Full disclosure, I’ve been a consistent fan of pro wrestling since the 1980s and host a pro wrestling podcast so it’s fair to think my view on the topic might be a bit bias. With that said, I’ve played every pro wrestling video game you could think of. Some were decent, most were forgettable and a handful proved to be great. One such game on my shortlist of great pro wrestling games is WWE All Stars which released in 2011 on multiple platforms. WWE All Stars is a colorful, fast-paced arcade-style brawler with over the top action and each superstar’s signature moves were hyper exaggerated. The game took me back to my childhood and as I watched pro wrestling, this was exactly how my 8 yr. old mind was interpreting it. So when 2K announced they would be taking a year off from WWE 2K main franchise series and in turn release WWE 2K Battlegrounds, a spiritual predecessor to WWE All Stars developed by Saber Interactive, I was all in. Okay, so enough of the backstory. Let’s get into the review.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds menu system, superstar model designs, and overall game structure are reminiscent of NBA 2K Playgrounds which was also developed by Saber Interactive. NBA 2K Playgrounds is also one of my favorite arcade-style basketball games. However, the one major issue that I have with that franchise also appears in WWE 2K Battlegrounds which I will discuss later in the review. Upon boot up, you will be greeted with a variety of submenu buttons but for now, let’s get into the most important one which is Play.
“PLAY” takes you to a new menu which consists of a surprisingly large variety of match types along with a lengthy campaign. The match types include the following:
- Exhibition Men – We have 1 v 1, Tag, Tornado Tag, Steel Cage, 2 v 2 Steel Cage, Royal Rumble (max 4 superstars in the ring at all times), Gauntlet, Triple Threat, and Fatal 4 way.
- Exhibition Women – Here is a welcomed addition that I’ve been requesting for the main franchise. All the same men exhibition matches are available for the women right here.
- King of the Battleground – This is an interesting new mode that allows 4 online players to battle it out in the ring while you and others wait for someone to get tossed out of the ring. Once this occurs, the next person in the queue gets into the ring.
- Tournament – This mode requires you to buy in via 1 of the 2 in-game currencies. Battle Bucks can be earned by playing matches, completing daily challenges, and leveling up. However, Golden Bucks can only be obtained by using real-world money. The pitch for this mode is that you will get better unlockable items for your superstar and character/battlegrounds creations (I’ll explain those later). I’m not a fan of these buy-in modes so this is one I didn’t play.
- Campaign – I have to admit this was an unexpected highlight for me. The campaign is told via a comic book style layout with the ability to zoom into each panel individually. It’s similar to Marvel’s comic app reader or Comixology app. There is also a distinct background audio fitting of your location in the campaign. In brief and to avoid spoilers, Paul Heyman along with Steve Austin put together a new faction of unknown wrestlers to compete in WWE. Believe it or not, the story is pretty entertaining. You will earn a good amount of Battle Bucks, and unlock new power-ups along with new playable WWE superstars.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a fast-paced, button-mashing, high spot slam fest. (Square) is to punch, press multiple times to perform combos, (X) is to kick, (O) to Irish whip your opponent, and (X) to perform grab moves such as suplex body slams, etc. Holding (X), while your opponent is down, will allow you to attempt a submission. The mini-game requires you to button mash (L2+R2) to fill up the on-screen meter. Holding (X), while your opponent is standing, will allow you to pick him/her up, and pressing (O) gives you the ability to throw them out of the ring to the floor or, as seen in the debut trailer, inside a crocodiles mouth (I’ll explain shortly).
Where WWE 2K Battlegrounds shines is with the over the top special moves which can be triggered using the Right Stick. Depending on the wrestler, you may have multiple assigned to left, right, up, or down. All you need to do is press the side you want first. Your superstar will reach out for a grab and if he/she connects then TA-DA! You will now inflict an absurdly painful-looking move that would undoubtedly end a normal wrestling match. There are no rules so feel free to grab a weapon from under the ring by pressing (X). If you find a chair or motorcycle at ringside (yeah that’s a weapon) press (L1) to pick up the item and swing wildly at your opponent. You can also block/parry by pressing (R1) and perform a counter when the (X) button flashes on the screen during an opponent’s attack.
