AEW: Fight Forever is an arcade-styled wrestling game with a great retro feel, but the Switch version has a few frustrating flaws.
- Title: AEW: Fight Forever
- Release Date: June 29, 2023
- Price: $59.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation, Xbox, Steam
- Recommended for fans of: AEW, Classic Wrestling Games, Dumb Multiplayer
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
I started watching wrestling on March 16, 2022.
The reason I know the exact date is because it's the day the trailer for WrestleQuest premiered, and I decided I wanted to take an earnest shot at getting into watching wrestling. Before that, I'd only had two real exposures to wrestling throughout my life. First of all, in the N64 era, my older brother and his friends almost always had a wrestling game in rotation. I don't think any of them watched either WWE or WCW, but together we all learned tons of wrestlers' names through those excellent multiplayer experiences. Then, in my mid-twenties, my roommate tried to help me see the joy of wrestling through Youtube highlights. I gained an appreciation for the spectacle at that point (and was and am still horrified by seeing Mankind go off the top of the cage), but didn't become a fan.
Jumping back to last year, I put out a tweet asking how to start getting into wrestling, and found out that a friend hosted a watch along with Dynamite, and ended up watching the show that night.
I've watched almost every Dynamite, Rampage, and AEW PPV since.
I'd absolutely call myself a wrestling fan at this point, but despite a few attempts I haven't been able to get into any of the modern WWE games. They look great, but outside of Battlegrounds they all feel too much like sports simulation games, and don't capture the silly fun of the old games I remember. Thankfully, AEW: Fight Forever is almost the exact game I've been looking for, and it's built around the promotion I've become a massive fan of!
I got a chance to check out the Switch version of the game, but for a second opinion on a second platform, I've got some thoughts from one of our streamers, Weeble Spleen, who played AEW: Fight Forever on PlayStation 5! You'll find their thoughts in quote blocks (like the one below), or can check in on their Twitch to maybe see some live wrestling gameplay!
I went into this game with practically no knowledge of wrestling games or the current pro wrestling climate. The only wrestling game I’ve ever played was on the 64 at a friend’s house this one time, so I’m going in completely cold turkey.Weeble Spleen
Classic Wrestling Gameplay
AEW: Fight Forever is, in many ways, a throwback to the N64 and PS1 era of wrestling games. Rather than the more gritty simulation that recent WWE games lean towards, this game is more simple, arcadey, and (for me) fun. I’ve tried to pick up a few WWE games and always find myself having to check back in with the tutorials to remember how to play them. In Fight Forever the controls are almost laughably basic. The four face buttons control a punch, kick, grab, and run, while the shoulder buttons can be used to counter either strikes are grabs.
AEW: Fight Forever is very approachable for a newcomer. You don’t need to know anything about the rules or mechanics of professional wrestling going in. I just went in, punched and kicked my opponent until they fell down, and then pinned them. That’s not to say the controls are shallow. As you learn more about how the fights work, you can unlock signature moves, throw your opponent out of the ring, up against the ropes, and taunt to gain temporary buffs.
I do wish there was a dedicated tutorial, though. I jumped straight into the story mode, and the tutorial kept interrupting the first match to teach you how to play. The problem was that the AI can still move around while the tutorial is popping up, so you were getting punched in the face while the announcer is telling you how to not get punched in the face.Weeble Spleen
Once you get a feel for the basic controls, you’ll start to figure out how to vary your attacks within the simple control scheme. As an example, when you are standing face to face with an opponent you can hit the punch button to do one attack, tilt the stick towards them while you hit it to do a second, or hold the button down for a third variation. This is a slick way to let the match have a lot of visual variations without making the controls overly complex. There are no quarter-circle turns here, nor are there long button combos to keep track of.
