When it comes to wrestling-themed mobile games, it’s forgivable to believe your only options are one of WWE’s five different mobile games. Unfortunately, if those are the only wrestling mobile games you’re aware of, you’re really missing out. Some could say that The Muscle Hustle is the best kept secret in wrestling games, but it’s time for that secret to come out.
Not only are we going to look at what makes The Muscle Hustle special in the current mobile game landscape, but RealSport had the opportunity to speak to with The Muscle Hustle’s producer David Simard about how the game came to be, tips for new players, and what the future holds.
What is The Muscle Hustle?
The Muscle Hustle (also known as TMH) is a wrestling-themed slingshot physics mobile game that takes inspiration from billiards, curling, and the industry we all know and love. However, what makes The Muscle Hustle truly special is that it’s highlighted by completely original characters. While WWE’s mobile offerings rely on recreations of their real-life superstars, TMH had to start from scratch and make characters we’ve never seen or heard of feel compelling. We spoke to Simard about the game’s inspiration, as well as the challenges and benefits of their original characters.
RealSport: “What was the inspiration behind The Muscle Hustle?”
David Simard: “There’s a whole genre of games, mostly from Japan, which have some of the same basic slingshot gameplay mechanics. The biggest (and I think first) of those is called Monster Strike. We really liked those games, and were wrestling fans, so the idea that they’d fit well together just somehow seemed obvious. Wrestling lead us to some fresh gameplay ideas in for the genre too. Most of the other games have enemies fixed in place, like pinball bumpers, and put a lot of focus on ranged attacks. Fireballs, lasers and such. None of those things felt right for wrestling, so we started experimenting with close range grappling, throws, jumps off the turnbuckle, [and] stuff like that. We tugged on that thread for a while with prototypes, and a whole bunch of fresh and interesting gameplay spilled out.”
RS: “Was it daunting to create all of the characters and aspects from scratch?”
DS: “Definitely. We’re a small team and that was a ton of content to put together in a way that works. That said, we had a blast to doing it, so I’m not complaining!”
RS: “What was the process like for creating the character concepts?”
DS: “We didn’t really have a single unified process. We’ve been working on this for a long time so it came out in different ways at different times. On some occasions we had an idea of a gameplay hole we wanted to fill and designed a character to fit that. At other times, we started with reference images of a certain type of character that came up in a brainstorming session (like a roller-derby pro, for example), or other times somebody wrote a great backstory and we built up the look and the design of the character from there.”
RS: “Were there any current or former professional wrestlers that inspired your character designs?”
DS: “Not directly, but I’m sure themes bouncing around in our heads come out in similar ways sometimes. There are also some underlying archetypes that are bound to look similar to something in the the real-life wrestling world since it’s just so big. For instance we have a character called Drake Dark who’s this sort of occult, satan worshipper type guy. Sometimes people look at him and call him a Taker ripoff. Of course, I can see where they’re coming from in retrospect, but that’s really not how we got there.”
RS: “How do you think having original characters sets you apart from other wrestling mobile games?”
DS: “The nice thing is that it allows us make all sorts of different characters, to the point that anybody who plays can find something they like, or identify with. We’re also more free to experiment with moves that might be a little too off the wall for real-world wrestling game.”
Understanding and mastering the gameplay of The Muscle Hustle
At its core, TMH is a slingshot physics game. You fling your wrestlers against opposing wrestlers, all represented by circular pogs on the mat, and try to reduce your opponent’s health to zero. While the base is certainly simple, there are nuances that you need to understand to maximize your skill as a player of The Muscle Hustle.
Core game mechanics, the importance of weaknesses, and the differences between wrestlers
One of the most important aspects at the core of TMH is that every wrestler has a specific role. There are five roles: Law & Disorder, Showman, Wild, Olympian, and Hardhead. Each of the five is particularly weak or strong against another, and can make a big difference in the damage done or endured throughout a match.
Wrestlers are also divided into three weight classes, lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight. All three alter the gameplay slightly. Lightweight wrestlers tend to bounce around the ring at higher speeds and don’t move other wrestlers much. Heavyweight wrestlers tend to be slower, but can simply plow through any pile of opponents without hindrance. Middleweight wrestlers of course strike a balance by pushing others slightly and having a better speed than heavyweights.
The game technically has four movement styles, but three of those line up with weight classes. Lightweight and heavyweight we’ve covered, and bumper tends to be the default movement style for most middleweight wrestlers. However, the fourth style is one called piercer. These wrestlers float over competitors without interruption. While it removes the option of knocking your opponents into more compromising positions, it can lead to massive damage if a powerful wrestler crosses over an opponent multiple times.
