The Wrestling Observer has cited a report from IGN stating that Take 2 Interactive now has the rights to the WWE license and an official announcement is expected soon. This ends the era of THQ-published WWE games that began in 1999 with WrestleMania 2000 continued until the end of 2012 with WWE ’13. THQ’s final WWE game just had its last DLC bundle released for it, so in that sense the timing is good, although there were still a number of bug fixes apparently due that will likely be unremedied due to this.
There’s no word on who will actually develop WWE’s games now, although many fans of the 32/64-bit era for wrestling games hope it will be Syn Sophia, formerly known as Aki when they created the top-notch WCW/NWO games, using an engine that received such critical acclaim that their games were considered some of the best fighting games of the generation and best games period on the N64. Aki was one of the few developers outside of Nintendo that really knew how to make the N64 controller work for the games, and made use of pretty much every button on the device to allow you to do things like alter counts to tell better stories in matches, or even control managers with another controller plugged in.
The engine carried over from the WCW games into WrestleMania 2000 and No Mercy, Virtual Pro Wrestling 2, which bore the All Japan Pro Wrestling license and had an MMA mode in it — something only seen in the Fire Pro Wrestling games before (and after that) in wrestling games. They developed the first two Def Jam games for EA, and created a variety of Ultimate Muscle games as well, including one for the GC, a PS2 follow-up, and a GBA game as well. Their most recent athletic game was Ready 2 Rumble Revolution — a sub-par effort that clearly wasn’t a shining example of what the company could produce. With THQ’s most recent efforts coming off as more roster updates than new games, and lacking a lot of polish, while also nickel and diming players by charging for things like title belts, as well as moves that should’ve been in the game to begin with, it’s hard not to think that change was needed for WWE’s games.
Hopefully this fresh start for WWE’s games includes at least one project done by Syn Sophia. I would love a return to having multiple kinds of WWE games to play like we had in the PS2/GC/Xbox era. While the Xbox games weren’t great, at least Raw 2 allowed you to edit current roster attire – something missing in the games since No Mercy. Yuke’s GC offerings were clearly made with Aki’s games in mind since their engine for them (later used for the Wrestle Kingdom games) featured some of the same elements, and WrestleMania XIX even included some of the generic wrestlers from WCW/NWO Revenge as an homage to that game, and one could guess a way to link the two series’ together despite different developers being involved. The PS2’s SmackDown vs. Raw games were known for being feature-rich, but lean on rewarding gameplay, and seemed to introduce some kind of new gimmick each year to say things were different without actually changing much about the games. The SvR games have their roots in the SmackDown games for the PS1, and the current WWE (year number here) games used that same engine — resulting in a series that often felt outdated, and why wouldn’t it? Its core engine came from games released on practically ancient hardware, and it wasn’t even the best wrestling game engine in its time.
Given the underwhelming and glitch-laden final pair of WWE games as part of THQ’s deal, it’s hard to not be excited about where the franchise is headed given that 2K is known for releasing polished games. Regardless of who develops the project, it seems like it will have a lot more care put into it just due to the cache 2K has built up over the years. Plus, they’re going to want to put out the best possible product for the first WWE game under their deal — starting it with something that is perceived to be worse than THQ’s efforts wouldn’t do that, and there’s no way they acquired this license with the intent of not making some good money on it over the long haul.