WWE 2K20 took a huge hit to the ego last year, landing with even more glitches and problems than usual. So much so, that social media was on fire with derision, from even outside the wrestling fandom. Between that and the COVID pandemic, and a split from longtime dev partner Yuke’s, 2K made the smart move to skip a year. But a new game came out in its place, meant to tide folks over and hopefully make them smile. From Saber Interactive, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a silly, casual, over the top brawler aiming to capture the spirit of WWE in party game form.
I’m a big fan of pro wrestling as an entertainment medium, but have lost interest in the WWE recently. Bad business and storytelling has grown worse. It doesn’t help that the pandemic situation has removed the live crowd aspect almost entirely. But while I’m disillusioned with the brand, I’m still a fan of many of these wrestlers as performers, and visiting them in silly form, instead of janky sim form, seemed like a golden opportunity.
The last time WWE games did something like this, it was back under the THQ label as WWE All-Stars. Many fans swear by that game despite its quirks, but its over the top action, silly style and solid gameplay depth made it a fan-favorite. This game came to mind for many when Battlegrounds showed up, but these are two very different kinds of games. All-Stars was still a “core” WWE game, with its combos, counter system, story modes, and more. Battlegrounds is a much more casual affair, intended to be enjoyed by friends playing together in short bursts. You won’t find complexity or depth here, but what you will find is an obvious product of developers having fun with their licensing assignment. From stage hazards to wacky animations and a comic book campaign, there’s a lot of earnest silliness in this package.
The best, and possibly worst part of WWE 2K Battlegrounds is how easy it is to play. WWE games are notoriously unwieldy, with complicated controls and systems slapped on top of each other in ever-changing attempts to accurately portray pro wrestling. This is a nearly impossible feat, especially from the sports simulation angle. But in a game like Battlegrounds you can do whatever you want.
So this game plays more like a casual anime fighter than a complicated sports sim, with single-button commands paired with easy modifiers, shortcuts, and simple defensive systems. Wrestlers are divided by class into three types, and every wrestler under a category shares the same basic moves.
Because Battlegrounds is so easy to play, it makes short and sweet sessions feel awesome. I was able to easily connect to a friend, play a few rounds, have a blast, then bounce before it got old and still feel satisfied. Even on the Switch the game and online work great, despite some slow load times and the occasional glitch. I did notice that putting the Switch to sleep with Battlegrounds running was a cardinal sin, as the game would either get soft-locked on a loading screen, or lose its connection to the internet and complain loudly.
But also because Battlegrounds is so easy to play, its roster of dozens of WWE Superstars doesn’t always feel like a roster of dozens of WWE Superstars. I found myself employing a pretty universal playstyle regardless of who I chose, with small variations based on their class. But until it came time to land a signature or finishing move, it didn’t really matter who I picked in a gameplay sense. So while it’s a fun game with lots of options, it doesn’t work at all from an angle of longer-term, solitary play.
It’s also easy to see gameplay problems crop up long-term here, as I already found myself deploying easy strategies that took advantage of the simple mechanics. But to be fair, the CPU did the exact same crap, so I didn’t feel too bad. And outside of the simple core mechanics, things like special moves that make weapons appear, stage hazards like giant freakin’ crocodiles that wait for you to literally toss people into their waiting mouths, and a wild online mode that’s almost like an endless Royal Rumble, the team had a lot of fun thinking outside the box.
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And speaking of boxes, the wrestlers are like, living action figures? And you can customize a container that gets air-dropped onto the entrance ramp and bursts open for your wrestler’s entrance. We’re talking crates, Donkey Kong-like barrels, and all other kinds of weird junk. I want to say, again, the humor here is genuine and silly, a far cry from some of the tryhard stuff that’s cropped up in other wrestling games.
That said, again, short bursts feel great! Even in single-player! The campaign is bizarre but legitimately funny at times, with comic books playing out a tale of 2K OCs being recruited by Stone Cold and Paul Heyman. Then those OCs are added to the roster in other modes, which is just the right level of corny for this game. You can also create your own wrestler of course, and there’s a totally distinct single-player mode for them, which I love. It’s an interactive skill tree!
Basically to power up your custom wrestler, you have to make your way through a giant map of matches, getting new stat or performance-oriented rewards along the way. It’s a lot of fun if you’re into just having a trail to follow to justify your game time, and again it’s perfect for short bursts if you’re looking for that kind of game session.
Overall I’ve had a good time with WWE 2K Battlegrounds. It isn’t the game it could be, or the game I see in my head when I think of its concept. But it’s an earnest, goofy, breezy, little multiplayer brawler I can enjoy with my wrestling fan friends without trying to make sure everyone understands the controls over on the simulation side. And when I feel like playing on my own, I can make a new character and play on the skill tree roadmap for a while, and feel good about it even if I only go a few rounds. I’d love to see more like this, with more time and money invested, to really give the idea some oxygen and space to play.
- Easy to play
- Great in short burst
- Solid online
- Runs well on Switch (some slowdown in 4-player matches)
- Ease of play betrays variety
- Wrestlers don’t feel as distinct as they could in their respective class groups
- Some bugs and glitches, especially load times on Switch making sleep mode a bad idea
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review