It’s not the Joey Marella of wrestling games. It is creeping into Dino Bravo territory.
The art of professional wrestling has had a very rough go on the Switch thus far if you’re looking for a serious simulation. Aside from a couple of Nintendo Switch Online releases (Pro Wrestling, Natsume Championship Wrestling) there’s been one botched WWE game from 2K and that’s it. Enter 20-year veteran of game development MDickie with his first Switch outing in Wrestling Empire, which definitely needed some more time in Dark before making its Dynamite debut.
Wrestling Empire isn’t licensed by any promotion that I can think of, major or minor. All of the companies and independent contractors contained within are fictional, though you can use the editor mode to make them a little more recognizable if you have enough patience. There are three main gameplay options: Exhibition for one-off matches with up to four local players, Career for unlocking new characters to play with, and the Editor. There’s the usual array of match types available (single or team matches, battle royales, steel cages) along with a couple that I’ve not seen in a Sumo match (only way to win is to knock the opponent out of the ring) and a “Last Laugh” match which might be known as a “Scramble” in other promotions (whoever gets the last pin or submission wins). I should stress that the Editor is just that: there’s no option that I can find to create a wrestler from whole cloth, which ruined my plans for Clarence Beeftank to make his pro wrestling debut. The career mode sees you select a character and work your way up from “Wrestling School” to being the champion of a major promotion and making all of the money along the way. The character will have to make choices that are realistic (take steroids or no?) or in-universe (pay someone to attack your opponent before the match?) including the option to jump promotions when the contract expires with your current company. The story mode does have some odd booking though: I had one match where I pinned the opponent five times (the second and third after the owner ordered the match restarted, the last two after the “Let’s go again, that result was BS” routine) and it would have been more if I didn’t turn down the sixth fall.
Once the bell rings, the control of your wrestler(s) of choice will take a while to get used to. In theory, moves are similar to the AKI games: movement is on the left stick, and there’s a strike and grapple button which can be used to set up moves. In practice, I found myself wanting to change controls, but there’s no option to do it that I could find. There’s also some basic functions, such as countering move attempts or picking up a downed opponent, that simply don’t appear to be present. Also, moving in and out of the ring is done by holding toward the ring, which leads to “hilarity” ensuing since this is also done for the wrestler’s entrance even if the match is taking place in a steel cage. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen a cage match, but I’m pretty sure entering the ring is either done through a door or the cage is put in place after everyone’s in the ring. Not so in Wrestling Empire.
The engine tries and is actually kind of impressive for a solo project, but there’s still some odd collision detection things. The biggest example of this came during story mode: I went to hit my opponent with a move called a “double axe handle.” For those who don’t know what that is, my character would jump off the corner of the ring while holding one hand with the other and swinging downward like an axe. When I did this somewhat basic move, my character bounced off the opponent and ended up three characters high in the air, overshooting the mats that surround the ring and landing back first on the concrete floor. If a wrestler fell like that in a wrestling match, they would probably be dead or at least in a wheelchair. In Wrestling Empire, that’s just another day at the office. Also, why do the cameras in this game explode when dropped?
Wrestling will have a different atmosphere depending on where the match is taking place. It’s a way different atmosphere if the show’s in a small room, a bingo hall, or a big arena. There’s some neat concessions to modern times as well, as you can control the crowd size for a match and even choose a “fans on monitors” option like the NBA’s 2020 playoff bubble or WWE’s “Thunderdome” had. Though the chants are going to be present no matter where you are: why is a crowd at a Japanese puroesu show chanting anything, let alone “E-C-W” or “LET’S GO CE-NA/CE-NA SUCKS” or more fecal chants? For that matter, why are they doing chants for promotions or wrestlers that aren’t even in the game? There’s enough doubt in the chants that it’s not immediately obvious, but it definitely sounds that way to me.
It is kind of impressive that one person was able to create a Switch wrestling game that runs well part of the time when two teams at a major pub couldn’t even pull that off. However, Wrestling Empire isn’t quite “so bad it’s good” territory, nor is it the worst. It’s basically the small indie wrestling company bringing in a guy with TV exposure to sell tickets. And with more competition coming in the short and hopefully longer terms for Switch wrestling games, it’ll be one of those “Oh yeah, that happened” games in short order.