Battlegrounds sees 2K hand the reins over to Saber Interactive for their first time in the ring. Straight off the bat you may recognize a similar art style to another sports franchise that Saber have recently twisted in a more arcade approach, the NBA Playgrounds series and honestly the comparison continued to jump out at me while playing the various modes of Battlegrounds, for better or worse. With more than a handful of larger than life characters it is disappointing that the roster of superstars have ended up looking rather homogenized, wrestlers who are meant to personify beasts look and play not all that differently to your more bog standard athletic competitor which is a massive missed opportunity to make the game more fun to play. Visuals on the Switch aren’t fantastic and the presentation generally looks like a budget title. Effects are generally generic with lots of sparks and fire but not much in the way of unique flair for each character.
Now down to the meat and potatoes, gameplay boils down to your standard brawling. Punch, kick, throw, you get the idea. Your standard health and stamina bars playing into things like you would expect. Your special moves are built up through generating heat with your opponent and the crowd. Listen to what the crowd wants to see and you will build up to your special moves and power ups quicker, unlike other wrestling games which can make this a fun way to structure a well paced entertaining match in this case it’s just a random request that can sometimes be frustrating, especially if they want your beefcake road train to put on a submission or throw a series of kicks.
You can select 3 powerups to use during a match with a huge assortment on offer if you spend the time unlocking them in the story mode. These are used for everything from restoring some health, making signature moves more devastating or even ensuring your attacks can’t be blocked. Combos feel nice to settle into but blocking and countering can change the tide of a match in an instant. Bigger moves have nice animations but tend to lean on jumping high in the air with the odd aura of fire here and there rather than evoking something more memorable. If you’ve played other brawlers you likely won’t find the depth on offer here. Well timed use of signature moves and power ups tend to be the most successful strategy. The Battlegrounds gimmick lets you grab weapons from under the ring which don’t have much impact or use to be honest and being able to smash the ring with a well placed jump from a helicopter is definitely entertaining the first time at least.
If you want access to all the powerups you have to work your way through the the story campaign which follows a bunch of up and coming wrestlers put through their paces out in the world against WWE superstars. Comic book style panels tell the story in between matches where you can unlock powerups and new wrestlers to use in the rest of the modes. It’s a perfectly fine way to unlock content but nothing you can’t get in just straight up exhibition matches for the most part. It blocks a huge amount of content from being used in online or local multiplayer matches until you grind your way through the campaign. This is in addition to Superstars being available for purchase using points that you earn during matches or cold hard micro transaction cash.
Wrestlers also have cosmetic outfits available for purchase of course. The fact that the vast majority of wrestlers are locked away is absolutely insane for what is meant to be a fun pick up and play brawler. I cannot believe they went with this decision rather than focus the micro transactions on just the cosmetic items, especially when that side of things is so sparse compared to other games. You can also create your own character and run them through challenge mode, which again is just your standard match types but it’s better than nothing.
The rest of the presentation again feels short changed. The sound effects basic and none of the music is memorable. Performance on the Switch is decidedly average despite the underwhelming visuals. Load times are straight up bad and plentiful. It’s fantastic that you have both local and online multiplayer but it feels like low praise considering the rest of the package fails to excite enough to draw people into make a regular habit of playing online together.
While it’s nice to have a break from the typical WWE 2k yearly entry, Battlegrounds feels and plays like a game that was rushed out as a reaction to the poor release of last years title rather than a long planned revival of the old school brawler games that were so popular long ago. If 2K can give Saber a bigger budget and a longer development cycle we could see another title up to the standard of a WWE All-Stars but unfortunately that game is not Battlegrounds.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a budget brawler with a high price tag. Despite the core gameplay being quite solid, a lot of the content is locked behind microtransactions and grinding away at matches. These things stop it from rising to Superstar status.
Solid brawler gameplay in the ring
Both local and online multiplayer
Budget feel from top to bottom
In game currency and micro transactions make up the bulk of progress targets
Majority of content gated off until you progress through lengthy single player campaign