Below your feet is a stamina and energy bar. Building stamina allows you to do those special moves and energy keeps you from getting pinned. If your superstar goes on fire then he/she is ready to do their signature /finisher moves. Just press (L2+R2) together and the move will activate. To pin, press (O) near your downed opponent and a health bar will appear. If your opponent still has energy, this bar will fill up quickly and he/she will kick out. If you inflected a serious beating, this bar will not appear and he/she will be down for the count. If you are the pinned opponent, a button-mashing mini-game will appear requiring you to mash (L2 & R2) like a madman to get that health bar filled for a kick out. Honestly, I actually prefer this method compared to the one currently used in the WWE 2K franchise series.
The Arenas aka Battlegrounds all have their own look and feel. They all appear to have an interactive element. As mentioned earlier, there is one level where there are 2 crocodiles on either side of the ring. All you need to do is pick up and throw your opponent at them to trigger the brutality. Another cool interaction took place in a mechanic shop. You can throw your opponent under a car hanging by a chain which will cause the car to fall and crush your opponent. It’s worth noting none of these crazy interactions will end the match but there are count outs.
Out of all the match types, my favorite has to be the Steel Cage Match. In order to get out, you have to remove money bags tied toward the top of the cage. Once you filled your money meter, you can now attempt to climb out of the cage and a random button prompt will appear for you to hold down until you’re out.
Sounds easy right? Well, the twist is the cage fencing can be electrified. So you have to time your climb for the money bag while at the same time beat down your opponent for he/she can attempt to pull you off the cage while you’re removing a money bag. This is also a quick mini-game that requires you to button mash (L2 + R2) to kick your opponent off. I had a blast playing this vs CPU and a friend online.
If you recall, I mentioned above that there were other main menu buttons other then Play. They are listed and described in detail below.
- News – As of this writing, clicking this icon just enlarges it. I’m assuming all incoming game updates such as new superstars and battlegrounds etc. will be displayed here at some point.
- Store – You guessed it, this is where you can purchase new content.
- Superstars – This is where you can unlock new superstars and outfits using the two in-game currencies, Battle Bucks are earned by simply playing any game mode and leveling up. Golden Bucks need to be purchased with real-world money and as the game describes it, “This is to unlock content faster”. The price to unlock the superstars vary. Some cost 3000 Battle Bucks, while others cost 9000 Battle Bucks. Also keep in mind that all game content can be unlocked with Battle Bucks you earn from just playing matches, win or lose.
- Character Creator – You can create up to 20 superstars, however, 5 slots are free and the remaining 15 can be unlocked with Battle Bucks or Golden Bucks. The same applies to all the character creator items. It’s worth noting that these characters cannot be shared. There is no community market place in WWE 2K Battlegrounds.
- Battleground Creator – Everything from the character creator applies to this mode as well.
- Daily Challenges – I highly recommend making a habit of checking this section daily to obtain as many Battle Bucks as possible. For example, one challenge now is to win a triple threat match. Doing so earns you 1000 Battle Bucks.
And this was the issue that I had with NBA 2K Playgrounds. Yes, all content can be unlocked using earned Battle Bucks but why is everything linked to this currency system? Why do we have to use these currencies to unlock character creator slots? Not to mention the actual “free” items in character & Battlegrounds creator modes are extremely limited. I wonder if we will see a paid option to unlock all superstars like the one found In the WWE 2K franchise series and for a while, I recall NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 also offered this option. My concern is that this game may never actually receive “Free” DLC.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds definitely scratches multiple itches. For starters, it has an updated roster. Heel Bayley and Monday Night Messiah Seth Rollins are included just to name a few along with their entrance music and taunts (press down on D-pad to perform). There are a total of 70 superstars, 20 which are playable, and another 60 confirmed to arrive as free DLC (meaning use Battle Bucks/Golden Bucks to unlock). The upside to all this is the game is a blast and offers plenty of replayability which is an absolute must in this genre. Not to mention, I just talked about the basics in regards to moves and once you get the hang of it, you could spend countless hours playing solo or with friends.