Instead of health, the momentum of a match in Fight Forever is based on, well, “momentum”, which is represented by a bar at the bottom of the screen for each character. Each time you hit an opponent you gain some momentum and they lose some. Low momentum means it takes longer for your wrestler to recover from a dazed state after big hits, while high momentum unlocks the ability to hit the D-Pad or right analog stick to pull off special moves. Again, there’s not a lot of complexity here thanks to a prompt to hit those moves. Added depth comes to the ability to assign different special moves so that you can execute them while an opponent is standing, lying down, slouched in the corner, or basically anywhere else on the screen.
Finally, of course, to win a match you either pin your opponent or get them to tap out of a submission hold. Starting a pin is as simple as walking up to an opponent on the ground and hitting the L button (which the game reminds you of with a prompt), and then basically waiting to see if you win. I'll put a little emphasis on “wait” here, since the refs in Fight Forever take an oddly long time to start counting a pin, but since that impacts both player and CPU characters equally it's not a huge deal.
As the pinner, you don’t need to press anything else at this point. If you are the one pinned, you just mash on the face buttons as fast as you can to try to escape. There’s no clever timing-based mini-game involved, just button-mashing. This is great for pick-up and play, but at least a progress bar like the one used in WWE 2K Battlegrounds would be nice. Simplicity is nice, but not having any sort of feedback is a bit frustrating.
A big part of the fun of wrestling video games is creating your own character. In fact, in the past year, I've probably spent more time creating characters in various WWE games than I have playing them. AEW: Fight Forever has a creation suite for characters, tag teams, and arenas. Unfortunately, it's… not great.
When you create your character you start by choosing a male or female body type. In this game, the gender of your character determines which championships you are eligible for, but doesn't limit who you can wrestle. The storylines for male and female characters are focused on matches against opponents of the same gender, but throughout the journey, you'll come up against both. There are also a few attire options tied to gender. Specifically, when I created a female character I noticed a French maid's outfit that wasn't available to my male character. It feels a little gross to have that costume in the game, but if you're going to put it there at least make it available to everyone.
There is a small but serviceable amount of tops, pants, arm bands, knee pads, and other accessories to choose from. You can't do anything with logos as I've seen in other character creators of this ilk, but you can change up the colors on most of your gear to give your character a unique vibe. Unfortunately, a limited number of uneditable faces, skin tones, hairstyles, and variations in body size and proportions means this game won't show up on Monster Factory.
There are actually a lot more options for how your character moves than there are for how they look. There's a big list of entrances, taunts, and attacks to choose from. The problem here is that there's a big list, and on the Switch the half-second it took to switch from previewing “Generic Male Entrance 36” to “Generic Male Entrance 37” was just long enough that it kept me from spending much time here.
Road to Elite
Outside of the basic pick-up-and-play exhibition matches that work for quick single or multiplayer play, the driving game mode in AEW: Fight Forever is the “Road to Elite” campaign. This is a story mode that has you pick a created or existing character and play through a rough approximation of the first year of AEW. You start by getting a call from Tony Kahn inviting you to appear at the debut Double or Nothing, and then manage your character in and out of the ring through each week, punctuated by matches on Dynamite or at a PPV event.
“Road to Elite” brings in RPG elements in how you manage your character's off time between matches. Each week you can take up to four “turns” to manage their motivation, energy level, and health, or to earn points you can spend on upgrading or unlocking new in-ring skills. If you are low on energy, you can step out for a bite to eat. Once you're satiated, you might hold a press conference to build up some motivation (giving you a momentum boost at your next match), or hit the gym for more skill points. Heck, you can even play silly mini-games with The Young Bucks! Those points can boost the power of your finishing moves or can unlock the ability for your character to pull off new maneuvers, like using climbing the guardrails between the ring and the audience to dive off of them.
Each of these downtime activities plays out as a short, extremely lightly animated cutscene. Going out to eat has your character sitting in a generic booth in a generic restaurant while a generic waitress tells them about a local delicacy in whatever town you're in. Oftentimes, other wrestlers will pop in for a chat during these interludes, with writing that ranges from bland to bizarrely meta.
