There’s something alluring about the world of professional wrestling video games. Whether it’s SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain, WCW/nWo: Revenge, or Dej Jam: Vendetta, wrestling games are something that you can get into no matter how disinterested you are in the pseudo-sport. Heck, the path that led me to writing weekly wrestling reviews and news pieces started with my mom randomly buying me TNA Impact! for the PS3 on Black Friday a decade ago.
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They’re an easy-to-pick-up and fun-to-master genre of fighting games, but as far as the masses are concerned, wrestling games are in a bit of a slump.
WWE 2K20 was a broken mess, roundly voted as one of the worst games of 2019. 2020’s WWE 2K Battlegrounds was a lootbox-infused nightmare in the same vein as NBA 2K Playgrounds, and it barely left an impression in wrestling and gamer circles. And even before WWE and 2K’s series lost its longtime developer in Yukes (which torpedoed the production of WWE 2K20 and led to the cancellation of 2K21), many players had already fallen out of love with the biggest wrestling company’s longest-running franchise and its simulation-based approach to play.
However, with the recent scoop that the fan-favorite GM Mode is returning for WWE 2K22, plus the steady development of All Elite Wrestling’s first console game (which got more gameplay footage shown off during their recent All Out Fan Fest), there seems to be hope within the masses again as we await the “Big 2” wrestling companies’ “Big 2” wrestling video games.
WWE 2K22 was delayed until next March, though, and AEW’s unnamed project has no set release date at all. Aside from playing a pair of disappointing WWE games or digging through your closest to grab a copy of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PS2, what can you do to pass the time until something new comes out?
I’m a guy whose list of recently played games on Steam consists of four pro wrestling games and Wildermyth, and who has two PlayStation Network accounts specifically so I could have two rosters of 100-created characters each, so I figured it was only right that I use my very specific knowledge set to guide you through this seemingly never-ending lull between wrestling games.
WWE 2K19 (2018; PS4, Xbox One, PC)
We’ll start with what is, for all intents and purposes, THE running WWE game, as 2K20 and 2K Battlegrounds were both hollow replacements for it. WWE 2K19 is the culmination of all the eighth generation WWE games, which started with the very lackluster WWE 2K15, as it refined the controls and gameplay gimmicks that made of this series’ simulation style.
Whereas the previous Yukes games from WWF SmackDown! to WWE 2K14 were basically fighting games that happened to follow the rules of professional wrestling, 2K15 through 2K19 slowed the gameplay down and turned it into a game that was more reminiscent of the product. For some, this was a major turn-off. For me, there was nothing better.
See, the greatest aspect of the WWE games is the creative suite, where you can put a LOT of effort into creating your own wrestlers, arenas, match types, and so on. Though 2K19 lacks some of the features that previous games had, such as Create-A-Finisher and Create-A-Story, the character creation menu is some of the best stuff that gaming has to offer, not just wrestling games. Just take a look at the community creations and see how many accurate Spider-Men, Jokers, and other celebrities and fictional characters get made in-game just for the fun of it.
And that’s another win for 2K19: 2K is sunsetting the online features of WWE 2K20 on September 26, 2021, while the servers for 2K19 will remain up until 2K22 comes out next year. If playing online and downloading the best worldwide wrestling roster you can are your style, 2K19 is the best option for you until the next 2K game comes out.
But if you’re more of an offline player like me, there’s more than enough content to keep you interested. Not only is the MyCareer story a fun romp that takes you from the independent wrestling scene to WrestleMania (though not before going on a mystical journey through the multiverse and fighting a few zombies), but Universe Mode — where you play through an editable WWE calendar with built-in rivalries and stories — is better than it’s ever been, even if it’s not a full replacement for SmackDown vs Raw’s GM Mode.
I ran my own promotion with over 100 created characters, and it ran from 2K17 through 2K19. Seven in-universe years took place as the wrestlers formed rivalries and tag teams, met with rival promotions, and toured the world, and the wrestling felt real because the simulation gameplay made it feel like something I could watch in real life. Pitting a cruiserweight against a super heavyweight felt like a tall task, and when I’ve created every aspect their lives (God bless Deuce Sherman and James Shaw, who were best friends in wrestling school but grew apart due to their opposing views on wrestling), it makes the matches feel all the more appealing.
Playing WWE 2K19 gave me years of entertainment, and it’s the pinnacle of making your own fun. If you want to get an idea of what WWE 2K22 might play like without suffering through every glitch under the sun (but still encountering many a game bug), 2K19 should be right up your alley.
Fire Pro Wrestling World (2017; PS4, PC)
While the WWE 2K series is considered to be “simulation games” because the gameplay is slowed down to the pace of televised wrestling, Fire Pro Wrestling World is a simulation game because, when you play it, it’s like you’re playing against the real-life wrestler.
Like all Fire Pro Wrestling games, the base game comes with a set of wrestlers that aren’t based in reality — less “John Cena” and more “Blan Fleming.” But while the WWE games’ community creations are able to LOOK realistic, the 2D sprites that you download for Fire Pro Wrestling World FEEL realistic because the character’s creator can change the CPU logic of a competitor. Your downloaded Young Buck won’t just know multiple superkicks, but he’ll also hit them in succession and throw a DX chop in at the end because, well, that’s what Nick or Matt Jackson would do.
The good thing about downloading a FPWW wrestler is that they’re only a fraction of a megabyte each, meaning you’re not capped at 100 characters and can really download as many as you want as long as your computer can handle it. The unfortunate thing about FPWW is, now that there are four years’ worth of DLC, a lot of the Steam workshop creations are gated behind a paywall. To get all of the DLC related to New Japan Pro Wrestling, World Wonder Ring STARDOM, Fire Promoter (their attempt at a GM mode), and more, this $30 game tacks on a $169 bonus price.
