Category Archives: Sports

The WWE Network: The Review

WWE-NetworkIt has been nearly a year since WWE launched its streaming, on-demand network and even longer since the company originally announced it. First conceived as a standard television channel, the WWE Network would go missing for the duration of 2012 and 2013 despite teases prior to that of a nearing launch. When it finally did make it to consumers it was as the on-demand network present today. Consumers are able to access the network, for a monthly fee, through various external devices such as gaming consoles, Roku, and smart TVs much like other on-demand networks such as Netflix and Hulu. Priced at $9.99 per month, the cost is right around the same as other similar networks but with the obvious difference being this one appeals solely to fans of professional wrestling. Are there enough fans of professional wrestling, and specifically WWE, to sustain a pay-per-month service?

That question has largely gone on unanswered since the Network’s launch in February 2014. I posted back then about my initial impressions and have kept my subscription active ever since, despite some early problems and a lack of original content. I am happy to say that the WWE Network has improved immensely in less than a year, but subscription numbers are reportedly still not where the company needs them to be in order to insure the long-term viability of the WWE Network.

The overall strategy of the WWE Network seems to be something along the lines of giving wrestling fans everything they could possibly want at a low monthly price. The WWE Network is loaded with content ranging from old editions of forgotten television shows such as Saturday Night Main Event to original documentaries of wrestling’s biggest stars. Each month, the WWE airs a pay-per-view event that is free to subscribers of the Network and there’s also new wrestling shows such as Superstars, Main Event, and NXT; WWE’s developmental show. Current episodes of WWE’s main cable programs, Raw and Smackdown, do not air live on the Network but many older editions are present. Joining them are old episodes of WCW Nitro and ECW Hardcore Television. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also every single pay-per-view ever aired by the big three, along with lots of archival cards from the 70’s and 80’s before the wrestling television boom. Since there’s so much content to cover, I decided I would list out and elaborate on the biggest pros and cons of the service to give my own personal take on the WWE Network.

NXT

The NXT events have been light-years ahead of the WWE events.

The NXT events have been light-years ahead of the WWE events.

NXT used to air on cable but ever since the launch of the WWE Network it has become a network exclusive. When it was on television I never checked it out, but strong word-of-mouth and the ability to watch the programs whenever I want turned me on to the product and I couldn’t be more impressed with what I’ve seen. NXT is recorded in a small arena at Full Sail University in Florida. There’s a weekly, hour-long show as well as quarterly “event” shows that are structured like a typical WWE pay-per-view event. What makes NXT so special is its incredibly talented, focused, roster. The best workers in WWE right now are at NXT. Grapplers like Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, and Charlotte are supremely gifted, dedicated, in-ring workers who are honing their craft right in front of our eyes. The women’s division is so strong it’s stunning given the quality of the “Divas” matches that take place on Raw. And even though each show is only an hour long, there’s probably still more time devoted to actual wrestling than what takes place on Raw, where three-minute matches are common-place and long-winded Authority-led promos often dominate the show. NXT is simply a breath of fresh air and each one of the “pay-per-views” it’s put on have been better than every WWE pay-per-view that aired in 2014. The only bad thing I can say about NXT is that it makes the main roster look like crap making it even harder to tune into Raw on a weekly basis.

Beyond the Ring

Beyond the Ring is the section of the WWE Network devoted to biographical programs often focused on one wrestler. These should be familiar to WWE fans who have ever purchased a DVD set on one of their favorite wrestlers as these biographies are first released through that medium. Buying every DVD put of by WWE would be both costly and cumbersome, so it’s pretty cool to have them all here on the Network. There’s also wrestlers and personalities I was interested in learning more about, but I wasn’t quite willing to throw down cash on a set. There’s no set amount of time in place between release and when a biography will show up on the Network, but there’s already a healthy mix of new releases (the newest being the Paul Heyman feature which first hit retail shelves last summer) and older ones. Some of the wrestlers featured thus far have been Stone Cold, Rock, John Cena, Roddy Piper, Brett Hart, the Road Warriors, and many more. There’s also some “countdown” style features (not to be confused with the Network show called Countdown) that look at the best wrestlers of the 2000’s or top finishing moves. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed each of the features I’ve watched (the only one I really didn’t care for was Brock Lesnar’s) and often I learned something I didn’t know before.

The Monday Night War

Consisting of twenty episodes, The Monday Night War has easily been the best original program put out by the WWE.

