I am, categorically, not a wrestling guy.
At one point in my life, I actually looked down on professional wrestling, thinking it was brainless entertainment for naive, overgrown children. As I’ve gotten older and worked alongside some decidedly not naive wrestling fans for years, that snootiness has tempered quite a bit. Even if I don’t watch wrestling, I still appreciate the artistry and athleticism behind what they do. Plus, the WWE churns out some truly great human beings. (In all fairness, though, not a perfect record.)
Anyway, that’s a long walk to say that I am not the target audience for WrestleQuest, a retro-styled RPG from Mega Cat Studios and Skybound Games. But after going hands-on with the first few minutes of the game during Summer Game Fest Play Days, I can honestly say the game’s passion for wrestling is both glaringly obvious and a little bit infectious—even to me, the ultimate squared-circle skeptic.
WrestleQuest takes place in a fantasy world populated not just by wrestlers, but by wrestling toys. Everyone you encounter is an action figure of some kind. The areas you navigate are designed in the vein of playsets, all rendered in a pixel-art style and connected via a JRPG-style overworld. If ever there were a premise designed to tap into the nostalgia vein of adult wrestling fans, this is it.
While the game doesn’t have a WWE license, it does feature a variety of recognizable wrestlers from throughout the history of sports entertainment: “Macho Man” Randy Savage, André the Giant, “Diamond” Dallas Page, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, to name a few.
You play as two characters throughout the story: Randy Santos, a young dreamer who believes wrestling is 100-percent real, and Brink Logan, a more seasoned wrestler who’s familiar with the ins and outs of the industry. During my demo, however, I only got to go hands on with Randy, trying out the early minutes of the game.
As in any classic RPG, you’ll navigate the world and complete quests to advance the story, with plenty of combat along the way. While the wrestling matches are turn-based, there’s a lot more to a bout than just selecting your attacks from a menu. For one thing, getting your opponent’s HP to zero isn’t the end. To win, you need to pin them, which involves playing a timing-based minigame. And if your health drops to zero, you get to play the minigame from the other side. Succeed, and you’ll kick out of the pin with a second wind and a chance to turn the tide.
What feels like the game’s smartest move, however, is that the it doesn’t just want you to win. It wants you to sell it. Since this is wrestling, immediately smacking down anyone who opposes you won’t make for the best possible product. No, you can give the fans a much better show if you amp up the drama, staging shocking reversals and come-from behind wins using a mix of all of your special abilities. And the game tracks all this with a Hype Meter at the bottom of the screen. Max out the Hype Meter, and you’ll get better loot when you win, allowing you to become a force to be reckoned with in your future showdowns.
While I might not be the target audience for Mega Cat, it’s hard not to appreciate the vision—and how focused they seem to be on delivering it. There are obviously a ton of questions that a single demo can’t answer, but if you’re a wrestling fan old enough to remember playing with action figures and the heyday of SNES RPGs, this is definitely one to watch.