Originally published at: Review | AEW: Fight Forever - XboxEra
AEW: Fight Forever is finally here, and it promises a return to the glory days of Nintendo 64 wrestling titles. Budget, scope, and graphically it can’t match WWE’s latest and greatest. Instead, it goes for something that the series has lacked for a long time, being a wrestling videogame first and foremost. Let’s dive in, blow up in a gory mess of barbed wire and pyrotechnics, and revel in this fantastic mix of nostalgia and new.
AEW stands for All-Elite Wrestling. Beginning life as a small independent organization it was eventually bought by the Khan family (who among many things own the Jacksonville Jaguars). Over the years their roster and fanbase have grown immensely. I grew up enjoying wrestling with my brother and our friends, but I’ve fallen off hard in recent years. We knew it was “fake”, but the athletic feats on display and occasionally great storytelling were immensely entertaining. Professional wrestlers put their asses on the line multiple times a week to entertain people around the globe, and Fight Forever is one of the best representations of that in a fun video game.
The budget for this title is nowhere near that of the WWE 2K series. Instead, the focus has been spent on modernizing the old Nintendo 64 wrestling games that AKI became so beloved for. WCW/NWO Revenge was my favorite game for years as a kid. It was ugly, ran poorly, and had terrible sound but it was the most fun I had ever experienced playing a “wrestling” game. Fight Forever is no different. It doesn’t look the best, the sound is surprisingly low bitrate when voices are used, though it does run at a smooth feeling sixty FPS. The big differentiator is while WWE 2K goes for a “you’re playing a game that looks just like wrestling on TV” style AEW opts to focus entirely on being a well-balanced fighter wherever possible.
Fight Forever never looks to wrench control from you for extremely long periods because “that’s how it looks on TV”. Instead, you’re in a constant back and forth to wrestle momentum away from your opponent(s) as you chip away at each other’s hidden health bars. It’s a leaner, meaner, tighter-feeling “game” in every respect. I don’t know AEW well, but the roster here seems robust. There’s a large number of wrestlers including ones like Cody Rhodes who are now with WWE. The Women’s division is well represented and are treated no differently than the men in the game. Also, a nice surprise is that there are no live service elements that I can see at launch. While there is an in-game shop it is only stocked with items you pay for with cash earned by playing the game’s various modes themselves. Speaking of those modes.
The modes available on offer are extensive though the options for them aren’t deep. They are:
- 1-on-1 (Normal, Lights Out, and Falls Count Anywhere)
- 2-on-2 a.k.a. Tag-Team
- Casino Battle Royale
- Exploding Barbwire Death Match
- Ladder Match
- Road to Elite
One of the main issues here is that outside of one-on-one you can’t set any rules for the other matches. They are what they are. It’s disappointing how little variety is afforded to the match types on hand, and the only options you have are the basic ones at the main settings menu. Those are all about the gameplay as well. You can turn blood on or off, change the difficulty, and a few other UI options. Want a Tornado tag team match where all four participants fight at the same time? I couldn’t find an option for any mode outside of the 3 set one-on-one match styles.
Thankfully it is a solid variety of match types, including the Exploding Barbwire Death Match. That crazy match type features a two+ minute timer, and when it goes off the entire ring explodes in a shockingly bright bit of pyrotechnics. Whoever is closer to the ropes takes more of a beating, and the entire thing is surrounded by barbed wire. It’s a bloody mess of a mode and a hell of a lot of quick fun. The Casino Battle Royale is AEW’s take on a large number of participants’ match type. It caps at four in the ring at a time, with combatants eliminated by being thrown over the top rope and out of the ring. There are 21 participants in all and I had a ton of fun playing through multiple entire matches.
Road to Elite is the big story mode that goes through the history of the organization, starting with one of those Casino Battle Royales. You can choose to play as a current member of the impressively large roster and you’ll be treated to hilariously goofy (on purpose) cutscenes and a light RPG-style energy and upgrade system. When playing solo it will be my go-to as it broke up the potential monotony of fighting the CPU, even those fights tend to be short.