Consisting of twenty episodes, The Monday Night War has easily been the best original program put out by the WWE.

The Monday Night War is WWE’s anthology series focusing on the mid to late 90’s and the ratings battle that took place between WWF Raw is War and WCW Monday Nitro. Consisting of twenty one hour episodes, the series looked at the start of both shows, the key moments and players within the rivalry, and ultimately its conclusion. When the WWE Network was first unveiled, this show was one of the few mentioned and promoted and was a factor in my signing up. It didn’t arrive until the fall, but it has mostly proved worth the wait. Considering it’s rather tight focus, the show did repeat itself at times but as someone who experienced the phenomenon that was the Monday Night War in the 90’s I found it really entertaining to go back and re-examine it. One could potentially criticize the program for painting too flattering a picture of the WWE in comparison to WCW, but considering WCW really only competed for so long because of the nWo and Ted Turner’s checkbook, the show is probably fair. Narrated by Keith David, the presentation of the program is handled well despite having to rely on television footage from before the HD era. All of the major players one would expect receive their own featured episode including Bischoff, Austin, the nWo, Degeneration X, Rock, Mick Foley, and more. It’s just a shame the show had to end.

The Other Original Programs

NXT, the documentaries in the Beyond the Ring section, and The Monday Night War are all strong parts of the WWE Network. Unfortunately, the other original programming is somewhat lacking. The latest, and likely intended as a replacement for The Monday Night War, is WWE Rivalries which focuses on one historic rivalry in a documentary style program. The first episode focused on Austin and Vince McMahon and was extended to two-parts, each one being an hour. After already focusing on the rivalry in The Monday Night War, this one felt too familiar. Other rivalries, such as Edge and Christian vs The Hardys, just didn’t feel all that compelling. The show isn’t bad, but it needs to focus more on rivalries not already covered extensively elsewhere, which may be hard to pull off. “Reality” shows, like Total Divas and Legend’s House, are not my thing and have never been viewed by me. Countdown is an okay time-waster if you want to see current wrestlers list their favorite trash talkers, high-flyers, and so on. Legends of Wrestlemania is basically a one-hour show where a Wrestlemania match is highlighted and then shown. It’s not a bad way to pass the time, but considering every Wrestlemania is already included on the WWE Network it hardly feels necessary. The two other WWE roster programs, Main Event and Superstars, are just as bland as they were on cable. Nothing ever happens on these shows, but if you’re a big David Otunga fan, it’s probably the only place where you’ll see him compete.

The Pay-Per-Views and Current Television Product

Vince McMahon needs to make some changes if he wants to regain his reputation as a visionary in the world of professional wrestling, or sports entertainment, as he likes to call it.

Vince McMahon needs to make some changes if he wants to regain his reputation as a visionary in the world of professional wrestling, or sports entertainment, as he likes to call it.

Really, the WWE Network is actually pretty awesome. It has almost everything from wrestling’s past that a fan could possibly want as well as some pretty entertaining new shows to go along with it. And at ten bucks a month, with the original six-month required commitment now abolished, it’s pretty easy to talk yourself into subscribing, especially considering that the monthly pay-per-views are included. Unfortunately, it’s those events that are lacking the most, and in general, the current state of WWE programming. WWE Raw is a pretty bad show at this point. The storylines are stale, the main event talent too predictable, and the tone is just off. Which is frustrating, because the current roster, from an in-ring perspective, is quite possibly the most talented ever assembled by the WWE. It compares rather favorably to those early 90’s rosters that featured major up-and-comers like Shawn Michaels, Brett Hart, The Undertaker, and so many more. I love watching Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, and Bray Wyatt work a match, it’s just that they aren’t always allowed to work a compelling one. The Divas division and tag team division are bad, and there’s little importance placed on the mid-card belts. This has lead to pay-per-view cards that are just plain boring, and WWE’s reliance on The Authority angle, where a heel personality (in this case, Triple H and his wife Stephanie) are in control and make life miserable in an illogical way for the “good guys”, is just plain boring. Everything has a “been there, done that” feel to it, and I often can’t stomach more than a few minutes of Raw before I inevitably switch-over to whatever Simpsons marathon is airing on FXX. The only pay-per-view event from 2014 I truly enjoyed was Wrestlemania XXX. If I had spent the fifty bucks or whatever the cable rate is for any of the other pay-per-view events in 2014 I would have been furious.

