Back when I was a super broke college student, my limited entertainment budget often meant hitting the arcades and playing games that I had a modicum of skill in so I could stretch my quarters as much as possible and have enough change left for bus fare. At the time, my list of go-to arcade games included a game called WWF WrestleFest, an old-school wrasslin' game that featured the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect and The Million Dollar Man. I remember playing that game a lot as a way to blow off some steam after exams, maybe even take my mind off my minimum-wage job. So when I heard that THQ was doing a remake for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, I was quite curious to see how it turned out. I went ahead and downloaded the game to my iPhone during a road trip to California with family and played that sucker till my phone got toasty and ran out of juice.
The first thing that fans of the old game will notice is that this game is not a direct port of the arcade classic. Gone are the exaggerated buff bodies from the original, which got replaced by a slimmer rendition of WWE's wrestlers. I'm not quite sure if that was done for practical design reasons or the WWE raging against any connection with 'roids (I'm talking about the ones that start with an "S" not an "H," capice?). Either way, it's different. The second change is the absence of nearly the entire roster from the classic game. With the exception of Jake the Snake Roberts, the starting lineup now includes mostly newer faces such as John Cena, Randy Orton and Stone Cold Steve Austin, although The Big Boss Man is also available as downloadable content. This was likely done to make the game more appealing for today's fans and those from the Attitude era, although old-school folks won't be as pleased. They did add Randy "Macho Man" Savage to the original roster so that's a plus for fans of more classic wrestlers.
The game also features several modes such as Exhibition, Road to Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, Saturday Night's Main Event Tournament, Tag Team and Gauntlet Match. There's also a Multiplayer mode but I keep getting an "Authentication Failed" message every time I pick it so I wasn't able to try it. Road to Wrestlemania is like an all-inclusive mode that has you going through the WWE's various shows and pay-per-views leading up to its biggest event of the year. Along the way, you'll be doing regular matches, cage matches, tag matches and even the Royal Rumble. The addition of all these modes is actually a nice touch and extends the game's replay value.
Fans of the classic game, meanwhile, will like the gameplay, which emulates the original quite well. Grapples are still decided by button mashing, with the winner able to decide whether to slam foes to the ground or fling them to the ropes. Even my old step-back-and-punch combo - a great way to knock the AI to the ground - surprisingly still works, although it's a bit harder to pull off because a virtual joystick simply doesn't compare to the accuracy of the real deal. The game also retains the "finisher" and pin mechanics from the original. I could see this potentially being frustrating for newcomers to the game since it goes against normal wrestling "conventions." First off, you need to pin an AI foe at least three times after you drain their life bar. Finishers are random and really can't be controlled so they can come out even when a foe still isn't weak enough to be pinned successfully. You also lose stamina after an unsuccessful pin, which can lead to a frustrating loss if you're low on health and get pinned by an AI foe who successfully kicks out.
The initial offering of playable wrestlers is sparse, though you can still play against DLC characters such as The Big Boss Man, CM Punk, Shawn Michaels, Sheamus, and Triple H. I think it would've been better if they made the initial batch of DLC as unlockables for finishing the various modes instead. This would be a nice gesture for fans that also extends replayability.
In closing, WWE WrestleFest has its fair share of hiccups, but the gameplay can be entertaining once you get the hang of it. The fact that they will continue to add other wrestlers via DLC also helps with the game's shelf life, though the developers really need to get the multiplayer issue sorted out. For those still unsure about whether to get it or not, download the free version first and see how you like it.
- System: iPod, iPhone, iPad (iOS 5.0 or higher)
- Developer: THQ
- Cost: $2.99 for premium version
- Final rating: 3 stars