Sep 07, 2023, 05:57AM

The Golden Age of Gaming Meets the Golden Age of Wrestling

WrestleQuest is not so much a game as a carefully-crafted cultural artifact, capturing the essence of wrestling and RPG classics in one comprehensive package that forces you to take your time.

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Pittsburgh-based Mega Cat Studios' WrestleQuest is a masterclass in uniting two beloved genres: wrestling and classic JRPGs, evoking memories of Earthbound, Final Fantasy VI, and Secret of Mana. The dedication that went into developing this game is evident, with every pixel and line of dialogue functioning as a heartfelt tribute to wrestling legends and the golden era of 16-bit role-playing games. With a project like this, there’s always the question of whether the juice is worth the squeeze—my discussions with the developers hammered home just how significant this investment of time and money was. But if the target demographic happens to be me—someone who exists at this particular pop-culture intersection—Mega Cat succeeded.

The story revolves around two main plastic action figures: Muchacho Man, a nod to Randy Savage, and Brink Logan, a Bret Hart-lookalike. They navigate the intricate world of the Toy Box, an interconnected Toy Story-style realm of various playsets each representing different wrestling promotions. The game brilliantly captures the tone of the wrestling world; it's an arena where the flamboyant and the violent, the absurd and the dramatic coalesce. Although the story can feel a bit inconsistent in terms of importance, what this achieves is a nuanced layering of storylines that mirror the complex dynamics of real-world wrestling promotions—not one of which is like the other, aside from the fact that they put on wrestling shows.

WrestleQuest doesn't shy away from embracing an "everything is wrestling" ethos. While this approach might occasionally seem overwhelming in other situations—I’m critical of applying this analysis to politics—here it results in powerful storytelling arcs. For instance, the narrative thread of the Honest Bucks tag team, who are slowly torn apart by ambition, is particularly compelling and runs consistently through the game. It offers a glimpse into the emotional undercurrents of the wrestling world—seen out here in the real world in the form of the ongoing tragicomedy concerning “The Elite” and CM Punk in AEW—and incorporates both spectacle and sentiment.

One might criticize the game for its "go here, fight this" structure, but this is an homage to the quintessential design of classic JRPGs—the best of them involve going places, levelling stuff up, and crushing foes. WrestleQuest even innovates upon this by switching between multiple character arcs, breaking the monotony and adding a rhythmic ebb and flow to the gameplay. Special attention must also be given to the meticulously-crafted side stories that recall the prosopographical style of Final Fantasy VI, such as a lucha libre legend grappling with the dilemma of choosing between family and fame, that offer deep emotional stakes and organically enrich the main storyline.

WrestleQuest presents a diverse lineup that ranges from obvious nods to wrestling icons to completely original personalities. They’re not merely superficial additions but thoughtfully integrated into the RPG mechanics of the game, serving as various classes like healers, bruisers, and damage-focused "mages." Their personas are built on decades of wrestling history and culture, blending seamlessly with the game's RPG elements.

As someone who came out of the same e-wrestling milieu that gave us Tony Khan, I’m in a position to state that the world-building in WrestleQuest is top tier. The Toy Box is a creative playground that features a plethora of wrestling Easter eggs and tributes to classic JRPGs. To a certain extent, the worlds can feel "empty," but that’s another part of the game's old-school charm, urging players to focus on the core mechanics of turn-based combat and strategic planning rather than distracting them with excessive fetch quests and other busywork.

Dungeons in WrestleQuest are notable for their length and complexity, but these traits serve a purpose. The sprawling dungeons encourage exploration and puzzle-solving, and the various obstacles are reminiscent of the challenging dungeons of yesteryear’s 16-bit RPGs—these were places intended primarily not to kill your party, though this could happen, but your time. The game adds its own spin by requiring the party to split up to tackle different sections, making each dungeon a team effort.

Combat is where WrestleQuest excels. It incorporates modern mechanics like the Hype Meter, which adds a dynamic layer to the turn-based combat by rewarding strategic decision-making. As you engage in fights, you start to see the payoff of the various abilities and how they synergize, especially with tag-team moves reminiscent of classics like Chrono Trigger.

Moreover, the game offers a wide array of combat experiences. From regular battles to intense one-on-one fights with high-ranking bosses, each encounter is a unique challenge that requires tactical depth. The game also incorporates quicktime events, allowing players to perform custom entrances that boost hype, further blending the thematic elements of wrestling into the gameplay mechanics.

The game does introduce mini-games and special objectives during boss fights, sometimes dubbed as “Dramatic Moments.” To real diehards, these might seem like distractions, but they’re more accurately viewed as creative attempts to inject variety into the gameplay and offer players optional challenges for extra rewards.

While WrestleQuest may lack some of the conveniences of modern RPGs, like an elaborate mini-map or an auto-battle feature, these "limitations" are design choices that capture the essence and challenge of classic JRPGs; nothing was spoon-fed to you there, and you needed either all the time in the world or a strategy guide to make sense of these strange places. They serve as a reminder that some things are worth taking time to appreciate, especially for an audience that values a nostalgic yet fresh experience.

WrestleQuest is an ambitious project that successfully bridges the gap between the world of professional wrestling and classic JRPGs. It stands as a labor of love that honors the intricate and often dramatic spirit of both these realms, resulting in an epic journey that’s nostalgic and refreshingly innovative.

But WrestleQuest achieves more than just a harmonious blend of wrestling and RPG genres. It compels us to rediscover the essence of leisure, urging us to take our time rather than rush through the gameplay. This is a game that harks back to a time when every wrestling match and every turn-based battle felt like an event—something you couldn’t fast-forward through or skip over. It reminds us that the best moments in both wrestling and video gaming were often those when we were bound by the creators' vision and timetable, not our own.

In an era when games and sports entertainment are often designed as “content units” intended for quick consumption, WrestleQuest stands as an antithesis. Gone are the “fast-forward to the action” options that today's video games offer. Instead, this title invites you to immerse yourself, to experience every suplex and every side-quest as if you were a kid again. And much like the way we used to watch wrestling matches in the pre-streaming era, waiting eagerly for each twist and turn, the game forces us to engage on its terms. This design choice is not an inconvenience but a way of evoking a kind of nostalgia that’s more than just aesthetic—it’s experiential.

It's this thoughtful integration that sets WrestleQuest apart, creating a resonant experience that not only captures the imagination but also tugs at the heartstrings. Whether you're a wrestling aficionado or an RPG enthusiast—or better yet, both—WrestleQuest is a reminder of the joy of taking your time, of living in the creators' world, and of what it feels like to consume media when every moment is a crafted experience, not just a clickable convenience.


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