PLATFORM: SWITCH (OTHERS TBA) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Developer MDickie has been making games for the best part of two decades now. Wrestling Empire is not only the latest in a long line of wrestling games, but also the first to be released on a major console (previous titles were only available for PC and / or mobile). Taking its influences from the fondly-remembered late 90s era of wrestling games, notably the N64 classic No Mercy, Empire allows players to either battle each other in a huge variety of single and multiplayer exhibition modes (from regular one on ones and tags to huge multi-person tag team battle royales, all with a crazy amount of options for customising the rules to your liking) or take a character through a career mode to win championships across the land.
In a slight disappointment, you're not able to take a custom character through the career mode. Instead, your only option is to choose one of the game's 350+ roster members and edit their appearance and moves to make them “yours”. Although, during your career, the boss of your current promotion will often recommend changing up your strikes, grapples, name and gimmick - sometimes outright insisting on it - so your character is likely to end up being wildly different to the one you started with. Working your way up the ranks from wrestling school showcases with no crowd (sounds familiar...) through 11 different promotions with increasing attendances and financial rewards, you'll encounter disgruntled wrestlers wanting to rebel against the promoter, feud with other wrestlers, negotiate the terms of your contract (affecting how much you get paid and adding stipulations like health insurance to cover injuries or creative control to allow you to refuse storylines without being punished). It can be a bit tricky to get going, often reaching a point where you're told you can't progress any further in your current company but no other offers are coming in from elsewhere so you just have to plod along until someone gets in touch.
The actual gameplay might not be what you'd call accomplished, but it's mighty good fun. Controls are super simple and many moves can be linked together with other human players so you can, in theory, do things like slingshotting an opponent into your partner who can immediately grab them and flip them over into a brain buster. It's all very loose and floaty, with wrestlers often flinging themselves across the ring, falling over, sometimes vanishing into the crowd and landing flying elbow drops on unsuspecting spectators for no reason at all, but that's part of the game's charm... The extreme madness of MDickie's previous games hasn't quite been carried over to Empire, so you won't be dismembering anyone any time soon, but you can still throw explosives, set stacks of tables on fire, and generally cause massive amounts of carnage. Once you get the hang of how things work, the challenge does wane a little bit, but ramping up the difficulty and playing around with the options menu usually helps to maintain the chaos.
There are only a handful of wrestling games on the Switch at the moment, and the ones that exist aren't exactly what you'd call essential. If you're after a bit of portable grappling action, the overall silliness of Wrestling Empire will certainly keep you occupied for a while. It feels slightly bare bones at the moment, but plenty of free updates are set for the coming months to beef up the amount of playable game modes. Buy it now and see how the game evolves, or hang on a little while and dive in when a few more features have been added. Either way, it's a good fun time, and currently the best wrestling game available on the Switch!