Between 1997 and 2000, one company came to be revered for their work making wrestling games for the Nintendo 64, so much so that they were coveted by the wrestling companies themselves. They began making games for WCW, only to be stolen away by the (still named at the time) WWF. That company was THQ and after more than two decades, they have re-entered the space (under the name THQ Nordic), along with original developers, Yuke’s, with a new wrestling company, but the same feel that they gave players so many years ago with AEW: Fight Forever.
The game is directed by the original director of WCW/NWO Revenge and WWF: No Mercy, Hideyuki Iwashita, and it really shows in how AEW: Fight Forever plays and feels. Picture for a second that you are popping in your favourite of the old THQ titles, and magically the polygons smoothed out, the sound got cleaned up and the wrestling roster has updated, except Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, Christian and Jim Ross from the WWE games will be found in this game, and you’ll find Sting (and Chris Jericho again) from the WCW/NWO games.
The main draw of AEW: Fight Forever is the overall simplicity of the gameplay with the complexity of its customized experiences. Let’s get into gameplay first. The mechanics of the gameplay are fairly simple: you have striking commands (low and high) and a grapple command, which lets you tie up with your opponent. From the grapple, pressing any direction and one of the three buttons to access all of your moves.
For your big finishing move, you just need to hit your right stick when the “Special” indicator is flashing in your health metre when you are in the right position (e.g. in a grapple, at their feet, on the top rope). AEW: Fight Forever’s controls, like its predecessors, are so simple that you and your friends can all pick up the game without ever playing it and just get right into it.
“The main draw of AEW: Fight Forever is the overall simplicity of the gameplay with the complexity of its customized experiences.”
The game modes add to the depth of this game. Yes, you can have a simple one-on-one, tag-team, 3-way or 4-way match, but add to that the infamous ladder match, an exploding barbed-wire death match, wherein you are in a ring wrapped in electrified barbed wire and have 120 seconds before the ring explodes, doing damage to both fighters, but more to the wrestler closest to the ropes. Online play is also available, allowing you to play ranked matches, casual matches and private matches with people.
AEW’s signature “Casino Battle Royale” is also a mode in the game. You draw a card and, when your card is drawn, you enter a 21-person over-the-top-rope Battle Royale. Also in the games is a series of mini-games for you to play with your friends (or against the computer) where you traverse the ring in search of falling poker chips or a rousing game of Penta Says, which is kind of like a version of Dance Dance Revolution where you hit matching buttons to the rhythm to win the game (just without the dancing part of Dance Dance Revolution).
The “Road To Elite” mode is AEW: Fight Forever’s overall story mode, allowing you to play through a year in the life of an AEW wrestler, be it one of the 49 wrestlers on their roster (including stars like Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, CM Punk and Bryan Danielson), or a character that you create. From there, you are recruited to join AEW as one of its founding members by CEO Tony Khan and you get your career underway.
“Nobody is going to tell you that the graphics and animations for AEW: Fight Forever are “elite,” but they are certainly a far leap from Yuke’s and THQ’s old games.”
Something that exists within the game is something that I wished for all the way back in the 90s when I was playing the original THQ games: the game rewards you for putting on a good show. Button mashers can still win a match, but using a wider variety of moves will raise your metre faster than doing the same move over and over.
You also get a score at the end of the match for the quality of the match. If you put on a good show for the crowd, you score higher, getting more bonuses, including money that can be spent unlocking a wide variety of characters and options for the customizable mode. You can also risk injury if you go too hard and take one too many hard bumps. In the Road to Elite, those injuries require you to take one of your turns to visit the hospital and rehabilitate your injuries to give you the best shot at moving forward in your career.
Going back to the customize mode, this is where you can really get into the weeds if you are the kind of gamer who likes to do so. The ability to create your own wrestler with thousands of aesthetic combinations including face and body type, in-ring and entrance attire and street wear for cut scenes in the Road to Elite.
“AEW: Fight Forever is, at its core, an arcade-style game meant for quick and easy gameplay…”
Your entire move set is also customizable, letting you pick moves from your favourite wrestlers or a collection of other moves. Also, you can customize your own entrance, including pyro and how you pose. You can even customize teams within the games and decide which wrestlers are bound together.
Arenas can also be created from scratch, where you can change the stage, ring, floor, lighting and guard rails, choosing from existing AEW properties or generic colours and patterns. You can add that new arena to the collection of AEW shows, like Dynamite, Dark, Rampage or Double or Nothing.
Nobody is going to tell you that the graphics and animations for AEW: Fight Forever are “elite,” but they are certainly a far leap from Yuke’s and THQ’s old games. The characters all look like good representations of their real-life selves, don’t get me wrong. There is just a slightly more cartoonish quality among the characters compared to the standards of say, a WWE 2K23, where the characters are basically as realistic as technology allows.
The entrance animations of the characters in AEW: Fight Forever are only a half measure as they end as the wrestlers approach the ramp, taking away the actual ring entrance and additional effects to fill out the overall experience. Human movement is also more unnatural than other games (watch the characters run to the ring in the Casino Battle Royale). But there is a reason why.
AEW: Fight Forever is, at its core, an arcade-style game meant for quick and easy gameplay so you and your friends can get in a quick game or two and let everybody get a turn in without any long, drawn-out matches.
AEW: Fight Forever releases June 29 at a price of $59.99 USD for the game and $79.99 for the Elite edition, which comes with the Matt Hardy DLC and the Season Pass, which will get you an additional 6 wrestlers and 4 more mini-games. If you are someone who was gaming when the original THQ wrestling games hit the market, you will love revisiting those memories with this game. If you weren’t around when those games came out, first, congratulations on your pain-free back, but you will also get a big kick out of the fast-paced gameplay with its ease of use.