Beyond the classic WWF No Mercy and WCW vs nWo Revenge, one of my favourite wrestling games is WWE All Stars.
It was big, brash, bold, and kind of brilliant, bringing together wrestlers new and old in an arcade style button masher.
All the stars were made super buff and some of your favourites had their own Path of Champions story mode. It was a good, if not brief distraction from the mainline games.
And that’s exactly where WWE 2K Battlegrounds tries to come in. True, the story modes are a bit bland- extending to simple comic strips as opposed to full vignettes – the action a bit constrained, plus we only get half an entrance, but the game captures some of the off-the-wall WWE action a bit better than even recent mainline games.
Basically, everyone is kind of in this bobblehead form – from Becky Lynch to Roman Reigns. Some look pretty good – Kofi looks ace – whereas others look darned odd – Yokozuna and Miz case in point – but the idea is you’re playing a miniature form of WWE at a more budget price.
So then, I guess you could say Battlegrounds sits somewhere between All Stars and NBA 2K Playgrounds, as here you can smash enemies with full on sized motorcycles and basically touch the ceiling with an overpowered piledriver. Makes sense coming from Saber Interactive themselves.
You might say it’s lost most of the seriousness of the main WWE 2K series. In some ways, that feels like it’s for the best. WWE 2K20 was, quite possibly, the lowest point for the series. It failed on a lot of counts so some light relief was needed as it takes a little bit of a break – unlike the sport itself which is one of the few that’s worked through the entirety of COVID-19, for better or worse.
Content wise, though, you more than get some bang for your buck as you get to play most of your favourite types of matches like Royal Rumbles, Steel Cages and King of the Ring Tournaments. Each carefully designed to take advantage of the game’s less technical, faster and quirkier style.
Basically, wrestlers are broken up into different types of categories – High-Flyer, Brawler, or All-Rounder. The move sets remain the same in each category, apart from the wrestler’s finisher, so while Steve Austin has the Stunner and Charlotte has her Figure-8, everything else they do remains the same as other Brawlers and All-Rounders respectively. It does make the action feel a tad limited.
You can still Irish Whip opponents and do death-defying moonsaults and splashes from the top rope, but it usually boils down to punch and kick combos, with the same big power move to ground your enemy, time after time. Fortunately, you can also use power upgrades to add more zest to your strikes, which is when the game hits its arcadey roots. Especially when you get to benefit from each of the different environments and what they have to offer.
Matches are then won through pinfall or submission, as usual, with you using the bumpers to tap an enemy out if they’ve been weakened down enough.
As such, the Career Mode kind of got a bit dull midway through because it focuses on the matches so heavily and, honestly, any story just stops making sense. The premise sees Paul Heyman pitch the idea of Battlegrounds to Mr McMahon – who isn’t really paying attention and just lets him get on with it. Heyman then approaches ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin to help him recruit for Battlegrounds and so Austin travels the world looking for random fighters.
And, yep, we really are talking random, like a guy fighting alligators and some dude he bumps into in an alleyway. Rather than letting you create your own wrestler or pick one of the WWEs greats, the campaign puts you in the shoes of complete strangers to fight in a variety of match types so you can unlock items and superstars. It’s just not very cohesive and all feels a bit rushed.
It’s a shame because the Create a Wrestler mode is actually surprisingly detailed – not quite to the level of the mainline series which is the stuff of legend – but enough that you can make some familiar faces relatively easily and add them into the mix. Certainly better than some I’ve seen in big budget titles, for sure.
You can use your Create a Wrestler online, of course, and in Exhibition matches. There’s also a Battleground Challenge mode which is sort of similar to career, but with the aim of building up your character’s abilities over the course of the game.
There’s a ton to unlock as well, though you can purchase certain wrestlers with real-money to accelerate things. Otherwise, naturally playing the game over time will give you the in-game currency needed to unlock everything. And with another 60 coming post-launch, this is a game that, theoretically, could keep you busy for a very long time.
The problem is, you might just forget about it at all in just a few month’s time. Despite the wealth of modes, various wrestlers, and the cool online components, Battlegrounds kind of feels a bit empty.
It’s not meant to replace WWE 2K21, I get that, but it also doesn’t hit the highs of previous arcade-like WWE games, of which, there have been some gooduns. Remember the ‘so bad it’s good’ random car racer – Crush Hour – and the oft-forgotten WWF Wrestlemania with Doink’s hammer smashes and Undertaker whacking people over the head with a tombstone. I’d be lying if I didn’t say both kept my interest for longer.
All that said, this is easily the best WWE game on Switch. I know that’s not saying a lot at all – but it feels perfectly designed for handheld play with its pick-up-and-play action and arcadey feel. It’s a relatively easy going game I could see myself jumping into on a quick commute or when lying in bed, but not one I’d probably choose to play anywhere else.
So, yeah, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is probably not something I’ll be revisiting years down the line, but for now, it does what it’s set out to do and that’s keep the franchise fresh in people’s minds long enough for its big re-emergence next year. With what we’ve seen 2K do with NBA on PS5 already, I’m mega excited to see how The Fiend’s entrance is gonna look in higher resolutions and improved frame rates. YOWIE WOWIE!
+ Fun in small doses and for a diversion here and there
+ Surprisingly deep CAW mode.
+ Lots of content to unlock and keep you coming back
+ Good budget price
– Campaign mode feels rushed and a bit dull
– Movesets are repetitive and gameplay does wear out its welcome quickly
– Isn’t as fun or memorable as other arcade-like WWE titles.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds is now available on PS4, Switch, and Xbox.
Code kindly provided by 2K Games
Tested on Switch