I absolutely LOVED pro wrestling when I was a kid. Those larger-than-life WWE personalities I reverently watched on TV were like superheroes come to life. I outgrew pro wrestling as I got older, but it recaptured my adult attention when I became friends with an aspiring pro wrestler during the 2010s. My friend trained at The Monster Factory — a pro wrestling gym also serving as a wrestling event venue. There was even a recent series about the facility on Apple TV. A Monster Factory event I attended back in 2015 was my first live pro wrestling event, and it was an absolute blast! It made me feel like a kid again and opened my eyes to indie wrestling and the emerging talent in those smaller promotions. It felt great to support indie wrestling the way I support indie music and indie gaming. Therefore, Mega Cat Studios‘ passion project WrestleQuest appealed to several of my sensibilities. As we start, here’s a list of pro wrestling terminology found throughout the game and this review.
Coming back to my childhood, I spent countless hours dumping out my toy box and pretending all my toys (not just my wrestling action figures) were in this wild crossover universe fighting pro wrestling matches. Even my plushes got into the act. My Monopoly board did double duty as a makeshift toy wrestling ring (because the actual wrestling ring playset was quite expensive). This manifestation of a child’s mashed-up multiverse created from an upturned toy box comprises WrestleQuest‘s creative world and characters.
Randy Santos is an aspiring pro wrestler who practically lives in the Get Stretched training facility and worships at the altar of the legendary Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Randy (Santos) is a well-meaning, if naïve, dreamer who believes that his pro wrestling world is real/unscripted similarly to how Buzz Lightyear from the film Toy Story believes his universe is real. Randy strives to become a true wrestling hero through dedication, sincerity, unflappable optimism, and the bold spice of his Muchacho Man gimmick. Will Randy achieve wrestling superstardom without losing his heart, soul, and everything else he holds dear?
We leave Randy for the moment to meet our second protagonist, the more serious-minded Brink Logan. Brink and his cousin Stag comprise the Honest Bucks tag team in the Northern Country Wrestling (NCW) promotion their family runs. Despite being one of the most highly skilled wrestlers in the biz, Brink is a jobber. His duty is to lose matches in dramatic ways that put over more marketable wrestlers. He conducts himself with consummate professionalism but is tired of being taken for granted. Will Brink achieve the respect he deserves without losing his heart, soul, and everything else he holds dear?
During their escapades, Randy and Brink encounter and team up with a cavalcade of uniquely cool, creative, and memorable characters. The narrative’s perspective switches between Randy and Brink, and several side characters get point-of-view chapters as well. This beautifully fleshes out the characters and makes WrestleQuest‘s scope feel epic. When it comes to drama, machinations outside the ring hit harder than an elbow drop off the top rope. Decisions affecting face-heel alignment abound, but these affect gameplay more than the story. The adventures of Randy and Brink showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world of pro wrestling and beyond.
This robust, 40+ hour adventure is a slow burn that gets better before culminating in a satisfying ending. The storylines and worldbuilding don’t always make sense or have every minute detail accounted for, but they sure are entertaining and full of surprises, just like pro wrestling! Along with the main quest, WrestleQuest contains sidequests, optional content found via exploring off the beaten path, and several arcade-style minigames, adding variety to the experience.
But that’s not all! Several pro wrestling legends assist in myriad ways, including becoming summons, joining the party (called a stable) as managers, or bestowing you with special equipment/accessories. Yes, legendary wrestlers like Jake “The Snake” Roberts and several others lent their names and likenesses to WrestleQuest. Even contemporary talent like Leva Bates cameo as NPCs with unique sprites and text box portraits. Seeing high-profile wrestlers support an indie video game the way they would support indie wrestling is spectacular!
Pro wrestling is a truly global phenomenon, and I love how every culture has its own version. This is reflected in the many locations visited throughout WrestleQuest. Some locations even echo iconic wrestlers’ personas. An early example that encompasses both is a gritty scrapyard town that enjoys more hardcore wrestling styles and reveres Junkyard Dog as its patron saint. Towns, dungeons (several of which are puzzle dungeons), and overworld regions are a delight to explore, and I wanted to see and experience everything these places had to offer. Investigating every nook and cranny is important since some target locations within towns and dungeons are difficult to spot.
At its heart, WrestleQuest is a traditional, turn-based RPG inspired by 16-bit classics like Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and others. You explore towns, talk to people, traipse through dungeons, engage in conflicts, and all the other proverbial RPG tasks we all know and love. Progression requires some backtracking, which means hoofing it through previously explored areas. A few have convenient shortcuts back to the beginning, but most do not. A fast-travel option through previously visited areas would have been nice. I also would have liked an auto-dash option available for more convenient travel since it got tiring holding down the dash button for extended periods of time.
