looks like it’ll make wrestling games a blast to play again, especially after the disaster that was WWE 2K20. A lot of people were angry about how that one turned out, so 2K is trying to distance itself from that trainwreck (despite continuing support for it) and instead focus on a game that goes back to basics, as it were.

The Man will not be denied.

And the second? Well, it reminds folks of WWE All Stars. At one point in time, this prominent arcade wrestling game was a big hit for THQ, though the company lost the rights to the franchise shortly thereafter with its bankruptcy, and we haven’t heard about it since. Battlegrounds could serve as notice that 2K isn’t afraid to be experimental with its wrestling fare going forward. Granted, that doesn’t mean we’re going to see WWE Crush Hour 2 anytime soon, but at least we’ll be able to forget about WWE 2K20.

But When Can We Get a Grip On Battlegrounds?

WWE 2K Battlegrounds doesn’t have a release date or intended platforms just yet (Switch, please?), but we should hear more about it in the months ahead. Fingers crossed that it’ll be the body slam wrestling fans need. And, for that matter, 2K.