Chikara: Arcade Action Wrestling is Bringing Fun Back to the Ring: An Exclusive Interview

Wrestling, at its core, is something that is inherently fun. Seeing two opponents step into a ring to square off is basic storytelling that’s also compelling. This essence of wrestling has sadly been missing in most video games in the genre lately due to a lack of fun. The soul of wrestling has effectively lain dormant in video games; that is until now.

While the WWE may have dominance in wrestling, that isn’t stopping the longtime promotion Chikara from expanding. Established in 2002, Chikara is an American based promotion inspired by the Lucha style of wrestling found in Mexico. Approachable for families compared to the slightly edgy WWE or Lucha Underground, Chikara is now entering the world of video games.

A NEW CONTENDER

“Well about seven years ago, I started Action Arcade Wrestling 1. I literally just took a laptop out on my porch and started developing it for fun. I released it for the Xbox 360 in 2010, fortunately just before my two kids were born! Once I started to make the third one, I was contacted by the wrestling federation CHIKARA and here we are,” said developer Dave Horn in an interview with Two Left Sticks about how the project came together.

Focused on arcade action rather than a sim approach, Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling seeks to provide immediate fun to the player. Rather than bog players down with complex control schemes, Chikara opts for an approachable two-button combat system.

Regarding Chikara’s inspirations, Dave said, “Its main inspiration has always been WWF Wrestlefest. But it also takes some influences from traditional fighting games like Street Fighter 2 – specifically for things like double-tapping to dash forward & back as well as holding ‘back’ to block. Even the grappling system is very similar to N64 games like No Mercy.”

BUILDING THE MATCH

With WWF No Mercy considered the pinnacle of arcade wrestling, it’s a good source of inspiration for Chiara. For players born after 2002, who were reared on sims, how do they connect to an arcade wrestling game? Speaking on Chikara’s struggle to win more modern players Dave said, “I think the one decision that made it start to click was going for a cel-shaded or toon-shaded look. This really captures what we’re trying to do because it lets players know that it’s not a super-realistic simulation wrestling game. Additionally, I think the decision to keep the control scheme to two action buttons really adds a retro feel.”

At its core, a wrestling game is a traditional fighting experience with the action and setting being a palette/genre swap. That said, players still expect certain elements whether it’s in a new Mortal Kombat or WWE 2K entry. These expectations and instilled traditions are things that Dave and his team are trying to address.

“The balance of offense and defense in any sports or fighting game is the toughest thing ever. Updates are constantly out for Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter to buff and nerf exactly that. So I think that will be an ongoing battle. But there are definitely things that you want to keep that players of wrestling games are accustomed to – and for good reason: they work. But I think we also have some new and exciting mechanics for folks to try,” said Dave about the struggle of leveraging elements players expect.

STUNNERS, HEADLOCKS, AND LIGHTNING

Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling’s approach is one of fun with a slight dash of fancy thrown in. While the game will have traditional in-ring moves such as dropkicks, it will also have the unexpected. Inspired by classic arcade games, Chikara will feature special combat moves which players may expect to see instead in Street Fighter.

Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling

“We also have fireballs, eye lasers, chest beams, fire breathing, etc. Now, all of these are just grapple moves,” Dave said about what else players can expect in Chikara. Those moves may be off-putting for fans expecting a “grounded” experience, but it’s not a requirement in the game. Further speaking of the special moves, Dave elaborated, “So it’s not like you press down + forward + punch to do a fireball. So if you don’t ever want any of those moves to show up, you just don’t assign them to anyone. All moves are available to be assigned to anyone’s move set.”

CREATING YOUR PERSONA

One of the first thing players may do in a wrestling game is build their dream match.  Next is creating who they would want to be in the ring.  Since the mid-90s, wrestling games have featured create-a-wrestler (CAW) modes that have steadily evolved through the years. For players who like to create their own in-ring persona, Chikara will thankfully have a CAW mode.

