You Still Got It (Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap)

HIGH Delivers classic wrestling with intriguing updates.

LOW The AI struggles. Special match types are uneven.

WTF Why is there a QTE to complete a ladder match when on top of the ladder?

History has a habit of coming back around in professional wrestling. Whether it’s Ric Flair adopting the mannerisms of “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers or CM Punk unleashing a Hulk Hogan-esque leg drop at an All-Elite Wrestling (AEW) pay-per-view, the history of this dramatized combat sport is what gives flavor to its competitors and events.

As such, it’s only natural that this reverence for the past in pro wrestling would also extend to wrestling videogames — particularly those developed by the AKI Corporation during the early 2000s. There is a persistent segment of fans that absolutely need to know if any upcoming wrestling title is comparable to WWF No Mercy, the Nintendo 64 classic from AKI that features the beloved “Attitude Era” roster of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment superstars.

Thankfully – mercifully – I am happy to report that AEW Fight Forever not only picks up the torch from those classic AKI wrestling games but carries it forward in new and exciting directions.

The time-tested foundation of AEW Fight Forever comes down to a simple and intuitive control scheme of strikes and grapples, each with weak and strong variations as well as corresponding blocks to repel them.

Strikes do immediate damage, but are generally weaker than most holds that are applied out of a grapple. Grapples, on the other hand, have a more pronounced windup animation that makes them easy to be deflected or even countered into a retaliatory attack. As players take damage, recovery time degrades and gives way to longer stun animations that provide more time to execute devastating attacks.

Along with damage to their opponents, successful attacks also build up momentum that a player can use to trigger a timed “SPECIAL” state where they have access to finishing moves. Once time runs out, the player’s momentum drops enough that they must successfully land multiple attacks to reach that threshold again and, naturally, opposing attacks decrease the player’s momentum as well.

This momentum system not only encourages careful timing, but also rewards players that execute a multi-faceted attack plan. Simply trading blows back and forth won’t build momentum effectively, and settling into the same attacks will give opponents multiple opportunities to learn the timing of how to counter a given move — and the ability to counter consistently is what separates the decent players in AEW Fight Forever from world championship material.

All these core mechanics tie back into that AKI lineage of wrestling game design, which is timeless in the same way that a good fighter can live years beyond its release. Luckily, most of the new features in AEW Fight Forever build upon this rock-solid foundation without compromising any fundamental strengths.

The most notable addition to the in-ring action is the new “SIGNATURE” momentum state, which now precedes the “SPECIAL” state and offers an intermediate tier of moves that have a damage bonus over basic moves. Crucially, the “SIGNATURE” state is not time-limited the same way “SPECIAL” is, so multiple signature moves can be executed to ensure that an opponent will be stunned enough to receive a finishing move for the win.

There are also several new context-sensitive button activations that allow the player to execute location-specific attacks, such as a springboard dive from the top rope onto the area outside the ring. This change gives AEW Fight Forever multiple ways to better reflect the more acrobatic tendencies of its performers, and of modern wrestling in general.

Outside of the ring, many of these new mechanics are tied to active and passive character traits, which comprise the biggest change to the formulawhen it comes to character creation and modification. For the real-life wrestlers that are already on the AEW Fight Forever roster (as well as the custom-created wrestlers that players can create on their own) these traits provide a sorely-needed outlet for characterization beyond a simple list of moves and taunts.

The one new addition that’s more of an odd curiosity than anything else is the chain wrestling mechanic, where two wrestlers start exchanging a series of holds and escapes where players appear to guess opposing button presses. Even though chain wrestling is mentioned in the character traits, there’s no tutorial for it and the couple of times I activated the mechanic in 20+ hours of play came completely by accident. Weird.

There are other aspects of AEW that exhibit a similar lack of polish, though they stand out more as weird quirks than anything that adversely impacts the experience.

For example, players can create their own wrestlers and take these characters through the game’s Road to Elite career mode to level them up, but the improvements don’t consistently reflect across multiple runs. In one instance I couldn’t reassign a different second finishing move on a later playthrough, even though I had unlocked the move slot on an earlier playthrough with that character.

More critically, the AI behavior of computer-controlled opponents seems particularly undercooked. Opponents on Easy difficulty are pushovers that rarely attempt to defend themselves, while wrestlers on harder difficulties are flawless killing machines that counter move after move as though they were in The Matrix. Worst of all, AIs on all difficulties struggle with pathfinding over fallen wrestlers, which can be exploited to get easy pinfalls in multi-man matches. One could make the argument that this is just part of a “faithful” carryover of the old N64 games, but this is one aspect that should have been left to the history books.

It’s the best traits from those classic AKI games that remain at the core of AEW Fight Forever, though, along with some clever and sometimes whimsical additions made along the way. (The Mario Party-esque minigames are, hands down, some of the wackiest additions I’ve seen to any sports game.) Though All Elite Wrestling is still a relatively young wrestling company, it can point to Fight Forever as a great first foray into console gaming and one of the best wrestling games in years.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Yuke’s Co., LTD and published by THQ Nordic and All Elite Wrestling, LLC.It is currently available on XBO/X/S, Switch, PS4/5 and PC.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. (Once through Women’s Road to Elite on Easy Difficulty, once through Men’s Road to Elite on Easy Difficulty, and once through Women’s Road to Elite on Normal Difficulty). One hour of play was spent in local multiplayer. There are online multiplayer modes available for all match types, but no online matches could be completed for this review.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence. ESRB Description: This is a wrestling game in which players compete in matches with wrestlers from the AEW roster. Players use punches, kicks, and grappling maneuvers to drain their opponents’ health. In some match types (e.g., Barbed Wire, Stadium Stampede, Unsanctioned) players can use barbed wired, baseball bats, metal chairs, and Molotov cocktails against opponents, eventually resulting in submission and/or knock outs. Blood-splatter effects can occur during matches, staining the mats; video footage of real matches also depicts blood on wrestlers’ faces and bodies. The game contains some mildly suggestive material: female wrestlers in revealing outfits (e.g., deep cleavage, bunny outfits, partially exposed buttocks); wrestlers performing taunting gestures (e.g., crotch chop, slapping buttocks). Real footage sometimes depicts wrestlers drinking alcohol and smoking. The word “sh*t” is heard in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. There are no audio-only cues in AEW Fight Forever. Subtitles are available for the Road to Elite career mode, where live video segments are played to depict historic moments in the history of All Elite Wrestling. All other storyline segments are depicted through text prompting without voiceover.

Remappable Controls:  Certain functions are remappable. Movement is restricted to the left analog stick, but all other actions can be remapped to different buttons as follows:

Steve Gillham
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Jeff Ortloff
2 months ago

I was anxiously awaiting this review! Looks like I’ll be making a purchase this evening!