The Japanese art of Kintsugi, translating as ‘Golden Joinery’, is the practice of using precious metals to fix cracks in pottery. The philosophical idea is that in order to fix something you must embrace and celebrate the cracks instead of trying to cover them up. That there is beauty and history in imperfections, as Diane Nguyen put it in Bojack Horseman, “That happy damage”. It falls in line with the Japanese aesthetic tradition of wabi-sabi that one’s beauty is, as Leonard Koren puts it, “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.”
WWE 2K20 is a game it has taken its time for me to come to a conclusive opinion on. Objectively speaking, it is in many ways a game of various cracks so large as to be unable to cover up but maybe it doesn’t have to. 2K20 is the latest annual edition in the WWE wrestling simulation series by Visual Concepts, a team that has produced every game in the series since 2K14 in collaboration with the studio, Yuke’s. However, this was their first to be produced without them after Osaka based Yuke’s and 2K games finished their dealings based on creative differences. When this game was first released, a lot of criticism levelled at the game being unfinished, full of crashing bugs, broken graphics, glitches and more. Even the intentional elements such as the digital recreations of real-life WWE superstars and the story mode criticised for being somewhat half-formed.
People wrote it off immediately, and there’s an element of fairness there. The sensible thing to do would have been delay it while the bugs are fixed, especially as some people have reported a game-ending glitch whereby the game’s in-built clock was not designed to continue after 2020, but for the past decade, we’ve increasingly seen day one patches become an annoying thing. I’m not excusing it, I’m just saying, they aren’t unique in making this mistake. And in spite of all its flaws, they have worked hard to rectify them and fix it, making a game that has some genuinely fun elements to it.
The gameplay, bar a few minor changes to various mini-games and button layouts, is still ostensibly the same as any of the games going back to 2011 and that’s fine because it’s not the most revolutionary fighting system but for the most part it works. The game is better than ever at handling multiple entities on screen allowing for eight-person matches with reasonable smoothness. It still has the faint issue that the stamina system is such that you can powerbomb someone off a ladder and there is half a chance they will still be climbing back up that ladder before you which does mean that any matches with more than four competitors do last an unreasonable amount of time. But the core elements remain fun and that’s all you really need to ask of it.
The story mode is functional and has a number of enjoyable additions to it such as skill and dialogue trees allowing you to feel like you are building your own characters up naturally. However, it does suffer from an enforced story mode that has somewhat weak characterisation of its core best friends trying to make it in the WWE. The traditionally secondary element of the role of female competitors (just a few years ago, all female wrestlers were relegated to acting as your managers or went completely unmentioned) has been greatly increased. It’s not necessarily equal just yet but it’s a step in the right direction.
The real saving grace of this game has been the sheer audacity of their DLC selection. Every one of the DLC packs is formed of traditional beat ’em up arcade mode towers and miniature story modes with a combination of on-screen text-based dialogue and videos around the story by The New Day, just riffing and being their naturally lovable selves. The first collection, a halloween themed collecton entitled ‘Bump in the Night’ was focussed around the inclusion of The Fiend Bray Wyatt but also invited in such luminaries as Snake-man Randy Orton, glowing demon Aleister Blackand everyone’s favourite, Frankenstrowman. Also, Rusev in a pilgrim’s outfit for Thanksgiving because sure. The next collection, a Mad Max-inspired set-up heartbreakingly referred to as The Wasteland just months after The Ascension had been released was quite confusing in that the audience of the post-apocalyptic arena are dressed in standard modern clothing, like that one extra in Gladiator who’s just in a t-shirt and blue jeans.
From here on we had the SouthPaw Regional Wrestling-themed showcase which while it included comentary by Susan and Mr Mackleroy, who is also playable alongside the Sea Creature, there is a lack of other characters from the video series, instead creating some more unique characters from cast members, though I will say Lana as the even-more stereotypically Russian DosveTanya did amuse me. Then recently, they released the fourth and final DLC pack, ‘Empire of Tomorrow’. Centred around Neo-Osaka, it sees Hacker Asuka and her team fighting against Chairwoman of the Authority Corporation Alexa Bliss and her line of androids.
It’s this kind of sheer, ambitious weirdness inside an otherwise innocuous outside that I have to appreciate. They could have just given us packs of old-timers or further new stars introduced after the game was finished but instead, they gave us N14-J4X, they brought us confusingly steampunk future Jack Gallagher, they gave us the option to play as a malformed hideous custom creation given our own not-exactly-well rendered face placed upon it like a Buffalo Bill skin mask.
It’s far from a perfect game but ultimately, its flaws actively make it more entertaining at times. This a game where at any time a character’s face might turn inside out or a shadow has to be watched in case it starts moving separately to a person. In many ways, it sounds like a psychological horror hidden inside a wrestling game but don’t worry, this game will not make you question your sanity. Probably. I just want to establish one thing, this is not necessarily a bad game. Was it worth buying to begin with? Probably not, it took a while to work out its kinks. Is it worth it now? I’d say so, it’s a fun, weird, little game but with a big studio level of support behind it. Its cracks shouldn’t be ignored but celebrated for what they add to the experience. That said, some of the faces are quite horrifyingly far from reality.
WWE 2K20 is available now on all major consoles.