Monday, September 13, 2010

More content over at On the Stick

Hey kids, for those who follow this, it's time for you to head on over to and check out the new episode of the podcast, the new Action Cast! b-side, and a post I wrote about Double Dragon for the Game Boy. Go peep it!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A new blog post on a new webpage

Hey kids,
I now have my own webpage! And a podcast! Well... A webpage and podcast that's 1/4 mine, anyways. From now on many of the articles you would see here, you'll see there, but don't worry, I'll still post links. Like this one:

Other articles will continue to be posted here, mostly wrestling related ones, so don't delete this as a favorite yet. Stay tuned! For now, go read my article on House of the Devil and the Last Exorcism.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Was SUCH a Paragon: The Scott Pilgrim Experience

Time to put a bow on Scott Pilgrim week here at Shake Well Before Enjoying. I've been following Scott Pilgrim since shortly after book four came out. Before there was any talk of a movie (at least that I was aware of), before I knew many other people were aware. A few people on a web forum I frequent mentioned it, this weird indie comic about slackers and indie rock and videogames. Sounded like something right up my alley, so I did what any good twenty-something slacker would do, I rushed out to my local comic shop (managed by a very old friend of mine) and picked up the first two volumes.

I was hooked. Honestly, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life didn't grab me, it was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that really hooked me. I like it because, at it's heart, it's a story I relate to (except the fighting seven evil exes thing), and, well, for the same reason I loved No More Heroes. It was clearly created by someone who loves a whole bunch of the same things I do, and isn't afraid to say so.

I said yesterday that the movie will be a generational touchstone for a certain type of person. It's more than that, the whole... thing, the whole milieu, the whole Scott Pilgrim experience, if you will, will be a touchstone for that kind of person. I just so happen to be one such person. This is a work that touched me in a pretty personal way, not that it's a unique work in that respect, but it really hit home in many ways, and it was funny, which is important.

The thing I find oddest about Scott Pilgrim is, at least talking to (mostly internet) people I know, I find that they're fixated on the videogame references. They are plentiful, make no mistake about that, but this isn't a story about videogames. It's as much about videogames as it is about indie rock and a local music scene. The pop culture references are in no short supply here, and I guess I find it kind of funny that so many people have hooked on to just the game references.

I go to a lot of shows (and used to go to more) in dive venues that are run down and hold maybe 200 people, max. The parts of the story with the shows, and eating at greasy spoons and pizza joints at 2am are parts that rang just as clear with me as "No, I don't remember the cheat code to Sonic 2!" It's just part of the greater cultural pastiche that Bryan Lee O'Malley created with this work.

I kind of feel like I'm rambling right now, so I'll cut this short, but what I'm trying to say is that this is something that belongs to our generation, and if you haven't read/played/seen/heard/felt Scott Pilgrim yet, if you're between the ages of 16 and 30, do yourself a favor and experience it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Never Go Anywhere Without My Stunt Team: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Ok, I know I promised this on Saturday and it's Wednesday, but I've honestly had a really hard time putting into words exactly how I feel about this film. In short, I love it. Of course, I'd like to articulate more than that, and that's what I was having problems with.

The movie is all at once about being in your twenties, videogames, being in love, indie rock, fighting for what you believe in and growing up. Yeah, that's a lot of stuff. It's also a slapstick comedy, so that's cool, too. It's really ambitious, and while some fans of the books will gripe that there's missing stuff, that's the reality of adapation. Deal with it. You don't expect the next Batman movie to have every Batman villian, secondary character, and minor story arc ever to be in it, do you? No.

On the flip side, there are some people not familiar with the book who say the movie is too ADD, too wrought with videogame references, too blah, blah, blah. These people are sort of sadly out of touch. This work does not pivot on it's videogame references. I went with at least one person who's not exactly the most videogame savvy out there, and she loved it.

Ultimately, the movie worked for me on every level. As a fan of the original, as an indie rocker, as someone who's had to deal with their significant other's past, as a gamer, and on and on. It is, to me, a charming and hilarious story that has a lot of nice cultural references (much more than gaming). Edgar Wright is in top form as a director, having found a great cast (Kieran Culkin as Wallace was my favorite), he makes this story work.

The box office is a thing that's been coming up. In case you didn't know, the movie came in fifth at the box office it's opening weekend, finishing behind Inception, which has been out for over a month. Really, I'm not sure why anyone cares where it finishes. I don't really care if Universal makes their money back, Bryan Lee O'Malley and Edgar Wright have already been paid, and will do other projects. The only thing I kind of understand is someone said they thought it would make it difficult for other films in this vein to get made again. I can see that, but they'll pop up. They always do.

Which brings me to the legacy I think this movie will leave. I know we're only in the first week of release, but I think I've already got it pegged. This is a lifestyle movie. Pardon the cliche, but it's a generational touchstone. I'm sure there are people in their forties who loved it (in fact, I know at least one), and I'm sure people who are in kindergarten now will discover it in their teens or twenties, but really, this is our movie. Just like Fast Times at Ridgemont High was one of my dad's movies. I also love the movie, but I don't watch it with the same eyes he does. I can't, he lived through that time, I didn't.

It'll find its life on DVD and at midnight showings, like all the weirdness that's come before it. Like the Donnie Darkos and the Surf Nazis Must Dies, it'll be there. It'll be well liked and spoke of with fondness by its fans. And that's more than Eat Pray Love will get, I'm sure of that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Kicked Him So Hard He Saw the Curvature of the Earth: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Videogame

Based on my experience with the six Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, I think it's safe to say Bryan Lee O'Malley loves River City Ransom. It may well be his favorite NES game. Many games get referenced or namechecked in Scott Pilgrim; Ninja Gaiden, Clash at Demonhead and Shatterhand, to name a few, but none seem to get as many references. The entire flashback scene involving Scott's high school band, Sonic & Knuckles, his meeting Lisa Miller, his introduction to Kim P., all of that pivots on a big reference to RCR. The fact that when he beats someone they turn into coins references RCR. In fact, even rival band, Crash & the Boys is a reference to another game in the same series as RCR.

This being the case, it makes sense that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Videogame is essentially a big, fat homage not only to the beat-'em-up genre in general, but River City Ransom in specific. There isn't a contiguous world, as in River City, but it does have an overworld map. It also has shops where food, items and new techniques can be purchased. In fact, much like Ransom, there's a hidden shop in a tunnel that features crazy expensive items that superpower your character. In fact, the Grand Slam technique from River City Ransom even shows up at later levels.

However, there's more references than just that. There are really great references to Clash at Demonhead (check out the crowd at Julie's constume party), Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (look for a hidden shop) and myraid others. Not to mention a smattering of movie, TV and music references.

"But Joe," you say, "is it any good?"

Well, funny you should ask. It is good. It's best played multiplayer, of course, and this shows the game's biggest weakness: a lack of online multiplayer. I haven't heard a reason for this, and I'm not sure there is a good one. Castle Crashers had wonky online, but at least it was there.

Overall, though, it's a ten buck game, and I'm not going to kvetch too much about that. I can always round up my roommate for some co-op, if I need help. It's got a levelling system, tons of moves, weapons, and enough little easter eggs (have you found Knives dad yet?) to keep you busy for a while. Overall, it's a very competent game in a rare genre. Plus, it's got plenty of Scott Pilgrim fanservice!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We are Sex Bob-Omb! We're Here to Make You Think About Death and Get Sad and Stuff: The Scott Pilgrim Movie Soundtrack

It's Scott Pilgrim week on Shake Well Before Enjoying! I'll be talking about the soundtrack, the videogame, the movie and my feelings about the whole Scott Pilgrim phenomenon today through Sunday! Why not a day for the comics? I guess I just feel like they've been covered pretty well. Most everyone who wants to read them has read them, and I'm not sure I have a lot to add to that conversation. It would, of course, be hard to talk about all this stuff without mentioning them, but I'm not setting aside a full post just about the books.

So, today... the soundtrack. The soundtrack came out earlier this week, and I've given it about three spins as of this writing. Some things to get out of the way; if you don't like either a) indie rock, especially of the Canadian variety or b) Beck, you're probably better off taking a pass on this one. There are a couple of old rock 'n' roll standards ("Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones and "Teenage Dream" by T-Rex), but mostly this is late '90s to current indie rock and new Beck songs.

That being said, if you like either of those things, or especially if you like both, this is a disc (or a download, I guess, if you're one of those people) that's well worth your money. The new Beck songs are separated as ones by Sex Bob-Omb! (Scott's fictional band) and those that are just performed by Beck himself. I honestly like the Sex Bob-Omb tracks better, but that has a lot to do with the fuzzed out garage rock style that they possess. Beck and Edgar Wright really seemed to hit on what, at least in my mind, Sex Bob-Omb's sound would be. Also, the fact that the actors actually perform those tracks is pretty awesome.

