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AEW: Fight Forever delivers N64 nostalgia at a cost

The rise of All Elite Wrestling hasn’t just been great news for wrestling fans looking for an alternative to WWE; it also stirred up excitement for fans of wrestling games. Those who grew up with playing games like WWF No Mercy on Nintendo 64 have been waiting for a return to arcade-style wrestling, something that 2 K’s simulation-focused take on WWE doesn’t deliver. All Elite Wrestling: Fight Forever, the promotion’s debut game, looks to return us to those nostalgic glory days.

AEW: Fight Forever | Showcase Trailer 2022

But don’t get too excited just yet. While new footage premiered this week showing off a full match was promising, playing it was a different story. I took the game for a spin at Gamescom and walked away unsure of what to expect from the final product. While its approach to arcade wrestling has potential, AEW: Fight Forever is going to need a fair amount of polish before it hits the ring. A good gimmick can only get you so far with a crowd.

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Taking bumps

To properly test the game, I pit Kenny Omega up against Adam Cole — a dream match, no doubt. What’s immediate off the bat is that AEW: Fight Forever really isn’t trying to emulate the live TV experience. Wrestler entrances aren’t recreated, as the camera only shows the character models walking down the ramp for a moment before hitting the bell. There’s no ringside commentary, so you’ll just hear the roar of the crowd and some bumps while playing.

Some fans may enjoy that stripped-down approach, especially if they don’t really care about the simulation aspect of games like WWE 2K22, but that lack of extra detail does leave the experience feeling a little empty. If large ideas like that are missing from the final game, what others might get cut from the roster?

A Wrestler knees his opponent in the face.

None of that would matter if the core wrestling was spot on, but I’m not entirely sold on the game’s N64-throwback style. During my match, it felt like I was mostly just throwing strikes as I mashed the attack buttons. The right trigger is a dedicated Irish whip button, hilariously, but I otherwise found it difficult to stumble into a big spot. If I ever got onto the top rope, it was an accident. And if I ever managed to jump off it, I could not tell you how to reproduce that.

(I’d return to the demo later in the week with the intent of treating it like less of a pick-up-and-play experience. When I took a more deliberate approach in my Hikaru Shida vs. Paul Wight match, I still came out with similar feelings. The game’s reliance on grappling to set up flashier moves particularly stands out, as it makes most big moments feel telegraphed. I don’t think that’s bad and WWF No Mercy fans might adore it, but it does feel a little at odds with the explosive, unpredictable nature of the actual wrestling show its based on. WWE 2K22 feels like an AEW game and AEW Fight Forever feels like a WWE game.)

My match didn’t look nearly as fluid or clean as the one THQ Nordic showed off at Gamescom.

Aerial moves are also where the game’s janky side starts to show a bit. When I hit a high-flying move, my opponent awkwardly teleports over to me so that the intended animation can happen. The WWE 2K games have the same quirk, but it seemed more noticeable here. Those hoping this would be a cleaner alternative to 2K’s games should probably expect about the same.

The little details start to add up over the course of a match. For instance, the character model size feels a little exaggerated to deliver that arcade feel. It has some logistical drawbacks, though. I found that it was hard to get my opponent into a pinning position without them being able to force an accidental rope break. Kicking an opponent when they’re down is futile, as those attacks just don’t seem to connect (sorry, heels). The game has a dedicated reversal button too, but it was unclear when I should press it and what moves can be countered.

A look at an in-game match of AEW: Fight Forever.

My match didn’t look nearly as fluid or clean as the one THQ Nordic showed off at Gamescom. It was comparably stiff, with few big spots outside of me closing the match with a One-Winged Angel (even the CPU-controlled Cole only hit one exciting move). To 2K games’ credit, the WWE series is relatively good at letting players trigger cool-looking sequences just by button mashing. Those felt far and few between, which feels a bit at odds with the more “pick up and play” nature of its approach.

For the purists, that might be good news. It’s not like old-school wrestling games have a lot of flair either, as older graphics really limited how much animation detail was possible. AEW: Fight Forever matches certainly feel the part, but nostalgia glasses are doing a lot of the work. Newer fans coming in for a full-scale AEW game might be left a little confused about why a game that is supposed to belong in the 2020s feels as stiff as a 1990s one.

I don’t think this is a cause for alarm, at least not yet. THQ Nordic seems to know that the game needs more polish, as it still hasn’t dropped a release date for it. With some tweaks, I can absolutely see it thriving as a nostalgic party game. The build I played just feels early in the same way that the very first trailers for the game looked. But like everything AEW-related, its real advantage is that it’s wholly different from its rival wrestling promotion. Maybe some rough edges will be forgivable if the game can successfully restore the genre to its N64 glory.

All Elite Wrestling: Fight Forever is in development for PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. 

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