Two years ago, TJ Henderson reviewed CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling. At the time, the game was still early in development, but his takeaway was that it had a ton of promise and was well worth keeping an eye on as development progressed. You can find the rest of TJ’s review here.
“At the end of the day, the most important factor in any game we play is whether or not it’s fun. Can you sit down alone, with friends or online and genuinely have a good time?
Yes, CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling passes that test. But it also reveals fairly quickly that while it can sprint, it does not currently have the tools to run an endurance race.”
Fast forward to the year 2021, and we are once again reminded of this arcade grappler, though the name is now simply Action Arcade Wrestling. Currently, you can play AAW on Steam, but the developers have promised a console version will be released on August 10. There will first be an Xbox One and PS4 release, and then a Switch release will be coming soon after. And one of the things the team has stressed with the Switch version is that the wrestling will look smooth.
Today, I want to look at Action Arcade Wrestling (on Steam) and give you a Q&A with the creators.
Action Arcade Wrestling (Steam) Impressions
AAW Looks And Feels Different But Plays Much Like Wrestling Games Of Old
One look at Action Arcade Wrestling, and you can see where it draws inspiration from some of the past wrestling games, with the most noticeable being WrestleFest. The difference, at least visually, between the two games is AAW‘s unique 2-D shading that makes the wrestlers pop off the screen.
This unique comic-book style is what visually separates the game from its competitors. I prefer this to the retro 16-bit look that most of the other wrestling arcade fighters have, though it really does come down to personal preference. However, one look under the hood, and you can see how AAW can feel so familiar but yet completely different at the same time.
The match types in Action Arcade Wrestling are what you would come to expect from a wrestling game. There are roughly 16 different match types with various customization options to choose from. This includes traditional singles, tag team, tornado tag, elimination tag, triple threat, fatal four way, and even Survivor Series style 5-on-5 matches. The match customization options are endless and even allow users to preset different weapons around the arena and customize other areas like duration, DQ, submission, etc. There are enough things that users can tinker with to keep things fresh organically, but it’s the unique gameplay of Action Arcade Wrestling that will bring gamers back again and again.
The game runs on Unreal Engine 4 and, as mentioned above, looks wonderful. Controls are derived from a variety of different fighting games, with the most obvious being WWF WrestleFest. For those who haven’t played WrestleFest (shame on you), the game is built around a traditional two grapple system (strong/weak). There is a laundry list of moves in AAW, which rival any other game on the market.
Finishers are performed by pressing the A+X buttons (Square and X on PlayStation.) Each finisher is unique and varies from superstar to superstar. Most of the time, this is the perfect way to end a match. Unless, of course, you dare to try one of AAW‘s super moves. Those sorts of insane, unique, over the top moves are front and center in this arcade wrestler.
Another unique feature in Action Arcade Wrestling is spots. During the match, players are given tasks or “spots” to perform throughout their bout. This is similar to what you might see when closely following professional wrestling on television. For example, wrestlers will be given a task to “execute a strong grapple” or “throw your opponent outside the ring and into the guardrail.” There are several of these throughout the match, and once alerted, gamers will have roughly 60 seconds to execute this spot. Successfully pull off your spot, and players are awarded points that can rejuvenate your wrestler’s health. Power-ups are also in the game.. These can add speed, strength, or even player-specific perks.
There’s a lot jammed into AAW, but there is no career mode. However, although there is no traditional story mode or season, there will be a gauntlet-style single-player mode reminiscent of WWE 2K Towers or Nintendo’s Mario Maker added in the final build.
This game has a lot of what you would expect in an arcade fighter and more. But it’s what the community has done to change Action Arcade Wrestling that could help it ascend to new heights.
The Community Remains Undefeated — Bill Goldberg (Classic) Style
By far, the biggest takeaway from my phone call with the developers is how much of an impact the community has had on Action Arcade Wrestling. We’ve seen games in the past that have relied heavily on the community members and their endless ideas and creations. The same holds true for AAW, which comes with an extensive create-a-wrestler feature. This third-party feature is known simply as Wrestle Lab.
Users devote endless hours to recreate some of the classic wrestlers that we as fans fell in love with over the years. Of course, you will find old-school wrestlers from WWF(E), WCW, ECW, New Japan, AEW, and any other promotion under the sun. But that’s not all. Folks have gone as far as creating Marvel superheroes, Pac-Man, a Pepsi machine, and even an anatomically correct skeleton. The possibilities really are endless, and the create-a-wrestler feature ranks among some of the very best we’ve seen in sports gaming.
This, as you can expect, also trickles down into the arenas and stadiums. Action Arcade Wrestling — much like Fire Pro Wrestling and some of the previous games of the genre — has an extensive customization tool chest. However, what separates it from the rest of the pack is that it is cross-platform. So, for those of us hoping to enjoy an arcade wrestling game on Switch, you don’t have to worry about whether or not Sting, The Big Show, or Ultimo Dragon can be found on the servers. Everything is done using an outside site, similar to what EA used to use with Madden and NCAA Football back in the day. This allows for an easy, stress-free sharing cross-platform. Though the game does limit you to 60 downloads a day, you have 2,147,483,364 spots to save created content.
The possibilities are truly endless.
The Journey From Jobber To Wrestling Stardom Can Be A Fight In The Video Game Industry
This might be a bit of a spoiler, but one of the things that stood out most in the Q&A with the developers was when I asked David Horn what the next project was. He quickly reminded me that this was much closer to a part-time job (though he’s put in more than full-time hours). He would go on to tell a relatable story about how in order for either developer to devote the necessary time and resources to the game they would need to wait until the rest of the house is asleep. This was something I myself could relate to as a father of two.