The WWE is at an odd place right now with its network. The company is coming up on one of its biggest events of the year, The Royal Rumble, and also planning on airing its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony exclusively on the WWE Network. And there’s also Wrestlemania XXXI to think about in March. Right now, there’s enough content on the WWE Network that focuses on the past to keep me entertained, but I wonder how willing I’ll be to keep it once that content drys up. The Network does such a good job of high-lighting the glory days, specifically the Attitude Era, that it really harms the current PG Era by shining a light on just how bad it’s become. The Monday Night Wars program was very thorough in pointing out how silly and cartoony the WWF was in the mid-nineties before turning things around with a bold, new approach. Only the most ardent supporters of Vince McMahon would be unable to draw parallels between the WWF of the mid-nineties and the WWE of today. Sadly, McMahon had a sit-down with Stone Cold Steve Austin as part of a WWE Network exclusive in which he seemed to suggest that everything was great, and no one was worthy of a “promotion” to main event status(even singling out current superstar Cesaro, as being someone he was particularly down on despite most fans raving about him), demonstrating just how out of touch he is with the WWE audience. So long as he’s running the show, it’s hard to imagine things getting better.


Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour

Toadstool_TourWith spring comes golf season and this spring brings a new Mario themed golf game as well.  Titled World Tour, the game is set for release this week on the Nintendo 3DS which got me to thinking about my favorite title in the Mario Golf series:  Toadstool Tour. Released in 2003 for the Nintendo Gamecube, Toadstool Tour was the sequel to the Nintendo 64 game (simply titled Mario Golf) and was the first Mario Golf title to really incorporate the over-the-top components of Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom setting.

Mario has a history of having various hobbies and other jobs. We first knew him as the Princess rescuing Jump Man in Donkey Kong before moving onto his more popular plumber gig for Mario Bros. and the Super Mario Bros. series. Not long after his previously mentioned debut he almost immediately jumped into the world of sports. Nintendo basically decided Mario was its most marketable persona and stuck him into everything. He had cameos in the likes of Tennis and Punch-Out!, but it was the original Golf game that first allowed users to control Mario as he took part in a sport.

Golf games in general have been around basically just as long as video games. Golf is one of the few sports that’s played all around the world so it makes sense that it would be well-represented in game form. Still, it can seem kind of surprising at just how many golf games there are considering it’s often not been a sport real popular with kids (before Tiger Woods, it wasn’t really popular at all). It works though in game form since it doesn’t really require much out of its AI opponents and the slow pace makes it easier to plan. And really, the basic gameplay hasn’t changed a whole lot between NES Golf and Toadstool Tour, though pro-oriented titles like Tiger Woods have made advancements with analog control.

Toadstool Tour is pretty basic on the surface. The user selects an onscreen avatar and a mode for play. Modes include tournament, match play, and Mario specialty modes like coin mode. Each character has its own unique attributes affecting power, control, and spin and also a natural ball trajectory. Mario is the most well-rounded and his ball travels straight while a power hitter like Bowser has a mean hook and less control over where his ball is going. Once on the course, the player has two main modes of play:  auto and manual. Auto is basically a one-button approach where the user lets the CPU take over after lining up a shot and pressing A twice. It’s good for kids but most gamers will find it unsatisfying and opt for manual. On manual, the player hits the A button to start the character’s swing and then a bar at the base of the screen starts to fill. The player has to hit the B button to stop the bar at the desired spot for power, and then stop it again as it comes back for control. Once the ball is in the air, the player can affect the spin of the ball in one of four ways: topspin, backspin, super topspin, and super backspin. For those unfamiliar with golf, topspin basically extends the distance of the shot a few yards by making sure the ball rolls forward once it strikes ground. Backspin does the opposite. The standard versions of both are pretty true to life, while the “super” versions can really exaggerate the movement of the ball. Pre-shot, the user can also affect what part of the ball the character strikes by using the D pad. Once the swing starts the player has to hold the analog stick to match the new strike point allowing the player to put more loft on the shot or hook/slice it in a certain direction.

Toadstool Tour may be nearing its eleventh birthday, but it's still a pretty nice game to look at.

Toadstool Tour may be nearing its eleventh birthday, but it’s still a pretty nice game to look at.

