Admittedly this campaign almost slipped by me entirely. Thankfully it came back into my focus with enough time left for us to break down the campaign and see what it’s doing right and, just maybe, what it is doing wrong. At the time of writing this article CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling (a terribly generic name) sits at just 48% of its stated goal with eighteen days left in its fundraising cycle. Obviously, there’s something to look at here.
Now, if my #DiscoveringWrestling articles haven’t tipped you off already, I’m going to say it outright: I LOVE PRO-WRESTLING! Above and beyond that, I particularly love CHIKARA. They are innovative, different, exciting, and fresh. More importantly, they’ve been all of those things since they first hit the scene in 2002. The first time I ever went on a road trip to see a wrestling show was for a CHIKARA show in Ottawa, and they have only gotten more impressive each year. Their annual King of Trios tournament is an under-recognized highlight of every year’s Pro-Wrestling content. If there is ANY cast of characters in Pro-Wrestling who deserves to have a video game made featuring them, it is CHIKARA’s colorful and charismatic roster. It is hard to describe, in any brief manner, how different CHIKARA are from other wrestling promotions, so I’ll just leave this match here for the uninitiated.
With at least a cursory knowledge of the awesomeness of CHIKARA, we can all dive in to the campaign and start rooting around in its innermost chambers. As usual, the video package is where we’re going to start. Unfortunately, unlike the other recent entries in the #CrowdPleasers series, i don’t have much nice to say about the video. The package consists primarily of two components, some early alpha build footage and a “backstage promo” from The Estonian Thunderfrog and the game developer David Horn. While Thunderfrog, as a professional wrestler, delivers his parts with relative ease, the developer sounds uncertain of what he is doing. I can understand nerves getting the better of you, but the hype video is no place to put that front and centre. It lends no confidence to the viewer that the project is secure in these hands. This is particularly emphasized by the fact that the clear, well-enunciated and confident Mike Quackenbush immediately precedes Horn’s segment. It would have likely been better for Quack to have more involvement in the hype video.
The early alpha footage is heavily on the “meh” side of things but is, thankfully, easily forgotten as the campaign’s original video package is immediately followed by more video content. This further video content not only answers important questions about the game (a shame that they only released it halfway through the campaign) but also highlights some higher quality renders and animations. Again, the further video content showcases developer David Horn who is so anti-charismatic that it fails to sell me on the project, even when – from a detached and objective standpoint – the game’s controls sound fairly well thought out and intuitive. The developer’s have chosen to streamline the game to as few as two action buttons, with pushing both action buttons at the same time generating additional effects. They have even factored in the fact that some players would want to map the combined button press to a third button. It all sounds pretty solid and the video does highlight these facts. It is, therefore, even more of a shame that the developer himself brings my passion from a fire to a spark. Even the awesome nod towards mechanics from the timeless Fire Pro Wrestling franchise can only go so far to counteract an otherwise boring presentation of very crucial and potentially exciting information.
With the lack of salesmanship in mind, it seems very smart that the game’s developers chose to use IndieGoGo’s flexible funding option, which allows them to keep all of the money invested in the project ― whether or not they hit their initial goal. This is particularly true in light of what happened with CHIKARA’s previous attempt at crowd-funding a video game with Rudo Resurrection. Rudo Resurrection’s campaign failed to meet its $50,000 goal, hitting only just barely over $18,000, and even then it still delivered a more competent presentation and out-paced this current campaign by, at this time, approximately $8000. While CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling’s developers have made a commitment that no matter how much money they raise the game will be released, they have done nothing to create the sense of urgency that drives a lot of people to fund campaigns in larger sums (of both people and money). As usual, the flexible funding option is a double-edged sword. In this type of situation you have to rely far more heavily on your campaign selling the need to invest early instead of waiting for the game to come out.
This actually leads nicely into the topic of the lack of any game content. Until it becomes a standard practice for crowd-funding, I’m going to bring this up at every opportunity. This campaign has no demo for the game. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it launched with only meh-inducing early alpha footage and next to no information on how the game mechanics would function was provided until the midway point. This is no way to inspire confidence in the ability of the developers to deliver a fun, functional game worth investing your hard earned money into. Sure, if you select certain perks you can get early beta access, but that’s just not good enough. Maybe I am being too idealistic, maybe the developers couldn’t reach a playable state without additional funding, but the lack of a playable demo to entice the investor with a tangible understanding of the project does nothing but lower my expectations.
In that same vein, without a demo to figure things out in, the audience is limited to the campaign’s explanations of gameplay, and the video packages released, to get a solid grasp on what they can expect to see in a final release of the game. In this regard I was left with some pretty big unanswered questions. Why were there no moves involving the corner turnbuckles? Why were there no top rope moves and no dives through the ropes? CHIKARA has built itself up as superheroic Lucha Libre and I’d expect that to be recreated and, particularly in a game billing itself as Arcade style, made a central part of the game. these are the flashiest looking parts of any match and they are completely absent from any of the information this campaign presents.
Then, with all of this uncertainty in place, the campaign recently released a video for their “Wrestle Factory” feature, the game’s “Create-A-Wrestler” mode, where the tone comes off all kinds of wrong. They seem to be proud of and bragging about the inclusion of CAW features that are, honestly speaking, standard practice and commonplace amongst Pro-Wrestling games since ―at the very least ―the Playstation 2 era. I cannot fathom how they thought that basic body-morphing options would impress their audience ― who have likely owned pretty much a minimum of one or two wrestling games for every console generation, if not more. It really feels as if the developers have their priorities all backwards when it comes to the campaign.
