By Corey Andress
Whether you think WWE is the pinnacle of sports entertainment or a silly circus, there’s no denying the popularity of its unique blend of violence and melodrama.
With that in mind, it’s less than surprising to see the classic 1991 arcade game WWE WrestleFest making its way on to iOS devices. Spruced up, with a roster of classic old-school fighters and new blood, it offers a chance to relive a time when fighting games had all the subtle nuances of a chair to the face.
First off, there is no doubt that the game might be ugly and clumsy, but it brings with it a certain retro appeal, managing to capture the spectacle and nonsense of the sport in a way few modern games could. There is something to be said about older WWE games and how they feel to us as fans of the sport.
At its very core, WWE WrestleFest is about each fighter hitting the other until one of them is unable to stand. There are eight wrestlers to choose from including legends and newcomers alike, with a further five unlocked as an in-app purchase. There is also the promise of monthly DLC to follow.
The controls of WWE WrestleFest are very simple in nature. You control your wrestler with a virtual stick and two buttons. The stick lets you move around the ring, and the two buttons control your punching and kicking. Once you’re in a grapple, which happens when you get close to your opponent, mashing ‘kick’ will fling him at the ropes, while mashing ‘punch’ will perform one of your throws at random. After you’ve beaten your foe’s health bar down to zero, and stomped on him a few times, pushing ‘kick’ will cause your fighter to attempt a pin.
The biggest issue was not necessarily with the controls themselves, but with the smaller iPhone screen which can be a problem for games using a virtual stick. For someone with big hands, such as myself , the game can tend to be difficult to control. This isn’t really the game’s fault, but more so the fact it isn’t really designed to work on the iOS as a platform. Not to say the game isn’t fun, it just feels cumbersome and misplaced in certain aspects.
It is important to note that I found the iPad version much better to control. Obviously the extra real estate improves things greatly but it’s still far from perfect. I also thought the game looked fantastic on the iPad and the colors really seemed to pop. The animations seemed a bit stiff, but that’s not a bad thing as it keeps in line with the original. The fighters and environments looks fantastic however and overall the game looks great.
There are plenty of modes on offer, from single matches to career-spanning climbs up the wrestling ladder. Some bouts have different victory conditions, such as the Royal Rumble, which tasks you with hurling opponents out of the ring. But mostly you’re punching, kicking, and throwing until it’s time to lie down.
For the most part, the modes and matches work fantastic, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Rumble. It often ends up being a clash of wrestlers in the middle of the ring, and the controlled player – if dropped – unable to even stand back up or locked up in a grapple.
The game is also a victim to some fairly cheap AI. Again, it’s hard to fault the game, seeing it is how games were made in the early 90’s, but it’s worth noting. Opponents seemed to kick out of everything including finishers at times.
Online multiplayer lets you take a wrestler out into the big bad world, fighting against other people for pride and bragging rights. Unfortunately, though, there weren’t many other brawlers online when we checked, and the lack of local multiplayer options is a shame.
I also noticed that there can be some pretty long loading times at the menu screens. Hopefully it is something they can patch with an update. Another minor annoyance (maybe it is just personal preference) but every option on every menu requires the user to double tap their selection. Since everything on iDevices seems to only require one tap, it really throws you for some confusing moments. Again, this is something that could probably be patched fairly easy.
No matter which mode you choose the gameplay is repetitive. There doesn’t appear to be much difference between the wrestlers or what they offer, save for the signature throw mixed in with the random moves you can perform. For some reason I found the iPad version to be less repetitive, but it’s possible that the larger screen helps controls therefore moving around seems easier.
It’s hard to imagine that the iOS version of WWE Wrestlefest would have the same following as the original version. What I can see though is this game having mass appeal to wrestling fans coming from today’s console markets. Although it has it’s issues with virtual controls, it is by far the best wrestling game on the iOS market and is surely worth a body slam or two for the hardcore wrestling crowd. I most definitely preferred the iPad version due to the bigger screen size and better maneuverability with the virtual stick.
It is well worth saying that it’s hard to give this game a full recommendation due to the fact that we now know WWE Wrestlefest will at some point see release on major consoles with XBLA and PSN releases. For an old-school wrestling title this game definitely has the nostalgic feel but I could see it as a much better fit on consoles with better controls. If you want a quick fix you won’t be mad at the purchase, but this game could have real potential once it hits a bigger market in the future.