Players have access to a full arsenal of clubs. The game will make a default selection that 90% of the time works best. It’s usually on approach shots where you may opt to go for a different approach such as putting from the fringe as opposed to a chip-shot. The power meter can also be toggled from normal, power, and approach. If using the putter, there are three options for short, medium, and long range. The user is free to select whatever option he or she desires, though the power function has only six uses per round (a perfectly executed shot though, max power plus perfect accuracy, won’t consume a power shot reserve). There are enough options to approach any shot, though if the game has one short-coming it’s with the putting. Putting does not have an accuracy input, it’s simply a two-press function for power. Longer shots are actually fine, but the really short ones can be more troublesome because of how touchy the meter is. For short puts, you basically have to let the meter fill all the way and set your power when it’s coming back. This takes getting used to and novice players will likely miss some short ones as a result which can be really frustrating. Many golf games will have a “gimme” putt feature where a yard or less is automatically sunk by the game. Such a feature would be welcomed here.

The basic gameplay works well, putting excluded, and it actually surprised me with how robust the shot options are. It wouldn’t be a very special game though if it ended there. This is a Mario sports title after all, so a certain amount of “wackiness” is expected and the game mostly delivers in that respect. There are six courses to unlock, not including the par 3 course, and each new one unlocked ups the difficulty factor as well as the amount of Mario-isms. The first course is fairly basic, as are the next couple, but later ones add things such as warp pipes and piranha plant hazards. The final course takes place at Bowser’s castle and features numerous lava hazards, thwomps, and other features common to such a setting. These courses can be pretty difficult, but are definitely more rewarding. Completing courses and certain game modes unlocks additional characters, and competing against individual characters in match play unlocks star versions of those characters. The star characters have improved base stats and are practically mandatory if you want to score under par on the most difficult courses.

It's not often you have to worry about chain-chomps when getting in a round of 18.

It’s not often you have to worry about chain-chomps when getting in a round of 18.

Even though the Mario theme is represented well here, I can’t help but wish there was more. Mario has visited all kinds of different worlds throughout his games and I feel like crazier courses could be designed to accentuate that even more. It is my hope that the new game does just that. Additional courses in general would also be welcomed. Six feels a little light. Eight, or even ten, would be best. There could be ice courses, pipe courses, even a floating airship course. And now that the Mario Galaxy series has come along, some funky gravity-defying course would likely be a fun experiment in course design. More courses would naturally lead to more variety. Most of the courses in Toadstool Tour encourage power over “target golf.” The hardest courses negate that to some degree, but the power golfers definitely seem to have an advantage on most courses. An ice course, for example, would definitely emphasize spin and control over power as the ball’s movements once it hit the ground could be pretty unpredictable.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour is currently the best Mario Golf game released and probably the best Mario sports title as well. It strikes a nice balance between the actual game of golf and the more off-beat qualities brought by the Mario gang. It could probably stand to be even more outlandish, and some minor control tweaks could also improve the experience, but as it stands it’s a fun game of golf and offers a different experience from the usual EA Sports type of game. If you’re looking for a home golf game and something to play with friends, Toadstool Tour is a cheap and effective solution.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events (29-20)

images-202It’s that time of year when WWE programming is officially declared as being “on the road to WrestleMania!”  This year, WrestleMania will be on April 6th and the main event will likely be a triple-threat match consisting of WWE Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, Batista, and Daniel Bryan.  I say “will likely be” because technically Bryan needs to defeat Triple H in a one-on-one contest earlier in the card to secure his spot in the main event, which feels like a certainty considering the hostile crowd reactions of late towards the original main event of Orton and Batista.  No matter who is in the main event, this WrestleMania will be historic for the simple fact that it’s WrestleMania XXX.  Back in 1984 when the first WrestleMania hit pay-per-view it was considered a huge gamble for the then World Wrestling Federation.  The fact that we’re approaching the 30th edition of this event is remarkable.

WrestleMania is the big one.  For the WWE, it’s the Superbowl of professional wrestling.  And as we’ve learned over the years, just because the Superbowl contains the top two teams in the NFL each year, it doesn’t mean we’re about to see the best game of the year.  WrestleMania, and its main event in particular, is guilty of that same phenomenon.  WrestleMania has been host to some of the best matches in professional wrestling history, some of which have been main event matches, but there have been a whole host of bad ones too.  The early events are particularly guilty of this as the main event was dominated by Hulk Hogan.  Hogan is arguably the most popular wrestler in history.  Kids loved him because he was basically a super hero in the ring, but from a wrestling perspective he was awful.  His arsenal of moves was pedestrian and his no-sell antics were cartoonish.  For wrestling fans, particularly modern ones, his matches are terrible.

