WrestleQuest: The Kotaku Australia Review

WrestleQuest: The Kotaku Australia Review

Let me make it clear up front: I like WrestleQuest. It’s incredibly charming and has some terrific ideas and design.

Unfortunately, WrestleQuest is also the most utterly authentic version of what an old-school role-playing game with wrestling and toybox themes could possibly be, and I really wish it were less deeply committed to the bit.

WWE has battled the worsening problem of its monthly pay-per-view events such as SummerSlam and WrestleMania. These events have become so overly long that they became a slog even for the most dedicated of wrestling fans. The matches that make up these events are typically the culmination of months or even years-long story arcs from WWE’s weekly television shows (which have also ballooned in length and number over the years, exacerbated by a bigger-than-ever roster of wrestlers). As a result, it has become increasingly important for WWE to make sure that audiences can keep up with the story and its many feuds, regardless of whether they watch the five-plus hours of programming it produces each week. This has led to every WWE pay-per-view being filled with video packages that recount the beats of each story multiple times during the show. This practice has, in recent years, begun to eat up a greater and greater chunk of the average PPV running time.

Image: Mega Cat

But at least you know where you are in the story.

WrestleQuest is a 50-hour RPG with a large roster of characters whose storylines all interweave, and it features no real way for the player to remind themselves of the story so far. 

At the time of writing, I still haven’t quite finished the core story. My in-game save file says I’ve played for 22.19 hours, and Steam says 41.3. A hiccup with my save file occurred ahead of last week’s embargo that developers Mega Cat were kind enough to help me out with, and I figure my actual time played clocks in at somewhere around the 32-hour mark. At around 10 hours, I started ignoring sidequests, and at around 20 hours, I enabled the options to make your attacks do extremely high damage and automate the pinning system just to try to get through to the end faster. Though this did alleviate some of the grind of random encounters, it hasn’t helped my aim of completing the game in a reasonable timeframe, and this is purely due to the sheer size of WrestleQuest’s world and the enormous length of the journey it asks you to undertake.

As a further insistence upon being as retro-minded as possible, there’s no real quick travel between locations. Despite the game taking place in a world where mobile phones and computers exist, a lot of quest beats frequently make you travel large distances on foot. You traipse across the world to exchange a few lines of dialogue with an NPC, only to have them send you off on an equally arduous journey to speak to someone else. It’s all just so unnecessarily wearying, and the reason I’ve put the game down to write my review is because, at least for now, it has put me into the same mood that WWE’s handling of Cody Rhodes has. I’m sat here wondering when they will actually finish the story and what that even means now anyway.

Image: Mega Cat

So why do I like it then?

Well, as you can see from the screenshots here, it’s utterly gorgeous. In motion, it looks even better. Its characters and biomes are all spectacularly designed and brim with personality. The writing is consistently entertaining and, at times, outright hilarious; I lost my shit when I found a giant statue of Randy Savage standing atop a mountain of coffee creamers and did so again hours later when a military-themed tag-team busted out a move called ‘Coalition of the Thrilling’. The love and respect WrestleQuest shows for both pro wrestling and toys is laser–targeted at me specifically (don’t ask me how many Becky Lynch action figures I own (eleven, it’s eleven)), so it’s no shock that its worldcrafting won me over as hard as it did. 

Its combat system is wonderfully fun and engaging to use and feels so smartly like a wrestle-fied version of the combat found in 90s Squaresoft games. The aforementioned options to make brawls easier and faster go a long way to alleviating the levelling grind that I always struggled with in old-school RPGs too. It seems a strange choice to design it so that enemy health bars only display when you’re in the actual act of attacking them, but fights aren’t really difficult enough for that to be anything more than an irritation.

How the game populates its world with real-life wrestlers ranging from iconic megastars like Jake Roberts and Bull Nakano, to beloved modern day midcarders like Leva Bates is a delight, but the inclusion of wrestling journalists like Chris Van Vliet, (who is still somehow impossibly photogenic in pixel form), and personalities such as Angry Joe is weirdly jarring given how far the game goes to establish everything in its world as being toys.

The toy box gimmick itself is used in a variety of ways which are mostly endearing and fun. As well as allowing Mega Cat to cast WrestleQuest’s NPCs and enemies as green army men, Gundams, plush toys, and basically anything else you can think of and have them all feel natural alongside each other, it’s also used to add tremendous variation to quest and map design. One whole section of the world is a thinly-veiled Barbie land, another is a bomb-blasted G.I. Joe warzone, and another is an entirely hex-gridded fantasy Dungeons & Dragons realm. It’s genuinely wonderful stuff.

Image: Mega Cat

The reason I say it’s only mostly endearing is because, for every time the game throws you into a wickedly silly Dance Dance Revolution contest or a brilliantly realized Cluedo murder mystery, it will also demand you successfully complete something as infuriatingly clumsy and chaotic as a real-time game of Battleship in order to progress the main story.

The unevenness of some of WrestleQuest’s gameplay experiments is frustrating, and I wish a few of its less well-executed ideas had simply been cut entirely.

As a 25-hour RPG, WrestleQuest could have been an all-time classic. Unfortunately, it’s buried inside of a meandering 50-hour RPG. WrestleQuest’s sheer size is tremendously impressive given how small the team behind it is, but it ultimately harms the play experience, dulling the achievement of making a game this big in the first place.

If Mega Cat can patch in quick travel and a story log system, then that would go a long way to alleviating my biggest issues. I fully intend to finish those last few hours over the coming weeks, regardless, once I have had a healthy break from it. 

As it stands right now, WrestleQuest just feels too similar to the last few pre-pandemic WrestleMania‘s; a damn good show, but entirely too much, and with a few gimmicks that need to be reworked.

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