Still not amongst the elite.

If ever a wrestling game accurately reflected the current state of the WWE, it’s WWE 2K Battlegrounds. So much talent, so much waste. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if WWE creative got their hands in this game, forcing 2K to make some dubious decisions.

I mean, does anyone really want three variations of McMahons in their wrestling game? No. They do not.

That said, there is fun “graps” action to be had here, after all. Unlike with previous WWE video games, Battlegrounds eschews realism for a more arcade-like feel. This is fine, because the recent “realistic” games have been pretty bad. The settings, the wrestlers, and even the moves in Battlegrounds are presented in a cartoonish manner that’s easy to enjoy. Yes, it’s bizarre that Andre the Giant is no larger than Asuka. Yes, everyone is an ax and a beard away from looking like a dwarf from The Hobbit. But the overall presentation works once you get used to it, and it certainly fits in well with the game’s lighthearted tone.

That tone means that you’ll be able to toss your opponents at live alligators. You’ll be able to destroy the ring and use pieces of it as a weapon. You’ll be able to jump 20 feet in the air and hit your opponents with lightning punches. The wrestling action is closer to the combat of Super Smash Bros. than to previous WWE games. And honestly, it’s fun when you successfully pull off some of the crazier moves. “Wait…how did you do that?” was a frequent question when playing with my kids, and we didn’t always have the answer.

This is because the blend of arcade action with complex commands is somewhat unsuccessful. There is a lot to memorize with the controls, as nearly all buttons and combinations of buttons are utilized for something. You’re occasionally prompted to hit a specific button, but that’s mostly reserved for countering moves. Getting to the point where you’re programmed to know what to hit when is an exercise in frustration, as evidenced by watching my 9-year-old son try to win a singles match.

Thankfully, there are a lot of match-types to play here. You’ve got singles and tags, of course. You’ve got a Royal Rumble of sorts. You’ve got a steel cage match that…actually, let’s focus on that for a moment. I mentioned dubious decisions earlier, and this is a prime example. Steel cage matches have given us some of the more memorable moments in WWE history, so I went right to that when playing WWE 2K Battlegrounds. Here, the steel cage becomes electrified. If you’re on it when it activates, you’ll shoot off and take damage like that Jurassic Park kid, only without the bloody ears. That’s fine, as it fits with the game’s tone. But to win, you have to collect money.

Seriously. Bags of money appear at various places on the cage, and you need to crawl up to get them, holding the L button down for a few seconds to complete the grab. This gives your opponent time to pull you away. Why the money? Because you apparently need to make enough cash in order to climb out of the cage. That’s right; to win a cage match, you have to collect cash or else you won’t be able to get over the top. Not even Ted Dibiase could’ve cooked up such an event.

Speaking of cash, you’ll need to focus on making a lot of it. So much of the game centers on earning Battle Bucks that I have to wonder if WWE 2K Battlegrounds wasn’t at first intended to be a pay-to-play mobile game. Yes, there are 70 WWE wrestlers available at launch, only about a quarter of which are immediately available. The majority have to be purchased with Battle Bucks, which you get by grinding your way through the various matches, completing daily tasks, etc. If you want to create your own wrestler, you’ll need Battle Bucks for that, too. The same goes for buying alternative costumes for some of the wrestlers you already have. And none of this comes cheap. Unless you’re playing for hours a day, it could take months before you’re able to unlock all the wrestlers you want.

Of course, you also have the option to use real money to push ahead faster, but there’s no real reason to do that. WWE 2K Battlegrounds gives you five wrestling styles—technician, brawler, power-house, high-flier and all-rounder—and all of the 130 or so announced wrestlers (more are coming via DLC) are forced into those five categories. In other words, you’ve got five wrestling types with different skins. Unlock a few favorites and stick with them, as accessing more doesn’t change the gameplay. You don’t even really get signature moves.

I’d also like to address the campaign mode, which features Steve Austin traveling around the world to find new wrestlers. Okay, fine, but do we need fake wrestlers to be part of this story? Why not use this as a quicker way to unlock the actual roster—much as the approach to quickly getting new fighters in Smash Bros.? Better yet, why not use the campaign mode to allow the player to create and train multiple unique wrestlers instead of forcing that process to use Battle Bucks?

Finally, we only have Jerry Lawler on commentary. That would be okay, as Lawler is pretty good for a WWE guy, but his solitary snippets are random and disjointed. It seems like he’s not paying attention, then compensates by yelling about a move that certainly didn’t warrant that level of emotion.

The annoying thing about all of this is that the actual gameplay in WWE 2K Battlegrounds is pretty good once you cut through all the nonsense. The cartoonish battles are fun, especially in local co-op. Battlegrounds is also largely free of the performance issues that have plagued recent WWE 2K games, although the graphics in handheld seem to have been dumbed down in order to keep the game chugging along.

The unfortunate result here is that nearly everything that happens outside the action in WWE 2K Battlegrounds was the wrong way to go. If we just had the matches, no Battle Bucks, and immediate (or quick) access to a larger portion of the impressive roster, it would be fine. The wrestling action starts out frustrating with its inability to be either arcade-action or full-on wrestling sim, but it’s possible to push past that after a dozen matches or so. Hopefully you’ve got another player around to help you do so, because the game is definitely at its best when you’re fighting friends.