Hulk Hogan was involved in some capacity with the WrestleMania main event a record nine times, all of which occurred within the first nine WrestleManias.  WrestleMania IV was the only one he did not compete in, while WrestleMania IX was billed as Bret Hart versus Yokozuna, only for an impromptu match between Hogan and Yokozuna to come together after the fact (it lasted for all of a minute).  And in those eight matches Hogan participated in, he only would lose one.  Yes, Hogan dominated the early period of WrestleMania.  Since his departure, other wrestlers have come close to matching the amount of main events that Hogan amassed.  Triple H has logged six main event appearances while Shawn Michaels has managed five.  John Cena, who currently is very much active in the WWE and not likely to quit anytime soon, has also managed five giving him a legit shot at matching, or even surpassing, Hulk Hogan for main event appearances.

Hulk Hogan was synonymous with WrestleMania for the better part of its first decade.

Hulk Hogan was synonymous with WrestleMania for the better part of its first decade.

As far as the WWE is concerned, Cena or Triple H probably already holds the record.  That’s because the WWE often likes to declare multiple main events for WrestleMania (which is why when discussing Stone Cold and the Rock you will often hear it said that Austin vs Rock is the only match to be included in the main event three times at WrestleMania, even though it was the final match of the night only twice).  As far as I’m concerned, the main event is a singular phrase, and therefore, there can be only one per card.  For this feature, I’ve decided to rank the final matches on each WrestleMania card one through twenty-nine to name a best match.  It should be said that a list of the twenty-nine best WrestleMania matches would likely look very different.  After all, some of the most talked-about matches in the history of the event did not occur in the main event.  I’m talking about matches like Steamboat vs Savage, Undertaker vs HBK, or any of the many ladder matches that have taken place over the years at WrestleMania.  Coming up with the thirty or so best matches would just be too daunting a task for me, but with the help of the brand new WWE Network, revisiting and ranking the best main events is a task I think I can handle.

29. Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow (WrestleMania XI)

When it comes to WrestleMania, one thing fans are certainly assured of is a celebrity appearance or two.  Vince McMahon seems to love it when he can get a celebrity to participate in his events as a way of legitimizing what the WWE does, even if most of these appearances are looked-down upon by his hardcore fan base.  This trend began with the very first WrestleMania and continues today.  When a celebrity takes on the form of a guest ring announcer or valet most fans can excuse it, but when they get in the ring?  And when that celebrity is in the main event?!  It’s nothing short of awful.  To his credit, professional football player Lawrence Taylor doesn’t embarrass himself in the ring against Bam Bam Bigelow, but the two hardly put on on a match worthy of occupying any main event, let alone the main event at WrestleMania.

28. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania)

The very first WrestleMania was the riskiest, and to make sure the event was a success, McMahon recruited any celebrity he could and even found one to include in the main event.  Mr. T, star of The A-Team, made numerous appearances for the WWF and was able to attract a lot of attention from the mainstream media.  Piper was able to get legitimate heat and people genuinely wanted to see Hogan and Mr. T kick he and Paul Orndorff’s ass.  The crowd was into it, which is the only good thing I can say about this main event.  Other than that, it’s awful.  Mr. T looks the part of a wrestler when he’s standing still, but when he tries to get involved he’s sloppy and out of place.  The other guys are unable to direct him and coach him to a decent match.  Hogan and T come out on top, but it’s not a fun ride getting to the finish.

Hulk Hogan vs King Kon Bundy at WrestleMania 2 has never been confused with a "classic" Mania match.

Hulk Hogan vs King Kon Bundy at WrestleMania 2 has never been confused with a “classic” Mania match.

27. Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy (WrestleMania 2)

It’s somewhat surprising that WrestleMania has been the success that it is considering two of the first three matches on my list are occupied by the first two WrestleMania main events.  Hogan was able to avoid being in, what I consider, the worst main event in WrestleMania history, but the next few spots aren’t going to be too kind to the Hulkster.  This match appears in this spot not because it’s awful, but mostly because it’s so uneventful.  It took place in a steel cage and I can’t decide if that helped or hurt it as it limited what the already limited competitors were able to do.  Bundy was a mountain of a man whose size limited what Hogan could do to him.  He was also too big to scale the cage walls, not that he and Hogan were likely to orchestrate a big spot from up high even if he could.  At least Hogan won by going over the cage instead of out the door, because it always sucks when a cage match ends without someone at least climbing over it.

26. Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice (WrestleMania VIII)

If you wanted to find a silver lining for the previous match, at least it was for the WWF Championship so that gives it some buzz.  This match between Hogan and Sid Justice was a non-title match, but the fans didn’t seem to care as they were pretty loud and solidly behind the Hulkster.  Sid is about as limited in the ring as Hogan, and when two big men with limited arsenals clash there just isn’t much room for a good match.  By now, Hulkamania was nearing its expiration date and the Hogan formula was well-established which meant there were no surprises, aside from the match ending in a DQ victory for Hogan.  This was a pointless main event at a forgettable WrestleMania.

25. Hulk Hogan vs Sgt. Slaughter (WrestleMania VII)

The main event for WrestleMania VII was supposed to mirror the conflict in Operation Desert Storm with the American aligned Hulk Hogan taking on the champion and Iraq sympathizer Sergeant Slaughter.  Slaughter was portrayed as a turncoat and traitor to America, which helped get the crowd into it.  In the ring, it was just another Hogan match where two guys wail on each other for ten minutes or so before Hogan “Hulks up” and takes care of business.

WrestleMania VI was hyped as The Ultimate Challenge by the WWF.

WrestleMania VI was hyped as The Ultimate Challenge by the WWF.

24. Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania VI)

Some things that seem awesome when you’re a kid appear totally different through the eyes of an adult.  By WrestleMania VI, Hulkamania was running wild.  The super hero thing was working for Hogan, so why couldn’t it work for someone else?  Enter the Ultimate Warrior, who was basically an even more cartoonish version of Hogan.    He did everything Hogan did but just seemed crazier and looked more wild with his flowing locks and wild tassels.  He was impressive looking to me when I was a kid, but when I look at him now he just looks like a steroid junkie.  In the ring, he was arguably worse than Hogan as his arsenal consisted of clotheslines, shoulder tackles, and slams with the guerrilla press followed by a running splash being his version of Hogan’s big boot and leg drop.  He would even “Hulk-up” like Hogan, often running in place or grabbing the ropes for power, according to the announcers.  The whole show of the Warrior was ridiculous, and it’s no surprise he didn’t have the lasting power that Hogan did.  This match is now mostly just notable for being the only time Hogan lossed clean as a baby-face to someone.  Considering how much of a rip-off the Warrior was, it’s almost shocking that Hogan agreed to it.  The match itself is terrible, with Hogan either teasing a heel turn at one point or just plain forgetting that he was supposed to sell a leg injury.  Warrior even botches the press slam, but at least his splash looked okay.

23. Brett “The Hitman” Hart vs Yokozuna (WrestleMania IX)

Vince McMahon, and the rest of the wrestling industry, seems to love big men.  They’re viewed as attractions on their own and usually don’t even need an interesting opponent to be a draw.  Unfortunately, they’re also usually terrible in the ring due to their size.  Yokozuna is one such big man.  Billed as over 500 pounds, he’s every bit that and more.  He was supposed to be a sumo wrestler, though like most gimmicks, this was untrue but it didn’t matter because he looked the part.  He was huge and fat, and as a result, he couldn’t do much in the ring, and when he did, he became winded pretty quickly.  Brett Hart, one of the all-time great technical wrestlers, deserved better for his first WrestleMania main event.  Hart’s the type of performer that can elevate a poor opponent, but there was no elevating Yokozuna.  You either liked the spectacle or did not.  I did not, and this match is a series of clotheslines and rest holds.  Hart did manage to apply the sharpshooter, though it was kind of silly looking.  After the match ended in a Yokozuna victory, his manager Mr. Fuji quickly challenged Hogan to a match that the Hulkster would win in less than a minute.  This ridiculous finish is why I rate this match as slightly worse than the next one…

Yokozuna was a very big man.

Yokozuna was a very big man.

22. Brett Hart vs Yokozuna (WrestleMania X)

A rematch of WrestleMania IX, only with the roles reversed with Yokozuna now the defending champion.  Both guys had to wrestle a match on the undercard, and the short-of-breath Yokozuna had even less stamina than usual for the main event.  This match is actually probably worse than the one at WrestleMania IX, but without the stupid finish.  Instead Hart wins and a bunch of wrestlers come out and celebrate with him.  Yokozuna, mercifully, never appears in another WrestleMania main event.

