The Thursday before WrestleMania I was extremely fortunate enough to attend my first ever TNA Impact show at the Impact Zone in Orlando, Florida. Universal Studios was pretty busy that day as the TV show Ellen had been taped earlier that afternoon, the rock band Paramore had a concert at the Hard Rock that evening (don't ask me, I had no idea who they were either and God does that make me feel old) and TNA had its first ever LIVE show. This isn't an Impact review, but let me tell you this, the Impact Zone is hands-down the greatest place in the world to watch wrestling right now. It ranks right up there with the ECW Arena during EC Dub's heyday, the Hammerstein Ballroom for the original One Night Stand, and the Saddledome in Canada for that Canadian Stampede PPV. Everything about the Impact Zone is conducive to an incredible wrestling experience. The crowd is legitimately bananas (for everything), the entrances are all great (with the LAX entrance being the best), and the intimate surroundings bring the atmosphere to a fever pitch as there isn't a bad seat in the house.
After the show I met up with Brian Fritz (host of the Between The Ropes audio show) as we were both going to a special event after Impact that would introduce the highly anticipated TNA video game. Fritz told me it was being held in the penthouse of the Doubletree Hotel, which was right down the street, so I got into my car and made the quick drive over. Once at the Doubletree, I was surprised to find out I needed to get a "ticket" in order to get into the parking lot. I've seen that plenty of times at airports and parking garages, but an outdoor parking lot for a hotel? That was a first, although to be fair, I spent most of my life pretty sheltered in New Hampshire. I grabbed my ticket and headed to the front of the hotel.
Believe it or not, the Doubletree Hotel was the official hotel this weekend for anyone who bought one of WWE's WrestleMania travel packages. So there were WWE ads everywhere and WWE marks in the lobby waiting for wrestlers to arrive so that they could get autographs. Unfortunately for them, the wrestlers and production crew were being put up at the Marriott, miles away from the Doubletree. I personally was thrown for a loop when I got to the front of the hotel and found out they had two towers, and I wasn't sure which penthouse I had to go to. I was in between Isengard and Mordor, not knowing which one I had to throw the ring into. I headed for the right tower and took it to the top floor. When I got out of the elevator, there was nothing there and I had to assume that TNA would have something identifying them, so I just turned back around and headed to the lobby.
A normal person would then just walk to the other tower and go up. Not me. I decided to head to the front desk and ask where the TNA/Midway event was being held. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Welcome to wrestling. After talking to those clowns for a bit I just went to the other tower and went to the top. When I got out of the elevator I ran into Steven Godfrey, TNA's main PR guy, so things were looking up. Steven brought me into the penthouse where Midway was about to start their presentation on TNA's first ever video game.
In the room were a bunch of pizzas from Pizza Hut, an open bar, and various other snacks. All the things you want at midnight. The ten members of the press were introduced to Reid Druck and Jaime Bencia of Midway. Reid and Jaime then held a presentation on the game itself, with Jaime doing the lion's share of the work as he is involved in the development of the game on a day-to-day basis. Being run on an X-Box 360 (though it will be available for all systems), Jaime walked us through all the sections of the game.
There will be 25 playable TNA wrestlers in the final version, and 14 were available to play that night. These include: AJ Styles, Tomko, Sting, Jay Lethal, Booker T, Christian Cage, Rhino, Scott Steiner, Samoa Joe, Eric Young, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Christopher Daniels, and Shark Boy. There was also a Create-A-Wrestler feature, but that wasn't up and running for us other than seeing the silhouette CAW wrestler. Jaime talked about a storyline mode that would differ from the ones currently seen in other wrestling games. Jaime stressed how "creative" this storyline mode would be, and I probably should have asked right there if Vince Russo was involved, as I could have just jumped right out the window.
So let's play the game! What I thought looked really sharp were the various places that the matches could be held in. The only venue we had available to play in was "Orlando," at the Impact Zone, but Jaime walked us through other locales including Las Vegas, Japan, Mexico, and the UK. The onscreen graphics for these looked awesome. Maybe in a future game they can have the old TNA Fairgrounds in Nashville. Different types of matches will be available, including a straight singles match, tag team matches, Ultimate X (which Midway was super excited about and I personally can't wait to see that one as well), Monster's Ball (weapons match), Submission match and falls count anywhere match. As soon as I heard there would be no POLE matches, I knew Russo wasn't involved and felt a monkey jump off my back. What? No reverse battle royal matches? Pinch me, I'm dreaming.
While going through the playable roster, Jaime stopped on Samoa Joe and said something along the lines of, "since you guys couldn't see him tonight." Earlier that evening at the Impact show, Joe was only show "via satellite" from Big Bear, California. Immediately Steven Godfrey said, "I think there's something I can do about that." Steven opened the door and several TNA wrestlers came into the room, including Samoa Joe. Joe was with AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Jay Lethal, and Kaz. Dixie Carter also stopped by (with her assistant) and took a seat right on the couch. There is not enough I can say about Dixie Carter after this past weekend, both at the Impact show and events such as this. A class act in every possible way. I don't know how long such a nice person can exist in a such a mean business, but here's hoping she succeeds.