Characters and Choices
I've played through this mode once with a male-created character, Crush Mashly, and I'm closing in on a second playthrough with a female-created character, Kira. When you use a created character in “Road to Elite”, you choose an attitude at the start that determines how they speak throughout the rest of the story. Crush was a “Hero”, which gave him a stilted but extremely upbeat way of talking that made him feel like a goofy side character from Like a Dragon. For Kira I chose “jerk”, to align with her namesake, which basically meant she had a negative response to every interaction. When some of my least favorite wrestlers, including MJF and Chris Jericho, started showing up in Kira's story I loved how negative she was.
WeebleSpleen picked Ruby Soho to play through this mode (because the song is awesome), and found it to be an interesting initiation into the world of AEW:
AEW is packed full of personality, but from an outside perspective, it feels like the game’s script, dialogue, and cut scenes were all written by a marketing team. The result is a game that is really good about increasing brand awareness with wrestlers who feel a little bland and uncanny. I went from having no idea what AEW is to having a favorite wrestler so the brand awareness is very effective.Weeble Spleen
Unfortunately, one of the big drawbacks in “Road to Elite” is how those interactions with other wrestlers turn out. Neither Kira nor I have much respect for MJF or Jericho, so when they invited her to join The Inner Circle and I was given a choice, I naturally chose no… but then the game forced me to join them anyway. In my other playthrough, Crush was courted by Death Triangle and agreed to join, only for them to turn on me at what was supposed to be my initiation!
The “Road to Elite” mode also had a few weird issues with the game not seeming to quite know what was going on. At one point the commentator referred to a “North of the Border” edition of Dark when we were in, like, Kentucky. I went onto a local talk show where my character got flustered and left the interview when all the interviewer wanted to talk about was my recent loss of the Women’s Title, even though I’d just defended the belt. When I agreed to take on CM Punk on his Rampage debut the match ended with both of us out of the ring when Aubrey called the match, but then the post-match commentary congratulated Punk on his victory.
Ultimately, the “Road to Elite” is a pretty fun way to present a story mode, and I can see myself playing through it several times to see how many different story events it hides. I like when the writing in “Road to Elite” is cheesy, but when it is presenting me with false choices or is just plain wrong about the outcome of matches it really hurts the experience.
Performance and Bugs
Even though I've got all three consoles hooked up to my TV, I'm a Switch gamer first and foremost. Beyond that, I actually spend most of my gaming time on a Switch Lite, so I'm used to playing big games in a little bit worse shape than they'd be on other systems. Having said that, AEW: Fight Forever on the Nintendo Switch has some problems.
The visuals are obviously not quite as crisp as on other platforms, which is totally expected. Plus, the chunky aesthetic to the art style goes a long way to cover up the lower fidelity. For the most part, the game looks fine… in the ring. For some reason, it's the out-of-the-ring cutscenes in the “Road to Elite” mode that look terrible. All that you see in these are between one and three characters very lightly animated on a pretty bland background, and yet it looks terrible. Everything is blurry and fuzzy like a bad Polaroid that sat at the bottom of a drawer for a decade. There's nothing intentional about this because the footage Weeble Spleen captured on PlayStation 5 looks phenomenally better. The Switch version just has a problem that hopefully gets fixed.
Troytlepower mentioned that the Switch version had some blurry cut scenes that studdered. I had no such issues on PS5. Load times were nearly instantaneous, and the game ran at a constant framerate. I actually can’t imagine what scenes would cause the Switch to stutter, because the game is not graphically intensive. The character models look ripped from Tony Hawk’s Underground, and all of the backgrounds are static and interchangeable.Weeble Spleen
Otherwise, there are a few performance issues that are either goofy or infrequent enough to not break the experience for me. Unlike a lot of Switch ports, I haven't had too many issues with framerate dips in Fight Forever, but that's because when the game chugs it just stops entirely for about half a second, then picks up again like nothing happened. It's bizarre, and I'm not sure if I'd prefer 15 FPS for 2 seconds compared to 0 FPS for .5 seconds, but it's quick and doesn't happen too often. On the physics side of things, sometimes the ropes around the ring react a lot to a wrestler getting thrown at them. I'm talking “snakes trying to escape a tornado” levels of thrashing around, but there's no gameplay impact to that. Finally, tables seem to be completely broken, at least on the Switch. I've tried over and over again to set up a table to slam an opponent through, only for the table to just softly fall through the ring and into another dimension.