In the early stages, Dave and his team are planning for the CAW mode to be PC-based. That may disappoint some, but the mode, which is dubbed EDIT, will allow users to create content and then transfer it to the consoles. Elaborating on EDIT Dave says, “So, you actually are able to set up your wrestler/arena using the PC with custom textures, 3D parts, etc. Then, you can import those wrestlers into the PC and console versions of the game. You can even share them. I just think there’s no better tool to mod and create than a PC.”

“I remember NCAA football doing that. You could create your own high school football team complete with a logo and everything on the PC. Then on your console, you’d be able to download and use it. It worked great and was very powerful. That’s what we’re trying to do”, said Dave of his EDIT mode inspiration.

If executed properly, Chikara’s EDIT mode could garner a huge audience among wrestling fans.  With more freedom and perhaps a better tool-set, players could make the dream content they’ve been desiring.  Only time will tell if players can have a custom version of Magnum T.A. that can shoot a fireball.

VIBRANCY OVER REALISM

Chikara strikes an immediate impression with its cel-shaded visuals since it’s original in the wrestling game genre. With each wrestler and stage bursting with vibrant colors Chikara is a far removed from the realm of realism. The cartoon style shouldn’t fool players into thinking it’s a jobber, though, as it’s powered by Unreal Engine 4. Utilizing UE4 helps ease the development and allows the game to be readily available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This style is a throwback to the polka-dot and pastel era of the 1980s when wrestling had more levity.  From the footage, Chikara may not be jaw-dropping, but it certainly evokes an immediate personality which helps the product.

Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling

READY FOR THE CHALLENGE

Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, indie developed wrestling game, but by that token, past titles have either been disappointing or dreadful. Projects like Pro Wrestling X have left people with a sour taste due to questionable development practices.  This leads to apprehension in players wondering if they should invest, emotionally or financially, in newer projects. The team behind Chikara is more than aware of this element and are ready for the challenge.

“Again, making a wrestling game is really tough. And when you add in the size of the development team, it becomes even a greater challenge. But how are we different? We’ve already gone through the pitfalls of developing a wrestling game by making and releasing two already. So nothing will surprise us the third time around,” Dave said of the readiness his team has.

The development approach Chikara is taking plays up the existing experience the team has. Regarding the development, Dave said, “We’ve made some design decisions that make the challenge of creating a wrestling game with small development team much more doable. For example, our game is 3D, but it’s played on a 2D plane. Now that’s mostly because of the fact that we’re trying to pay homage to 2D games like Wrestlefest and Saturday Night Slam Masters. But it also serves a different purpose. Coordinating the position of two or more wrestlers in a 3D space takes more trigonometry than you’ll ever want to do in your life.”

Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling

“My wrestlers can only face left or right. That right there can eliminate bugs, development time, crashes and overall headaches. That’s just one example, but other things like animation loading/buffering, collision, resolution, memory allocation; these are all issues that we’ve run into in the past that we’re now well aware of.”

Past games have failed to match classics like WWF No Mercy, but Dave and his team are taking a realistic approach. “We’re out to make a fun wrestling arcade game period. We’ve meticulously developed a very specific scope of work that’s going to be fun and that we know is doable,” said Dave. This modest approach could end up working in favor of the game if all the elements come together.

THE NEXT STEPS

Compared to past crowdfunded efforts that relied on the success of their crowdfunding campaign, there’s more optimism for Chikara. “The #1 main challenge we have now is time. Everyone on the project now is working on the game when we can in our spare time. The more money we raise, the more time we can spend working on the game full-time and the sooner we can release it. That’s why we went with IndieGoGo – because we keep all the money we raise whether we meet a goal or not. So literally, every dollar we get from a pledge simply goes to getting a closer release date and more features in the initial release,” Dave stated about the benefits of the campaign.

With a sound base in place, Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling is shaping up to be a fun throwback. Those unfamiliar with the Chikara brand can at least appreciate the arcade distinction the game has over current wrestling titles.  There’s always the possibility things may not tie together, but right now Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling has a promising start.

Ian Fisher
A Chicago native, I'm a six year veteran of the game press industry with a deep passion for smaller indie games and all things Sony.

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