While the reveal of AEW: Fight Forever‘s gameplay wasn’t the biggest thing to come from Gamecom 2022 (that was obviously the Killer Klowns from Outer Space reveal), wrestling fans are buzzing about what they’ve seen. Maybe that’s because Fight Forever is shaping up to be a massive tribute to the best wrestling game ever.
If you haven’t seen the footage itself, you can check all of it out via this upload of the AEW: Fight Forever live stream. Alternatively, you can watch this condensed version of the actual gameplay footage that gets right into the action.
There’s obviously a lot to break down from that footage, and there’s still quite a lot we actually don’t know about the game. However, the most important thing that this new footage does is confirm the long-running suspicion that Fight Forever is really an elaborate tribute to the golden age of N64 wrestling games best exemplified by the exceptional 2000 title, WWF No Mercy.
If you never played No Mercy…well, you really missed out on something special. Developed by the legendary team at AKI Corporation, No Mercy was the direct sequel to 1999’s WrestleMania 2000 and the spiritual sequel to WCW vs. nWo: World Tour and WCW/nWo Revenge (both also developed by AKI). While No Mercy‘s incredible career mode, legendary roster, and numerous customization options helped elevate it over AKI’s previous games (and the competition), it was really the title’s refined gameplay that made it legendary.
No Mercy (and the other AKI games) utilized a fairly simple “Strike, Strong/Weak Grapple, and Reversal” gameplay system that essentially asked players to participate in an elaborate game of rock, paper, and scissors. The game has been praised for its accessibility, and that’s certainly part of its appeal. Unlike many fighters at the time (and some other wrestling games), pretty much anyone could pick up No Mercy and feel fairly comfortable with the basic gameplay after only a few minutes. Honestly, No Mercy offers some of the best N64 local multiplayer action this side of GoldenEye 007.
The thing that really made No Mercy‘s gameplay so special, though, was its surprising depth. The phrase “easy to learn, tough to master” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s exactly what No Mercy offered. Matches between experienced players were often intense affairs highlighted by perfectly timed reversals and often dramatic finishes. No matter how complicated things got, though, No Mercy matches always felt as fun as the first time you dived into the game and enjoyed its simplest pleasures.
There have been good wrestling games released since No Mercy (WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain and the AKI-developed Def Jam games, for example), but No Mercy remains the gold standard in the eyes of many fans. So why haven’t there been more games like it in the 20+ years since its release? Well, some of it comes down to changing industry trends and bad decisions, but the fact of the matter is that No Mercy is not an easy game to replicate. It’s easy to throw out the phrase “easy to learn, tough to master,” but it’s incredibly difficult to design a game that truly fits that description as well as No Mercy does.
On the surface, there’s clearly a lot of No Mercy in AEW: Fight Forever. Both games feature similar health/special bars, similar action, and even similar visual designs. Even a quick side-by-side comparison of the two tells a pretty clear tale:
Gameplay-wise, the story is pretty much the same. As noted in the video above, those familiar with No Mercy and the games like it say that they were able to hop right into Fight Forever and feel like they were picking up where they left off with No Mercy. While Fight Forever‘s creative team (which includes AEW wrestlers and personnel) has made it clear that they intend for this game to pay tribute to that era, it’s one thing to promise that and quite another to deliver it. At the very least, though, Fight Forever is shaping up to be a retro-style alternative to more modern wrestling games. Taken on its own, that’s something fans have been wanting for years.
Still, quite a few questions remain. Will Fight Forever‘s simpler (relatively speaking) graphics, animations, and gameplay scare off wider audiences? Will the game’s roster, customization options, and career mode be substantial enough to replicate some of No Mercy‘s best features? Most importantly, is the gameplay going to be smooth enough to replicate No Mercy‘s true calling card, or is this a case of imitation being nothing more than flattery?
Those questions will all be answered when Fight Forever is released in late 2022 or early 2023 (according to recent rumors). For now, it’s nice to know that (much like AEW itself) Fight Forever is positioned to offer a fascinating alternative to what has become a frustratingly complacent part of the wrestling industry.