Formally known on the PC as Chikara Action Arcade Wrestling, the game was completely rebranded following the shutting down of the Chikara wrestling promotion in 2020. Not only did that see the removal of the Chikara name, but also the licensed roster full of talent associated with the company. But now, at a time when decent wrestling games are in short supply, it’s been reborn as Action Arcade Wrestling and released on consoles. Will it rise up like a phoenix from the ashes and draw crowds in their droves, or get buried for not being able to cut it in the big leagues?
Considering that its main rivals, WWE 2K Battlegrounds and RetroMania Wrestling, are in a much higher price bracket, Action Arcade Wrestling holds up fairly well as a budget title. That doesn’t mean it’s great though, and there are a number of downsides which could mean it’s a flash in the pan, at best.
Action Arcade Wrestling immediately sets its stall out as a throwback to the classic 90’s wrestling titles, albeit with a couple of modern twists. In order to get to grips with how to play, there’s a neatly put together tutorial to go through; it won’t take long to complete as the control system is simple enough for almost anyone to understand. There’s one button for grapple, which when combined with directional inputs leads to various maneuvers, and another button for striking your opponent. While two other buttons have a small purpose too, the overall simplicity ensures the entire setup becomes second nature swiftly.
One would expect such a minimalist approach to negatively affect the gameplay, but that’s really not the case. Matches can be a lot of fun because of the decent sized arsenal of moves each wrestler possesses and the ease in which they are performed. Whether you’re wanting to inflict damage using basic arm drags and suplexes, or something more adventurous like a piledriver or Sliced Bread #2, it’s not a problem. Heck, there’s even the option for some characters to pull off zany attacks, including a version of the Hadouken – the iconic Street Fighter move – and an energy beam blast akin to an Iron Man attack.
Then it’s just a matter of beating the life out of your opposition to drain their health bar, before going for a pin or submission. Be warned though, if you’re on the wrong end of an ass-whooping, button mashing is the key to survival. Alternatively, you can sacrifice a power-up to recover and get up instantly. These power-ups appear every so often, boosting speed, attack power, health and more. Again, it’s a nice little feature that further adds to the arcade-y gameplay of Action Arcade Wrestling.
So far, everything appears promising for Action Arcade Wrestling in order for it to get over with the wrestling fans that have been champing at the bit for ages. There’s a problem though, and that’s longevity. Currently, a single Exhibition mode is all that’s on offer for you to dive into; either alone or with up to three pals locally. The cavalcade of match types helps soften the blow slightly, which includes 1v1, tag matches from 2v2 to 5v5, elimination tags, battle royal and even a match-up similar to a Royal Rumble.
The fact that matches don’t last long either is as much of a positive as it is a detriment, because while they’re fast and fun, you’ll exhaust everything in no time. Once a contest is over, I don’t see an awful lot of replayability – except for trying out the different members on the roster. In total, there are 30+ original characters to play with and the designs are nicely varied. It’s safe to say you can expect a unique bunch of male and female wrestlers, including the likes of Biohazard, El Universo, K-FaY13E (who has actual metal claws), and Livewire. Considering the entire licensed roster had to be scrapped, developers VICO Game Studio have replaced it pretty damn well, still keeping with the old school feel.
If you’re unsatisfied with the made-up wrestlers, you could always bolster the roster by downloading some of the many user creations that are ready to throw down in the ring. The talented folk around the world have created The Rock, CM Punk, The Undertaker, AJ Styles, and Boo from the Mario series (yes, really), to name just a handful. Wanting to get in on the design front, I ventured into the Creations section, only to be met with utter disappointment.
Why? Simply because, as a console player, I had to find and download the AAW Wrestle Lab on Steam first. It’s literally the sole way to create and edit wrestlers or arenas. Furthermore, it’s incredibly complex due to the best creations requiring texture uploads and a hell of a lot of editing outside of the creation suite using your own photo editing tools. I’m no slouch when it comes to Photoshop, but even I struggled to make anything barely resembling a human after a few hours of effort. Sadly, the simpler options within the Wrestle Lab didn’t really offer enough to make anything decent.
Moving on though, and it’s worth noting you’ll probably come across a few glitches as well as bugs. The most obvious glitch involves two competitors locking up, before completing the move animation whilst being a fair distance apart. In terms of bugs, I had to quit out of a handful of matches due to neither wrestler being able to hit the other with attacks; grapples couldn’t be initiated and strikes would just miss, despite being face to face. In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing major, but can put a slight damper on proceedings.
Overall though, Action Arcade Wrestling is a reminder that wrestling games can still be fun and accessible to play for even the most casual players. The gameplay thrives due to the simplified controls and the exciting number of moves available for each original character to perform. It’s let down by the sheer lack of game modes however, because Exhibition matches simply won’t cut it. Separating the creation suite from Action Arcade Wrestling is also a big mistake; especially if a simple version isn’t going to be present in-game to at least offer a choice.
Action Arcade Wrestling hits the ground running, but soon runs out of steam to the point where the old adage of ‘creative has nothing for you’ comes to mind. If you just want to have a couple of enjoyable matches, then sure go for it; just know that the longevity wanes pretty fast.
Fancy stepping into the squared circle? Then you’ll have to buy Action Arcade Wrestling from the Xbox Store!