If you are above the age of 30, love pro wrestling and videogames, then there is a good chance that you remember the golden age of wrestling videogames. Here Comes the Pain, Day of Reckoning, and of course No Mercy are just three of the many amazing pro wrestling games that were released during the early to mid-2000s. No Mercy for the Nintendo 64 is often considered the greatest wrestling game ever made.
Since then fans have been begging and pleading for No Mercy to make its return. In 2019, All Elite Wrestling debuted and gave the North American pro wrestling industry the main stream WWE alternative it has desperately needed since WCW went under back in 2001. Now in 2023, AEW wants to shake up the pro wrestling videogame industry with the release of AEW: Fight Forever, a spiritual successor to No Mercy that brings back the pick-up-and-play arcade style of wrestling game that we haven't seen on this scale in decades. While AEW absolute changed pro wrestling landscape and created an alternative to the WWE, unfortunately I don't think that AEW: Fight Forever is gonna do the same for Pro Wrestling videogames. Not yet at least.
Fight Forever boasts a pretty decent roster of about 60 wrestlers from the AEW promotion. You got all your big stars here from The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Britt Baker, CM Punk, Jon Moxley, Lucha Bros, Wardlow and more. I would say that almost all of the big names are here, although there are some pretty glaring omissions; The Acclaimed, Ass Boys, Jamie Hayter, Claudio Castagnoli and Swerve Strickland are missing, just to name a few. Also Jeff Hardy is on the base roster while Matt Hardy is pre-order DLC for whatever reason. A lot of the missing stars will probably be DLC down the line, so it's not a total loss.
As you would expect, Fight Forever is trying to be a spiritual successor to the No Mercy and AKI franchise of wrestling games. You have one button for grapples, two for strikes and one for running. Tapping the grapple or strike button will initiate a weak move while holding the buttons will initiate a strong move. At the bottom of the screen you see your spirit meter. It starts in green and will go from green, yellow, orange, to red as the match goes on. This indicates how much momentum your wrestler has. The more moves you perform the more it increases. You can also increase the meter with taunts. Spam the same move or taunt however and the meter will start going down. It will also go down if you take damage so the idea is this constant ebb and flow between you and your opponent as the meters bounce back and forth trying to get fill it completely to get your signature move. If you taunt while in signature state, you can use your finisher. You are only in a finisher state for a limited time so you need to choose wisely when to do this.
Despite trying to be No Mercy, AEW Fight Forever comes up short. No Mercy just had this smoothness to the gameplay and the way the wrestlers moved. The moves do look great and they were animated by hand instead of using motion capture, but the gameplay itself feels stiff and janky at times. That's not to say the gameplay is bad, but it needs some polish. The biggest issue I have is that matches are way too short.
It's kind of ironic in a game called "Fight Forever" that matches only last from about 90 seconds to 3 minutes. Even funnier is that the game actually penalizes you for having long matches as your match rating will decline the longer the match goes on. So while the gameplay is decent, it's almost impossible to enjoy it because you don't have any time to. Matches like the Lights Out match and Falls Count Anywhere let you use weapons and you can interact with areas of the arena, but good luck doing so as the match will most likely be over by the time you can even leave the ring. There is also the issue of how fast your spirit meter raises. I have had matches in exhibition where I got my signature after only hitting a few moves. We are talking within 60 seconds and the match is already about to end. There is no back and forth, matches don't build, it's simply a sprint to whoever can get their signature and finisher first. Even worse, as the match goes on, it seems like you build meter faster so I've seen instances where the opponent will be in green, reverse a single move and then just instantly goes to full meter with their signature.
There are also some pretty serious balance issues. I can already tell this game is going to be unbearable to play online. The reason for this is once you get your spirit meter high enough to perform your signature move, you will stay in that state until you get hit, or go into finisher state. This means that you can essentially just spam your signature over and over and over again and go for the pin for the easy win. You don't even need to use your finisher to win. This will no doubt be exploited online as this can be cheesed easily, especially with a wrestler like Wardlow who is a tank and can hit high impact slams and fill his meter quickly. It's also funny for a company like AEW that is known for "finisher spam" that it seems like a single finisher is enough to pin someone, unlike No Mercy when you would actually need to spam finishers to win. Then there is the pin and submission system where you simply just button mash to pin or escape. I get that it's trying to be like No Mercy, but button mashing with no meter on screen indicating whether or not you are close to kicking out is just an archaic system that again can be cheesed and exploited with turbo controllers or macros on the PC.