Immediately following all of these different video packages they go into a diatribe on why they wanted to make an Arcade styled wrestling game instead of a Simulation game (though, let’s be honest, no wrestling game has really been a simulation of the actual industry other than Grey Dog Software’s Total Extreme Wrestling games). Now, they do provide some decent logic for their Arcade aesthetic and gameplay but I don’t feel that these really jive with some of the odder elements of the gameplay footage they displayed, like the fireballs and energy beams being used. CHIKARA has had a long history of interesting non-standard wrestling moves, such as Ophidian and Amasis using hypnosis on their opponents, or Ultimate Spider Jr’s invisible web shooting abilities and, my favourite, Chuck Taylor’s invisible grenade. These would have made handsome additions to the game and would have actually felt at home in CHIKARA’s world. But then, maybe that’s all part of the problem CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling is facing…
After this brief explanation from the developers on their gameplay choices, they have a section promising to provide more details. Problematically, instead of providing the details themselves in the campaign page they only include an excerpt from an article from some website I have never heard of before today. This then forces the reader to make the decision on whether or not they want to dive down that rabbit hole. From my perspective, all relevant information should be included in the campaign page itself and I’d personally be interested to see the number of click-throughs versus the number of visits to the IndieGoGo campaign page itself.
At this point, for research’s sake, i went down the rabbit hole myself. It is a dangerous prospect to lead someone away from your campaign mid-pitch, they could easily find themselves never coming back. But I wanted to get a full set of information to write this article. At this point, through the link and Google searches, we find out that this is actually the third game in the Action Arcade Wrestling series developed by Mr. Horn, this is just the first time he has had a licensed property to work with. The other games don’t look bad, from a gameplay perspective, but the graphics are just… ugh. Obviously, and thankfully, this CHIKARA edition of Action Arcade Wrestling is using the wonderful Unreal 4 engine and looks much better, both for its licensed character designs and the better, stronger engine. More important than the graphical progress is the fact that these videos for the older entries in the franchise answer some of the questions I had about the campaign itself. Such as how interactions with the turnbuckles and top rope moves might look, as well as affirming their likely presence in the game. Furthermore, these games advertise themselves as priced in the $1.00 to $3.00 range, indicating that they cannot be all that expensive or difficult to produce. Granted, the Unreal 4 engine is bound to up the costs, but at the least this news helps to reassure the potential investor that the game will come to fruition. It is a far cry from an actual playable proof-of-concept, but it goes some ways to changing how I felt about the viability of the game. While the staff credits at the very end of the campaign do mention this fact, it should have been made much clearer in the body of the campaign at this very point, instead of sending me off to other sites and Google searches. I needn’t have left this page to get this information.
While the information on it is mind-bogglingly minimal, the campaign does say that the game will be available both through Steam and on consoles. Which consoles, however, is never mentioned. Lack of information in this matter is bad and makes the campaign carry an additional burden it needn’t have to. Even speculative information such as “likely Playstation 4 and XBox One” would be better than literally nothing.
Another informational downside to the campaign is having to infer the game’s roster from the video packages. It’s pretty lame. I can see the benefit in not revealing the entire roster until the game is closer to release. It certainly could change based upon who has signed contracts with CHIKARA for their likenesses, but having no one confirmed is a criminal shame. Some, really any, promotional roster art would go a long way towards making the campaign not seem amateurish. Along these exact same lines lies the fact that the risks and challenges section is also not very well defined.
This campaign’s rewards are limited in scope, but at least that makes it easy to analyze and critique them. Almost every one of the rewards is a digital reward. This makes their shipping and handling fees a likely minimal worry. Even then, based on their funding breakdown, I would be assuming that all of the physical rewards are being fulfilled by CHIKARA directly and that they will be eating the costs to encourage the game to hit completion unhindered by these worries. I cannot be certain, but it’s what i suspect.
The minimum donation level at $10 dollars nets you a one month access coupon to Chikaratopia, CHIKARA’s streaming service ―normally $7.99 per month. Thus, for marginally more, you get to support the game being made and get the streaming service you never knew you needed (seriously, if this is your first interaction with something bearing the CHIKARA name, do yourself a favour and check out their matches. The promotion is brilliant.) But I could never recommend a level that does not include getting the game afterwards, so that’s where we go next at $25. At this level of expenditure you get the game and the Chikaratopia for one month. As you move up the perks you get more and more time on Chikaratopia and some early access to beta features of the game, such as beta CAW at $60. Physical perks only kick in for $75 and above, with a t-shirt, an Ultramantis Black mask, and a signed poster kicking in as you go up.
The $100 tier is, from some rudimentary calculations, probably the most bang for your buck, with a mask (probably about $30 on its own, based on costs I’ve seen at shows), a t-shirt ($15), a year of Chikaratopia ($96), the game with all early beta access (approximately a $15-30 value, I’d bet) all together. This really isn’t all that bad of a value if you are a dyed in the wool CHIKARA fan.
I WOULD SPEND: $0-$100
This is a first for me. I find myself remarkably divided on how I feel about this campaign. On the one hand, the game could be great and I love CHIKARA. On the other, the campaign felt amateurish and underwhelming the whole way through. It all boiled down to one particular question for me: If this weren’t a CHIKARA game, would I care? Likely the answer would be “No.” The unfortunate fact is that this campaign does not sell me on the investment on its own. It relies too heavily upon the licensed property to catch my interest. At best, even with a licensed property I care deeply for, the campaign is middling to above-average quality. I backed Rudo Ressurection on KickStarter and I want CHIKARA to have a videogame, for I think they are the perfect property to turn into an exciting game, but sadly I’m not 100% sold on this.