I’m not sure there’s ever been a phrase that’s immediately piqued my curiosity more than “A WWE Game designed by the Mortal Kombat team.” NetherRealm has done something pretty interesting with WWE Immortals, conceptually, if not mechanically.
The collaboration between the MK studio and the WWE has brought us a free-to-play mobile title loaded with microtransactions on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android stores. I think at this point we can skip the eyerolling and understand that’s how the market works for the most part on mobile platforms.
But what I found was a game with a cool central concept, and solid execution. Mobile is limiting factor in many ways, but working within those constraints, WWE Immortals is actually pretty damn well done.
Immortals twists the existing roster of WWE characters into something fantastical. As the brief introductory scene explains, when trying to take control of a dark magic lantern (stay with me) the Authority managed to open a portal to a host of alternate dimensions, ones where WWE stars aren’t just wrestlers, but heroes of all sorts.
As a result, we get WWE wrestlers with a wide range of new skins pulled from these parallel universes. Big Show is a barbarian Mountain Giant. Diva Brie Bella is an Ice Witch, Undertaker is a Necromancer. And so on. The different characters have alternate forms that draw from all sorts of fantasy, with a few going outside of those constraints, like Superhero John Cena, complete with cape.
You assemble a team of three, and face off against AI opponents or other players online. For now, I’ve been climbing the AI ladder, which starts of as cake, but slowly gets harder over time.
Combat is pretty simplistic, as you may expect on mobile. Outside of rare games like Infinity Blade, hand-to-hand combat in mobile games isn’t usually a terribly complex system, and NetherRealm isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with WWE Immortals.
You tap to unleash a string of basic punch and kicks, and if you land a few, the game will prompt you to swipe a particular direction for a “heavy” attack. I was a bit disappointed to see that no matter which direction you swipe, it’s all the same attack animation, and it really doesn’t even seem to do much more damage than a basic attack, despite knocking your opponent over.
Past that, you can press two fingers to block, but so far I’ve only used that sparingly as I’ve steamrolled most opponents with a constant flurry of tapping. Dealing and taking damage with build your stamina meter, and each combatant has three levels of super attack. Many of these are comic book-ified versions of real-life movies the wrestlers do in the ring, meaning, for example, Roman Reign’s iconic Superman Punch now takes him ten feet into the air and slams him into his opponent with the force of a freight train. When you start, you only have your level one move, and you have to unlock the others over time, either through grinding or finding a lucky upgrade in a booster pack.
That’s right, booster pack.
There are many types of cards you can get, from fighters to upgrades to equipment. Fighters are tiered in Bronze, Silver and Gold categories. For instance, you start with the “Mountain Giant” version of Big Show, a bronze tier character, but when I spent most of my $10 on a Gold Pack of cards, I got a gold tier “Lumberjack” Big Show, that even at level 1, had triple the stats of my original Big Show, and a different level 2 unlockable super move as well.
Other cards will upgrade your special moves, or overall health or damage. You can get these upgrades in packs, which will give you a bundle card discount, but you rely on RNG luck to get what you want. For instance, the Gold Pack I bought was 75,000 coins, and came with Lumberjack Big Show and two other cards, but the gold tier wrestler would have cost me 192,000 coins by himself if I bought him individually. It’s an interesting dichotomy, and not a bad microtransaction system.
Naturally, it does take a very, very long time to save up for even something like a bronze tier pack (8,000 coins). I’m not quite sure how the game calculates its earnings (I think it’s based on your level vs. your opponents level, where wailing on lower tier characters will earn you less), but I only earn about 200 to 500 coins per 3-character match, and most of the time it’s been around 250 so far. This may increase in time, but for now, it’s slow going.
The game also does have a stamina system to prevent endless grinding, unless you pay to recharge your meter that is. But with ten stamina bars per character, and each match only costing one bar, you can play for a lot longer than most other F2P games before hitting that wall. Past that, if you have a halfway decently sized roster of fighters, you can swap out your exhausted team for a fresh one and keep fighting with more bars of stamina to work with.
Despite not being into fighting games all that much, being relatively annoyed by mobile in general, and leaving the WWE behind about a decade ago, I have to say, I kind of like Immortals. The concept of fantastical versions of WWE stars dressed up as centurions, warlords and demons makes my inner twelve year-old smile, and the combat/upgrade system is serviceable enough to keep me playing. It uses many of the same models as other F2P titles, but so far, doesn’t seem to be quite as annoying when nudging you toward the cash store.
If this is a hit, which I imagine it will be, given the WWE’s fanbase, I’m guessing the game will expand outward from here with more wrestlers, skins and so on. It’s really not a bad effort, simplistic as it may be, and something of a pleasant surprise in the space. Hell, I’d actually love to a see a console version.