When it comes to wrestling, I’m an unashamed fan of the old school.
My favourite wrestler of all time is Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. The best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be. The Sharpshooter, the wraparound shades, the pink tights. Well, maybe not the pink tights. Anyway, the period of time in the mid to late 90′s when he was the WWF Champion was the best era there ever was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be. See what I did there?
Because of this, I was appalled to learn that THQ’s newly realised iOS version of the 1990′s arcade game Wrestlefest does not include Bret Hart in any form. I immediately marked it down by five stars before realising that no game is awful enough to warrant a zero. Hitman or not, I am a reviewer of integrity.
So the game lacks Hart (see what I did…ok, I’ll shut up). But THQ haven’t just ported the original title to iOS and left it untouched – which, to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded – they’ve updated it with new graphics, contemporary wrestlers and additional game modes.
The original roster included such legends as Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Legion of Doom and Earthquake. Today’s release sees John Cena, Randy Orton and Rey Myserio. (Note: I have no idea who these people are, but apparently they’re current wrestling greats). And to it’s credit, it mixes in old school favourites like Jake The Snake Roberts and Macho Man, as well as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, to round out a varied, if somewhat limited roster due to the fact that there are initially only eight wrestlers to choose from.
Inside the squared circle – a most horrific oxymoron if every I heard one – the gameplay is about as nuanced as a brick to the teeth. In a word, not very. Yes that was two words, thanks for notifying me. A virtual joystick is accompanied by a punch and kick button which to everyone’s surprise handle the punching and kicking of things. There’s more to it than that, but not much. Yes, you can run off the ropes, climb the turnbuckle and venture out of the ring in true wrestling fashion, and there are even an assortment of weapons outside the ring to introduce your opponent’s face to.
The problem is that you’re button bashing the whole time. The only variation comes with which button you bash. Not that it matters too much, as after you enter the obligatory grapple, the moves and holds you perform seem to be generated completely at random. The manual doesn’t give any indication as to what button and joystick combo triggers which action, so one man’s suplex is another man’s body slam until your opponent’s energy is low enough that you automatically perform your finishing move.
However there’s enough variation in the game modes to prove that oily men in tights can thwack each other in more than one fashion. Whereas the original had only two modes-Royal Rumble and Saturday Night’s Main Event- the iOS redesign includes Exhibition, the Rumble, Main Event, Road to Wrestlemania, Tag Team, Gauntlet-which acts as a survival mode-and Online Multiplayer, something I wouldn’t expect. Kudos for THQ sticking this in.
On the other hand, maybe I was right not to expect anything, as I’ve had real trouble finding anyone on Game Center actually playing the game. Maybe they’re upset about the Hitman not being included too. Can’t say I blame ‘em.
Now the Royal Rumble by it’s very definition is pretty hard to bring to a handheld device successfully. We’re talking about an event with 30 wrestlers in a game that offers you less than ten to choose from, and probably around 10-15 bodies in the ring at any one time in real life, which would be hell on an iPhone, so the maths don’t quite add up.
You begin with four dudes in the ring, and a maximum of six at any point. New wrestlers enter one at a time after someone gets chucked over the top rope. Once the ring is full, there is a frantic quality to it that manages to capture the spirit of the real thing. When the eight fighters you can choose from are exhausted, the game pulls wrestlers from a DLC pack featuring an additional five wrestle-buddies, including CM Punk, Triple H and Big Boss Man. And yes, you have to pay, because apparently paying for the game isn’t enough. When is it ever enough? WHEN?
The pack also features a new arena and further packs with new wrestlers are promised every 30 days as updates. So in a way, it’s kind of like waiting to see which guy is entering the Rumble next. I bet I’m the only games reviewer who made that link. I’m so deep.
One major annoyance with this mode is that you’re always the first man in the ring. It would’ve been nice if you were given a random number for your entrance a’ la real life. Once all the updates come through and the roster is increased to 30 or so, winning the Rumble is going to be hell if this remains the same. The second thing that gets my goat – and I’d like that goat back at some point as my farm depends on it- is the very fact that the Rumble forces you to beat the extra wrestlers to win, yet locks them out of the game as playable characters until you pay. No fair.
The Road to Wrestlemania sees you participating in a variety of matches such as tag team, fatal four way and cage matches en route to a match for one of the four main titles. None of the special match types are available in Exhibition mode, which is a bit weird. And some semblance of a storyline for your wrestler would’ve also been welcome, even if it was ‘Title on the line: Macho Man eats Undertaker’s yogurt.’ You do get a very cool cameo of a smirking Mean Gene Oakerlund after every match though. If you’re unfamiliar with just who that is, I would quite easily equate his cultural importance to that of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. Then I would probably stop and change my mind.
The game has a more refined, hand-drawn look to it than the original, although it’s debatable if this is a good thing. The animation is crude as ever, but I cant shake the feeling I might actually prefer the chunkier sprites of 90′s version. The arenas are cool though, with classic stadiums and some of the more modern venues for Smackdown and Raw all in, including the appropriate logos and backdrop animations, so you feel you’re wrestling in a different event each time.
Sound is a mixed bag. And by that, I mean it sounds as if it was mixed in a bag. Unless you’ve got your iPhone or Pad sellotaped to the side of your face, you won’t have much luck hearing the thumps and smashes of gameplay; the crowd noise drowns everything out. In a nice touch, the ring announcer vocally announces each wrestler before the match, but even he struggles to be heard against the baying mob. If you do have your iDevice sellotaped to your face by the way, come seek help with me. I thought I was the only one.
It’s also disappointing that there’s no attempt to recreate each wrestler’s entrance music. Instead you’re treated to generic riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place in a department store elevator. It would’ve been great to be able to download each wrestler’s theme music as an In-app purchase or something…well butter my bottom and call me a biscuit if that isn’t a great idea. I shall now wait patiently for a call from THQ to offer me a six figure contract.
So after the bell rings, Wrestlefest departs a winner, but only just. On disqualification rather than a three count if you see what I mean. It could’ve won the title if not for the ref getting blindsided by a flying elbow drop from the turnbuckle and blah blah blah. I’ll stop with the forced wrestling metaphor now and end the review. Just do the right thing in the next update THQ: bring back the Hitman.
Wrestlefest Premium is out now for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad for $2.99. Get it on the