Wrestling Games Don’t Need To Be So Boring

Wrestling games have not been very good for a while, but if any sport was built for video games it’s wrestling. FIFA and NBA 2K have long been best in class for raw simulation, and that’s aided by how rapid their real sports are. American football may be higher scoring than regular football, but it has significantly slower play, and that translates over to the game. Wrestling should be a cinch, but it’s a constant misfire.

The games aren’t slow, I’ll give them that. They come with overly complex mechanics that leave you feeling less like The Rock and more like The Confused And Wounded Pebble, but they understand the speed of wrestling. What’s more, the controls have been simplified in 2K22 to up the speed, but it still can’t quite get there.

The reasons are clear to see. There is no mystery here. WWE games have far too many modes and far too many menus, and while more selection isn’t a bad thing, all it means is everything comes underbaked. Not to mention jumping into WWE’s version of a pick-up game is impossibly slow. Plus, with so many superstars, so many modes, and so little time (even with a year delay), the gameplay quality just isn’t there.

It’s not just how well the game plays once you’re pushing Square and Circle in the squared circle. FIFA has been able to maintain a high level of quality, albeit without much invention, while raking in microtransacted money through Ultimate Team. NBA 2K has taken its foot off the pedal a little by tweaking all the off-court content, but if you want to just shut up and dribble, you’ll be fine. WWE has started to shove in similar money-spinning ideas, but it doesn’t have the foundation of gameplay to support it.

Then there’s the narrative. A favourite football cliche is “you couldn’t make this up!” but in wrestling, you can. They do. Wrestling is scripted and finely tuned for entertainment, but it’s also bursting with very natural stories. Fighting With My Family and The Wrestler are two of the best sports movies of all time (with apologies to Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off). No other sport is a better slingshot for Hollywood stardom. The Rock is the biggest movie star in the world right now, and not just by shoulder width. John Cena is well on his way, and Bautista has appeared in some of the biggest movies of the past five years. Roddy Piper and Andre the Giant had respectable careers too.

All the other sports in the world combined can’t compete with wrestling. Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger are obvious examples, but Crews didn’t make the leap after a stellar career but rather as a back-up choice, and whether you’d count Arnie’s day job as ‘sports’ is up for debate. OJ Simpson was decent in The Towering Inferno, but I guess after that he decided to quit the business. I wonder whatever happened to that guy?

There is often a story mode in wrestling games, but Fighting With My Family it ain’t. Everything could obviously be improved with Florence Pugh (those Dune 2 rumours, amirite?), but WWE’s issues go deeper than that. There’s no heart, no humour, no point to most of it. FIFA’s The Journey wasn’t great, but it was leagues ahead of anything WWE has done in the past decade. It doesn’t even need to be through a story mode (despite WWE 2K’s insistence on one), but there is so much opportunity for storytelling in wrestling and the games just never take advantage of it.

Wrestling games have so many problems these days, but the main one is they just don’t understand why people like wrestling. Wrestling is the biggest collision of sports and entertainment on the planet, and yet year after year it results in the most boring sports title on the market. Something needs to change.

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