After much anticipation, All Elite Wrestling made an exciting announcement in the form of an AEW Games presentation. With one home console game and two mobile games on offer, there are plenty of reasons for fans to be intrigued, but also some potential notes of caution to bear in mind. In this article, I’ll discuss what AEW has lined up, the potential pros and cons, and how this could alter the future of wrestling videogames for the better.
Let’s begin with the home console title, which as of this writing doesn’t have an official name. Details about the game are limited, though Kenny Omega (who hosted the Apple-esque presentation) did note that it would be released on both current and next-gen consoles. Presumably, that means PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, though I wouldn’t rule out releases for Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia or PC either. I would also guess that the game would become available in November 2021, shortly after the probable release date for WWE 2K22 (more on that later).
There was no information about potential features, matches or anything else encompassing a feature set. We did, however, see numerous wrestlers as part of the first in-development trailer. The graphics themselves look very impressive, though the oversized physiques for Chris Jericho and, in particular, Kenny Omega may be off-putting to some. The gameplay appears to be a hybrid of a slow simulation and a fast-paced arcade style; a balance between the two, essentially. And that’s a good thing, because if AEW can hit that sweet spot, it should satisfy fans who prefer both options.
Perhaps bigger than the brief footage we saw was the announcement of Yuke’s as the game’s developer. Having been the developers for the SmackDown!, SmackDown vs. Raw and WWE games for so many years, and with their contributions slowly becoming less prevalent during the 2K era before a split between the two parties in 2019, Yuke’s had told fans about their plans to create a separate wrestling title. Now, we know the reality: they’re working with WWE’s biggest competitor for almost 20 years to create a true rival to the WWE 2K games.
It should be pointed out that the SmackDown vs. Raw series was beginning to attract criticism as far back as 2007. Though the games were still very enjoyable, there’s been a feeling that the SvR titles meandered for a good while, with a nostalgia-fuelled comeback in the early 2010s leading to the current 2K malaise. I mention this to point out that Yuke’s aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to wrestling games. However, without the WWE licence and with more creative freedom, as well as a likely desire to prove that they can still go (to use wrestling parlance), Yuke’s are an ideal developer for AEW to work with on their first title. It provides this game with instant credibility, and it’ll be fascinating to see how their formula is adapted to a different wrestling organisation.
This decision reminds me of when the WWF partnered up with THQ in 1999. For years, the WWF had worked with LJN and later Acclaim, but just as their games were starting to really take off, WCW were beginning to enjoy real success from their own games produced by THQ. Somewhere along the way, an agreement was reached for the hottest wrestling brand to work with the most critically-lauded wrestling videogame developer. And the result was a massively fruitful relationship that led to the best wrestling games of all-time. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, as AEW have taken away WWE’s longtime developer. I’m interested to see what is going to happen, especially given that Omega is famously a massive gamer. During the AEW Games presentation, he emphasised their collective desire to create a truly iconic title. I’m confident that their team will do everything possible to make that happen.
To that end, Kenny provided fans with further reason to feel gleeful. Hideyuki “Geta” Iwashita was announced as being part of the project. His name may be unfamiliar, but his involvement cannot be understated. Iwashita was the director of WWF No Mercy, a game that generally tops lists of the best wrestling titles ever made. AKI (well, Syn Sofia) may not be involved, but having the brains behind No Mercy contributing to this AEW home release is a masterstroke. It’d be like having Jurgen Klopp overseeing your work as a football manager, or Bill Gates giving you pointers on how to develop a software organisation. Though it’s been 20 years since No Mercy was released (which in itself is frightening to ponder), Iwashita likely retains a great understanding of professional wrestling, and certainly of what makes for an entertaining videogame. And Omega repeatedly emphasised the word “fun”, meaning it’s critical for fans to actually enjoy this title. With Yuke’s as developers, Iwashita as part of the project and with the wrestlers themselves offering ideas, I think this has the potential to be a truly awesome game to play.