In addition to those, Broken Social Scene teamed with the actor who plays Crash to provide two Crash & the Boys tracks (but no The Boys & Crash tracks). One of which is "I Am So Sad, So Very, Very Sad," which is done pretty much exactly as it was in the comics. The second is "We Hate You, Please Die," which, despite not containing a dedication to Scott's roommate, is still a pretty rockin' tune.

As for songs by "real" bands, Metric contributes a new song, the Plumtree song which is the protagonist's namesake makes an appearance and the inimitable Frank Black (of the Pixies, natch) shows up with "I Heard Ramona Sing." The whole thing plays like a really great garage/indie mixtape. It even throws in a random chiptune version of one of the Sex Bob-Omb songs! There are only a few weak points, and it mostly revolves around the one or two bands I didn't really like before anyways. (Sorry, Beachwood Sparks, you kind of bore me!)

The only other minor gripes I have revolve around things I would have liked to see, being a fan of the comic. I was hoping for "Launchpad McQuack" and "LAST SONG KILLS AUDIENCE," in terms of songs from the fictional bands. As for "real" bands, in one of the books, Bryan Lee O'Malley talks about the music he listens to while drawing/writing, and he states that he always felt the Replacements were Ramona's favorite band. There are no Replacements tracks on this soundtrack, but, hey, that's being nitpicky. Not to mention, I haven't seen the movie yet, and it's very possible that there are songs in the movie that just aren't on the disc.

So, yeah, overall, aside from a few minor gripes, a great soundtrack. I really recommend it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lucha Libre USA on MTV2

Anyone who was witness to MTV's last wrestling debacle was probably smart enough to either skip last week's Lucha Libre USA debut show, or have severely lowered expectations. I fell into the second camp, as someone who, for some reason unknown even to me, watched every episode of the sub-par and deservedly short-lived Wrestling Society X. That being the case, I was almost impressed by what Lucha Libre USA put forth.

WSX had three major problems. 1) The show was 30 minutes long. A half-hour is not long enough for a wrestling show, unless it only has one match, and how far can you advance stories with one match per week unless your roster is four guys? 2) Because of #1, the matches were all clipped, and not only were they clipped, the audience wasn't told that they were clipped, which made them look terrible, though I'm sure many of them weren't. 3) Musical guests. Nothing like taking up a third of the show with a musical guest none of the wrestling fans give a fuck about, am I right?

You will be happy to know that LLU has none of these things. Unfortunately, what it does have is a bunch of guys most people have never heard of, and the bookers are doing a pretty poor job of making us care about any of them. They're basically trying to bring us into their world in media res. This does not work in wrestling. I understand lucha has rudos (heels) and technicos (babyfaces), but just telling us "he's a rudo and he's a technico" doesn't give us any reason to cheer or boo. The wrestlers and the booking needs to give us reasons to do that.

The first match on the card was a trios match, which is not the same as an American rules six-man tag. It featured rudos El Oriental, El Limon & Neutronic vs. technicos Mascara Purpura & the PR Powers. The rules were explained haphazardly (there's a captain, if he gets pinned, it's over, otherwise both of the other guys on the team must be pinned), and did not offer much clarification. (If one of the non-captain guys is pinned, is he eliminated? Does he have to go to the back?) The finish only compounded the issue, since both non-captain members of the technico team were pinned simultaneously, which would lead viewers to question in future matches if that's how it has to be done.

Beyond that, the match was ok. Nothing spectacular, but reasonably solid in ring work, no breakthroughs in wrestling psychology, but not bad. Enough high spots to get viewers hooked at the prospect of later matches being actually good.

There was a promo by R.J. Brewer playing up an anti-Mexican heel. He's from Arizona, he hates illegal immigrants, he also hates legal ones because he doesn't know for sure if they're legal, blah, blah, blah. Very one dimentional, full of cheap heat. Hopefully, he'll get a chance to branch out.

There was a tag match from the "minis" division. I assumed that meant midgets, but only one guy in this match looked to be a midget. It's hard to tell a wrestling audience that a guy who's the size of Evan Bourne (Mini-Park) is a guy who is in the same division as midgets. It just doesn't make sense. And all the while, the announcers are putting over how much Pequeno Halloween and Marscarita Dorada (the actual midget) hate each other. Okay, that's fine, they hate each other, but why? At least show me some tape of a AAA show or something, or book this match like there's real bad blood, because these guys were locking up in the middle of the ring.

Moving on to the main event, we had Marco Corleone (Mark Jindrak, for all you WCW fans) taking on Tinieblas, Jr. There was a promo with Tinieblas talking about how famous his mask is, despite the fact that almost no one watching this has ever seen it before, (either on him or Tinieblas, Sr.) then Jindrak says something about beating him up, being his daddy, really standard, non-creative promo stuff.

The match itself wasn't too bad, but they're clearly trying to push Jindrak as their top technico, which isn't going to work. Two reasons for that: 1) If I'm watching lucha, I want a dude in a mask as the top babyface, it's what casual fans who tune into lucha expect. 2) His charisma is... lacking, to say the least. In a world of John Cenas and Rob Van Dams, even of Tyler Blacks, Mark Jindrak doesn't have what it takes to carry a promotion. Which really just takes us back to #1, because a mask can do wonders for a guy who isn't naturally charismatic. Ever wonder why WWE put the mask back on Rey after WCW took it off? Well, besides all the merch they can sell...

Still, though, I was more entertained that watching an episode of iMPACT, because while the booking was bog standard, it wasn't dick-in-the-toaster idiotic. I'll give it a few more weeks to see if it picks up once it's in the swing of things. And while it's faint praise, I'll say it's worlds better than MTV's last wrestling show.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A thing from by way of Things That Don't Suck

Embedding doesn't work, so I'm just posting a link to this video essay Bryce from Things That Don't Suck did. Enjoy!

Inception: The Metaphysical Heist Movie


Inception is, at its core, a heist picture. It's a thinking person's action movie. They like to call those "thrillers," so that people who watch them don't feel like they're enjoying some kind of b-grade genre film. Which they're not. In Inception's case, they're enjoying an a-grade genre film, and Christopher Nolan has added another fine notch to his belt with this one.

He's basically turned the heist genre on its head with this one. It's not about stealing, it's about delivering. And it's not from a traditional vault, but a person's mind. Still, it follows the heist formula more or less to a T, right down to "one last job." Rounding up his team, working out the plan, and then pulling off the caper, not without a few hitches, of course.

Being both a heist caper and a Nolan film, you can imagine that it'll require a second viewing. The completely batshit insane metaphysics involved pretty much guarantee that. And, honestly, that's where the film is the weakest. In the final act, there's a three-layered dream sequence, that becomes a four-layered dream sequence that starts to crumble under the weight of its own movie-science, particularly as it pertains to how the kicks work. That being said, it's movie-science, and getting too bogged down in it is kind of missing the point anyways.

Really, the heart of the film is three fold, and little of it has to do with trying to understand metaphysics. No, the film's really about 1) how strikingly gorgeous it is, 2) Cobb's inability to forgive himself for Moll's death and 3) totally sweet action sequences. The second is arguably the most important if you're a film snob, but they're all equally important if you're a normal person who likes movies. The scene with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fighting the dude in the rotating hallway was my personal favorite (and reportedly done with practical effects, which you know I love).

Either way, in the roll of Cobb, DiCaprio emotes very well, as usual, and you feel genuinely bad for him. Despite my teenage loathing for him, he's now one of my favorite actors, with the gravitas to pull these kinds of rolls off. In Inception, he blames himself for something that isn't really his fault. His speech to the phantom Mal (Marion Cotillard) at the end is fantastically delivered, and exceptionally written.

The film has been well received to this point, but one thing I've seen alot of discussions about is the ending. Does the top fall or doesn't it? Is Cobb still in limbo? Has he escaped his dreams into the real world? Why did Nolan cut away before we knew?

The answer to these questions is actually pretty obvious, if you think about it. The answer is that it doesn't matter. The reason there's a cut is because it doesn't matter if it falls or not. What matters is that Cobb believes he's back in the real world. (For the record, I do think he's back in the real world, in case you're curious.) Just as in Total Recall, it doesn't really matter if it's a dream, because at this point, it's likely to be all but a permanent dream anyways, and a person's perception of things is what makes them real. What you're really supposed to walk away with, what's really most important is that Cobb has finally let Mal go, and is, at least for the most part, at peace with himself.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Batman Begins

I'll be honest, when Bryce (a.k.a. Evil Dead Junkie, the name I've known him by for far longer), put out an appeal for his Nolan-a-thon for Things That Don't Suck, I knew I wanted to write something, but I had no idea what. Memento was a watershed moment for me as a moviegoer, Batman is my favorite superhero, Inception looks to bare more than a passing resemblance to an old favorite of mine, Dark City.