The other good news is that many creators upload two versions of their wrestlers: one with DLC and one without. Plus, the Move Craft DLC is free, meaning that if you want a really cool Rainmaker that isn’t from the official FPWW version of Kazuchika Okada, you can still get it if you search.
One more barrier for entry is that the game doesn’t PLAY as well as it LOOKS. It’s an isometric grappler that’s still the same core game as it was on the SNES, so if you actually want to play the game, you’re going to spend a lot of time kicking the air and generally whiffing your opponent until you get the timing down. Out of the 502 hours I have logged into the game on Steam, I’ll be generous and say I’ve spent 60 with the controller in my hand, actively playing through a match. Fire Pro Wrestling World is better used as a way to simulate dream matches than an actual game.
But between the tournaments; the New Japan story mode; Fire Promoter; and “Champion’s Road: Beyond,” a story written by SUDA51 himself, the game is definitely full of things that have kept me coming back since its release day in July, 2017.
Last note: as awesome as the moves are, the STARDOM DLC is incredibly overpriced. Avoid it unless you’re a huge fan.
Wrestling Empire (2021; Switch, iOS, Android, PC)
Maybe you’re not looking for anything complicated. Maybe you’re looking for a game with graphics straight out of the 90s and a roster full of knock-off wrestlers who will befriend you and betray you and bury the hatchet all within three weeks of exploding sumo wrestling matches.
Wrestling Empire is best explained through experience.
I started career mode as Samson (presumably WWE’s Elias). I formed a tag team with Wrestling School Champion Hugh Morris, then beat him for the belt. I went to the game’s equivalent of ECW/NXT; beat Seth Rollins, won a gauntlet match from the #1 spot against Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Christian; and formed a tag team with Dolph Ziggler because creative had nothing for me. We lost our tag debut in literally 15 seconds to Rollins and Reigns, who then promptly broke up; then, we won an 8-man match with Harper and Michael Cole vs HHH, Chyna, Val Venis, & The Miz. The Blue Meanie paid me $1,400 to attack Test backstage, so I powerbombed Test through an office table and literally DIED.
Then, after dying, I had one more match with Morris against Gangrel and Cole where I broke my leg. After the match, the game remembered that I died, and career mode ended.
The game crashed for me after this, and then I was never able to open it again.
10/10 experience. Would recommend to anyone passively interested in pro wrestling.
Total Extreme Wrestling 2020 (2020; PC)
The latest in Adam Ryland’s series of text-based pro wrestling games that started with Extreme Warfare in 1995, Total Extreme Wrestling 2020 is the most in-depth wrestling manager game that’ll scratch that GM Mode fix and then some.
While WWE 2K has its real roster and Wrestling Empire has knock-offs, TEW is more in the style of FPWW’s base game as it has a whole world of wrestlers, only the Cornellverse as it’s known has a lot more going on beneath it. Since becoming a commercial brand that had to avoid copyright issues (as Extreme Warfare absolutely used real names), TEW 2004 and on featured the rise and fall of promotions like TCW, SWF, USPW, DAVE, and other companies across the globe.
You take on the role of head booker in one of these promotions, trying to put on the best show you can while also bending to the will of your promotion’s owner, the target audience, and the territory you reside in. TEW 2020 expounds on all of the previous games by adding the ability to form official territory systems with other companies, create your own developmental brand, and even start up your own streaming service a la the real-life WWE Network.
As fun as this game can be — writing down notes and keeping track of your plans for performers like a real booker can be exhilarating and even gave eventual AEW owner Tony Khan his start — it can also be very overwhelming. I once accidentally locked myself into a second television show despite having a small roster, and I got so anxious about the contract that I stopped playing the game and didn’t go back to it for several months despite previously being on a roll.
But if you take it less seriously and just want to grab a Real World mod where you put R-Truth and Curt Hawkins into three consecutive 60-minue iron man matches on Raw (I’ve seen it), you can do just that.
Though these four (and their various prequels) are the games I’m currently invested in, the world of wrestling games is incredibly vast right now. RetroMania Wrestling is the spiritual sequel to highly regarded arcade game WWF WrestleFest, only with today’s indie wrestlers alongside old school legends. Action Arcade Wrestling is a wrestling game where headlocks and chair shots are as viable an option as blasting your opponent with lightning. Journey of Wrestling is another text-based wrestling manager, but it’s much more accessible than TEW, and many praise it as being the closest thing to WWE’s GM Mode (and something that’s especially fun on mobile).
And AEW and WWE’s upcoming games aren’t the only ones on the horizon. Virtual Basement’s The Wrestling Code is a nearly photorealistic wrestling game with over 100 wrestlers in it, ranging from AEW’s Brian Cage to WWE’s Eli “LA Knight” Drake to legend Scott Steiner, though its release date is unknown. Meanwhile, Pro Wrestling Sim (another accessible wrestling manager game) and Mark Out! The Wrestling Card Game (as it says on the tin) are both in early access and are garnering favorable reviews.
Much like how pro wrestling itself has an array of shows and events you can latch onto, pro wrestling games run deep as well. Whether you like it serious or wacky, 2D or 3D, action or text-based, dating sim or not, wrestling games have got you.
Now you know the wrestling games that have given me some amazing memories. I hope that you can find your own “SPARK Wrestling” or “Samson dies via powerbomb” to tell your friends about.
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