In 1996 Nintendo released Super Mario 64 to critical acclaim. People still talk about it to this day and call it one of the greatest games of all time. In 2000 THQ released WWF No Mercy to critical acclaim. People still talk about it to this day and call it one of the greatest wrestling games of all time. These two games graced the N64 console and even though they had release dates four years apart they ran on the same architecture. This brings me to today.
Within the last two weeks we’ve had a new Mario 3D style game and a new Wrestling game. The gulf in design quality is shocking. The Mario game on the least powerful current gen console runs better than the big budget AAA Wrestling game on the most powerful hardware. It’s also superior in every way imaginable. How has this happened? How have WWE games become this joyless?
Super Mario Odyssey runs like a dream. Each large sandbox area is filled with items to collect, enemies to defeat and areas to explore. It takes five seconds to load the levels. In WWE 2K18 it takes over one minute to load a hallway in Career Mode. A hallway.
Your created wrestler arrives in the loading dock where you direct him to the production area for a short conversation. Then you are sent out to the ring. The game loads again for another minute or two depending on what the game needs to render for the match. God help you if you choose to conduct an interview with Renee Young while backstage. The game needs to load the interview set piece then load again to get you back in the hallway. All of these loading screens take a minute each. This completely takes any fun of exploration out of the game. It plods along and dangles the carrot of fun to come later.
To get to the fun you need to drag yourself around these hallways for (in game) months at a time. If you piss management off enough, by being good at the game, they take matches away. Matches themselves are fun, nothing special and obsessed with reversals, but enjoyable nonetheless. So instead of getting straight to the fun you need to politic your way into matches using the atrocious “Promo” system during in-ring speaking segments. If you combine some correct answers together you get a higher score. If you do that enough times management will put your wrestler in big matches. That is harder to do than you think. The dialogue is absolutely awful and I’m convinced whoever wrote these lines is not a native English speaker or has never spoken to another human being in their lives.
So, if you pass these horrible segments you end up in the Money In The Bank match. This match was also was poorly conceived and took ages to complete. Great, now you have the contract for a match with the Champion. You cannot cash it in until the story allows you to, it takes three more in-game months. When you finally get to cash in on the Champion you are screwed over and lose the match in a cutscene before the actual match. At this point I was really happy I spent all that time grinding through these hallway scenes for that payoff.
A similar thing happened when I got to the Royal Rumble. Then, of course, I was forced to enter at Number 1 and had to win the match to progress the story. I managed to get to the point where entrant Number 17 comes out. I had played well and managed to eliminate people one by one taking only some damage. Number 16 comes out and it’s the 95 rated Roman Reigns. My wrestler is rated 60 because it is impossible to level up when they take matches away from you!
Number 17 comes out, it’s Brock Lesnar. Brock Irish whipped my wrestler at the ropes which eliminated me immediately, no mini game. At that point I gave up, done! I didn’t even go into detail on the horrendous Loot Box situation where items and moves are locked away from you. “Be Like No One” is the motto in the game’s marketing. How Ironic it is then, that everybody is the same due to the Loot Box bull. It seems like microtransactions were planned but pulled at the last minute. These boxes are paid for by currency earned in game but you earn so little that it makes it a real grind. I can only assume a patch will come in to make VC easier to earn.
I can’t bring myself to go back to WWE 2K18. Especially now in a post Super Mario Odyssey world.
I took the disc out of the Xbox One and put it on my countertop so it would be ready for it’s final journey to the local trade-in store in the morning. Sure, the general gameplay is fine and the presentation is world class but when it hides content away from you and is so poorly coded that it takes many hours of your life away in loading screens it’s hard not to feel a little short changed.
Then, the next day Super Mario Odyssey arrived. Design differences are like night and day. As mentioned above large sandboxes load in 5 seconds. The world is filled with colour and life. The game is enjoyable at all times and exploration is rewarded with the Power Moons you need to progress. I smiled so much playing this game and laughed out loud at some points. I cannot stop playing it. Most importantly – it’s fun, something the latest WWE game really struggles to achieve across the board.
Nintendo have such a high level of polish but gameplay is prioritised over everything else. I cannot begin to fathom how they came up with some of the stuff in Odyssey. It is equal parts brilliant and crazy. It’s a mad scientist of a game. I controlled a T-Rex and a Frog within 10 minutes of each other, both helped me find moons that fuelled my trip to the next level. These had a purpose. They were fun to control and keep things interesting. Lovely stuff. The 8-bit 2D platforming sections in the 3D world are an absolute joy. These are typically used to climb up somewhere high. Once again, ear to ear smile while playing. This is not nostalgia taking over, it’s clever game design. A joy. Oh and the music, so good. This game is incredible in so many areas.
WWE 2K18 really let me down. I stopped playing these 2K wrestling games regularly a few years ago due to the awful career mode. I came back in because it looked as if they FINALLY fixed career mode. Well, they have my money now. I miss my €65, I really do. I could’ve bought more pizza and beer. 2K should be commended for the effort in the revamp but something is very wrong with the code to result in that much loading. GTA V can have an entire city, from snow topped mountains to glistening beaches, all accessible after one loading screen when the game boots up. 2K cant load past a hallway conversation? Come on. It ruined the experience for me.
I just find it interesting, the timing that is. Super Mario 64 and WWF No Mercy are still talked about today as standard bearers in their genres. The gulf is so large between the contemporary Mario and WWE games that it really begs the question… How did Wrestling games become so boring and forgettable?
P.S. Super Mario Odyssey – 5 Meltzers. Best Mario game ever made. Mario Galaxy was shit compared to this. *Runs away