So what to write? A nostalgic bit about seeing Memento in an art house before it became a breakout hit? Something about Nolan's mastery of genre filmmaking, which lead to one of the biggest movies ever made in a genre most Hollywood types said would never draw a mainstream audience? A comparison between two movies by bold directors that use dreams and sleep as the central mechanic?

In the end, I decided to go with what I expect to be the least covered movie of the blogothon, Batman Begins. Batman Begins will forever be overshadowed by The Dark Knight, and with myraid good reasons. It has overall better villians, better performances and, most importantly, you see Batman within five minutes, as opposed to Batman Begins, in which the Bat is absent for well over an hour of screentime.

The problem is, the first film has now been kind of shuffled to the side, and is ignored for all the great things it did do. One being it took villians which heretofore would never have had a chance at gracing a movie screen. Quite honestly, I'm surprised the studio let Ra's Al-Ghul find his way into the multiplex (though, to be fair, he's toned down and much shallower of a character than his comic counterpart). The Scarecrow is less surprising, but the fact that he made it through intact is nothing short of a miracle in the world of the Hollywood Rogues Gallery. I mean, look at what they did to Bane!

Jonathan Crane's alter ego is one of my favorite Batman villians, one who I always felt was a true threat to him. Cillian Murphy plays the role brilliantly, giving the doctor the right amount of quiet menace, and the Scarecrow the perfect maniacal edge. The only real shame is that we barely get to see the true Scarecrow in action, and it's Rachel Dawes, not Batman, who has the movie's last encounter with him. Unsatistfying, to say the least. But the encounter in the apartment is excellent, and exemplifies exactly what makes him such a threat to Batman.

The story borrows a bit from Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, particularly as it pertains to the mob element, but on balance probably gives a more satisfactory origin for Bruce Wayne. We see more of Thomas' influence on young Bruce, and see much more of his travels in the name of fighting evil. Tying everything back with Ra's Al-Ghul just makes for a nice cherry on top.

The thing that really makes the movie successful, though, and lays the groundword for the incredible sequel, is Nolan. All good Batman movies have a strong unity of vision, thanks to quality direction, and this one is no exception. The style of the Batmobile (which I, quite frankly, don't like, but it fits with the aethetics), the villians costumes, the Batcave, even Gotham itself all look like they belong in the same world.

Now, while Tim Burton's Batman films both have this, it was Nolan who really raised the bar with Batman Begins (though some credit goes to Bryan Singer's X-Men films) to the point where something like the '90s Captain America movie just isn't acceptable anymore. You can't make half-assed attempts at comics just to make box office anymore. Fans, not just of comics, but of movies, expect a higher quality piece of work now. And that's Batman Begins' most important contribution.

-Lucha Libre on MTV?
-House of the Devil

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Status of Print Media in Gaming OR What Gamepro & EGM are Doing Right

There are people who have been shouting loud and long from the rooftops, of late, that print media, especially as it pertains to videogames, is dead in America. These people believe that the internet has invalidated anything so slow and behind the times as print media. These people point to USA Today's decline, amongst others, as evidence that print will never be relevant again.

These people are fucking morons.

The problem with print, especially in the US, has been twofold, particularly in the case of gaming, but also in general. The first part is that print outlets have a nasty habit of giving away their content for free online. Why would I ever buy a copy of a newspaper that puts its content on its website simultaneous with sending the paper to newsstands? I wouldn't. It's dumb, and requires more work than just getting it for free. But all while lamenting USA Today's downward spiral, people are ignoring that the Wall Street Journal is doing fine for itself. Why? Because in order to access most online content, you have to subscribe.

The second problem with print, particularly magazines, in this case, is that they have been trying to do the same thing they've always done in many cases, which is to provide content that can now be gotten online much faster. Reviews are the biggest example of this. If I want to read a review of something, I'll go online. It'll be there day and date with the product I want the review of.

And that brings me to the focus of this little post. EGM recently relaunched and Gamepro recently... hm, how do I say this? Gamepro recently... well, grew up, for lack of a better term. Gone are the Johnny Ballgames, and in is the Johnny Davison. And Davison has dragged Gamepro kicking and screaming into the modern age.

Diehard Gamefan has recently resurfaced as well (well, minus the "Diehard" part, anyways), but I can't bring myself to check it out. I've never been a fan of Dave Halverson's magazines, and while I like that he's putting an obscure, download-only game on the cover of his first issue (Blade Kitten), his brand of games journalism never appealed to me. In fact, the Happy Videogame Nerd pretty well hit the nail on the head when he called Halverson's last venture, Play Magazine, "the fucking Pitchfork Media of gaming." Halverson's stuff is just a little too-cool-for-school for me, and I can't handle that. At least he can save money on a website by just telling everyone to go to

Of course, Game Informer is still around and will presumably be around forever, but I think we all know the reason for that is because their subscriptions are tied to a discount card for the nation's largest videogame retailer. No secret that it isn't the quality writing that puts those numbers up, but forget about Game Informer. It sucks, it's always sucked, and it more than likely will always suck. The only thing it's good for is it's exclusive previews that it only gets because, once again, the mag is tied to the biggest game retailer there is. It's basically a catalogue, and if we're being honest, publishers give those exclusives to get them in the hands of people they know are people who frequent a large game retailer.

So... What are EGM and Gamepro doing to bring back print? The answer's surprisingly simple. They're providing content that people care about, and they're not running to post it on their website as soon as they do. They're providing a platform to some of the best games writers around (Leigh Alexander, Dan Hsu, etc.), and they're not stuffing the mags with reviews of products I could've read reviews of three weeks ago.

In fact, in the latest issue of each magazine (Street Fighter cover EGM, Force Unleashed II cover Gamepro), surprisingly little space is given to reviews. In Gamepro, 12 pages out of 92 covering five games is dedicated to reviews, and they are all reasonably high profile titles. EGM, on the other hand, dedicates 11 of 99 pages covering 7 games, most being big titles, but giving half a page each to the quirky Cave Story for WiiWare and Infinite Space for DS.

This is a far cry from the 250+ page EGMs of the mid-ninties that touted "OVER 50 GAMES REVIEWED!" Those were important then, but with the internet, they're meaningless. What's important now is what's been important in magazines covering other lifestyles for some time now; articles on the culture and people who move the industry. The new EGM features a massive, GQ-style interview with David Jaffe by Brady Fiechter. It's eight pages long, and it's really just a transcript of two dudes talking in a cafe. It's also really informative, whether you like Jaffe or not (I do, if you're curious, but I know many who find him abrasive).

The new Gamepro features a great story by Nadia Oxford about the history of Gamestop that includes comments from their executives and details their rise to the top of the game retailing industry. These are things that can't just be found at the click of a mouse. They're written by respected journalists, and they are of interest to people who take games seriously.

In fact, even the previews in these publications have taken on a largely different tone than that of their earlier counterparts. The bulk of previews in these new magazines focus on the creators of the games, producers and directors, and discuss their vision and ideas. Almost like a real art form! How about that?

Overall, it's the same thing I was talking about the last time I posted. Games are growing up, and now the enthusiast press is treating them like the enthusiast press for film and music treats its subject matter. Like art. Like an art form with a culture and a history, which is exactly what it is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Videogames and the Mainstream

Videogames may finally be getting a fair shake from the mainstream. It's true. Take a look around. In the last month, a major title was announced on the network broadcast of a late night talk show, the Boy Scouts of America (an organization I don't particularly care for, by the way, but that's another blog altogether) have legitimized it by creating merit badges (or activity pin? Something?) for them, and, most recently, the Wall Street Journal linked to John Davison's "Too Long & Too Hard" article.

Welcome to the mainstream.

Now, for the record, there are only a few reasons this interests me at all. One of those reasons does not involve my hobby being socially acceptable or whatever, because, quite frankly, I could give a fuck less if what I do is socially acceptable. I'm a straight edge, athiest libertarian. I get enough sideways looks that by now being a nerd is just icing on the cake.

No, the reasons more have to do with an art form (yes, art form) finally be accepted as what it is (Roger Ebert being the holdout, of course) and the entertainment industry realizing, after a crash and recovery that happened nearly 30 years ago, that games aren't just a fad, like hula hoops and pet rocks. Of course, they're realizing what we, as gamers, have known for a long time.

