[Review] Wrestling Empire – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: MDickie
  • Publisher: MDickie
  • Release date: 11/1/2020
  • Price: £19.99/$19.99
  • Review code provided by MDickie

Introducing Wrestling Empire Review

For a gamer of a certain vintage there’s usually one definitive answer when you ask what the best wrestling game of all time is. The answer – No Mercy on the Nintendo 64. Releasing in the year 2000, it was the pinnacle of AKI’s series of amazing wrestling games and a stalwart of my teenage years when friends came around for some multiplayer.

No Mercy built on the foundations of the previous three games AKI released (counting only the Western-centric releases) to provide amazing gameplay as well as the coveted WWF license which was home to the biggest stars of the day. My friends and I all created our ridiculous wrestlers and stuck rigidly to using them in multiplayer matches. My own ridiculous looking creation, Rasselini, looked the part with his open chested blue Hawaiian shirt, khaki cargo trousers and desert boots combo.

Despite not being a wrestling fan per-se, I have a lot of fond memories of the N64 era games. Given that Wrestling Empire seeks to offer a slice of those glory days, this one was always going to be right up my street!

Tale of the Tape

Wrestling Empire is the work of one man, Mat Dickie (MDickie). I wasn’t familiar with his previous games, but even a cursory glance around the internet to see what this game was about made it pretty clear that MDickie has a bit of a cult following. He has been single-handedly producing games for the last 20 years, with a wide range of crazy looking stuff including a fair few wrestling games. When I saw the hype fans had for the release of Wrestling Empire I knew I had to take a look at it.

The game is split between exhibition mode, which allows you to set up your own matches using any combination of the characters with whatever rule set you fancy, and an expansive career mode. This is where the real meat of the experience lies. You can select from any of the characters in the “Wrestling School” roster and start them on the path from performing in empty venues right up to becoming the Federation Online (the game’s WE analog) Heavyweight Champion.

The story of how you get there is completely your own, with the game presenting some wild randomised scenarios that differ greatly on every playthrough.

Reliving 2020 in Y2K

I was able to tinker with a wrestler to create my beloved Rasselini (complete with horrific blue shirt) and take him on a wild run that ended in disgrace. My first run saw me armbar my opponent in the first match, only for them to suffer a serious injury as a result. The game informed me after the match they had passed away due to complications from their injuries. It must have been a hell of an armbar! I was pretty taken aback as that’s not something you expect from the old WWF and WCW games!

As the season progressed the game saw me catch a mysterious disease that floored me for weeks and saw my stats massively reduced. The same illness seemed to do the rounds for a while affecting a number of other fighters, in what I can only assume is intended as a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon my recovery and return I was then approached by a fellow fighter and asked if I wanted my next opponent roughed up for a small fee. I declined and instead got my head kicked in, suffering minor injuries and setting me up badly for the match. I then went on to suffer a serious injury in the match, hampering my stats again and sending me on a downward spiral that involved surgery, steroids, several defeats and ultimately rejection from every promotion in the game.

Ring Sting

The fiasco I described above was simply my first run through the career mode. I’ve done a few other runs and they were equally mental. I’ve seen accounts online of players being invited to Joe Rogan’s podcast, being outed in the papers as part of the #MeToo movement and even dying in the ring due to injuries. The amount of craziness in this game kept me constantly entertained and laughing away. Keeping in mind this was all made by one man, the number of scenarios is ridiculously impressive!

All of that doesn’t matter of course if the in-ring action isn’t up to scratch. Thankfully the combat in the game is a lot of fun. It’s scrappy and a little glitchy at times, but it’s an absolute riot. Much like its inspiration, moves are performed by grappling then pressing a direction and one of three buttons (attack, run or pick up). Each direction triggers a different move, allowing for a wide range of attacks. Unlike the 64 bit games you don’t get a light or heavy grapple, which slightly limits the number of moves each character has, but there’s enough options to prevent characters feeling limited. Thankfully the animations are satisfyingly chunky and violent. Anyone who appreciates the classics will find a lot to love about the way fighters are smacked around and thrown about the ring.

The Big Show

The fight engine can handle a huge number of characters on screen, which can allow for some hilarious match ups that descend into an absolute farce, but the chaotic energy took me right back to some of the laughs playing multiplayer wrestling games as a teenager and was an absolute tonic during these crazy times.

Wrestling Empire improves on its inspirations in a few ways, by making it much easier to utilise objects such as tables and chairs to smash opponents through and it does a great job of simplifying the high-flying attacks you can unleash on opponents who are outside the ring. It’s never been easier or more satisfying to run across the ring and slide tackle some chump outside the ring right in the kisser!

The combat in the game doesn’t have the polish of some of the big names from over the years, but it more than makes up for it with a perfect combination of chaos and soul!

I Think I’m Cute!

The presentation in the game is a little rough and ready, but it adds to the charm. The in-ring action looks exactly like you would want it to, as a homage to the N64 classics. This might not make much sense to younger players who don’t have that reference point, but it absolutely hit the spot for me.

The game doesn’t have the use of the big-name licenses, but it gets around it by using some hilarious puns to give off brand versions of almost any big name you could think of from the last 30 or so years. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out who was who. Thankfully MDickie has an enthusiastic fanbase with various active forums for anyone who just wants to use the editor mode to rename everyone. There were a few characters whose names really got me. Willy Pierce (Prince Albert) and Phil Graves (Undertaker) in particular brought a tear to my eye!

As well as all your favourite wrestlers there are also a good few prominent MMA fighters represented, including Conor McGregor, and even a cameo appearance from Wally Stacks (Donald Trump) complete with Red hat! I must admit I had one particularly satisfying cage match where I let some of my frustrations loose on the red capped one! Audio wise the game does a good job of conveying the thwack and crunch of the fights, but the lack of any licensed music for fighter entries is a little jarring, especially once you rename all the fighters. The game includes some nice particle effects for the blood and sweat that flies around as characters take a pasting, and the game does a fine job of selling the damage a steel chair can do!

I Know I’m Sexy!

Wrestling Empire performs admirably in both docked and handheld. The performance was consistently smooth, even when I decided to see how many fighters I could get in the ring at once. I believe that depending on how a match goes, you could quite easily have 30 or more fighters in the ring at once. I’m not sure the maximum I managed to get to, as the ring was a mass of chaos and writhing bodies, but the game held up admirably with whatever I threw at it.

Final Thoughts

Wrestling Empire is messy and chaotic. Things can get a little glitchy at times, with the AI referees often getting a bit crazy and doing things like randomly jumping off the turnbuckle. Despite these issues the game offers bags of fun and some really satisfying combat. MDickie has promised continual updates at no extra cost, including a proper create a character mode, new moves and a free roam mode. In a post-COVID world I could see this becoming a favourite at local multiplayer outings, but the career mode offers more than enough for solo players. With more than 350 characters, the number of different scenarios should keep you entertained for a long long time!

Pros

  • Non-stop hilarity
  • Combat is super satisfying
  • Career mode offers a lot of content

Cons

  • Combat can get pretty glitchy
  • Difficult to understand ruleset in some career mode matches
  • Menus can be confusing

Verdict
Wrestling Empire won’t be for everyone, but those with a fondness for N64 era wrestling games will find a brilliant homage here. The game is rough around the edges, but has bags of soul and offers up non-stop hilarity.

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