It wasn't long before the door opened again and Homicide, Hernandez, and Low Ki (Senshi) came into the room with Low Ki on crutches. Those three mostly stayed to the back of the room while the others jumped at the chance to play the game. In a particularly memorable moment, as Jaime was explaining how to play the game, he played Jay Lethal and was performing moves on Samoa Joe in the ring. Both Daniels and Joe joked about how "believable" the action was. It doesn't do it justice here, but everyone was having a great time ribbing Joe as his character kept taking a beating on the screen.
As Jaime asked people to play the game, Godfrey invited members of the media to interview any wrestler they wanted, so several people broke off into adjoining rooms or quiet areas off to the side. I peppered Jaime with questions as we watched Jay Lethal and Christopher Daniels play the game (each choosing themselves as a character). Jaime talked about how long the game had been in development and how much the company wanted to hit a homerun right out of the box as everyone at Midway is a little tired of only being known as the company that made "Mortal Kombat." I asked Jaime about Six Sides of Steel and TNA Knockouts, both of which the company plans to put in the next release. Jaime also listened to the suggestions of Lethal and Daniels, and noted to make a change when Daniels said the game has one of his hand movements wrong. "Not that it means much, but if you can do it, that'd be great," said Daniels.
I then got to play the game myself against Samoa Joe. This was the first time I had ever played an X-Box (I'm a Wii boy myself) and couldn't believe the controller. Jaime was talking about all the unique button combinations and this and that and when he was all done I asked, "okay, I get all that, but what the hell is a D pad?" proving I didn't understand a thing he said. The good news is that the game is very intuitive, to the point that even I picked it up really fast. There was an interesting feature during several spots in which the person on offense and the person on defense are made to press a combinations of buttons in a certain order. The person on offense has to press three in a row while the person on defense has to press four. If the person on defense does it correctly first, he levels out the playing field, whereas if the person on offense does it correctly first he gets even more of an advantage. Yeah, sounds complicated, but it's actually quite fun once you get used to it. There is also sweet feature that let's you see the INSANE amount of detail when you pause the game. You can go all around the arena and do a close up on anything. I totally marked out for that.
I chose Alex Shelley to play and Joe chose himself. We did a ton of stuff inside the ring and some really cool stuff on the outside as well. On the barricades in front of the fans are miniature TNA PPV posters, which I thought was a nice little touch and a great attention to detail. Tenay and Don West call the action and we can only hope there is a "TO THE BACK!" in storyline mode. There are a bunch of signs being held up by the fans, one of which read "Joe will EAT you." I found that one to be rather strange, I mean, isn't that a Brother Ray sign… to insult him? Each wrestler has a deal at the top of the screen showing how much damage they have taken and after a certain point they can be given a finisher. After I had weakened Joe to a certain point, Jaime asked for my controller and gave Joe Shelly's kick ass finisher. I have no idea what it is, but it was cool to watch. FINISH HIM! I said when Jaime took my controller.
A couple hours later and it was time to call it a night. Hernandez had somehow eaten about half the pizza all by himself and I already had way too many beers considering I still had to drive. I thanked and said goodbye to Godfrey, Jaime, and Reid for putting on a first class event. We were all given an "asset disc," which had screenshots of the game and several min-trailers, one of which covered the making of the game. There is nothing like seeing Low Ki cut a promo while wearing one of those motion capture suits with all the little white balls on it. The trailer shoed Daniels, Styles, Joe, and Low Ki performing various moves at Midway's green screen studios. Great stuff which will probably be available to watch on the game's official site before long.
This game is going to sell A TON OF COPIES. I'm not even a big wrestling video gamer anymore, being burnt out by the same ol' same ol' from Raw vs. SmackDown series. This was something new and had me jazzed about getting this game as soon as possible. I was having flashbacks to my youth when I would plug in every quarter I had to play WrestleFest back in the day. The graphics are sharp, the game play is solid, and the venues are incredibly cool. What else can you ask for in a wrestling game? If only I had time to convince Jaime to put in some hidden wrestlers from the first year of TNA. The gaming world demands Cheex!
When it was all over, I met up with Brian Fritz as we were going to local bar afterwards to meet up with some WWE guys he knew there. He asked if I could drive him to his car and I asked why he didn't park at the Double Tree. "They make you pay to park, so I park at TGI Friday's next door." If you could have only seen the look on my face. "Geez Fritz," I said, "if only I had just talked to someone FIVE MINUTES before I got here so they could have told me that!" Fritz and I then got into my car and proceeded to leave the parking lot. I popped my ticket into the machine and it said the ticket was "unreadable" and forced my to pay 10 dollars, the cost of a full days parking. I was about to go out of my mind. I put a twenty into the machine and it started to spit out dollar coins. Here I am, trying to get these friggin' coins out of the machine while Fritz is telling me to hurry up before the gate comes back down. I told him there's no way the gate is coming down and I wasn't leaving without all my coins. One was stuck though, and now Fritz had me paranoid that I'd have to pay another 10 bucks in the arm came back down again, so I left. Total cost of parking: 11 dollars. If only I could have ran someone over on the way to the bar to release some of my aggression.
Anyway, be on the lookout for TNA Impact when it hits stores this summer. It will be available for all the major platforms and you can even do that Xbox Live thing for multiplayer action. Midway has an email sign-up where you can receive the latest news about the game which you can get to by clicking here