AEW started off in the Fall of 2019, about two and a half years before I started watching. While the “Road to Elite” story is based exclusively on the first year of the promotion, it seems like a lot of the roster is as well. There are some notable absences from the list of 12 women and 35 men available at launch.
It won't take too long in the story mode or checking off the daily and weekly challenges to earn enough in-game currency to add two characters to the roster. Cody Rhodes, a founding member of AEW who has since left to return to WWE, and Aubrey Edwards, a fan favorite ref, can both be purchased, bringing the total number of included characters to 49. AEW's current roster today is somewhere around 200.
With only 1/4 of the promotion included, it's hard to call out all of the missing faces, but here are some of the ones that jumped out to me. Neither Willow Nightingale or Toni Storm are here, despite being highlights of the women's division. Billy Gunn and his boys are missing, as are Max Caster and Anthony Bowens (even though The Acclaimed Theme is on the soundtrack). Satnam Singh, Skye Blue, and Swerve Strickland all got skipped.
I don't really expect them to include everybody in a game like this, especially since the AEW roster is constantly in flux, but I do hope that the roster fills out over time. We already know that Danhausen, Hook, FTR, Keith Lee, Matt Hardy, and The Bunny are on the way. It'll be great if they keep up with a steady flow of new characters, even though putting them behind paid DLC will make that a much more expensive proposition.
My Nittiest Pick
Ready for an extremely specific complaint?
The camera is positioned 90 degrees to the right of the standard tv angle, so the ramp is in the background instead of off to the left of the ring. This works well in matches where other wrestlers may enter part-way through because you can see the run down, but it feels weird after watching so many broadcasts. To be even more pedantic, in Tag Team matches the teams are always based on the top left and bottom right corners, which is the same as it is on TV, but because the camera is rotated it means the actual occupied corners are wrong.
I know this is an absolutely meaningless concern, but once I noticed it I couldn’t stop being annoyed at how weird it was. Tag team matches also have a weird rule problem. In AEW, when a wrestler tags in their partner both team members can stay in the ring for a few seconds of 2-on-1 against the opponent. In the game, as soon as you tag your partner both them and the inactive opponent can enter the ring, so it turns into a 2-on-2 match for a few seconds. This is probably fairer than the way it works on the show, but it takes away some of the rewards of a well-timed tag.
After writing about loads of games and watching a ton of wrestling, I feel like I've spent the last year training for this specific review. I really dig AEW: Fight Forever as a light-hearted, easy-to-play wrestling game. It's got a lot of the characters I love watching now with gameplay that reminds me of being a kid, and the story mode is just engaging enough to keep pulling me along, even when the story itself falls a bit flat. That said, there is a lot that could be done to improve the experience. The roster is a little thin, the creation tools are a little too simplistic, and the visuals have some bizarre issues on the Switch. Everything here works fine, but with some updates or a sequel (I'd love it if they stuck with chants and called it AEW: This Is Awesome, AEW: Cowboy Shit, or AEW: You F***ed Up), it could be a much stronger contender.
Overall, this game serves as a great introduction to AEW for both newcomers and long-time wrestling fans. The game is also a great way to trick your friends into becoming a fan. If you’re not interested in wrestling at all, if you’re just wanting to play a game where you can beat up your friends, it’s kind of hard to recommend considering the wealth of arcade style fighters out there today.Weeble Spleen