Reviewed on PC
A nostalgic pixilated RPG set in a world of retro toys, where wrestling is king. DualShockers was provided with a copy of the game for review purposes.
- Fantastic artwork that captures '80s and '90s toys and wrestlers perfectly.
- Fun combat that goes above and beyond the basic turn-based RPG.
- No grinding!
- Lack of enemy respawns means a lot of time hoofing it through empty dungeons.
- Party member and enemy balancing is sometimes way off.
- No grinding, but in a bad way.
There's a literal rumble in the jungle going on. My tag team partner is completely spent, lying in a furry blue heap at ringside. I've already flattened one of my opponents with a top rope elbow drop, but I'm nearly gassed, panting and heaving as my reptilian foe's massive muscles ripple and bulge in front of me in all their pixilated glory. I'm low on energy, and my plastic joints can barely support my four-inch-tall frame, but I've got one piledriver left in me, and I'm about to give this lizard the spice. I must, for I am the greatest knockoff wrestling action figure to ever come off the assembly line. I am the Muchacho Man.
If only WrestleQuest, the turn-based RPG from Mega Cat Studios and Skybound Games that brings toys to life in bone-crunching action, could be like that scene above all the time. There's a lot of monotony to this quirky little indie game, but there's still enough fun to be had when it is doing what it does best.
I want to start off by talking about the premise, which is marinated in '80s and '90s nostalgia to perfection. This game places you in the wrestling boots of two action figures who resemble but are legally distinct from pro wrestling legends Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Bret "The Hitman" Hart, as well as the various other action figures and plushies that make up their respective stables. Along the way, you'll join up with other colorful knockoffs like the Loachador (part luchador, part fish) and BarBae (This Barbie is a Blacksploitation homage), as well as real-life superstars like Sgt. Slaughter and Andre the Giant, as you strive to earn your place in the greatest toy wrestling federation of them all, PAW. No, I don't remember what it stands for.
The in-ring action is a step up from the typical turn-based RPG, and you can't just lazily sit back and tap the attack button ad nauseum, because both your attacks and the attacks coming at you are likely to come with quicktime events. Hit the correct direction in time, and you'll deal extra damage or even launch a counterattack against your opponent. Fail, and you're the one taking extra damage. Interestingly enough, in a lot of my matches, I was taking more damage from counters than I was from my opponents' targeted attacks, which makes your reactions all the more crucial. It reminds me a lot of the follow-up attacks from Super Mario RPG, but with higher stakes for missing them, and it's a lot of fun.
Enemies fall into two categories, wrestlers and non-wrestlers, with the key difference being that wrestlers need to be pinned once you deplete their hit points, or else they'll get back to their feet a full round later and resume their onslaught. While the wrestlers are typically humanoid in form, the non-wrestlers come from a wide variety of classic toys, from barrels full of monkeys to plastic army men who bear a striking resemblance to George Washington, and they're much more likely to come at you with unconventional attacks like mortar fire or magic sparkles.These non-wrestlers really spice up the fights, as there's nothing like laying out an attack that affects all enemies only for a generic My Little Pony to heal the rest of the party to full with its dying whinny.
The pixel art graphics are pulled off phenomenally, in a style that stands out from the crowd while still capturing the exaggerated musculature of those Jakks Pacific figurines I used to collect.
I also can't lay enough praise on the presentation. The pixel art graphics are pulled off phenomenally, in a style that stands out from the crowd while still capturing the exaggerated musculature of those Jakks Pacific figurines I used to collect, as well as the iconic looks of a bunch of other classic toys. When you run into Crocodile Dentist, you know it's Crocodile Dentist. That punk jacking and scrapping cars? Obviously Mr. Potato Head; just look at him.
The attention to detail put into the toy world is really something I can respect. Need to crack the security codes in that military base playset? There's a Simon on the door. It's really immersive, like Toy Story meets Pokemon, except everyone in the world is really into pro wrestling instead of trained animal fights.
All this goodness seriously gets weighed down, however, by balancing issues, large empty spaces, and the lack of ability to grind. Am I actually complaining that there's no grinding in an RPG? Grinding is the anathema of the entire genre! Well, yes, but sometimes it's needed. Health items in this game (in this case, various forms of adhesive tape, because they're toys, you see) are way too expensive, and while most of the game borders on the too-easy side of the spectrum, there are some really brutal bits that'll deplete your stocks pretty quickly (more on that in a bit).
Besides that, a lot of characters join your party completely underleveled. Early on, I had a tough one-on-one against The Brooter, a walking Hulk Hogan homage, and within minutes, I was teamed up with him in a handicap match. Even though he nearly took me out mere minutes before, he joined the party at level 1, with barely enough hit points to avoid going down in the first round of combat, and zero healing skills between him and Muchacho Man. After scraping by in that fight, I'd have liked to bump up his levels, but there was no way to do that, as I'd already wiped out every enemy on the previous maps, and they never regenerate.
Which leads to probably the biggest flaw in the game. You're going to spend a lot of time backtracking across areas you've already cleared. Some of these toy dungeons cover several screens of twisty, turny, mazelike obstacles that pose no threat but really slow you down. And the game has no problem making you cross three or four of these now-lifeless dungeons at a time to have a single conversation on the other side of the map, only to have to turn around and go right back the way you came. This could easily have been fixed with a fast-travel option, or at least soothed with a minimap (there's a bare-bones radar, but that's it). Sadly, neither of these features are present, and I found myself getting needlessly bored as I wasted minutes of my time walking and walking. I signed up for King of the Ring, not Lord of the Rings.
The game is also constantly making you break the number-one rule of RPGs:never split the party. This wouldn't be so bad, but I was often left dividing my three available wrestlers into three teams, meaning one person apiece. That wasn't too bad the first couple of times, when enemies would only face off against me one-on-one, but by the third time they pulled this gimmick, I was going into every fight three-on-one, and my party members consisted of my overleveled Muchacho Main, my underleveled glass cannon Brooter, and BarBae, who specializing in healing but can't do jack in terms of offensive power. The frustration was compounded by the fact that this was a puzzle-heavy sidequest, and by the time I'd stumbled into it, there was no backing out to regroup or hit the shop. Goodbye, my entire supply of duct tape.
Despite these flaws, there’s plenty of cheezy humor and fun moments that make the game just about worth it. At one point, I found a car key next to a statue of The Road Warriors, Animal and Hawk, and shortly thereafter I used it to steal a car from a nearby junkyard. After a fun little racing combat minigame, I found I was being tailed by an enormous big rig hauling a wrestling ring behind it, and in that ring, decked out in their spiky-shoulder-padded glory, were the Road Warriors themselves challenging me to a match. Oh, what a rush.
All in all, the mechanical issues—particularly being forced to walk through empty dungeons over and over again—really killed the hype I was feeling at the start of this game, which is a shame, because there are some great moments here. Toss in a world map, a minimap, and most importantly, a fast-travel feature, and this game would be leaps and bounds ahead of what it is. Still, if you don't mind the monotony and you've got a nostalgic love for Golden Era wrestling, WrestleQuest might be worth a look.