It’s springtime, which means baseball has begun, college basketball just ended, and WrestleMania has come and gone!! With big-time events comes the release of related video games. Even though I struggled to fairly split time between MLB The Show 23 and WWE 2k23, I can tell you this with absolute certainty, the end of WrestleMania Night 2 may have been a giant disappointment, but WWE 2K23 is fantastic. Sure it lacks in some areas, but this year, with some minor tweaks to gameplay and a new move system, 2k23 is the best version of this game in quite some time. Now to be fair, I’m basing this review almost solely on the John Cena Showcase mode as I spent a lot of time playing that, reliving the days when WWE was possibly at its peak with rivals such as RVD, The Undertaker, Randy Orton, and Batista. I did play some of the MyRise mode so I can comment on that a bit, but for right now, let’s jump into the ratings breakdown!
Controller Mechanics – 8 out of 10. I have to give it to the folks over at 2k. The last few editions of the game had felt repetitive both from a game release standpoint as well as a gameplay standpoint. You could beat an opponent by just repeating four moves because of the grapple mechanics. Although they were not complicated as far as combinations, you’d find yourself falling into a rut and using power slams and cross faces in every match, ad nauseum. Here in the ‘23 edition, WWE and 2K have introduced a new combo system using both buttons and joystick movements. Now, I had seen someone say that this combo system reminded them of WWF Attitude and WarZone from 1999 and 1998 respectively. I can tell you as someone who was a teenager in 1998, as well as a grown man who still owns both games for PS1, comparing this combo system to that of Attitude and War Zone, is a gross misrepresentation. The combinations consist of an entire, unbearable, three to four buttons combined with a joystick movement (neutral, towards opponent, away from opponent). Also, the combinations themselves are easy to execute and remember. Some examples are, X,X,X,X; or X,X,X,B; or X,A,B. If you include a joystick movement with those three combos, that’s nine moves you already know. In Attitude and War Zone, you needed a cartographer, a mule, an abacus, a wizard, and a slice of provolone cheese to do the combinations. Those combos were like, eight buttons long with directions thrown in (no joysticks in 1998 kids, still just D-Pads) and by the time you finished your combo, The Undertaker had recovered and Chokeslammed you to hell. It’s no comparison. With this new combo system, as well as some tweaks to the grapple system, the world is your oyster when it comes to using creative moves and the days of repeating moves incessantly, should be over.
Movement & Stamina – 7.5 out of 10. Again, a huge step forward from the ‘22 version, but there are still some weird spots that need to be addressed. The movement of the wrestler is overall very good, but still…glitchy isn’t the word, but just odd in other spots. Also, I don’t know about anyone else, but I have yet to complete a grapple to a downed opponent yet, I get reversed every time. The energy and stamina integration is great. They’ve made stamina a much-coveted commodity. As stamina decreases, your effectiveness in the ring goes down, and the door opens even wider for you to catch a beat down as reversals become more difficult. As energy (health) goes down, the amount of stamina you can recover goes down with it. There were some matches in the Cena showcase that got a little sketchy because my health and stamina were nil, but so was my opponent’s, so I guess it’s a wash. This subtle, yet effective tweaks again help the game become a little more difficult to win, and place an emphasis on breaking down body parts and crafting a strategy to make your signature and finishing moves more effective.
Graphics – 9 out of 10. This has always been an area 2K has never had an issue with. The faces look outstanding, the entrances, the pyro, the gear, the stages, and so on. 2K has very much taken the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality when it comes to its graphics sweet, and it’s clear as to why. Even the classic arenas and stages you can unlock, as well as the classic characters, all of it is right on the money. If you’re a fan of nostalgia, you’re going to want to get those classic venues and wrestlers. I’ve always enjoyed having events in the SummerSlam 1988 venue. Don’t judge me. The only knock is the same as usual, but I don’t know how or if it can be corrected. Some of the longer hairstyles still moved oddly, and the belts fit weirdly on some people. Certainly not a deal breaker. I’m really curious to see how Vince’s mustache is going to look in this game.
Create a Wrestler – 7 out of 10. This facet of the game and its effectiveness is based solely on what you’re looking to do with it. If you want to make the characters from yesteryear that the game 2k and the WWE did not include in the game, it’s still great. Generally, people like Earthquake and Typhoon, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, The Bushwhackers, Terry Funk, and a laundry list of others usually have their gear, faces, and move sets available if you want to put in the time to sculpt them to perfection. If you’re trying to create yourself, it’s still a little more difficult. Again, I don’t necessarily place the blame on them because NBA 2K has been trying to use the face scan technology for a few years now and still struggles with it at times and it requires you to take your picture at the DMV with perfect lighting. However, there is an option to place another face onto your existing face, and unless you want nightmares, do not look into that. However, if you take some time and look into all of the options and really tinker with the face sculptor, you can make a fine-looking wrestler that resembles yourself.
Replay Factor – 10 out of 10. Again, I’ve really only played the Cena Showcase mode and some of the MyRise, and I’ve already put in five to six hours. When you add in MyGM, MyUniverse, and online modes, you could seemingly play this game forever. The one thing I’ve always wanted from 2k and the WWE lineup is twofold, the ability to download updated rosters like on Madden or MLB The Show and new the ability to download New Showcase modes. Imagine playing as newly inducted WWE Hall of Famer The Great Muta as you traverse your way through World Class and WCW on your way to Ric Flair. Or having a Showcase involving Macho Man Randy Savage and you could beat Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania V, the way it should’ve happened. I’m not bitter though… I would say the Showcase idea is probably farfetched, but the updated rosters shouldn’t be. Imagine the possibilities of a MyUniverse mode if you had the ability to download new members as the game progressed. New matchups, new teams, again, the game would be seemingly endless.
MyGM – 6 out of 10. I did want to include this mode before I finished up because I had never played it before on the previous games and it is quite an interesting concept. You choose a GM, Adam Pearce, Sonya DeVille, Tyler Breeze, Kurt Angle, Xavier Woods, and a few other surprises from the past. Then you pick a show to lead, Raw, SmackDown!, NXT, and again, some surprises from yesteryear. Then you draft your roster by balancing star power and budget. You can draft 10 studs, but you’ll have no money left for venues and production, which has a huge impact on how successful your show can be. You will compete with the other GMs for fans and superstars alike, accruing money and stars to overcome the odds. Really fun game mode, but the budget constraints makes it a little difficult to get a leg up. I will give points to creativity and a new way of doing things in a wrestling game though.
Overall – 8 out of 10. This game is good for hours upon hours of lost time creating your own WWE Universe and immersing yourself in it. Add in the ability of creating and downloading community creations, and you have an ever-changing landscape. Although there weren’t very many new innovations, 2k instead focused on what they have already and really honed in on making those features better. As a guy who was born in the midst of the NES craze, who owns eleven consoles, over 300 games, and 37 wrestling games, this is the best one of them all. As much as I love the THQ block of WCW/nWo World Tour, WCW/nWo Revenge, WWF WrestleMania 2000, and WWF No Mercy for nostalgia reasons, 2k is taking the wrestling game genre to new heights. I’m excited to see where the franchise goes from here, and maybe next year we’ll finally get the Showcase mode where I can put Randy Savage over at WrestleMania V… I SAID I’M NOT BITTER!