On January 11, 2021, a game was released for the Switch which promised to "make wrestling games fun again". Its style was reported to be an over-the-top throwback to the days of the 64-bit wrestling games that we all love. Needless to say; this game immediately caught my attention and I had to snatch up a digital copy, right away.
As a bonus, Wrestling Empire debuted on-sale for around 25% off in order to entice purchasers so I'm happy I was able to be frugal and pick it up early at the discounted price. Is this really gonna be THE game that makes wrestling games fun again? Let's take a closer look and find out.
Wrestling Empire was developed by and published by MDickie and is his very first published game for a major console despite being a 20 + year veteran at programming games. MDickie (Mat Dickie) is probably the truest form of independent video game developer because he has literally been a one-man development team for all of the games he's created, including this one.
He handles everything from the programming to the graphics to the making and/or licensing of the music included. That's honestly pretty mind-blowing in this day and age. I'm sure there are other one-person development teams out there but MDickie has almost certainly been the most prolific and celebrated, creating such underground classics like Hardy Boyz Stunt Challenge, Big Bumps, and the popular Wrestling Revolution series on PC.
Once you fire this game up; you can quickly see that there are only two game modes to pick from (Career and Exhibition) but that's okay because the Exhibition mode has lots of match types and rules to mess around with. You can have anything from cage matches, hardcore matches, first blood matches, and more. If you know anything about me; you know I often like to set up matches in wrestling games and let the AI battle itself and see what happens. Although you technically can't do that here; what you can do is put yourself in the spot of the ref and watch the wrestlers involved wreck havoc on one another while you attempt to maintain order and count falls and submission attempts. It's always fun being the "special guest referee", every once in a while, and even influencing the action a little if the mood strikes you.
Career Mode is where you'll spend most of your time with this game, especially early on. This game touts 350 different wrestlers spread out over multiple promotions and a lot of them are locked in the beginning. They're pretty easy to unlock, although it is still a time-consuming process. That's part of the game, though. You gotta put in work to uncover the entire roster. From what I can tell - you unlock wrestlers simply by playing through Career Mode and when you encounter them during your career either as opponents or through backstage encounters; they become unlocked for you to use. Simple enough.
This game prides itself on being wacky and over-the-top and the Career Mode doesn't disappoint in that aspect. From what I can surmise; no two Career Modes are ever quite the same. There are a lot of variables and random things that can happen to mix things up each time. You start in the wrestling school, trying to get a contract with one promotion or another in order to start to actually get paid for doing this.
For whatever reason, I decided that I should hire a manager, first thing. You know, someone to help guide my career and whatnot. Anyway, I decided to hire a lady named "Win Stevenson" although I'm unsure of who her real-life counterpart is. Like most unlicensed wrestling games; this one features real-life wrestlers thinly disguised as fictional ones but it just so happens that Ms. Stevenson's disguise is a little too "thick" for me to see through.
Regardless, Win Stevenson is my manager and we head out for our first match which is basically just a training session with no live crowd. Everything is going fine and she's been helping me out and distracting the ref as she should when, all of a sudden, towards the end of the match; I see her climbing over the top ropes in an awkward way attempting to bring me a 2x4 into the ring. I'm not sure why she's doing this because I'm already attempting a pin but I see her slip and fall into the ring and she lets out a horrific sounding scream. I get the pinfall and I'm notified by a newspaper headline that EMTs had tried to resuscitate her after her fall but had been unable to. She was 26... Wow, that's some deep shit for a wrestling game. To be fair; it's also pretty funny - she died by climbing over the ropes in an awkward fashion and falling and breaking her neck. Crazy.
I furthered my career by injuring Roland Weiner's (Norman Smiley) neck, a few matches later, and getting blamed for that (I guess I could've given him fewer piledrivers throughout the match) and then I also accidentally killed John Cena a few matches later. Needless to say, due to circumstance, I wasn't the most popular pro wrestler currently on the roster. Some other wrestler died in his sleep at some point and there was a newspaper article about that as well. There seems to be a lot of people biting the dust throughout my career but, to be honest, I can't say that's not an accurate representation of the wrestling business, sadly. Aside from all of the injuries and death; the Career Mode is full of details like signing contracts and negotiating for creative control so your gimmick doesn't get messed with and changed up, etc. It's a very deep and comprehensive mode to enjoy.
As far as actually playing the game, I gotta say; it's a blast! The controls are set up the same way as old 64-bit wrestling games and the action is over-the-top, for sure. There are tons of weapons to get your hands on if you're so inclined. Things like microphones, TV cameras, chairs, tables, and even dynamite! All of the wrestlers' AI is also a little wonky which leads to some funny and entertaining moments.
The thing I love most is that any move can be interrupted and transitioned into any other move at any time. That's pretty unbelievable. It's hard to explain but when you begin to play the game; you'll see exactly what I mean. This alone can lead to some crazy and interesting spots that you'll be wanting to record using the Switch's record feature! On top of all that - this game can handle not 6 or 8 but 30 wrestlers in the ring, all at the same time! That's completely unheard off and would make for some chaotic battle royals to enjoy playing through.
To wrap things up - this game is exactly what it promises to be - a really fun throwback to the days of 64-bit wrestling games. Considering the classic, N64 wrestling games that we all loved; I can see why Nintendo saw the potential in this title and allowed it to be on their system. MDickie has said that he intends to do updates and also, hopefully, release the game on other platforms. Until that happens; you either have to enjoy playing it on your smartphone or exclusively on the Switch, as far as consoles go. At a $20 (USD) asking price; you can't go wrong with picking up this gem of a wrestling game. It's well worth the investment.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!