If you’re a wrestling fan of a certain age then you know how excited you got in the early ‘90s every time you went to the arcade and saw WWF Wrestlefest and heard the Legion of Doom promo voice say “We snack on danger and dine on death!”
It was an arcade button masher that launched in June 1991 from now-defunct Technos of Japan and featured 12 iconic wrestlers from the then WWF. Mr. Perfect, Big Bossman, Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, Earthquake, Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Ted Dibiase the “Million Dollar Man”, Axe and Smash of Demolition, and the bosses of the game, The Legion of Doom tag team Animal and Hawk.
It’s a game that was perfectly suited to the times allowing you to pretend to be your favorite over the top cartoony wrestlers. And it was a cartoony game with voice work by beloved wrestling announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund. The characters all had big bulging muscles and the music and sound effects screamed ‘80s action movie and players at the time were well acclimated to this type of fist-pounding action game that would eat your quarters while your dad told you it was time to leave.
And now many many years later it has an official sequel! The arcades are pretty much long gone, but officially licensed wrestling game Retromania from Retrosoft Studios will make you feel like they haven’t left.
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The original creators, Technos of Japan went bankrupt and the licensing rights to Wrestlefest were owned by a game company called Arc System Works, who with their blessing allowed Retrosoft to call themselves the officially licensed sequel to Wrestlefest which Project Lead Mike Hermann says is paying homage to the legacy of a great game.
Honestly, it’s a bit unbelievable how close they got to duplicating the feel and action of the original game and even though you have to be Tommy Dreamer to play it on a stand-up arcade machine right now, if you close your eyes and blink for a second you’ll swear its 1991 all over again.
The lineup isn’t quite as iconic although it still features many well known wrestlers like Tommy Dreamer, Nikita Koloff, Nick Aldis, Colt Cabana, Stevie Richards, the Blue Meanie, Austin Idol and in an impossible twist, the original champs The Legion of Doom.
They originally planned to have the roster filled with YouTubers and social media personalities kind of like how Def Jam Vendetta was a wrestling game with rappers, but Mike Hermann wondered if he could get actual wrestlers and worked up the courage to contact Animal.
It looks like they couldn’t get the rights to use the Legion of Doom name but the tag team and their move set are well familiar to fans by their first names Hawk and Animal. Hawk died in 2003, but the team got in touch with Animal (Joe Laurinaitis) in 2018, before he passed away in 2020, and signed them into the game along with wrestlers from the NWA and Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore.
The look, the animation, and the sound effects feel just right, but there’s a lot more going on under the hood than additional game modes that weren’t in the original game.
There’s story mode where you take fiction wrestler Johnny Retro from a has-been to the championship, there’s Ten Pounds of Gold where you attempt to win the NWA title from champ Nick Aldis, Versus Mode which is self-explanatory, and Retro Rumble which recreates the original games Royal Rumble where you have to defeat multiple wrestlers and be the last man standing to win the match.
Mike told me the best explanation he’s seen for the game is that Wrestlefest and Fire Pro Wrestling had a baby which makes sense because it’s an easy game to pick up and play, but difficult to master and there are a number of moves and strategies that weren’t available originally.
What’s been added?
- Irish whips to the corner
- headbutts and clotheslines to the corner and other moves
- reversals on Irish whips
- diving out of the ring
- jumping off the top of the cage
- fighting on the ring apron
- a dedicated taunt button
- a dedicated run button
- dedicated weak, medium, and strong attack buttons
- picking your choice of arena
They took the concept of the original game where you had to do punches and kicks and weaker moves like bodyslams before building up to strong moves like suplexes, but they let you control your own progression more directly with a momentum meter that you can see.
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug and the developers tell me that some people have put in over 100 hours on this game already, giving it a well-deserved 86% positive rating on Steam and 4.6 stars out of five on Xbox.
I love almost everything about the game, but before I award it a perfect 10 out of 10, I have to point out that in my gameplay sessions every time I got thrown out of the ring I would lose because I couldn’t figure out how to get back in the ring, nor tag my partner in a tag match. Mike told me they had definitely gotten that feedback but their original idea was to make it like you’re walking into an arcade and you don’t know the controls, “but maybe we went a little too hardcore,” he said.
They’re an extremely small company but they’re dedicated to the fans and their goal is to provide regular updates and new content as long as people are still buying the game which currently costs 29.99 on Steam and Xbox One.
The game currently supports two players at a time for local play only. Internet multiplayer and other features are being considered on a budgetary basis. Check the faq.
My official rating, if this encourages people to buy the game, is a very strong 9 out of 10.
Rating: 9 out of 10!