You do get a decent selection of match types in the game which I do believe are very important for any wrestling game. You not only have your standard 1 on 1, tag team, 3-way and 4-way matches but you have a couple of special match types as well. The Lights Out match is a no holds barred free for all where you start the match with weapons littered all over the ring and at ringside and this game has a ton of weapons. From your standards like kendo sticks, steel chairs, tables and ladders, you got a lot of wacky stuff in there as well like a tennis racket, a football helmet, a bottle of Champaign (a little bit of the bubbly). You can even get Dardy Allin's skateboard, and you can ride it around, do tricks on it, and attack opponents with it. They even included thumbtacks, which is awesome.
There is also the ladder match but out of all the match types this one seems to have the most issues. Numerous times I would see wrestlers glitching through ladders, terrible hit detection with the ladders, and it seems like the AI sometimes just forgets what they are supposed to be doing. I saw the AI climb the ladder, activate the minigame to grab the poker chip above the ring, and then just stand there not doing anything until I knocked them off the ladder. The highlight of match types however is the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. The ring ropes are covered in barbed wire. There are barbed wire boards in the corners of the ring and if you throw someone or get thrown into the ropes an explosion will occur. There is also a countdown clock that once it hits zero the entire ring explodes, knocking down and dealing damage to both wrestlers. This match is a ton of fun and the ring will look like a murder scene when this match is over with all the blood covering the wrestlers and staining the mat.
The one thing I love about the game is that all matches are inter-gender. Men can fight against women, women can bleed and aside from the women's championships, anyone in the game can compete for any title so if you wanted a tag team of Ruby Soho and Jon Moxley as you tag champions, you can do so.
It is a shame though that there is no variation in a lot of the match types. Ladder matches, Barbed Wire Deathmatch, Lights Out, and Falls Count Anywhere are all restricted to 1v1 only and worse, there are no match options in the game. This is baffling as this is the bare minimum of features that we should be expecting in a wrestling game in 2023. What's also disappointing is that matches can only have up to four wrestlers in the ring at once, which again, is a product of its time. In 2023 I expect more, especially when it comes to the Casino Battle Royal which is AEW's version of the Royal Rumble. In this match you pick from a standard 52 deck of playing cards and enter the match based on how high of a card you got. There are 21 wrestlers in the match with the Joker always entering last. Even with four this match is fast and fun and will probably be a great party mode offline and online but man, I really wish it could get more chaotic seeing 6-8 in the ring at once with people constantly getting tossed. I do like how you can see each wrestler enter the match from the stage and they do a small entrance before entering as well. You can't turn on or off DQs and count outs, you can't add a time limit to the match, you can't turn on rules like falls count anywhere and ironman just to name some omissions. These are the kinds of features that I feel are 100% necessary in a wrestling game in 2023 regardless of who makes it.
One feature I was quite intrigued with in this game is the mini games. Mini games range from really fun to really awful. There are around 10-15 mini games available and a lot of them resemble games you would see in Mario Party. One of my favorites is "Pit Drop" where you are in a ring with no ropes and you have to kick and shove opponents out of the ring. Gas tanks and bouncy balls appear that you can throw to try and eliminate opponents as well. "Box Breaker" has a bunch of numbered boxes all over the place. The number represents how many hits it needs to break. Whoever gets the final hit on the box gets points. "Penta Says" is kinda boring, as it's just like the game Simon where you have to just repeat the button combination Penta gave you. But then there are ones that are just boring and are things you would see in a three year old's activity book like "spot the difference" puzzles. The main issue with these and the AEW Pop Quiz is that I am already starting to see some of these puzzles and questions repeat themselves. So these are less about skill and more about whether you play enough and how well you can memorize the pictures or answers to the questions. You don't get to choose what game you play in story mode, but you can put together a playlist of up to three games in exhibition so you can easily just not select the ones you don't like playing. I can see these games being a ton of fun with friends and online and while a small number of them aren't good, I would say this is one of the best parts of the overall package.
Another important feature to any wrestling game is the creation suite. For lack of better words, the creation suite in Fight Forever is terrible. You only get a few options for faces, there are no body morphing options, and the clothing selection for attires is absolutely bare and seems to only be padded out by the large number of shirts with the flags of different countries on them. Entrances as well are pretty limited and they only last about 10 seconds. They just show your wrestler standing at the stage and that's it. I will, however, give credit here as there is a really cool feature where you can control the camera angles, pyro, and lighting during entrances. You can select a large number of these to give your custom wrestler as well and there is a huge library of AEW theme songs to choose from including some of wrestlers who aren't in the game yet. There is also a create an arena feature which is fine for what it is. You can change the colors of the ropes, add props to the stage, change the ring canvas, and you can even add in different turnbuckles like the ones you see in NJPW.