I have been creating games as a hobby in my free time ever since I was a kid. The Xbox 360 Indie program was the first opportunity for me to publish anything he had made. A day in the life is going to work all day (I am a small business owner of a web design company — going on 16 years), coming home, helping my twins with homework, coaching my son’s basketball, taking my daughter to dance…then START development for AAW at about 9:00 at night. The day ends when I either complete my game dev tasks for the day — or I pass out. Or both.” — Dave Horn, executive producer for Action Arcade Wrestling
How long some of those nights are is anyone’s guess. But both David Horn and Eugene Tchoukrov have paid their dues in the video game industry.
There’s still more to be done to Action Aracde Wrestling. The developers have teased a tiered gauntlet mode, and there will certainly be additional DLC (free), add-ons, and more in the coming months. But what will ultimately keep gamers coming back for more is you, the community. Sports gamers with an interest in wrestling video games remain second to none, and the amount of detail the community has poured into this game is awe-inspiring. Sure, the replay factor might not be as strong as some of the other more complex wrestling simulations, but what Action Arcade Wrestling brings to the genre of arcade wrestling is different.
What David and Eugene have created with Action Arcade Wrestling is truly a unique wrestling experience. It probably won’t replace your all-time favorite wrestling video game, but it certainly will rival your favorite arcade grappler. Give AAW a chance. I don’t think you will regret it.
Interview With Action Arcade Wrestling Developers David Horn And Eugen Tchoukrov
David Horn – executive producer, Action Arcade Wrestling
Eugene Tchoukrov – lead programmer and designer, VICO Game Studio
OS: The origin story of Action Arcade Wrestling is a fascinating one. Please tell readers a little bit about yourself, your studio (VICO), and what a day in the life was like when creating Action Arcade Wrestling.
Eugene: I am a self-taught software engineer who joined on AAW2 for Xbox 360 Indie initially as a contractor, and we later made the decision to make the next AAW together. I’ve been in the gaming industry for over a decade and have been working with UE4 since before its public release. VICO Game Studio is my company, which was created for my IP and consulting work mainly. Although AAW was/is developed under the VICO name, we have both been working on it in our free time as a passion project while both having full-time jobs and families.
Dave: I have been creating games as a hobby in my free time ever since I was a kid. The Xbox 360 Indie program was the first opportunity for me to publish anything he had made. A day in the life is going to work all day (I am a small business owner of a web design company — going on 16 years), coming home, helping my twins with homework, coaching my son’s basketball, taking my daughter to dance…then START development for AAW at about 9:00 at night. The day ends when I either complete my game dev tasks for the day — or I pass out. Or both.”
What are you most proud of with Action Arcade Wrestling?
Dave: Other than the simple task of completing a wrestling game with such a small dev team, I think I’m most proud of our creation suite (the Wrestle Lab). I’d honestly put our creation suite against any that has ever come out. I think allowing the users to control so much of the original 3-D mesh and texture mappings give it more of a mod tool feel. Plus, allowing them to position, scale, and rotate primitives give it almost unlimited possibilities.
Eugene: I would say the optimizations we’ve done with the game. I take great pride in optimizing performance, and we spent an incredible amount of time on it. From the crowd rendering and animations to the real-time rope physics, performance was always key. We’re running 10 wrestlers in the ring at 60 fps. And that is happening even on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode.
During our time together, you explained how other fighting games inspired different aspects of AAW. What game do you felt left the biggest impression on you and inspired you the most?
WWF WrestleFest was the biggest. But there were so many influences…WWF Wrestlemania Arcade and Saturday Night Slam Masters for the crazy over-the-top feel. WWF Super Wrestlemania (SNES) for the darker feel of the arena. WWF No Mercy for the grapple system. Even games like Killer Instinct for the dash attacks and blocking.
What is your favorite wrestling video game of all time?
Dave: I’m going to go with the one with one of the longest names: Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium for the Super Famicom. Obviously, there have been Fire Pro games since then that have been better, but that game was my first experience with that series and really was a game-changer in terms of both gameplay and creation suites. Nothing at that point had ever come close in either of those categories.
What is the most challenging thing you ran into when developing Action Arcade Wrestling?
Eugene: I would say modifying the actual engine code. There’s no engine — even the Unreal Engine — that’s equipped for the challenges and requirements of a wrestling game. So figuring out the inner workings of engine code to be able to do some of the things we’re doing was incredibly tricky.
Dave: Time management. If this were our full-time job, development and project management would have been much different. As it was, juggling work, family, etc., was the most challenging. Even time zones were tricky. We had to sync east coast, west coast, and all of the extraordinary talented freelancers living everywhere. Eugene working until 9:30 p.m. was tough enough — even without me falling asleep during Skype calls because it’s 12:30 a.m. my time! Ha!
The community has played a helping hand in making AAW what it is today. What are some of your favorite fan-made create a wrestlers and stadiums that you’ve seen thus far?
The community continues to make us shake our heads with disbelief over their creativity. They’ve taken our creation suite farther than we ever expected. I personally love the ’80s cartoon characters, even some that legit look like plastic action figures. When we sit back and see that we made a game where a pencil can suplex a vending machine, we can’t help but smile.
What can we expect in the coming weeks and months from Action Arcade Wrestling? Are there plans for you to create another genre of video game? Or is Action Arcade Wrestling your primary focus for the time being?
We love making games. Again, if our collaboration were a full-time job, we’d be discussing what to make next. We’d probably be debating over making a racing game or a hockey game, respectively. But Action Arcade Wrestling is absolutely our primary focus. We are 100% dedicated to the release and subsequent support as well as its upcoming free DLC mode, The Arcade Gauntlet.