Two of my favorite things are professional wrestling and video games. So you'd think that each year when 2K and WWE come together to release the latest game in the long history of World Wrestling Entertainment games I'd be overjoyed.
Unfortunately, that couldn't be further from the emotion that I'm feeling. The games just aren't good enough to even bother playing them anymore.
Going outside of the WWE games, Fire Pro is much better, but it still doesn't do what I feel a wrestling game should in order to appeal to fans of sports entertainment.
Embrace the Predetermined Nature of Wrestling
Just about every single wrestling game presents wrestling as if it were a fighting game. The player and the AI compete in an attempt to win or lose the match, but that's not how wrestling works. The two participants in a match know who's going to win, and in some cases, they even have a basic framework of what moves they're going to do during the match and when.
In wrestling, success and failure aren't based on whether you win or lose your match, but rather based on putting on a good show for the fans. This means hitting all the key moves at the right time, making your punches and kicks look real without actually hurting your opponent, and telling an interesting story during the match.
What if wrestling games took that concept and ran with it? The match wouldn't be about building a meter and hitting your special moves. Instead, you'd succeed based on whether the match was well-performed, whether you missed any moves that you were supposed to hit, whether you accidentally stiffed your opponent with a punch that lands a little too hard, and whether the right person wins at the right time.
As far as how to handle this, there are quite a few ways it could mechanically. There could be a rhythm game-like mechanic where you have to hit the buttons at a certain time to execute the correct move. You could also keep the mechanics similar to what they are now, but change the goal from winning and losing to following the format of the match correctly while the AI tries to resist.
Creating wrestling games in this way would actually let the player get more of a simulation of what being a wrestler is actually like. It's not a fight between two combatants, but rather a show between two cooperating parties, which is what the video games should be.
Let the Player Be the Booker
Just about every sports video game has some sort of be a general manager mode where you make the key decisions about rosters, trades, and the like. Wrestling games need a well-made mode like this. Let the player step into the shoes of Vince McMahon and decide what direction the stories are going to go, who's going to win, and all the other things that go into putting on a wrestling show.
Just about hardcore wrestling fan has their own ideas about how to improve the current WWE product (and it needs some serious improvement) and having a good mode where the players gets to book Raw and SmackDown would let them put their money where their mouth is.
Should AJ Styles be the champion of SmackDown? How much time should the tag team champions get on the show this week? Should we allow blood in matches at the risk of offending sponsors? These are just a couple of the things fans would need to think about if they were booking their own version of the WWE.
I realize there are games out there where players get to book their own wrestling show, but they're smaller games that lack the visual polish of the WWE games. Games like Journey of Wrestling and TEW scratch the itch a little, but it's not quite what we're looking for.
Imagine taking the deep mechanics of those booking games and com mining them with the roster and visuals offered by the WWE2K games! It sounds like every wrestling fans dream come true!
A Huge Part of Wrestling Is Talking
One of the things the WWE games seem to flirt with but never go all the way with is cutting promos. The fact is, talking is a massive part of wrestling. It's a story-based medium and in a lot of cases, those stories are told by wrestlers talking either to each other or directly to the camera.
The video games need to figure out a way to integrate talking into the game more if they want to create a more authentic wrestling experience. The create a story mode in recent WWE games was onto something pretty cool, but the developers seem to have given up on it.
Cutting a promo could be as simple as Mass Effect-style dialog choices. The player needs to read the crowd and say the right thing to either get the crowd to love them or hate them.
If 2K wanted to get a little weird, they could do a Parapa The Rapper style mechanic where cutting promos is based on timing button prompts (without the actual rapping, of course).
One way of the other, winning verbal battles against your opponent needs to be an integral part of a wrestling video game, and up to this point, the WWE games have fallen woefully short of where they need to be in that department.
Make Wrestling Games Great Again
Apparently, developer Yuke's is working on a side wrestling game to create some internal competition, which could be just what the WWE games need to get better. Only time will tell if they're able to make any sweeping changes to the formula or if they just provide a facelift to the same tired fighting game-like mechanics they've always done.
If they don't, we can always hope that an AEW video game does things differently! The company is already changing wrestling, so there's no reason not to hold out some faith that they'll do the same for games!