WWF WrestleFest is a fondly-remembered arcade game developed by Technos Japan, and released in 1991. Players could take control of such legendary figures from the world of sports-entertainment as Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Sergeant Slaughter, and ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase, among others, as they took on all comers in the over-the-top-rope Royal Rumble, or paired up to conquer the unstoppable Legion of Doom for the World Tag Team Championships.
That was over 20 years ago, and much has changed in the intervening years. The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) is now World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and many of the Superstars that comprised the WrestleFest roster are now either working for other organizations (Hogan), retired from the ring (DiBiase, Slaughter), or tragically deceased (LoD’s Road Warrior Hawk).
Fans have long since made it known that though arcades have faded into obscurity, they still have a strong desire to play the arcade-exclusive wrestling title once again. However, though classic titles are frequently re-released these days, seeing the re-release of a licensed title– particularly one for which the license has changed hands, such as this– is still a rarity. But following a subtle article on WWE.com which was seemingly created to generate some buzz around WrestleFest, something of a miracle has occurred as current WWE license holder THQ has now released an updated version of the coin-op favorite.
Anarchy in the squared circle.
WWE WrestleFest offers the same basic experience that WWF WrestleFest did, but it’s been revamped from top to bottom. Perhaps the biggest change is the look; the pixel art of the original has been replaced with a new look that’s more in line with what one expects from iPhone games. The arenas and cutscenes are all similarly redrawn, and the logo has been changed to reflect that this is now the new WWE version of the game.
Unfortunately, from what we can tell, the soundtrack appears to be different, though the new version retains a sort of chiptune-styled sound. In addition, all wrestlers share the same entrance music, which doesn’t seem to be based on any particular Superstar’s entrance theme. And though there are voices, they’re not as prominent as in the arcade version, while the between-match reports with ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund feature no sound at all whatsoever.
Besides the look, the roster is almost entirely different now as well. At present, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and the late Big Boss Man are the only two who remain from the original 12-man lineup. And the latter of the two is only available as paid DLC (though you can still fight against him, as well as the other four current DLC characters, without paying anything). It’s possible that more– including Hogan, DiBiase, Mr. Perfect, Sgt. Slaughter, and the Legion of Doom– could be added through later DLC, as they are all part of the WWE Hall of Fame, with several appearing as Legends in newer WWE titles.
New to the roster, you’ll find The Undertaker, The Rock, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, John Cena, ‘The Viper’ Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, and even the late, great ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, all part of the basic package. The first batch of DLC (with more promised every 30 days for an indefinite period), deviously includes several of our favorites: ‘The Game’ Triple H, ‘The Great White’ Sheamus, ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels, and the current (as of this writing) WWE Champion CM Punk.
The arenas of old are gone; you won’t find any Wrestling Challenge here. Instead, there are arenas (complete with modernized entranceways) for the two flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown. There are also three ‘classic’ arenas, featuring the modified version of the oldschool WWF logo, for WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, and Saturday Night’s Main Event, while picking up the first DLC pack gets you the ‘Old Survivor Series Arena.’ And while the Raw and SmackDown sets look much like they do on TV, the older arenas have a more vintage look to them.
Stop being so cagey.
For all the choice you are given between wrestlers and arenas, it’s all pretty much cosmetic. Every single one of the Superstars controls in the exact same way, with a joystick, one punch, and one kick button being your only means of input. Different combinations do different things, and each wrestler still has their signature and finishing maneuvers, but even Ken and Ryu have developed more diversity in how they play than any two of these characters have. As a result, you can pick anyone you want and go to it; master one, and you’ve mastered them all. If there’s any benefit to this, it would be that fans of the original don’t have to worry about learning new characters in the absence of the old.
Unfortunately, while there is a manual, it can be rather vague about some actions. And by ‘vague,’ we mean ‘you’re left to figure out how it works for yourself.’ During a tag-team match, we desperately tried to tag out to our partner, but to no avail. Meanwhile, the other team had no such difficulty.
The gameplay pretty much comes down to button-mashing, which is all right for an arcade game. But when you’re playing on a platform which has no buttons to speak of, it becomes much more difficult, as you’re never sure whether you’re actually hitting the buttons each time, especially when you need to hit two at once. Further complicating things is an unresponsive virtual joystick that almost seems desperate to free itself from your control.
The original WWF WrestleFest had two modes: ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event,’ where you picked a character and a partner to fight through a tournament to face the Legion of Doom for the Tag Team titles, and the ‘Royal Rumble,’ where you picked a sole competitor and faced off against the rest of the roster.
Actual Royal Rumble rules state that a competitor must be thrown over the top rope with both feet touching the floor to be eliminated. And while that still holds true here, the arcade game would also allow for pinfalls and submissions. Whether those techniques are allowed here, we cannot be sure, as we have yet to last long enough to find out (though the easier-to-perform top-rope toss still works fine).
In addition to these two, there are four other match types: ‘Exhibition,” a quick one-on-one match, ‘Road to WrestleMania,’ where you fight in a series of matches for varying titles until you win the WWE Championship, “Tag Team,” and “Gauntlet Match.” And like the Royal Rumble, it doesn’t take long before the game becomes overwhelming in some of these modes, especially in Road to WrestleMania.
Mean and Macho.
And that brings us to the game’s biggest sticking point: it is brutally hard, with no difficulty settings. The original arcade game was designed, as many were, to part players from their quarters as much as they possibly could. And while some things have been updated and others have remained the same for this release, this is one thing which regretfully remains the same.
You can hit as many Stone Cold Stunners, Tombstone piledrivers, Rock Bottoms, and whatever else you want, and your opponent will still kick out at the count of two. You can have their energy meters depleted completely and keep hitting them with everything you’ve got, but they will still keep coming. It is absolutely ridiculous to see as a wrestling fan, and while some other games will do this, it’s generally not to this absurd degree. And there is really little, if any, indication otherwise of when you should try to finish them, leaving you to throw move after move at them in vain.
One would hope that this might be better in the game’s multiplayer, but if anything the experience is considerably worse, thanks to lag. Assuming you’re able to successfully connect with another player, you’ll find yourself facing them in a tag team match. The game strains to keep up as time ticks down at a rate of about one game second to five real seconds, and everything but the sound of the crowd reflects it. If you like animation and want to see every frame of these guys’ animations, then this is the mode for you.
Considering the game is a button masher at heart, this presents additional problems. After kicking out of a pin or getting off of the mat, both our wrestler and our opponent’s worked off all of those extra button-presses by punching at thin air, occasionally interrupted by our attempts to maneuver our guys back into a position that might have those punches actually hit something.
It all became moot by the end, however, as the game froze up. The sound kept going for several minutes, but the match was over, despite two of our wrestlers being in the middle of a lock-up while another was posing. Plus, the iPhone itself had become so hot that we thought Kane himself might rise up through the screen at any second.
In the end, WWE WrestleFest is something of an enigma, as it’s difficult to figure out who it’s really for. It’s based on a game engine that’s two decades old, but much of the original nostalgia has been removed. And while the button-mashing style may have worked well on an arcade cabinet, it’s a bit less pleasant as you repeatedly mash your fingers into a solid glass iPhone screen without even being sure you’ve triggered them or not.
Ultimately, we have to advocate caution on this one. If you are a gamer who fondly remembers the original arcade WrestleFest, but still enjoys the WWE of today, then this game might be up your alley. Otherwise, you may find it lacking in either the faces you had hoped to see, or in the gameplay you’ve come to expect of a modern WWE game.