Still, it refreshing to see the hobby we've loved that has been alternately demonized and ignored getting some traction. This most recent burst started with Gears of War 3's unveiling on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Quite frankly, I can't stand Jimmy Fallon. I find him to be insufferably un-funny. The man is a terrible performer, to the point that he can't even keep a straight face while doing comedy that isn't very amusing to begin with. Be that as it may, however, he's taking steps to bring videogames to the same level as movies, by having guests like Cliffy B. and Tim Schafer and treating them with the same respect as people like Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. As well they should be.

The reason he does this is because he, like me and, I'm guessing, you, grew up with videogames, and to him they are as legitmate, both as entertainment and works of art, as films. That's what is really bringing games to the mainstream. The same thing that brought rock 'n' roll to the mainstream. People who were kids when it was new are adults now, and they're the tastemakers.

Another example is the Boyscouts of America lending some credibility to gaming. They're offering something called "activity pins" to Scouts who educate themselves on ratings, and learn to hook up their systems by their damn selves. By offering a reward to Scouts, not for playing games, but for informing themselves about them, they are showing parents and teachers that games are something that are as worth learning about and looking at from an academic standpoint as films.

Even more than either of those things, though, are two other things that really opened my eyes to the fact that the mainstream is finally catching up. The first is the semi-recent coverage of games by the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal is a paper that I read on occasion, but my grandfather reads everyday. My grandfather is not a gamer. He doesn't understand videogames, and he probably never will, and he's ok with that. And I'm ok with that. But the fact that one of the best, and most respected papers in the country is now covering videogames says a lot to the rest of the media. Of course, they're covering it (or at least linking to people who cover it) the way they always do, with a slant of academia, which says even more. It says that this is material that's deserving of the kind of in depth discussion and coverage that other art and entertainment forms get.

The second of those things is the recent inclusion of Penny-Arcade's Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins on Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list. There have been gaming personalities on that list before, but they were designers. They were executives. The Penny-Arcade dudes aren't either of those. They aren't even reviewers. They're just dudes who draw a comic about videogames. Really, they're tastemakers. That's important. For two dudes who are really naught but tastemakers, tastemakers in this media that the mainstream has been woe to acknowledge until recently, to make the Time 100 above Oprah and the President of the United States sends a clear message that games are viable. They are important. Most notably, they are not going away. So, as a gamer, thanks for that, Time Magazine.

You see, games are growing up, and more importantly, the culture around them is growing up. Quite frankly, I'm surprised it's taken this long. Artists in other mediums like Clive Barker have been saying this for years. (In fact, Sir Ben Kingsley recently said that games are art, and even that performing in them is a unique challenge, different from stage or screen.) I'm not going to go on and on about why it did take so long, because I'm honestly not sure. I'm only going to say that I'm happy that they finally are.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street OR A Nightmare of a Remake


Ok, so first of all, I can't more highly recommend a series of blogs than my 'net homeboy Evil Dead Junkie's weeklong retrospective of the Nightmare on Elm Street Series over at Things That Don't Suck. Go read it. He provides the kind of insightful commentary usually reserved for art house cinema on b-rate horror and schlock (and I love him for it), but this is an A+ effort even for him.

That being said, I don't have the time/effort/want to discuss the entire series in the detail that he does, and he's already done it better than I ever could. That's why I'm only going to discuss the remake and how/why it fails at things the original succeeds so well at.

I'll try my best to point out positives before I get into picking apart what ruins this experience. Firstly, despite all of its flaws (and it has many, to be sure), it manages to be more watchable than most of the original Nightmare sequels. The sequels almost universally fall short of what makes the first film genuinely shocking and terrifying, and even the ones that don't fall short of that get lost in their own meandering storylines of mediocre performances. This film provides some good jump scares, a great deal of gore and a genuinely creepy performance by Jackie Earle Haley.

In fact, this film, like Watchmen before it, is watchable entirely as a product of Haley's performance. The man is swiftly becoming one of my favorite performers, and to someday share a set/stage with him would be a great pleasure. He's pitch perfect as Freddy, and while he talks more (a lot more) than Englund's Krueger in the original Nightmare, he doesn't get jokey and start spouting one-liners like Englund's later Krueger. He makes you genuinely unsettled, and makes sure that you never forget that he's a kiddy raping psychopath (something the sequels tend to be happy to let you forget).

Unfortunately, the movie surrounding this brilliant performance is flawed so deeply that the best way to watch this movie will probably be to buy the DVD and just watch the scenes with Freddy in them. It wouldn't really affect your sense of dread or any of the buildup, since nearly every dream sequence involves the audience seeing the characters fall asleep. The original film almost never shows Freddy's victims falling asleep. Much as when you nod off and start dreaming, you often don't notice it until something odd happens, or you wake up. The original keeps the viewers perspective that way, not giving any tells of dream sequences until the bizarre begins to happen.

When Nancy nods off in class in the 1984 film, we don't know she has until Tina walks (hops?) into the classroom in a bodybag. And even after that, Nancy doesn't seem to notice that she's dreaming, even following her best friend's bloody corpse down the halls. This is central to the film creating it's atmosphere. The new movie shows us characters going under more often than not, and, in some particularly egregious moments, has blatant lighting changes. The suspense is gone, I now know you're dreaming, and I now know that Freddy's probably going to do something nasty to you, and it won't be a surprise, there won't be any tension.

Also removing tension is the fact that the first act lays everything out for us. We start with average high schooler Dean, and his dream. (This should not be confused with "Dean's Dream," by the way.) In his dream, he's stalked by Freddy through a diner. The same diner he has actually fallen asleep in, as it turns out. Then his hand is cut by Freddy. When he wakes up, his hand is really cut. We now know that what Freddy does in dreams affect's the real world. Thanks for taking all the mystery and suspense out of it in the first five minutes, guys.

The worst bit is, this could have easily been alleviated. He fell asleep in a diner, as I said. There is a knife on the table. We know this, because there's a blatant esablishing shot of it right after he wakes up, sitting on the goddamn table. All they had to do was put the knife in his hand upon waking, and now we don't know if he did it to himself or not. Which is extra interesting, given that his death (which comes moments later) is done in such a way as to make it look like Dean cut his own throat with the same fucking steak knife.

Which brings me to another blaring klaxon of an issue with this movie. The kids figure out what's going on way to fast. In Nightmare '84, the kids all discuss various nightmares they've had involving a man in a dirty striped sweater and a fedora. They talk about his "fingernails," before really discussing the glove. And even when they do, they don't immediately jump to the conclusion of "oh, hey that guy must be killing us in our dreams." In the new movie, there's one brief discussion of it, and, just like the stumbled out of the goddamn Mystery Machine, they've figured out what's going on. Not to mention the parents acting completely shifty and weird when the kids bring up anything even tangentially related to what's going on.

The pacing is just all wrong with this movie, and that's the biggest issue. I could go further into how the boyfriend's death in jail is done to look like suicide in the original, but looks like an invisible Alien burst out of the kid's chest in the new one, but what's the point? I could talk about how the infamous "Freddy coming through the wall over Nancy" scene looks like complete garbage thanks to CG, but you probably guessed that without seeing it. What matters most is that the pacing is horrifically bad in this movie, and that while the third act has some good ideas and genuinely creepy moments, it's all for naught because the ending doesn't make any sense, and you've already been taken out of the experience by the hideously bad buildup.

The best praise I can lay on this movie is that if you've never seen Craven's original, and you've been let down enough by excrement like the Friday the 13th remake/reboot, you'll probably think it's decent enough. Or maybe if you're a big gore hound, you'll appreciate the kills, because they are pretty good, even the last one, despite it not making a lick of goddamn sense.

Really, though? If you're interested, just watch Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's much more effective, entertaining, and overall well done than this movie.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wrestlemania XXVI Preview

Wrestlemania is tomorrow, and I'm pretty excited. This year's card looks to have at least three outstanding matches on it, and several competent ones. This is a breakdown of the full announced card, and what I expect to see in each match.

-Eve Torres, Kelly Kelly, Mickie James, Gail Kim & Beth Phoenix vs. Vickie Guerrero, Maryse, Michelle McCool, Layla & Alicia Fox If more than two of these women had any wrestling chops at all, I might be excited for this match. As is, a "meh" is all I can muster.

-Triple H vs. Sheamus I'm not even sure what these two are feuding over. It was like sloppy last minute booking. "Uh, Triple H doesn't have a 'Mania match yet... what's the Irish guy doing? Nothing? Great, book it!" The match will probably be passable, but ultimately, it'll be Triple H doing all the work. No one cares about Sheamus, even when he was the champ, his promos were greeted with apathy at most, people getting up for popcorn at worst.

-Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane vs. Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. MVP vs. Jack Swagger vs. Matt Hardy vs. Evan Bourne vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Kofi Kingston They crammed ten guys into this years Money in the Bank, but I think it was better when it was six. The more you get, the bigger a clusterfuck it becomes, but it should still be fun, with plenty of highspots. Smart money's on either Drew McIntyre or Kofi Kingston to walk away with this one.

-CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio (If Mysterio Loses, He Must Join the Straight Edge Society) This match may be the surprise match of the show. Rey's frequently been in short matches at 'Mania (including last year's win over JBL which took all of eight seconds), but this match should be given a lot of time, and if it is will get the crowd in a froth. They love to hate Punk and they love to cheer Rey. Look for Punk to go over and start a long term program with Mysterio in the SES.

-Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase They seem to be gradually turning Orton babyface, which I simply cannot understand, given his amazing successes as a heel. He's as hateable as anyone, possibly save Jericho. My hope is that the match ends with Rhodes and Orton turning on DiBiase, and Ted Jr. coming out the de facto babyface and starting a feud with his ex-stablemates.

-WWE Unified Tag Team Title Match: The Big Show & The Miz (c) vs. R-Truth & John Morrison Last year at Wrestlemania, the Tag Titles were unified in a dark match. This year, they'll be defended during the broadcast. The unifying of the titles has led to them getting a bit more high profile, especially following Jericho & Big Show's lengthy run with them prior to dropping them to DX. Look for ShoMiz to retain in a brief, but entertaining match.

-Bret Hart vs. Mr. McMahon in a No Holds Barred Match In the standard Vince at Wrestlemania match, look for the boss to get beaten severely and tap out to the Sharpshooter. It won't be a technical masterpiece, but the crowd will eat it up.

-Career vs. Streak "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker in a No DQ, No Countouts Match This is the same match that stole the show last year, and you should expect no different this year. Yes, they're both getting older, but they both pull out all the stops for Wrestlemania. Look for the Undertaker to get the duke in an instant classic.

-WWE Championship Match: Batista (c) vs. John Cena While shitting on John Cena is the internet's favorite passtime, I actually happen to like him. In his matches, he sells beautifully, which makes him a great babyface. He's got excellent fire, and a good sense of the crowd. Tragically, Batista is awful, and will drag this match right down. Cena will go over in what's ultimately a dull match.

-World Heavyweight Championship Match: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Edge This match deserves to be the main event, but it will probably go on before Cena/Batista. Still, this feud has been boiling since Edge left with his injury. These two guys are among the best in the biz, and I expect this match to be worth the price of admission alone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wrestle(videogame)mania Week, Part the Final: Double Top Five Friday

And today Wrestle(videogame)mania reaches its conclusion. The following are lists of the Top Five WWF/WWE Videogame and the Top Five Non-WWE Videogames. Both lists are chronological. The lists are limited to one game from any given series.

Top Five WWF/WWE Videogames

-WWF Wrestlefest (1991, Technos, Coin-op) A true classic, the first WWF game with four player support, it's fast paced arcade play and huge sprites make it still a favorite of wrestling gamers today. Shame it never got a console port.

-WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (1995, Midway, Coin-op) It's NBA Jam, but with wrestling! What more could you ask for? I still pop in the Playstation port once in a while, simply because there's never really been another game like it. Well, there was a crappy pseudo-sequel from Acclaim for consoles, but it's worse in every way.

-WWF No Mercy (2000, THQ/AKI, Nintendo 64) Coming out just a week before the next entry on the list, this game is still my favorite wrestling game of all time. The single player (two player, if you're rocking a tag team) season mode has many unique stories with branching paths for each title (including the Women's Championship). All that coupled with a flawless grappling system make it the best out there.

-WWE Day of Reckoning 2 (2005, THQ/Yuke's, Gamecube) In a game that easily surpassed that year's Smackdown entry, Yuke's really outdid themselves with a long and well told story mode. The grappling system is among the best out there, allowing for reversals of finishing moves in the right situations. The best wrestling game you can put in your Wii, despite being a GC title.

-WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 (2006, THQ/Yuke's, Playstation 2/Xbox 360) Many point to Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain as the best in the series, but this is the game that really does it for me. It introduced an analog stick-based grapple system that allowed for great customization of created wrestlers, and also allowed weight class to play heavily (e.g. Light Heavyweight Shawn Michaels cannot slam Super Heavyweight Big Show) and had plenty of season mode storylines to go around for your superstar, depending on which show you were on. A real winner, and both common and cheap nowadays. (Disclosure: I have not yet played SvR2010, though I've heard great things.)

Top Five Non-WWE Wrestling Videogames

-Pro Wrestling (1987, Nintendo R&D3, Nintendo Entertainment System) Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, but this game is still great. The characters are well developed, the movesets are huge for the time, they actually put a ref in the ring... it's got everything. Though a turbo controller is highly recommended for maximum enjoyment.

-Three Count Bout (1993, SNK, Neo-Geo) In general, I'd say avoid this game if you see it in an MVS. However, if you can adjust the difficulty down just a bit, this game is great. Huge sprites, totally different movesets for each wrestler, different match types (street fights, electrified rope death matches, etc.) all make this a classic. Of course, I do mark out for SNK, so maybe I'm a little biased.

-All-Japan Pro Wrestling: Giant Gram 2000 (2000, Sega, Dreamcast) An arcade game at heart, this game's unique grappling system that relies on timing-based combos to unleash hard-hitting moves is a must for any wrestling fan with a DC. I only recently was able to check this one out, and I'm hooked!

-King of Colosseum II (2004, Spike, Playstation 2) This game is the best non-WWE 3D wrestling game. It contains a grappling system so deep, it's near impossible to explain here, but suffice it to explain that the time you spend learning it is time well spent. It also is officially licensed by all of Japan's big promotions, which allows for the kind of dream matches not seen in US wrestling games.

-Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (2007, Agetec/Spike, Playstation 2) This game is the end-all, be-all of wrestling games. Only overshadowed by No Mercy for it's extensive single player mode, Fire Pro Returns' gameplay, grappling system, and near endless customization options make this game THE wrestling game to beat. It's ten bucks, brand new, from Amazon right now. If you have a PS2 and even a passing interest in wresting games, it's money well spent.

Tomorrow: Wrestlemania Preview

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wrestle(videogame)mania Week, Part the Second: A Brief History of Non-WWE Wrestling Videogames

When people think pro wrestling, they automatically think WWF/WWE. Some, who were fans of the second renaissance of pro wrestling (the late 1990s) might think WCW as well, but even most casual fans from that time period are aware that the Monday Night Wars ended with WCW being bought by Vince McMahon, lock, stock and barrel. That fact leads many to think of the post from Monday would be a reasonably comprehensive tour of the history of pro wrestling videogames, with only a couple NES games with fictional casts and some crappy WCW games that EA did as all that's left for this post.

Not so. No, if I let it, this post would be at least twice as long as Monday's. Fortunately, it's not going to be that. It's a basic primer for those with a fledgling interest in wrestling games who don't know the world beyond Smackdown vs. Raw and No Mercy. It's also a general purpose article for those with an interest in videogame history. There will be copious links provided at the end for those who wish to know more. That being said, let's get started with what you might already know.

Fictional Wrestlers

A very good place to start, as they were the first pro wrestling videogames. In fact, a couple of the early ones were just called Pro Wrestling. The best known of these is the NES game, developed by Nintendo R&D3 (the folks behind Punch-Out!! and StarTropics, to name a few). It gives each grappler a punch, a kick, a few standard grapples (body slam, belly-to-back suplex) and some unique moves. Interestingly, every wrestler can toss his opponent from the ring and execute a tope on their prone foe. This is, I'm fairly certain, the first videogame tope, and it wasn't something seen again for awhile.

The cast sets a good precedent that fictional grapplers would follow for, well, ever, really, in creating a cast that are fairly thinly veiled analogues of real pro wrestlers. Fighter Hayabusa is New Japan Pro Wrestling boss and star Antonio Inoki, Starman is the first major lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) star Mil Mascaras, Giant Panther is Hulk Hogan, Kin Corn Karn is Japanese/Korean star Rikidozan, The Amazon is equal parts Abdullah the Butcher and Bruiser Brody, King Slender is "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair and the final, unplayable boss Great Puma is Japan's iconic Tiger Mask. The game is still surpisingly solid today, but also was one of the early wrestling titles to use the "grapple, then mash buttons to see who gets to do their move" system that plagued so many wrestling games through the 16-bit era. A turbo controller is highly recommended for enjoyment now.

Tell me you don't see the resemblance.

There was also a Master System game of the same name, that seems to hew very closely to Namco's Tag Team Wrestling, which, aside from providing the source material for's Strong Bad, is entirely forgettable. Other early games include Title Match Pro Wrestling for the Atari 2600 and 7800, as well as the Intellivision game Body Slam: Super Pro Wrestling. I've honestly never played the Atari game, and the Intellivision one is... not good.

