AEW Enters the Ring with Wrestling Video Games
November 11, 2020
Written by Jamie Galea
Wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling has announced its first foray into the world of videogames, detailing their upcoming game in a press conference today. Partnering with Yuke’s, former developers of WWE’s Smackdown line of games, the new title is slated to launch on current and next-gen consoles alongside mobile titles AEW Elite General Manager and AEW Casino: Double Or Nothing, branded after the annual AEW pay per view event.
“When I signed my contract, I told (AEW founder Tony) Khan I want to give wrestling fans the game they want, the game they deserve,” said AEW Executive Vice President Kenny Omega, who named more arcade focused WWF No Mercy and sports games NBA Jam and NFL Blitz as inspirations, marking a departure from the more simulation-focused modern WWE titles. “We’ve teamed up with Yuke’s to bring you the best wrestling game experience you’ve seen in a long time.”
AEW announced they were working on a videogame franchise for their now almost 2-year-old wrestling promotion soon after the company’s launch, and since then not much else has been revealed about the product until today’s press conference. It was speculated that the promotion had secured SynSophia (formerly AKI Corporation, the developers of the well-revered WWF No Mercy and WCW/nWo Revenge) as their developing partners, until an AEW website prematurely went live yesterday, confirming a partnership with Yuke’s. Omega also announced today the involvement of No Mercy’s director Hideyuki Iwashita, who will be working with Yuke’s on the project.
Yuke’s rose to prominence in the West with PlayStation titles WWF Smackdown and WWF Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, today considered seminal wrestling games alongside No Mercy. As the WWE license changed hands between publishers in the US, however, the Japanese developers’ input on the game grew less and less, with Yuke’s finally cutting ties with 2K last year due to claimed creative differences. Indeed, Yuke’s had announced it was working on a new wrestling IP to rival its WWE product back in May last year.
“I think having no competitor isn’t healthy at all,” Yuke’s Senior Vice President Hiromi Furuta told VGC at the time. “When we had competitors in the wrestling space, we were determined not to lose and that was a great motivator for creating something great. But right now, in many cases we’re still using old assets and we’re not able to do some things in the way that we want to.”
Anybody who’s paid much attention to the focused niche of wrestling videogames in the past few years knows it’s become much of a one-horse race. 2K Games’ WWE license has released a new game every year without fail, at any cost. After the messy debacle that was 2019’s WWE 2K20 and the departure of Yuke’s, the flagship series was put on hold, but not without the release of the more arcade style WWE 2K Battlegrounds. They’ve had very little competition in the field, barring Japanese developer Spike Chunsoft revived its tour de force Fire Pro Wrestling franchise with Fire Pro Wrestling World. Traditionally centered around its own fictional promotion, Spike Chunsoft partnered with major companies New Japan Pro Wrestling (of which Kenny Omega was an employee at the time) and Wonder World Ring Stardom for a number of DLC bundles. But to compare the budget sprite-based isometric Fire Pro with 2K’s (allegedly) triple-A 3D offering is very much a case of chalk and cheese.
In a sense the quality of WWE’s wrestling games has matched the perceived quality of its main wrestling product: a lack of competition since WCW’s closure in 2001 has left it financially dominant but creatively stagnant. A new rival in both arenas may be just what is needed to spur on the best out of both brands, and AEW seemingly poaching the infrastructure behind WWE’s videogames heyday is a clear statement of intent for their fledgling brand.
Words by Rory Betteridge, who can be found doing combos and watching wrestling on Twitter at @TheSaltminer.