21. Triple H vs Randy Orton (WrestleMania XXV)

This was a joyless match.  Both guys are solid technical wrestlers, with Triple H probably being the better of the two.  Neither guy is so good that on paper this would be expected to be a classic, but a good, solid match was certainly likely.  I don’t know why these guys didn’t try to put on a better showing.  It was the main event of WrestleMania XXV for crying out loud!  Instead, this was a main even fitting of television.  They just don’t do anything to make it feel special, and adding to the lack of atmosphere is the fact that the crowd isn’t into it.  Both guys immediately blow through their special moves and a lot of the early part of the match consists of both men laying on the canvas.  It picks up slightly in the second half, but never to an exciting level.  This match just sucks, and for now, is the last main event Triple H has appeared in at WrestleMania.

20. Macho Man Randy Savage vs The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase

Randy Savage spent the better part of the 80’s playing second fiddle to Hulk Hogan, even though he was clearly the superior wrestler.  His match with Ricky The Dragon Steamboat at WrestleMania III is one of the all-time classics.  Come WrestleMania IV, the WWF finally saw fit to put the strap on him, but of course, Hogan was involved.  DiBiase was one of the great workers of his generation and a classic heel.  Given different circumstances, these two could have had a great match, but the format for WrestleMania IV was not conducive to that.  WrestleMania IV consisted of a tournament for the vacated title (Hogan and André the Giant battled to a double DQ which is why he wasn’t in the main event) which meant both Savage and DiBiase had wrestled multiple times already.  As a result, the main event was pretty conventional, with both Hogan and The Giant getting involved on the outside.  Savage would get the win with the flying elbow drop, setting the stage for a year-long storyline that would lead into WrestleMania V.


A Week With the WWE Network

sg-ntwk_sizzle_today_revIt’s been a long road for World Wrestling Entertainment to launch its own network.  As early as September 2011, the WWE was teasing the network to its fans.  Once the calendar flipped from 2011 to 2012, WWE was ready to announce that its own network would launch by year’s end.  2012 came and went, with nary a word spoken about the network.  Fans were left to wonder if the network would go the way of GTV and vanish from thought.  After all, no one even knew what the WWE was trying to do with its own network.  Was it to be a premium cable channel?  An on-demand network?  What kind of content would fill the network?  Did anyone even really want a channel dedicated to wrestling 24/7?

WWE was quiet until late in 2013 when it came to the subject of its seemingly dead-on-arrival network.  And then, like a perfectly executed heal turn, the network was announced to great fanfare.  The long hiatus was put to good use by WWE as nearly every question that could be asked was answered immediately.  The WWE Network would be an on-demand internet channel in the same style as Netflix or Hulu.  For ten dollars a month, fans would receive access to the network and their ten dollars would go a long way:  access to new series, access to every WWF/WWE/WCW/ECW pay-per view, on-demand episodes of Raw, Smackdown, Nitro, Hardcore TV, etc.  And the kicker, every new WWE pay-per view was included live.  That meant that individuals who subscribed in April would get all of the historical content plus Wrestlemania XXX for just ten bucks.  The catch?  Well, the only catch was the announcement that a subscription was a six month commitment making the entry level price sixty bucks for Network access.  As far as catches go, this is a perfectly reasonable one otherwise fans would be constantly signing up and canceling their subscriptions just for ten dollar pay-per views (for those unaware, a WWE PPV usually runs fifty to sixty dollars, with Wrestlemania sometimes going higher).

The WWE Network has a very simple and easy to use interface, though improved search features would be appreciated.

The WWE Network has a very simple and easy to use interface, though improved search features would be appreciated.

This past Monday, the WWE Network was officially launched.  The Network is available on several platforms including PC, Mac, iPod/iPad, smart phones, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360, Roku, and probably some I’m forgetting.  The only notable exclusions right now are Smart TVs (other than Samsung), Nintendo devices, and Xbox One.  Some Smart TVs will receive support this summer, as well as Xbox One, though no word on the Wii U.  Regardless, most households have at least one of those things and should be able to access the WWE Network provided they have a broadband connection.  The first week is free on laptop and desktop devices, but I was intrigued enough to pay the sixty bucks for the six month commitment.  After one week, how do I feel about my purchase?