Later, on the NES, we would see Tecmo World Wrestling, which isn't horrible, but half of the screen is taken up by a guy providing color commentary in text boxes. The highlight of that particular game are the close up, semi-cut scene style showings of big moves. The gameplay stops, zooms in, and you see your wrestler drop his finisher on your opponent, up close. Or you see yourself get pummeled up close, either way. This game also features caricatures of real wrestlers.

One NES game I have a soft spot for for no real discernable reason is M.U.S.C.L.E. Honestly, I understand the game is just completely awful, but I like it anyways. I think it's because I was obsessed with the little figures when I was a kid. M.U.S.C.L.E., if you were unawares, was actually based on a Shonen Jump manga called Kinnikuman, which follows the adventures of a bunch of super crazy powered space wrestlers... or something. Hell, I don't know. I just know the figures were sweet when I was little and the games got much better in the PS2/Gamecube era when AKI (makers of WWF No Mercy) took over development. Those games were based on the cartoon from the early 2000s which followed the exploits of Kinnikuman's son. It was localized here as "Ultimate Muscle," and aired on Fox Kids. The games used a system very similar to No Mercy, but with more superpowered slams and various rings. The best of the series released here is Galactic Wrestling featuring Ultimate Muscle.

The 16-bit era eased up on the fiction a bit, but we still saw Hammerlock Pro Wrestling and Natsume Championship Wrestling, both on SNES. These were both actual Japanese puroresu games that were localized to feature fictional wrestlers. The former was based on Genichiro Tenryu's Pro Wrestling Revolution: Wrestle & Romance, the latter on All-Japan Pro Wrestling. They're both middling at best, and if we were going to get ports of Japanese wrestling games, there are other SNES ones I'd've much rather had, but we'll get more into that later.

Capcom also was nice enough to bring us a few fictional grapplers, but only one got a console port. I'm sure many fondly remember Saturday Night Slammasters, both for Genesis and the SNES. It was ported from the arcade, and, even though it falls back a little on button mash-y grapples, it also included crazy special moves, and a glimpse at future Metro City mayor Mike Haggar's wrestling career, as he is one of the selectable characters. Capcom is also less bad about blatantly copying real wrestlers. While it's obvious that King Rasta is Bruiser Brody and Great Oni is Great Muta, the rest are pretty hard to pin down. Jumbo Flapjack could be John "Earthquake" Tenta, but he could also be Abdullah the Butcher. In a neat crossover, Biff Slamkovich references Zangief in his winning quote.

The console versions are pretty similar, but the Genesis version includes a death match option that surrounds the ring in barbed wire or electric ropes. The SNES version looks closest to the arcade and had four player support with the multitap. There was an arcade only pseudo-sequel called Muscle Bomber Duo that improved on the first game, but removed the option for 1-on-1 matches, it's basically Saturday Night Slammasters: Championship Edition. There was then a full-fledged sequel, but it had limited US release (I've never played it), and apparently is a traditional 2D fighter with wrestling ring backgrounds.

Of course, in the '90s, anything Capcom could do, SNK was bound and determined to attempt to do better, so they dropped 3 Count Bout on the Neo-Geo. A fully fictionalized roster with many transparent stand-ins (Terry Rogers is obviously Hulk Hogan with hair, even more obviously when you know Hulk's real name is Terry), but a really oddly great single player that involves death matches and even a parking lot brawl that allows you to grab a backstage interviewer and throw him at your opponent. Unfortunately, the oppressive difficulty, which stems from horrid button mashing that begins to always go in the CPU's favor after about two matches, makes the game pretty unfun, unless you're playing the AVS version and can scale the difficulty down.

The last grappler I remember being released with a fully fictional roster is Power Move Pro Wrestling from Activision for the PS1. It was also the first 3D wrestling game that came to the US. Power Move is actually a rejiggered version of the first New Japan game (Toukon Retsuden) for PS1, basically getting the same treatment as Natsume Championship Wrestling. It's basically WWF Smackdown 0, as it was developed by Yuke's and uses a really primative version of the same engine. It's only interesting as a curio now, as each guy only has about four grapples, there's no single player to speak of, and there's literally no match options besides 1-on-1. The instruction book is kind of neat, though, as they went to the trouble to flesh out all of the fictional grapplers' stories and rivalries.


I'm gonna be 100% honest with you here, dear reader. WCW's videogame output was about as good as their product, which is to say, it had some high points between 1997 and 1999, but other than that, it was garbage. The first WCW games were developed by Pony Canyon/FCI, and the first one, WCW Wrestling for NES, wasn't even a WCW game when it was developed. It was actually a game called Super Star Pro Wrestling that featured a variety of actual puroresu stars from various Japanese promotions.

The localization is so horrifically bad that even though the Road Warriors (a.k.a. Legion of Doom) are in both games, the version of Hawk in WCW Wrestling is actually Stan Hansen in Super Star Pro Wrestling, while the SSPW version of Hawk somehow became Michael "P.S." Hayes in the American game. The game is overly hard, uses that same button mash-y style and the wrestler's signature moves rarely line up with what their actual finishers were.

The second Pony Canyon WCW game was years later for the SNES and was called WCW Superbrawl Wrestling. It was actually developed by Beam Software, who gave us Back to the Future II & III for NES. You can imagine what it might be like. The game, quite frankly, is inscrutable. The HUD is crowded and sloppy and the controls are awful. It makes Acclaim's WWF efforts look like Super Mario Bros. 3. It's embarrassing. It should be avoided.

Superbrawl Wrestling's horrific character select screen. Yes, that is Johnny B. Badd you see there.

There were Gameboy games from Pony Canyon, too, but I've never played them. Based on what I know about the console WCW games and wrestling games on the black & white Gameboy, I think I'm better off.

They got better after that for two games, while AKI was handling their N64 output, and I would say that WCW/nWo Revenge is the best wrestling game to not feature a character creation tool. The only problem with these games now is that they are surpassed in every way by the WWF games that AKI made for the N64. I'm also told that AKI's Japan-only follow up, Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 shames these early efforts.

THQ also had some PS1 games (later ported to N64 and PC) developed, but not by AKI or by Yuke's, who would handle their WWE games once they took over that license. The games in question are WCW vs. the World, WCW Nitro and WCW Thunder. I bought Nitro the day it came out, and the friendly guy at Funcoland tried hard to dissuade me. I would not be dissuaded. I can only wish now that I had listened to him.

Developed by Inland Productions, the games both feature horrid graphics, no single player to speak of, an obnoxiously limited move set, and should just generally be avoided. The only redeeming factor are promos you can watch on the character select screen. Seriously, that is the only interesting thing about these games.

WCW vs. the World actually came before those, and was developed by AKI. It plays similarly to their N64 titles, but has fewer moves for each wrestler. Largely forgettable today.

After THQ lost the WCW license, EA won the bid. This is not the EA we know today that released things like Rock Band, Mirror's Edge and Left 4 Dead. No, this was the old, bad EA. This is an EA that released a myriad of awful WCW games, including one that was a wrestling game without a ring. I'll say that again; they released a wrestling game that HAD NO RING.

Who needs a ring when you can have a Jeff Jarrett mirror match?

I talked Monday about how bad Wrestlemania XIX for Gamecube was, but at least under all the stupid crap there was a point at which you wrestled. In a wrestling ring. EA, though, they released WCW Backstage Assault. What's the demographic for that, exactly? People surveyed revealed that their favorite part of wrestling programs were the muggings guys gave each other in the backstage areas? Are you joking?

Sadly, faithful readers, they were not. The predecessor, WCW Mayhem had a ring, and was pretty much just as awful. The system was just sloppy. It was a quick cash-in from the old EA. Apparently, they were starting to get it, and handed development of WCW Mayhem 2 to AKI, but, as we know, WWF bought WCW in 2001 and that game never reached shelves. EA would take AKI's beginnings of that game and create Def Jam Vendetta, more on that later.


ECW was only a strong enough promotion to have two videogames made. Both were done by Acclaim and they were continuations of the WWF Warzone series. It was nice at the time to see Rob Van Dam, Justin Credible and the ECW crew in game format, but the games themselves were derivative, offering little over what WWF Attitude had already offered.

The first game was for PS1, Dreamcast, N64 and Gameboy Color. I've never played the GBC games, but the other versions are entirely skippable in favor of Anarchy Rulz for PS1 and Dreamcast, which, honestly, is also not really worth a lot of your time unless you have some serious ECW nostalgia. Smackdown vs. Raw included ECW in their rosters for the last three years, but there was nothing inherently ECW-esque about the brand in any of those games.