There is one potential downside, though. I talked about WCW games under THQ earlier on, and their strength was undoubtedly the gameplay. No doubt, the gameplay would be the aspect that makes or breaks this title too. But the likes of WCW/nWo Revenge also benefitted from a roster including Goldberg, Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, Bret Hart and many more. It was a star-studded line-up which allowed it to credibly compete with WWF War Zone, featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker and, erm, Bret Hart amongst others. AEW’s roster, however, lacks major star power. It has Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, Matt Hardy, Cody Rhodes and other names that WWE fans would recognise. And it has its own heavy-hitters like Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and MJF. But compared to those that have featured and will continue to feature in the WWE 2K series, the line-up will definitely feel secondary. It will be a breath of fresh air to have a unique crew, but I feel that its longevity may be damaged without those truly top names to attract interest. Perhaps AEW’s rumoured partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling could allow for some top NJPW stars to appear in the game to add some appeal.
Otherwise, though, I am very excited about the AEW home console game, even if it will be some time before we could truly judge whether it can hold its own or not. However, there were also announcements of two mobile games: AEW General Manager and AEW Double Or Nothing. The latter seems to tie in with the casino theme that AEW is strangely so obsessed by, and though it may be fun, I fear this could be an endeavour with little connection to the AEW brand. AEW General Manager, on the other hand, is essentially a full mobile title based on the fondly-remembered GM mode in SmackDown vs. Raw games of yesteryear. It looks to be tremendous fun, with roster signings, budget management, show bookings and more. I hope it can go beyond some of the limitations of previous modes in the SvR titles by offering more options for contractual negotiations, rivalries with fictional organisations and more. There has been some concern with regards to whether this could lead to the integration of microtransactions as a way to unlock content, but otherwise I feel this is a great secondary option for fans. It also satisfies another long-standing request that fans have had for a version of GM mode to return in a wrestling game. Between Yuke’s, the AKI/Syn Sofia connection and this mobile GM mode title, AEW are certainly living up to their word with regards to ticking off a checklist of what true wrestling gamers are most interested in seeing or reliving.
The casino-themed mobile option is set to release over the winter of 2020, meaning that fans could potentially be playing it within weeks. As for AEW General Manager, I would assume a spring or summer 2021 release to bridge the gap ahead of what is likely a November 2021 release for the main AEW home console title. With regards to their futures, it all depends on how successful they prove to be. I would hazard a guess that we’ll get annual updates for both Double Or Nothing and General Manager (e.g. “GM 2.0”). As for the home game, I think there’s potential for an annual release, but maybe they’ll want to avoid the pitfalls of WWE 2K and stagger new titles every 18 months or two years, just to make sure that they’re able to devote sufficient attention to each offering. We’ll have to wait and see.
I want to finish up by discussing WWE 2K22. Now, if you recall, WWE 2K20 was a dumpster fire of a release, full of glitches and bugs along with a stale feeling to proceedings, a graphical downgrade and a purging of the retro roster. Therefore, the call was made to delay WWE 2K21, essentially making it WWE 2K22 (we’ve had WWE 2K Battlegrounds to bridge that gap). The pressure was already on 2K to get it right with 2K22, and to truly provide WWE devotees with a game to be proud of after years of missed opportunities and minimal updates. But with AEW’s announcements, the desire to impress should be greater still. Not since 2000 has WWE had to seriously worry about a competitor’s videogame (since TNA Impact barely registered a blip on the radar), and crucially this is only the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and successful franchise for the company. Therefore, WWE and 2K need to pull their fingers out and produce a truly epic release for 2K22. I personally hope this AEW news motivates WWE and 2K to remind fans why they’re number one and to deliver a title worthy of that description. If they don’t, then it could be that they lag into second place, making 2K23 and subsequent releases almost like the alternative. That scenario won’t happen if 2K go all-out for their next release, but it’s a sign of the times that such action is by no means a guarantee.
So, overall, I’m very excited to see what AEW is going to deliver next year with its first home console videogame. With the exception of the oversized physiques and the potentially weak overall roster (in terms of mainstream star power, not in terms of their popularity with AEW devotees), they’ve ticked all of the right boxes so far with their announcements and the footage shown in the initial trailer. There’s a long way to go and it could all end up as an anticlimax, but with the people that are involved in these projects. I’m confident that this won’t happen. We’ve waited for many years, but it looks like we’re gearing up for another wrestling videogame rivalry, one that could define the imminent ninth console generation for fans. As for who will win? Your guess is as good as mine.