Wrestling Empire Review
In the late 90s and early 2000s, professional wrestling was at the peak of its popularity. The Monday Night Wars are in full swing, and some of the biggest stars in the industry are in the spotlight. This era is where professional wrestling video games are probably at their best as well, with WWF No Mercy being particularly remembered as one of the best pro wrestling video games ever made. Both pro wrestling and video games have changed a lot since then, but one new game looks to recapture the magic of titles like WWF No Mercy, and that’s Wrestling Empire.
Wrestling Empire wears its WWF No Mercy inspiration on its sleeve, most obviously by mimicking that game’s old art style. It wouldn’t look out of place on the Nintendo 64, and while that means Wrestling Empire is full of janky animations and ridiculously outdated textures, it gives the game a certain charm. And even if Wrestling Empire is ugly as a bowling shoe (as legendary commentator Jim Ross put it), it makes up for it by maintaining a high frame rate. The actual Wrestling Empire gameplay is incredibly smooth, even when players overload the ring with 30 wrestlers at a time.
Since Wrestling Empire is not an officially licensed WWE or AEW game, the roster does not include any actual real-world wrestlers. However, it has hundreds of parody wrestlers that are effectively identical to their real-world counterparts, both in appearance and wrestling style. Instead of John Cena, Jimi Sierra is there. Instead of Kazuchika Okada, there’s Reign Maker. Stone Cold Steve Austin is Redneck Rosteen, Sting is Vulture, Hulk Hogan is Hal Coogan, and the list goes on. So while players may not necessarily find their actual favorite wrestler on the roster, they will almost certainly find their Wrestling Empire equivalent.
Like many other pro wrestling video games, Wrestling Empire has an extensive Editor that players can use to modify the roster as they see fit. With this editor, Wrestling Empire players can change the names of parody wrestlers to match their real-world counterparts, although doing so is a rather laborious process considering the sheer number of wrestlers available. Wrestling Empire’s deep roster is impressive, and is sure to appeal to almost any professional wrestling fan.
The Wrestling Empire roster is separated into unique wrestling promotions, all of which showcase real world promotions. Although prominent American wrestling promotions such as WWE are represented, several Mexican promotions are also parodied in the game, as is New Japan Pro Wrestling. This means that the Wrestling Empire roster should appeal to both casual fans of professional wrestling, as well as those who are deeply invested in the industry and watch more than sports entertainment-style wrestling.
Players may spend hours in Wrestling Empire customizing wrestlers, but the game’s range of customization options extends beyond fighters. Players can also freely edit the arenas they fight in, changing the location, changing the colors of the ring ropes, and even determining the crowd. Funnily enough, players can even eliminate the live crowd entirely and replace viewers with WWE Thunderdome-style digital screens, as seen on current WWE television as the company deals with COVID-19 restrictions . So while Wrestling Empire’s graphics make it look dated, it’s actually a wrestling game made for 2021.
Having all these editing tools and a massive roster of wrestlers doesn’t mean much if the in-ring action doesn’t back it up, even where Wrestling Empire is admittedly stumbling a bit. While it perfectly emulates the art style of classic wrestling games, it doesn’t really play like the games it imitates. There may be some method to the madness, most of the time the actual wrestling is pure chaos. Sometimes grappling an opponent results in a slam, other times the same exact input sees an opponent thrown into the ropes. Counters seem to happen without rhyme or reason, and submissions sometimes take an absurd amount of time. Sometimes it works perfectly, other times it’s a complete mess.
Wrestling Empire’s wrestling is too sloppy and unpredictable for players to really get into it, and it gets repetitive in no time. It doesn’t help either, that while there are technically many different match types to choose from, they all end up being the same. There are standard wrestling matches, Royal Rumble rules, tag matches, arms matches, and cage matches. Each of these different match types has its own variants that players can choose from, and players are always free to tweak the rules as they see fit, but they all still the same experience. Wrestling game staples like ladder matches are missing, so players may lose interest in the in-ring action faster than expected.
Another thing that hurts Wrestling Empire’s longevity is its lack of online multiplayer options. While Wrestling Empire makes smart references to modern wrestling trends like the aforementioned Thunderdome and even All Elite Wrestling owner Tony Khan, its lack of online multiplayer makes it feel dated. Local multiplayer for up to four players is an option, and while it could be a lot of fun, a game like this launching in 2021 without online multiplayer seems like a huge missed opportunity.
With no online multiplayer and repetitive core gameplay, fans of Wrestling Empire may tire of the game quickly, but there is one mode that may keep them coming back for more. Wrestling Empire’s Career mode takes another page from WWF No Mercy’s playbook, allowing players to change the course of their career through the decisions they make and how they perform from show to show. next. Players can accept or decline offers to join tag teams, sign a contract with one of the game’s many fictional wrestling companies, and more. This mode also gets boring after a while, but it offers some structure beyond playing random exhibition matches.
Wrestling Empire is repetitive and its lack of online multiplayer is disappointing. However, it has one of the deepest rosters in the history of wrestling games, and despite modeling itself after a game that’s over 20 years old, still manages to perform better than some modern wrestling games have a bigger budget. If nothing else, it’s something to keep pro wrestling fans busy while they wait for the next WWE 2K or the upcoming AEW video game.
Wrestling Empire is out now for PC and Switch. Today Technology reviewed the game on Switch.