I’m now old enough to remember proper video game arcades in the UK. It was a place where I’d spend the vast majority of my small amount of pocket money on games such as TMNT: The Arcade Game, Spider-Man: The Video Game, Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, WWF Superstars, and WWF WrestleFest.
The latter of the above titles, namely WWF WrestleFest was a game I’d spend a silly amount playing in the arcades. Well in those days you’d practically be giving your money away as the difficulty of arcade games were deliberately difficult so that it would swallow your money. Still, I can quite proudly say to this day, that the Royal Rumble mode of WWF WrestleFest was one of the few arcade games that I’ve ever finished.
WWF WrestleFest was released way back in 1991 and since that time we’ve had an abomination of a mobile game in 2012 and there was even a sequel to this arcade classic that was announced for PS3 and Xbox 360 but never actually released. Though to be fair if you search WWE WrestleFest on YouTube, you’ll soon see why this game was cancelled.
So here we are 30 years later and we’ve finally got the official sequel to WWF WrestleFest. At first, I assumed that RetroMania Wrestling was a “spiritual successor”, but I am gladly mistaken. In 2019, developer Retrosoft Studios acquired the license to WWF WrestleFest from Arc System Works who held the rights to the original arcade game.
Granted RetroMania Wrestling perhaps lacks the WWE license that it may have hoped for, but instead, they’ve filled the roster with pro wrestlers of yesteryear and modern indie pro wrestlers of today. Well technically, RetroMania Wrestling does have a current WWE Superstar, who was presumably acquired prior to his return to WWE in 2020.
If you’ve ever played the original WWF WrestleFest, you will feel almost instantly at home with RetroMania Wrestling. I say almost because while the core gameplay feels very familiar, however, the move-list has been expanded upon tenfold. No longer are you restricted to just a bodyslam, a backdrop, a running clothesline, and a few other moves.
In RetroMania Wrestling you can attack certain limb areas of the body, perform submission movies, finishing moves, and much more. To be honest, I was used to how I remembered WWF WrestleFest to play, I was caught a little off-guard with RetroMania Wrestling. But once I learned that you would grapple and then press a button/direction to perform varying power-level of moves, the ball began rolling and I was performing a variety of moves almost by instinct.
I would say that perhaps RetroMania Wrestling lacks a training mode and I still believe that this mode would benefit the game. However, if you jump into the Story Mode, you will learn the basics of the game. So in essence, that is where you’ll find a training mode (so to speak), it’s just a little hidden away.
Speaking of modes, in the Story mode you’ll play as Johnny Retro, which is the current WWE Superstar that I mentioned earlier, only officially you might know him as The Miz’s tag team partner, John Morrison. In Story mode, John Morrison has lost his smile and with the help of Big Stevie Cool aka Stevie Richards, you’ll climb back to the top of the preverbal mountain in no time. The Story mode will also offer you certain choices to make during its campaign, which is a nice touch. Though be warned, this is pro wrestling after all, so remember “DTA”.
The other main mode of RetroMania Wrestling is the 10 Pounds of Gold, which pays homage to the great NWA World’s Heavyweight Title, currently held by England’s own, Nick Aldis. 10 Pounds of Gold is essentially the old-school arcade mode where you will run a gauntlet of defeating a series of wrestling’s before you arrive at the final showdown with Nick Aldis. Then if you defeat the National Treasure, it will be up to you to carry this prestigious title’s legacy against some of the best wrestlers in the world.
In terms of other modes, you can select from a battle royal and a variety of match variations that can accommodate up to eight players. While I haven’t played them all yet, Retrosoft Studios has stated that there are over 50 different match variations in the base game, which is mighty impressive, to say the least. The most popular modes you might play include traditional 1v1, Triple Threat, Tag Team, Handicap matches, Steel Cage matches, and much more.
Visually, RetroMania Wrestling is made up of wonderful 2D pixel art animated sprites which also pay homage to the arcade original. To be honest, I wouldn’t want RetroMania Wrestling to look and sound any other way. Everything from the entrance walk, the crowd animations, and the ring announcer calling the wrestler’s name, and even the humorous taunts, it’s damn near perfection in my book.
So who can we wrestle as in RetroMania Wrestling? Sadly for licensing reasons, you won’t find a whole host of WWE, AEW, or NJPW names on the list, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get one or two familiar names, because I think most wrestling fans will have a connection with at least one name on the RetroMania Wrestling roster.
At launch and in the base game we have Hawk & Animal (Legion of Doom aka The Road Warriors), Nick Aldis, Tommy Dreamer, Johnny Retro (aka John Morrison), Big Stevie Cool (aka Stevie Richards), the Blue Meanie, Hollywood Nova, Austin Idol, Brian Myers (aka Curt Hawkins), Matt Cordona (aka Zack Ryder), Jeff Cobb, Nikita Koloff, Zack Sabre Jr, and Warhorse. There are also 12 arenas at launch including Japan (inspired by the Tokyo Dome), the classic NWA arena, NWA Powerrr, the Ballroom (ECW), House of Hardcore, and more.
To conclude, in a time when I’ve been long sick to death of the buggy WWE 2K series, RetroMania Wrestling is not only a worthy homage to arcade wrestling games of yesteryear, it’s a reminder of how fun they used to be back in the 90s. On its surface, RetroMania Wrestling may seem like a basic wrestling game, but once you dive into the action, you might be surprised by its wealth and depth. RetroMania Wrestling is not only a joyous nostalgia trip, but it’s also an incredibly fun pro wrestling game. Even if you don’t know much of the names on the roster, if you’ve fallen out of love with wrestling games, then RetroMania Wrestling will relight that fire.