Yukes reuses the majority of the old Aki-style N64 control scheme, and you can feel that DNA in every bit of gameplay. It’s not 1:1 though as this game is fast as hell in comparison to those old titles. Characters move more quickly, X is your main strike button with Y used for kicks. Both give 3+ hit combos that come out snappy. A is for grappling, which is used in tandem with the left stick to attempt various moves in unison with the left stick. You can do grapple strikes as well by pressing X after successfully grabbing someone. To counter strikes you’ll press the right bumper, and the left bumper can counter grapples when timed correctly.
Throwing people around the ring feels fantastic, and matches are controlled via the momentum meters at the bottom for each participant. Meters can swing quickly from low to maxed out based on counters, and situations like running in late during a Battle Royale. Your head, body, and limbs have internal meters for taking damage though I never noticed it affecting the gameplay that much. If you’re kicking some serious ass you’ll see the word signature splash across your momentum meter. Depending on your character this will be activated either in a grapple or through various in-ring situations. With a press of the d-pad in any direction you’ll activate your move, say a special power slam in a grapple. It varies per wrestler so you’ll need to learn who can do what and where to see every move.
Taunt is tied to your right stick and can help build up your momentum when used successfully. If you use it when your signature move is ready it will activate and become say Special. This is your finisher and is activated (for most) by grappling and then flicking the right stick in any direction. These, as the name would imply, drain your opponent of a massive amount of health and momentum and make pinning them, throwing them over the top rope, or having them stay down long enough to win a ladder match, possible.
I love the focus on being a somewhat balanced fighting game, instead of trying to approximate “what if wrestling was not scripted and a real combat sport” in the way that WWE’s 2K series does. The best I can tell it does away with any number-based ability system for its roster of pros. This isn’t Madden or FIFA, and all that matters is who you want to play as and how good you are at the game’s mechanics. As I only received this review copy 49 hours before this embargo I have had little to no time in multiplayer so I’m unsure of how the online servers feel, unfortunately.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically the game is good enough for what it is going for. Character models scream “N64 modder updated No Mercy for 2023” but the animations are slick, and flow well. The arenas match the character models in their level of competency. I don’t feel like I’m watching TV at times like I did with 2K, instead, I feel transported back to my childhood bedroom playing four-player tag teams with my brother and friends. In my mind’s eye, this is what it kinda looked like, though the reality is that this is a massive leap over those titles. Much like the snappy UI and quick loading times, the framerate feels great while aiming for 60 fps.
Audio wise the game features a ton of licensed music, and it’s a solid mix of genres. The quality of the voice clips is baffling, unless they truly were going for that N64 feel. There is not a lot of voiceover in the game, with zero in-match commentary being a highlight for me. When voices are heard they sound insanely low bitrate, to the point that I have to imagine that it was a deliberate choice. You’ll get short snippets at times like match introductions which are also surprisingly quick. Instead of the long lavish intros we’ve gotten used to in wrestling titles, you get your character at the top of the ramp looking around and doing a few poses before they’re gone.
The Road to Elite mode features a lot of video and audio footage that is far higher quality than every other part of the game. The music for when you’re working out, visiting landmarks, or eating dinner is just on the cusp of being too silly. It worked in the end as it matched the tone that the mode was going for appropriately.
AEW: Fight Forever has three different customization options. First up is your wrestler. It has everything you’d expect from this style and budget game. You can choose your name, height, a decent amount of looks, and a lot more. The looks aren’t nearly as varied as the WWE titles, and there appears to be no way to add custom textures yet. The amount of clothing options on hand is decent, though it cannot easily create wrestlers from other organizations or the past that the old N64 titles offered. I created a flag-wearing Jesus who always made sure to mask up in public. It’s competent enough for a first try but I hope they add in more options over time so that people can go wild.
Next up is the Team Mode. You can make teams or modify existing ones. There are only four base teams to start though it appears you can add up to 50 total. These teams are limited to two members, which is disappointing and it mostly consists of naming them and choosing an entrance to play. Finally is the Arena mode, which gives you the ability to create new or modify existing arenas. There’s nothing too crazy here prop or look-wise, though you can make some pretty hilarious-looking ring, floor, and ramp combinations.
Wrapping Things Up
AEW: Fight Forever rekindles the flame of the classic N64 wrestling titles. Featuring a fantastic mix of nostalgia and new it is only let down on occasion by budget and scope constraints. I hope this is the start of a new, long-running series that takes this excellent foundation and adds more variety on top of it for years to come.