Puroresu games often come to the US with fake casts, as we've discussed. Others just stay in Japan. Most of them we've kind of touched on by this point, but there are two that I want to touch on in particular. The first is a series that was actually done by a first party. Sega produced three All Japan Pro Wrestling games, one for Saturn/arcade, two for Dreamcast. None of them made it out of Japan, which is a shame because they're very, very good.

The first is called All Japan Pro Wrestling featuring Virtua, because it (like the others) featured a couple of characters from Virtua Fighter. It set the tone, but all the games basically build off of the same system and only get better. Giant Gram 2000 for Dreamcast is generally considered the best of the bunch. What makes the games great is the system. It's very basic, using a rock-paper-scissors system which means throws beat grapples, grapples beat attacks, and attacks beat throws.

The thing that makes the game really unique, though, is the combo system. For example, if you are using a character that has a verical suplex, doing a button imput (often down and B) at just the right time turns it into a brainbuster. The reversal system works on a similar principle. Unlike Smackdown vs. Raw, or even No Mercy, wherein you just press the counter button before the grapple, Giant Gram requires the timing on a reversal be perfect to the time of an opportunity for reversal during the manuver. The Dreamcast titles also feature robust create a wrestler modes.

The other puroresu game I wanted to mention is King of Colosseum. It's developed by Spike, who is mostly Human expatriates. It is fully licensed by all the major Japanese wrestling promotions, and uses an extremely deep grappling system. It would be difficult to describe here, and it takes some time to learn, but it's worth it. My favorite thing about the series, though, is it's emphasis on wrestling psychology, something very few games even touch on. In KoC, in order to advance, in order to have a successful match, you must please the crowd. This means letting your opponent get an advantage on you, in order to make a big comeback. I highly recommend the last game in the series, King of Colosseum II, as the first few games break up the federations between them.

Fire Pro Wrestling

A series so well known, so grand, so critically lauded that it deserves its own heading. Fire Pro Wrestling began life on the PC Engine in 1989 with Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag, developed and published by Human Entertainment only in Japan. The game was a vast departure from earlier wrestling games in that button mashing was the fastest path to a loss. Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag required the player to time their grapples.

When two wrestlers approached each other, they would automatically lock up, after a moment, they would bend their knees. Hitting an attack button exactly at the moment you bent your knees would result in you executing your move, unless you attempted a move that was too powerful too early, and you opponent attempted a weaker, faster move. Over time, the only change to this system is that in more recent games, the wrestlers now rear back before lunging forward and locking up, and now the correct timing is exactly when you make contact for the lockup. Other than that, the basic system is the same.

Naturally, with more games came more moves, taunts, entrances, more wrestlers in the ring and, perhaps most importantly, a more robust single player experience. Several of the games feature very fully developed stories, not only for their time, but for wrestling games in general. In fact, if you've ever wondered why Suda51 puts wrestling moves and references in so many of his games, it's because he got his start as a scenario writer for Human working on the Fire Pro series. In fact, he set the tone for his work pretty early when he wrote the scenario for Super Fire Pro Wrestling Premium for the Super Famicom (Japanese Super NES). In that game, your character falls in love with Akira Maeda's (fictional) sister, but the love goes unrequited and after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, he kills himself.

Speaking of the player characters, each Fire Pro entry has a pretty large cast, with the most recent having over three hundred characters, with slots to create over one hundred more. The characters themselves aren't really fictionalized versions of real wrestlers. No, they're more like real, actual wrestlers with different names. They look, taunt, fight and use the finishers of their real life counterparts, and there are entire FAQs online dedicated to helping you go through the (extremely tedious) task of renaming all the characters to their real names.

The series has well over twenty entries, so discussing them all here is nearly impossible, but rest assured, this is not a series in which the most recent entry is the only one worth playing. In fact, while Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PS2 is by far the best game from a mechanics standpoint, it is woefully light on single player modes. That being said, it's the only console game in the series to get a US release, and at release it was only twenty bucks, so there's not a compelling reason to not own it, if you're into wrestling and videogames. Still, though, the major draw in terms of single player is a mode in which you become a promoter and book shows and can play out all of your matches. The only problem with it is you can't use your edits (created characters in Fire Pro lingo) in this mode, and making edits is one of the biggest draws to the game, so the mode becomes much less compelling.

The casts also vary from game to game, including one game for the PC Engine Duo that is entirely a Joshi (Japanese women's wrestling) game. Fire Pro Wrestling D for Dreamcast is also very highly regarded, as well as Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium. The first taste we got of the series wasn't until the 2001 launch of the Gameboy Advance, and the two games that got US release (Fire Pro Wrestling and Fire Pro Wrestling 2) are also very good, and portable, which is a bonus! The only shame there is that Fire Pro Wrestling 2's biggest draw was it's Management of the Ring mode, which put you even more in the shoes of a promoter than Fire Pro Wrestling Returns single player, as it required you to buy TV time, develop merch, etc. was cut due to the amount of work the (small) US publisher would've had to sink into localization.

Spike, the current owner of the Fire Pro series (made up mostly of Human expats, following that company's dissolution) have said that Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is the last in the series, but I have my doubts (and hopes!) that that isn't true.


I know I didn't cover every single non-WWE wrestling game here, but this post is already crazy long, and I didn't think it needed to be any longer. Still, there are a few games that don't fit into any of the above categories that I think need to be addressed. Just a quick rundown of some other games out there.

The first is TNA Impact. I had high hopes for this game. I read many developer interviews in which I was told the team was basically trying to recapture what made WWF No Mercy great while adding a modern design sensability. This did not happen. In fact, I'm not sure if the team had even played No Mercy, because this game was nothing like it, and while it was, I guess, playable at best, it was repetative with a wonky grapple system. Still, it was better than having to watch TNA, so that's something. It was done by Midway, who has since dissolved (and there are rumors that this game's high investment and low sales were a factor in that), so I'm not sure who has the TNA license now or if we'll even see another game.

Looks good. Plays horribly.

To move on to a pair of games that actually did resemble No Mercy, let's talk about the first two Def Jam games for a second. Def Jam Vendetta was a wrestling game featuring rappers, developed my No Mercy developer AKI. I'm not sure that there's much more that needs to be said here. It's a follow up to No Mercy in which I can play as Method Man. Sold. On the filp side, there's no create modes, so you're stuck with the default roster. By all accounts, this is what became of WCW Mayhem 2 after EA was stuck without a WCW license.

The game was successful, so EA put AKI right back to work and they came up with Def Jam: Fight for NY. At this point, you might be calling foul on me for talking bad about Backstage Assault, as by all appearances, this is a wrestling game without a wrestling ring. Not really. It's a game that came from wrestling games, but actually uses only KOs and submissions to end fights. It's really more of a fighting game informed by wrestling games.

AKI fixed most everything that was wrong with Def Jam Vendetta (which is to say, they added a create mode) and added former Black Flag frontman and spoken word genius Henry Rollins as a playable character. Again, sold. A game that allows for grudge matches between Henry Rollins and Dr. Foreman from "House, M.D." is automatically awesome. The game could've stood to have a ring, but still, it's very solid and it's from AKI. You can't go wrong. The third Def Jam game was handed to EA Chicago, was terrible, bombed and led to the shutdown of that studio. Let's not talk about it.

Speaking of things we shouldn't talk about, Eidos released two Backyard Wrestling games. They are literally games in which you wrestle in backyards. They feature members of the Insane Clown Posse as playable characters. You should stay far, far away from these games. They are an insult to both wrestling and backyards. In fact, in that way they are surprisingly faithful to their source material.

A real juggalo wouldn't fuck around with a wristlock, and a real backyarder can't do one.

There is only one lucha libre game I'm aware of, and it's not even out yet. Initially announced as AAA: El Videojuego, it's now known as Lucha Libre AAA 2010: El Heroes del Ring (Pro Wrestling AAA 2010: Heroes of the Ring). It's being developed by Immersion Software & Graphics and published by Slang. I am not familiar with either of those companies. I can only hope it isn't vaporware, because, as you can see by the body of this article, lucha libre in videogames is woefully under-represented.

So that's it. That's your primer for wrestling games. I know I left some out (Konami's Rumble Roses series, Yuke's Japan-only Wrestle Kingdom series, that crappy All-Star series Square-Enix did in Japan), but I think this post is enough to keep almost anyone busy for at least a little while. Check back tomorrow when I bring you a double dose of Top Five Friday for Wrestlemania Week!

