Rebooking the Switch's wrestling lineup like it's Starrcade '89
With the debut of the first All Elite Wrestling licensed game today (review forthcoming), the Switch *may* have its first good licensed wrestling game outside of a Nintendo Switch Online app - though there haven't been many opportunities otherwise. There's been one 2K wrestling game on Switch which might be the platform's Dino Bravo, Wrestling Empire is impressive for a one-man project but I dropped it like a hot potato, and I've never been able to really get into arcade wrestling games which kind of chucks out Action Arcade Wrestling and its ilk. Still, if you want to make an argument that Pro Wrestling for the NES is a top 5 wrestling game on the platform, I'll back you up on it.
But as someone who admittedly has watched very few televised matches over the last few years due to a combination of ditching cable, not being able to wake up at 4am to check out New Japan cards, and not really being in the mood to give Vince McMahon money, I still follow the business. And I've always appreciated applying the art of pro wrestling to new mediums; I will be all over WrestleQuest (the wrestling turn-based RPG) when it launches in August. But as we enter the twilight of the Switch - or as it's known, its Wrestlemania main eventer years - there's a few takes on the business I'd like to see in the next few years.
Give Me Fire Pro, You Cowards
Fire Pro Wrestling World launched on Steam and PlayStation 4 in 2017, and it's Steam Deck verified so it should be an easy candidate to bring over to the Switch or a successor system if they retain the same form factor. The Spike-developed series (yes, THAT Spike, as in Spike Chunsoft) had a couple of entries on the Game Boy Advance, but it hasn't been on a Nintendo system in North America since. And its original product lead (who sadly passed away in 2014) also has a Nintendo connection as the creator of the aforementioned NES Pro Wrestling.
Fire Pro has always tended toward realism - the GBA games give you match evaluations based on how well you perform a particular Japanese company's style of match, and you won't be busting out powerbombs in 30 seconds like can happen in so many other wrestling games. However, the big appeal for me is its ability to be modified; it's the easiest game ever to download new characters for, and I've seen brand-new moves modded into Fire Pro games before. This combined with a really good AI means you can book some seriously wild stuff with the right character edits. Who's up for prime Sting, Bruno Sammartino, Kazuchika Okada, and La Parka on the same team for an eight man tag?
Currently most wrestling games fall into two camps; sports sims (as seen in the 2K games) or fighting games. Of these types, Fire Pro Wrestling is still the pinnacle as it leans more toward the sport aspect of it, and it's definitely something the Switch would benefit from.
But everyone knows that half the fun of following the business since the mid '90s has been the backstage drama. What if we want to lean all the way into that?
You Think It's Easy, You Book It
There aren't a lot of dedicated sports management simulators on the Switch; the only (overpriced) example is the annual Football Manager releases, though it does appear in some form in the Super Mega Baseball series among others. And if you're a wrestling fan of certain ages, you've no doubt tried to rebook the main event of Wrestlemania XXXIX, the Invasion, getting the WWF title off Bret Hart in 1997, Starrcade 1989... there's no shortage of Tuesday morning bookers among the fans.
Although there is a famous wrestling management sim series on PC (the "Extreme Warfare Revenge" series, later renamed "Total Extreme Warfare" after they removed the copyright infringing elements), it's never come to console in any form that I know of. The Switch would no doubt be able to handle it; it's entirely text based, and could even be handheld-only if someone wanted to be cheeky about it. It's a reason why the series on Switch is called Football Manager (year) Touch. (The chief reason is that it's a mobile port.)
EWR was actually my first exposure to a minor form of generative AI; when I'd lay out a card, the game would use a "virtual reviewer" based on a real reviewer to show the play-by-play of the resulting match. There's no shortage of wrestling reviewers now you could borrow from; it might even be a toggleable choice to use former NWR writer / 2019 E3 survivor Bryan Rose, or even my friend and former roommate Ryan MacNeil (who would probably specialize in crap given his current beat is recapping 1995). And not to go all J&J Dream Factory here, but you could probably get some sweet investor cash if you went public with using an AI engine to generate wrestling match descriptions based on the style of the "combatants".
Would it be popular? Probably not. But I'd certainly dump a hundred hours into it and watch even more; one of my earliest hangouts on the internet was a message board which ran on "diaries" of EWR booking. Some of the writers on it have even gotten into the business on the media end and even became wrestlers themselves. So it could be a stream dream.
Kenny Omega Will Remember This
I don't know if you know this, but inside and especially OUTSIDE the ring, the pro wrestling business is f**ked up. Most of that stuff was compiled on a message board thread called "the sleaze thread" which was started by...
...the current booker of All Elite Wrestling, Tony Khan.
Anyway, wrestling is a business rife with potential for adventure games in almost any mold. Telltale style? Absolutely, you could even base it off the GLOW TV series or Heels if we're trying to rip off The Walking Dead. An LA Noire style game based on the mob connections to pro wrestling (especially the Yakuza in Japan)? Absolutely. A romance game? I mean, there are plenty of real life wrestling couples; I think the only reason Otomate hasn't covered wrestling among their several hundred games on Switch is because it's only recently that Japanese promotions haven't put the women into a separate promotion. (Switch game publishers Bushiroad own New Japan Pro Wrestling and women's promotion STARDOM, for instance.)
In all honesty however, the treatment of wrestling I'd love to see in an adventure format is a Phoenix Wright-style courtroom drama taking on a real life case; the murder of Bruiser Brody. Miles Edgeworth could be trying to put Invader I in prison where he belongs, or Phoenix could be trying to defend an innocent wrestler accused of the crime. Either way, Shu Takumi could do something amazing with the case.
When Rush Met Iron Butterfly
The last possibility for wrestling is one that seems ludicrous on paper - and would essentially be nothing but quick time events - but I'd love to see wrestling used in a rhythm game.
If Rock Band and Guitar Hero taught us anything, it's that recreating performances is a boatload of fun. And wrestling, like rhythm games, is all about hitting spots; a perfect or great "note" would mean it hit cleanly, a good means "he got enough of it", and a miss completely blows the spot. Instead of failing out of the game, you could be told to "go home early" and wrap the match up. (God held you if the ref has to give that command.)
And just as Rock Band employed multiple musical styles, so too could our proposed rhythm game. You could do a technical match, a one-sided squash, a videogame style spotfest/"party match", and even mess around with different rules like a trios match in the Mexican lucha libre style. Then switch over to a "strong style" match from Japan, and then maybe a European style match complete with rounds and the old "two falls, two submissions or a knockout" rules. Even just generic matches would be a neat way to approach the gameplay.
But imagine historic matches in that context. I've played Green Grass and High Tides, Inna Gadda da Vida, and even 2112 in various Hero and Band games... but how about recreating the 93 minute "When Hero Met Punk" match from 2003, or the 45 minute draw between Ric Flair and Sting from the first Clash of the Champions event? If you're looking for something slower paced you could start out with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant from Wrestlemania III, and then follow it up later with Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage from the same event.
The Final Bell
I doubt that a lot of these ideas are going to come to fruition on Switch, or even early in the life cycle of the successor platform. Wrestling is nowhere near the popularity level it had in the 1980s and late 1990s, where a company was able to refine wrestling games annually until we ended up with the seminal No Mercy at the turn of the millenium. But if someone wants to open the Forbidden Door and take a shot at something different in the space, there is a possibility to be handsomely rewarded for the effort.
And hopefully if it does have licensed wrestlers, they get rewarded handsomely for it with something besides permanent injuries. I love Bryan Danielson matches, but the man's one more five star classic away from being a cripple.