WWE's wrestlers — or, as they're more commonly known, "superstars" — are no strangers to pulling off incredible, unbelievable feats. Whether it's falling 12 feet from the top of a ladder and crashing into a table below or overcoming unwinnable odds to come out victorious, the very unreality of wrestling allows these performers to come across as something more than human.
So what if they could go even further?
That's the idea Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios ran with for WWE Immortals, its new free-to-play mobile game. Immortals is built on the foundation of NetherRealm's mobile version of Injustice: Gods Among Us, and those roots show in more than just the gameplay — each WWE superstar has been reimagined as a god, witch, gladiator or some other outrageous form.
These interpretations of wrestlers are great fun for WWE fans. For example, you get to see John Cena — commonly referred to by snarky viewers as "SuperCena" — actually dressed up as a superhero. Or there's Sheamus, a pale, red-haired Irish wrestler who has been transformed into an ancient druid.
each wrestler has been reimagined as a god, witch or some other outrageous form
They're not limited to one costume per wrestler, either. For example, one of the first superstars I was given in the game is WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus in the persona of the "White Witch." A rarer version of Trish Stratus as an "Angelic Knight" is also available, though it will take me a lot of in-game money or luck to unlock her.
"Every character is based on real wrestlers, real superstars and divas," says NetherRealm Studios producer Fuzzy Gerdes. "But we're taking them in fantastical new directions that really explore variations on their personalities."
While some of these variations are outlandish, many of them tie into the wrestlers in ways that fans will recognize. For example, "The Authority" version of Triple H features the company's storyline COO in a suit and tie, a very recognizable look for anyone who's watched recently. But there's also the "King of Kings" version of Triple H, a sort of Conan the Barbarian-style interpretation that doesn't look too far off from his fantastic get-up at last year's WrestleMania.
The costumes tie into moves as well. Traditional wrestling moves like body slams and lariats are modified around the look and powers of each wrestler. For example, The Rock's nickname of "the most electrifying man in sports entertainment" is made literal; his "rock bottom" move uses actual electricity to harm his opponent.
How do you pull off these wild moves? It's as simple as tapping. Lots of tapping.
Tap to win
WWE Immortals uses a very straightforward combat system borrowed from the aforementioned mobile version of Injustice: Gods Among Us. You tap once to do a regular attack. Subsequent taps, if timed correctly, will pull off a combo, which usually ends in an extra powerful attack that requires a swipe on the touch screen.
You can also swipe at other times to pull off a heavy attack, and holding down two fingers on the screen causes your superstar to block, defending against some incoming damage. No need to worry about movement at all; characters will automatically run at each other and meet in the middle of the screen at all times.
As you tap away at your opponents, both the superstar you're controlling and the one you're opposing build up a special attack meter. This meter is split into three parts, each move more powerful than the previous, and you need only tap on the button to launch into the move.
For an example, let's look at Centurion Roman Reigns, a sword-and-shield-wielding iteration on WWE's newest golden boy. His level one special move is Superman Punch, a devastating blow that launches opponents into the air and sends them crashing back down to the ground. If he holds on until level two, he can launch into a Bomb Kick, which again slams the enemy into the air, where they're then met by a devastating dropkick.
Finally, at level three, Reigns gets access to his finisher, Howling Spear. Like fatalities from the Mortal Kombat series, finishers in WWE Immortals are unblockable, over-the-top moves that automatically down most opponents. Reigns' finisher involves tossing a bunch of grenades onto his foe. See it for yourself in the movie below.
The only downside? It can take quite a while to unlock these ridiculous-looking moves.
Each character levels up individually, improving their stats and unlocking better moves as they do so. The "Ice Witch" version of Brie Bella that I earned last night begins at level 1, which means she can only use her level 1 super move. The second super move requires level 5, and the finisher requires level 20.
In several hours of playing, my highest level character, The Demon Kane, has only just reached level 8. So there's some grinding to do, for sure.
You'll also have to grind for "Immortal Credits," the currency required to buy new characters. Each wrestler is presented as a trading card. Specific superstars can be purchased at a higher price, or you can roll the dice by buying one of several kinds of booster packs — randomized packs that contain one wrestler, as well as single-use items and other upgrades.
At first glance, at least, the prices seem a little steep. Individual superstar costs range from 9,000 to as high as 201,000 for the rarest characters, whereas booster packs range in price from 8,000 to 100,000 depending on the rarity of the cards within. But three-on-three matches within the game's single-player campaign only earn a couple hundred credits each.
WWE Immortals' online mode seems like the better place to focus your efforts if you want to build up some in-game cash without spending real money. Rather than fighting opponents live, you go up against saved teams from other players, similar to something like Marvel Puzzle Quest or WWE's other recent free-to-play game, WWE Supercard.
In addition to offering higher rewards for each victory, the online mode features daily quests, such as winning a certain number of matches with a specific superstar. These quests offer a few thousand in Immortal Credits each, so you'll be able to purchase packs much faster if you focus on them.
Mixed tag match
One interesting note about WWE Immortals is that it arguably has a better approach to women wrestlers than most modern WWE programming. The current roster in the game features many great women wrestlers, including the Bella Twins (pictured above) and multiple versions of Paige and Trish Stratus. They're powerful fighters, and they're able to go toe-to-toe with male wrestlers in a way that WWE hasn't really allowed on its programming since Lita left the company in 2006.
"We're very excited that this is one of the first games in quite some time where we can have the divas in the mix," Gerdes says. "They give as good as they get."
He notes that Paige, one of the starter characters in the game, makes for an incredibly powerful member of your team early on.
As you can see in the picture above, WWE Immortals' approach to women isn't perfect. Many of the women wrestlers are still given costumes with lots of skin showing. The idealization of the forms here at least seem on par with how the men are being presented as well, but women are presented in a more salacious manner that's sometimes frustrating.
Both superstars and divas should be getting more additions to the roster soon. "We definitely have more coming," Gerdes says. "And we definitely had a great problem to have, which is that the WWE universe is so rich. There are so many great personalities. It was really hard to narrow it down to an opening roster."
"It was really hard to narrow it down to an opening roster"
Gerdes says new wrestlers will be added periodically. The developer particularly has plans to tie updates in to WWE's monthly pay-per-view events. In fact, they've already got something ready related to Royal Rumble, which takes place in just over a week on Jan. 25.
"We're going to have in-game challenges, which are special [multiplayer] ladders that will let you earn a character," Gerdes explains. "Our very first one of those will be tied in to the Royal Rumble."
While I've definitely enjoyed my short time with WWE Immortals so far, I'm still not convinced of its depth, which will determine how long it holds my attention. So far, fights have rarely required more from me than rhythmic tapping with an occasional block.
But Gerdes notes that there is a whole group of more complex systems under the surface. In addition to leveling up normally, superstars' individual moves can be powered up, passive "talent enhancements" can be earned and purchased, and gear can be equipped. There's also a system that applies buffs or debuffs for superstars based on their chemistry with the other members of your team.
We'll see if those systems really turn into something I need to pay attention to; as of right now, it's been easy enough to ignore them while I mindlessly tap through battles. But it's also been easy enough to enjoy smashing people in-game as Daniel Bryan while I catch up on the latest episode of Raw.
If you'd like to check it out for yourself, WWE Immortals is available to download now for free on iOS and Android devices.