The mandatory gameplay tutorials are worth noting because, while play mechanics are familiar to anyone who’s played a traditional RPG, how they’re utilized during battles (called matches) is unique. For example, the first boss match using The Honest Bucks requires executing a bunch of specific actions to properly lose the scripted match with maximum dramatic impact. This put me in The Honest Bucks’ frame of mind as a jobber tag team. I had to discard my typical “knight and mage annihilate everything” RPG mindset and approach these challenging boss matches like pro wrestlers would. Showmanship and selling the drama are just as important as victory, and victory doesn’t always mean winning.
Timed button presses for various moves and tag-team combination skills keep combat fresh and exciting. Depending on their nature and complexity, some moves require faster trigger fingers than others. Twitch reflexes also help with exploration since some puzzle dungeons have deadly combinations of timing and stealth elements. The default gamepad and keyboard control schemes are fine, but can be remapped. Control response itself is fine when performing RPG tasks but could be tighter during minigames and twitch sequences. Some minigames are mandatory to advance the plot and unskippable, save for one.
One of the most important aspects of pro wrestling is hyping up the crowd. This is sports entertainment, after all, and the more hyped/entertained the crowd, the better your post-match rewards. Hyping the audience during matches feels like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door where you fought foes on a theater stage in front of a crowd. Characters can employ one of several different hype styles that have their advantages, disadvantages, and corresponding in-ring actions that boost hype. Prior to main event matches, you can plan out your entrance (walkout music, pyrotechnics, other accoutrements) and choose responses in pre-match banter with your opponent to affect initial audience hype.
Enemy encounters in the field are visible and, while most will fall if you drop their HP to 0, the human/wrestler types need to be successfully pinned with a three-count. Even the most basic matches take time, so the encounter rate is low and enemies don’t respawn. Levels are gained quickly and every level-up matters, but only the three active participants gain EXP after a match. New recruits usually join with lower levels than the rest of the stable, but can hold their own after gaining a few levels.
WrestleQuest has only one difficulty level (which I would say is fun-challenging), but the settings menu has cheats you can enable to make things easier, such as having player characters deal maximum damage with each attack. These are nice options for anyone wanting to play for the story or quickly progress through troublesome sections but ultimately strip the very elements that make WrestleQuest enjoyable in the first place. Some boss matches disable cheats, otherwise they cannot be completed properly and lead to a Game Over.
Pro wrestling is all about visual spectacles, and WrestleQuest delivers with excellent 2D sprite-based graphics. I love how all the unique sprites look like toys and the environments are as vivid as a child’s imagination. Words can’t describe how creative the visual design elements are. And as cool as the still screens look, WrestleQuest looks even better in motion with expressive sprites smoothly exhibiting a plethora of toylike animations. The varied environments also have animated elements, making them feel like living, breathing places. The water effects in streams, rivers, or swamps, for example, are lovely to look at. A couple of visually busy cutscenes cause mild slowdown and there are some load times, but nothing that hampered my enjoyment in any way. Menus are both stylish and reasonably ergonomic to navigate and use, much like the flashy UI in games like Persona 5. Because WrestleQuest is themed around showy sports entertainment, there are lots of flashing lights and other graphical elements that could trigger seizures. These cannot be turned off, but the game issues a warning in one of its start-up screens.
The visuals are stunning, but WrestleQuest‘s sound design is even better. Several music genres from rock to electronica, military marches, and more fill the soundtrack, making it as eclectic and uniquely exciting as a colorful pantheon of wrestlers. Simply put, every piece of music is fantastic, and the soundtrack steadily improves as the game progresses. Additionally, the excellent sound effects bring the entire WrestleQuest experience to life. Whether it’s the bell that sounds after each match, the fun voice clips, or how some characters have unique footstep sounds when leading the way, WrestleQuest‘s sound effects are impeccable.
WrestleQuest is the best RPG and pro wrestling collaboration since The New Day hosted WrestleMania 33 decked out in Final Fantasy XIV cosplay. Even if you have no idea what I’m referring to, you can still thoroughly enjoy a beautifully crafted RPG that, like The Lego Movie, doesn’t just speak to your inner child but excitedly hoots and hollers out to it. WrestleQuest reimagines familiar concepts in a fresh and enticing way making it one of the most imaginative RPGs I’ve played in years. Take your protein, talk to your maker, and go play WrestleQuest today! OH SI!