Past those base mechanics, the variables at play with each wrestler can be explored in making hundreds of unique team combinations. Wrestlers have different abilities that can be upgraded to fit certain play styles or team dynamics, they have different stats, and they can be promoted or upgraded over time to make them more powerful or to learn new techniques. The truth is that you simply have to start playing the game and see what style you like. It’ll take time to get things down, but it’s worth it when you finally get the perfect team for you.
Tips for new players
When we spoke to David Simard, he did have a few tips for new players trying The Muscle Hustle for the first time. “Make sure to play the special bonus matches (e.g. Money Matches on Monday). You get a ton of resources.”
Simard’s first tip relates to the game’s special matches, which may only appear once or twice a week and last for just 24 hours. While you sometimes have to wait a few days for the match you need to appear, they allow you to earn three key things. Money Matches on Monday allow you to amass cash quicker than any other matches in the game, which can be used to upgrade abilities and train your wrestlers to higher levels.
The special matches named “Scouting Match” allow you to earn coaches to help level up your wrestlers quickly. While the “Rough Talent” match will probably be your focus at lower levels, the other category-themed matches will help you earn high-experience coaches that will be a huge help.
Lastly, the special matches themed after specific roles or superstars allows you to earn items to boost their stats and help promote them to a new tier.
Simard’s other tip focused on a separate aspect of the game, championship matches. “Belt up. When you earn belts, don’t forget to equip them. You can make your wrestlers quite a big stronger that way.”
In each city’s championship path, there is at least one championship match. Those matches tend to be a little more difficult, but they earn you championship belts. These belts can be equipped to wrestlers to up stats like health, attack, and speed. Especially early on, they can give you a huge leg up and help you progress.
After playing the game quite a bit, I feel compelled to mention that you will do some grinding. You will run into matches you just aren’t ready for yet, but don’t let that discourage you. Instead, go back and win old matches again to earn rewards such as cash, experience, items, and of course championship belts.
One last quick tip some may not realize, you can back out of a newly joined match without penalty if you do it before making the first move. Normally quitting a match causes your wrestlers to be knocked out for several minutes and unusable for the duration unless revived with some cash. However, if you enter a match and can immediately tell you’re in over your head or just start one by accident, pause and back out to keep your people from being knocked out. Similarly, you can forfeit multiplayer matches without having your wrestlers knocked out. You will take the loss, but if you can see you’re outmatched, there’s no shame in escaping to fight another day.
Of course, if you’re getting impatient and need a boost, there’s always the option of spending a bit of your hard-earned money on some gold to use in the game. Sometimes microtransactions can break a game or ruin the competitiveness, but it would take a LOT of money to get enough gold in The Muscle Hustle to do so. Instead, consider a purchase to be both a chance to support the developers and give yourself something extra. If that is something you’d like to do, wait until you finish up a town, as certain towns cause package deals to pop up in the store that’re a much better value that just gold.
The success and potential future of The Muscle Hustle
We also got to speak to David Simard about the success the game has had so far, and where The Muscle Hustle could be headed in the future.
RS: “Are you planning to continue introducing new content to the game or to turn The Muscle Hustle into its own franchise in the future?”
DS: “Right now we’re focused on adding content and features. We’re growing our team a bit to give it the support it deserves. Franchise thinking would be getting a little ahead of ourselves at this point I think.”
RS: “What kind of financial success have you had with microtransactions?
DS: “They’re working reasonably well. We’re making enough per player right now that it makes business sense to try to grow the game, and that’s really the essential thing. I think we’ve managed to strike a pretty good balance between that and the competitive side of things too since lot of our top players have managed to get by without spending. That’s always tough to get right, so I’m happy to see it working.”
RS: “What have been the challenges of competing against WWE’s various mobile games?”
DS: “Getting the word out. The brand gives them a major leg up when it comes to attracting attention and getting people to download the game and give it a try. We have to fight a lot harder to get noticed and for people to give us a shot.”
RS: “Have you considered expanding The Muscle Hustle as a brand with other platforms or content?”
DS: “Yes, but that’s a few steps down the road for us. We’ve got a lot of work left to do to make The Muscle Hustle a lasting success in its own right first.”
RS: “Have you looked into forming a partnership with an independent wrestling company other than WWE?”
DS: “Not formally yet, but we’re actively looking into it right now actually. There are so many great independent leagues and wrestlers.”