But the most disappointing part of Fight Forever is the story mode, "Road to Elite". The mode starts off innocently enough where you can pick any member of the AEW roster or your own created wrestler and bring them through one AEW calendar year. The mode seems to be a history lesson of AEW's beginnings as you will get videos such as when The Elite first announced AEW, Jericho becoming the inaugural AEW Champion, MJF forming The Pinnacle, CM Punk's debut, and more. In between matches, you can workout which will earn you skill points, go out to eat, go sight seeing, or play minigames with The Elite which earn you cash and skill points. Occasionally you can meet up with other AEW Wrestlers and take photos with them. This is cute at first but gets old really fast and working out and going out to eat is nothing but a short 5 second cut scene over and over again.
The main issue here is that absolutely nothing matters in this mode. Championships mean nothing. I won the AEW World Championship at Double or Nothing and then it's as if I never held the belt at all. The next month I'm in a story line where I'm being asked to join the Inner Circle and I don't even have the belt with me during entrances. The mode is incredibly short too. My first play through took about 2-3 hours to finish and that was using a created wrestler where I had to workout, play mini games, and have extra matches on Dark and Rampage to earn skill points to upgrade wrestler. Actual AEW wrestlers can't be updated at all, so a large majority of this mode is completely pointless if you are using a real wrestler. You can essentially just skip right to Dynamite or PPVs since there is no need to update stats.
My second play through only took around an hour and a half to finish. It was at this point I checked out the photo album and noticed that I had already unlocked 9 of the 12 story lines available in the mode. So I played through a third time and finished all the story lines. The problem is that the story lines don't really branch out in a traditional sense. In No Mercy, you picked what championship you wanted to go after and wins and losses determined what path you could go down in the story. That's not how it works in Road to Elite as wins and losses leading up to the PPV really don't seem like they have much of an effect on how it plays out except a couple of differences in dialogue. Winning or losing at the PPV however will determine what story line you get for the next PPV but these story lines are so short and meaningless that they aren't even fun to play through. You get a short cut scene before or after a match with some text dialogue and that's it. There no drama or tension and it doesn't feel like you are watching a wrestling show at all.
There is hardly any replayability with Road to Elite. Nothing carries over between play throughs, so you are going to be seeing the same story lines and the same match ups every time you play. Once you finish the mode you do earn unlockables like hidden wrestlers and mini games, but the mode itself completely resets. They really need to offer some kind of alternative way to unlock stuff because I don't want to have to play through this like 15 times to unlock all the mini games. One of the challenges available in the game is laughably to finish Road to Elite 100 times. After playing through it three times and spending about 5 hours in it, I have seen and done everything there is to do in this mode and don't want to play it anymore. However, if you want to create a lot of wrestlers and actually give them skills and abilities then you must put them through Road to Elite as this is the only way currently to upgrade them. This is an absolutely horrific design choice and these are the kinds of things that should have been left behind in the No Mercy era.
I can tell however that the team at Yuke's really cared about this game. There is a lot of love here and AEW die hard fans will really enjoy all of the easter eggs in here that they included, like being able to carry five belts to the ring in your entrance, and especially the "historic" setting you can unlock for the Barbed Wire Deathmatch, which AEW fans who saw the Jon Moxley/Omega deathmatch will get a kick out of. Another thing I absolutely love is Orange Cassidy being able to go "sloth style" by putting his hands in his pockets and being able to perform moves this way. It's almost like he's a stance switching character and I think this is a pretty amazing feature in a wrestling game. It's a decent foundation for a one, and if they continue to add more and more to the game over time, I can see this eventually being a great game. However, I can only review what I have in front of me and right now it's a very bare bones title with balance issues that makes it incredibly hard to justify the full price they are charging. After playing for only four hours or so I felt like I had seen just about everything the game had to offer with not much making me want to come back. There are challenges to complete and a store to unlock content, but I unlocked pretty much all I wanted to unlock after a few hours.
I purposefully didn't mention the WWE 2K games at all in this review because it's not a fair comparison. I wasn't expecting this game to be WWE 2K. That would have been impossible. The WWE games have had 20+ years to build upon. That said, even for their first game, I was expecting a lot more with AEW: Fight Forever. Even smaller games like Wrestling Empire and RetroMania Wrestling all had basic match options to add more variety of the match types. The meme in the community had been "AEW Wait Forever" because of how long the team went radio silent and how every trailer for over two years said "coming soon" at the end. Honestly, I wish they would have waited a lot longer to release this.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. My earliest gaming memories come from playing Lady Bug and Snafu on my fathers Colecovision and Intellivision respectively. It wasnt until I was 6 years old and played a Mortal Kombat 2 arcade machine in a game room at a hotel that I truly fell in love with a videogame. I have so many wonderful memories of my dad and I playing Mortal Kombat on SNES every night after dinner. Throughout my childhood NES, SNES, Gameboy and Sega Genesis were the loves of my life. Here I am 35 years old and still as much in love with videogames as I ever was.View Profile