RetroMania Wrestling Review
Something about RetroMania Wrestling clicked with me from the first time I saw footage of the game, nearly two years ago. Here was this gorgeous pixel art wrestling game, pitting the Road Warriors against each other.
I’ve followed the game closely since then, thanks to weekly video updates from developer Mike Hermann of Retrosoft Studios. The game was supposed to be out in 2020; then on Feb. 26 of this year, it was released on Steam. The console ports have had to wait. As of this writing, it’s out on Xbox, with Switch soon to follow and PS4 not long after.
Thankfully — for me — RetroMania Wrestling is well worth the wait. The game is the official sequel to WWF WrestleFest, and it wears the inspiration clearly on its sleeve. The look is a little bit different, but the basic gameplay is there. RetroMania does move quite a bit faster than its older brother.
The actual on-the-mat action is simple, with some layers of depth. You have weak, medium and strong strikes, plus running strikes and top rope moves. When two wrestlers come together, they’ll grapple; the person who times the button press correctly will get to hit a move. If you hit the button at the same time, you have a quick button-mashing minigame to see who gets the advantage.
Each character has a life/HP bar, as well as a momentum bar. Early in the match, you will only be able to hit weak moves. As you build up momentum, you can eventually hit medium and strong moves, before eventually building up to your wrestler’s signature finishing move. This helps the matches have a logical flow, and can allow for some back-and-forth gameplay. The reversal system is also clever, as you try to guess which move your opponent is making.
Sometimes the hit detection can feel a bit off. And getting the timing for grapples can be tricky — it’s made a little easier by a handy visual cue that lets you know when you press the button at the right time.
Matches and difficulty are also reasonably customizable: There are sliders for difficulty and match length. You can adjust the frequency of “second winds” when a wrestler will “Hulk up” after a beatdown; starting momentum and more.
The game feels great to play, and I’ve had a lot of fun matches. Tag team matches are a blast, adding a lot of strategy to the basic gameplay.
The first thing you should do when starting the game is the Story Mode, which serves as the game’s tutorial. The brief story follows Johnny Retro (John Morrison) as he returns from injury and wants revenge on the man who injured him: International wrestler Zack Sabre Jr.
Story Mode helps you, well, learn the ropes of the game. As Johnny, you can become an honorary member of the Blue World Order, battle Tommy Dreamer and Jeff Cobb, and work your way around the world as you chase down Sabre. The game does offer a few choices along the way, which changes up some opponents and match types.
The story took me about an hour-and-a-half to get through and, at the end, I was left wanting more at the end. It ends abruptly, with a “To Be Continued…” screen. Though I did at least get my revenge on Sabre.
Aside from the story, you can jump into exhibition matches, the Retro Rumble and the 10 Pounds of Gold.
With 10 Pounds of Gold, you choose a wrestler and go through a series of matches on your way to facing off with current National Wrestling Alliance World Champion Nick Aldis for the belt. Each time through, you’ll have a few one-on-one matches, a triple threat elimination and a fatal four-way. And, man, that four-way is a beast every time. Then you face off with Aldis at the NWA Power arena in a two-out-of-three falls match.
After capturing the belt, you’ll then defend it in a series of matches, culminating in another showdown with Aldis, this time at the NWA 70th Anniversary arena. So far, I’ve played through the mode with Jeff Cobb and Stevie Richards. It’s a great way to learn the individual wrestlers, and my only disappointment is that it’s impossible to play through with Aldis.
The Retro Rumble is what it sounds like: You can take up to 16 wrestlers and play an elimination battle royale. Wrestlers enter at a fixed interval — anywhere from 10 to 50 seconds — and can be eliminated via pinfall, submission or being tossed over the top rope. Up to eight wrestlers can be in the ring at a time. It’s a lot of fun and suitably hectic. Winning the rumble feels like the right level of accomplishment.
In exhibition, you can choose from any of the match types: singles; triple threat; four-way; tag team; six-man tag; or eight-man tag. From there, you can change a variety of rules to customize your match: falls count anywhere; cage match; elimination; or any combination. One cool touch is that you can defend the NWA title in exhibition mode with the wrestler who you beat the 10 Pounds of Gold Mode with.
I need more
I love RetroMania Wrestling. It’s a great throwback to early wrestling games — even games I have no nostalgia for. My first wrestling game was WWF In Your House, and I’ve played a variety of games over the years. I’m not sure what spoke to me about RetroMania Wrestling, but it has absolutely scratched an itch.
I love the art. The move animation is awesome, whether it’s Jeff Cobb’s various suplexes, or Johnny Retro hitting a 450 splash off the cage. The arena variety is great, from the ballroom to the beach, NWA Power and…um…Hell.
I honestly have no problems with the game as-presented. There are some things that have stuck out: Targeting in multi-man matches can feel off; I don’t know how to drop a chair if I decide not to use it; during a tag match when everyone else was fighting on the floor and I pinned my opponent, everyone from the floor immediately warped to the ring. The commentary is hit-and-miss: It’s relatively unobtrusive, but rarely additive. I’ll also have “Into the ropes he goes!” stuck in my head for the rest of my life.
A move list in-game would also be a great addition. I wish you had the ability to view each wrestler’s moves, including their special move, in either the pause menu or main menu.
The biggest pitfall for the game is that I just wish there was more. The current roster includes 16 wrestlers, ranging from indie stars like Jeff Cobb to legends like Hawk and Animal. It’s not the roster I would have chosen, but it’s been a great way to learn about some wrestlers I’m unfamiliar with. Already, they’ve announced three DLC wrestlers: Chris Bey, James Storm and Mr. Hughes. I’d also love to see a create-a-wrestler mode.
I’m looking forward to seeing the next chapters in the story mode, and would love more ways to play the game. A tournament mode would be welcome — both tag and singles. More weapons at ringside are needed; and maybe more match types.
The developers have been extremely transparent throughout development. They clearly love this game; they love wrestling, and they are passionate about RetroMania Wrestling. I’m excited to see where the game is a year from now, and I look forward to taking every wrestler through the 10 Pounds of Gold mode.
I can’t recommend RetroMania enough to any fan of old school games and wrestling. The price you’re willing to pay may differ, based on the roster, but the game is just a blast to play.
Review was written by GamesReviews contributor Seth Roy played on Xbox Series X.