Hardcore Gaming 101's SNK Wrestling Games article
Hardcore Gaming 101's Saturday Night Slammaster's article
Hardcore Gaming 101's All Japan Pro Wrestling Games article
Hardcore Gaming 101's Pro Wrestling (NES) article
The Fire Pro Club
Wikipedia's Fire Pro Wrestling page

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wrestle(videogame)mania Week: WWE Games and Publishers

The road to Wrestlemania ends this weekend in Phoenix with Wrestlemania XXVI. As anyone who knows me is already aware, I have a completely un-ironic and sincere love for the art form of professional wrestling (yes, I think it is an art form, and yes, I would love to debate that). I also have a completely un-ironic and sincere love for professional wrestling videogames. This week is a perfect opportunity to meld my loves. Today I'll talk about the WWF/E's relationship with videogames, Wednesday will be a primer on non-WWE wrestling games (including some puroresu games) and Friday will be a special double Top Five Friday centered around wrestling games. On Saturday, I'll put up a bonus post which will be a Wrestlemania preview just like the one I did last year. Without further ado, let's talk about WWE games.

The Acclaim/LJN Era
The first publisher to lay claim to WWF's games was Acclaim. Some of the games were released under the Acclaim name, some under the LJN imprint (Acclaim's way of getting around Nintendo of America's five games a year rule), nearly all were horrid. The first one released and the first one I remember playing was WWF Wrestlemania for the NES. If Wikipedia is to be believed, it was actually programmed by Rare, and if that is the case, it is Rare's worst game. Even worse than Perfect Dark Zero.

The game featured very few wrestlers, almost no grappling and a ridiculous difficulty curve. For NES gamers who had already played Pro Wrestling, it was a big step down. Unfortunately, the rest of Acclaim's NES output showed minimal improvement at best. Their 16-bit titles got a little better, culminating in Rage in the Cage, which almost no one played, as it was a Sega CD title, but it was essentially the same as the semi-highly regarded Royal Rumble for SNES & Genesis, but with FMV and more wrestlers.

In the late '90s, Acclaim went through a house cleaning and attempted to revamp their image. It kind of, sort of worked. It was around this time that we saw Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (lauded at the time, but pretty crappy in hindsight) and Acclaim's last two WWF releases, Warzone and Attitude, the former for PS1 and N64, the latter for PS1, N64 and Dreamcast.

They were very much the same game in terms of gameplay, using fighting game-esque button combos to execute wrestling moves. Attitude was the first wrestling game I remember playing that both had a robust character creation mode (Warzone feature a mode for this, but options for looks were sparse and movesets were all premade) and a story mode that semi-closely resembled actual wrestling programming. It included grudge matches and a climb from b-rate shows like Shotgun Saturday Night up to pay-per-view events like Wrestlemania. Still, as with Acclaim's other releases from the time, they've both aged pretty poorly, and are only worth checking out for nostalgia or curosity's sake.

The Ocean Era

Ocean Software made a few WWF games for gaming PCs/microcomputers in the late '80s and early '90s. The only one of these I've played is the DOS version of WWF European Rampage Tour, based on the tour of the same name. It was pretty bad, if memory serves, but the digitized Sean Mooney speech between matches was kinda neat for the time. The graphics shamed any of Acclaim's NES releases, but the gameplay was pretty well par for the course (which is to say, bad). Not much else to say, really.

The Technos Era

Now this is where WWF games get good. Technos, one of my all-time favorite developers in both the arcade and on consoles, the fine folks behind Double Dragon and River City Ransom, had the WWF license for two glorious games, one of which is still considered by some to be the best WWF game ever made.

The first was WWF Superstars, which should not, under any circumstances, be confused with Acclaim's awful WWF Superstars for the Gameboy. Superstars featured eight wrestlers total, six playable ("The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant are the boss team) and features only tag team play. It followed the semi-standard button mash style of gameplay popular at the time for grapplers, but the button mashes weren't nearly as hard to win against the CPU as later games like Three Count Bout.

The second is still one of the most beloved WWF games to come out, WWF Wrestlefest. Wrestlefest featured a much larger roster, much larger, more detailed sprites, and even some digitized live commentary. It was released two years later, and features twelve wrestlers, ten of which are playable (the Legion of Doom are non-playable bosses). Each wrestler has a unique set of moves, resulting in many more moves overall compared to Superstars, which had a fairly standard set for all the superstars.

In terms of play modes, it features a mode based on Saturday Night's Main Event, in which you (and a friend?) choose a tag team and try to take the Tag Team Titles from Hawk and Animal, the Legion of Doom. The other mode, which was a big deal at the time, is Royal Rumble, in which you (and up to three friends) choose superstars and have to eliminate everyone to be the last man standing. They're a little loosey-goosey with the rules of the Rumble, allowing pinfalls as well as the real Royal Rumble rule of throwing your opponent over the top rope to eliminate them.

Overall, Technos did a great job with the WWF license. Unfortunately, they only had two releases, and neither of them ever saw a console port. But I wouldn't blame you if you used MAME to play them.

The Midway Era

This era consists of exactly one game: WWF Wrestlemania. It was an arcade game that may as well have been called WWF Jam, since it's to WWF what NBA Jam and NFL Blitz are to basketball and football, respectively. Still, the game is a remarkable bit of fun, even if it can be beaten in about fifteen minutes on the hardest difficulty and only features eight playable wrestlers. It was ported to consoles by Acclaim, as they had both the WWF license and a deal with Midway to port their arcade games. The SNES version is gimped significantly, supporting only three characters on screen at a time and cutting Yokozuna and Bam Bam Bigelow entirely.

Following that game, Acclaim did an in house sequel, only for consoles, ironically called WWF In Your House, based on what the off-month pay-per-views (the ones that weren't Wrestlemania, King of the Ring, Summerslam, Survivor Series or the Royal Rumble) were called at the time. It added four player support, but killed everything else. The graphics were awful, the controls were sluggish and the special moves were much harder to pull off. Leave it to Acclaim to take someone else's good idea and ruin it.

The THQ Era

THQ are the current holders of the license, and they've been busy, busy, busy. The flagship series for them is the Smackdown vs. Raw series, which started simply as the Smackdown series. It began life on PS1, with two releases that were developed by Yuke's, a development house which seems to specialize in pro wrestling games. They were pretty well known in Japan for the Toukon Retsuden series, which were games based on the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion.

Before that, they were known for their collaborations with developer AKI, who, before partnering with WWF, were responsible for WCW/nWo World Tour and WCW/nWo Revenge on the N64. AKI used the same engine for the two N64 WWF releases they did that were published by THQ. Those games were Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy. No Mercy is considered by fans of wrestling videogames to be among the greatest ever, if not the greatest ever. It's pacing, character creation tools, number of moves, branching storylines and myriad of unlockable content make it legendary amongst fans of the genre. If you like wrestling, No Mercy is reason enough to keep your N64. AKI went on to develop the first two Def Jam games for EA, then the Ultimate Muscle/Kinnikuman games.

On the Xbox front, THQ released two games in the Raw series, both by Anchor that were middling at best. They followed that up with Wrestlemania 21, which was mediocre by all accounts. After that, they just decided to go with the sure thing, and with the Xbox 360, they've just been releasing entries in the previously Playstation exclusive Smackdown vs. Raw series.

That series is also on the Wii now, but previously there had been a number of games on the Gamecube. They were all a bit different, with the biggest sore thumb being Wrestlemania XIX, which featured a really dumb storyline (even for a wrestling game) which basically turned the game into a Final Fight-style brawler, with you beating guys up at constructions sites and the like. It was dumb. Never play it. THQ and Yuke's did, however, finish the Gamecube era in a strong fashion with the two Day of Reckoning titles. With a similiar, but not congruent system to Smackdown vs. Raw, the Day of Reckoning titles feature a strong emphasis on story, the second game being particularly notable as it's one of the very few grapplers I can think of that starts you as the champion, then sets you on a quest to regain your title, instead of making you the wet behind the ears rookie out to prove himself and win the title.

THQ also did two GBA titles that are not great alone, but entirely un-necessary when you realize that the first two Fire Pro Wrestling releases to come to the US were on the GBA. They later experimented with other genres, including an ill-advised foray into the car combat genre with WWE Crush Hour. One odd little experiment that's surprisingly solid is WWF Betrayal, which, despite what I said about Wrestlemania XIX, is a Final Fight-style (really more Mighty Final Fight-style) brawler that works really well. You choose one of four characters (Undertaker, Stone Cold, Triple H or The Rock) and punch and kick dudes, occasionally busting our your finishing move. It's dumb and easy, but it's fun in the way the most beat-'em-ups are.

So that's my tour of WWF/WWE's videogame history. Yes, I know I didn't cover every single game, but it's just an overview. If you're really curious, check the link at the bottom of the page. Stay tuned on Wednesday for an intro to non-WWE games!

Wikipedia's WWE game list