Initially, a little wary.  Because of the hype, and because of the free access, the servers were absolutely flooded when the Network launched on the 24th of February.  I didn’t have any problems signing up for it (unlike many folks), but when it came time to watch it quickly became obvious that the Network could not meet the demands of wrestling fans.  I first tried watching Wrestlemania XIV on my PS3.  My PS3 is on a wired connection (unlike my PS4, plus I have a remote for the PS3) so it seemed like the best way to view the network.  The PPV started with no problems and I was having a pretty damn good time with it.  The picture, up-converted since it wasn’t originally aired in HD, was sharp.  Best of all, the old WWF logo wasn’t blurred out, nor were Stone Cold Steve Austin’s one-finger salutes.  I was quite impressed and genuinely surprised at how well the experience was going, until I tried to fast-forward.  That’s when everything went to Hell and the PPV endlessly went into a buffering loop until eventually the PPV quit and I was back at the main menu.  Repeated attempts to re-launch the event stalled, and I eventually gave up.

Night two went even worse.  It started off the same, but when trying to launch an event it would only last a few minutes before crapping out.  I tried the Network on my laptop over Wi-fi, just for the Hell of it, and had the same results.  Night three was more of the same as well, and it wasn’t until Thursday that I finally was able to view an entire PPV event.  By then, the interface had been improved slightly by adding chapters to each event, making navigating to a favorite match a lot easier.  And ever since then, everything has been running smooth as silk.

As you may have guessed, I’ve been practically glued to my couch all weekend basking in wrestling nostalgia.  I’ve watched several events at this point, mostly reliving the glory of the Attitude era, but also pausing for some WCW and ECW events.  I made it a point to check out some of the more controversial items to see how WWE handled them, below:

The brief Owen Hart tribute that appears before Over the Edge '99.

The brief Owen Hart tribute that appears before Over the Edge ’99.

Over the Edge 1999 – this is the event made famous for tragic reasons as Owen Hart fell from the rafters and perished in the ring.  The camera did not catch the accident live, but the original broadcast obviously couldn’t ignore it.  WWF chose to continue with the show, but it has never been aired since or released to home video.  The WWE Network version contains a tribute to Owen at the beginning, and all mention of the accident has been cut from the program.  It’s pretty eerie watching the matches that took place after it, as it’s easy to see the concern and dread on some of the wrestlers faces.

Chris Benoit – Benoit is famous for pretty horrific reasons, and ever since he murdered his wife and son in 2007 he has not been mentioned or shown in video by the WWE.  All events that he took place in are here on the Network, uncut.  I heard there was to be a disclaimer before events containing him, but when I watched Wrestlemania XX and ECW One Night Stand there was none.  I though perhaps they would cut some of the praise aimed at Benoit from the announcers or promos, but no alterations appear to have been made.  Benoit and Eddie Guerrero’s past match celebration at the end of Wrestlemania XX is even still intact.

Other censorship – WWE promised there would be no censorship, but there are edits made to some programs.  Brief nudity, such as was the case at Fully Loaded ’98, has been blurred.  Some licensed music tracks have been removed as well, and oddly, some wrestlers have their entrance music changed.  I watched a match between Chris Jericho and Fake Goldberg which took place at WCW Fall Brawl and Jericho’s music had been replaced with his WWF Y2J theme.

In addition to all of the past PPV events, the WWE Network will have original programming as well. Of the ones announced, the Monday Night War has the most potential.

In addition to all of the past PPV events, the WWE Network will have original programming as well. Of the ones announced, the Monday Night War has the most potential.

Currently, there are no episodes of Nitro on the network and the advertised Monday Night Wars program has not been added yet either.  One surprising inclusion so far has been DVD only programs.  Last night I enjoyed watching Stone Cold Steve Austin:  The Bottom Line on The Most Popular Superstar of All Time, the documentary released on home video in 2011.  Either WWE is pulling out all the stops early, or this is a sign that other wrestler documentaries will be added that were previously only available on DVD/Blu Ray.  Other original programs, such as Legends House, have yet to be added but I don’t know if anyone is really looking forward to that one…

The real test for the WWE Network is coming:  Wrestlemania XXX.  Will the servers be able to handle it?  I’m also curious about their plans for the future, as right now all of the press releases for the Network make it a point to say 12 pay-per view events are included.  Does that mean the pay structure will change by this time next year for pay-per view events?  Questions aside, right now I would call the WWE Network a success.  It’s quite possible that after six months I’ll have had my fill, as I’m not huge into the current product, but maybe I’ll be convinced to keep it.  If you’re a long-time fan though, or someone who’s into the current product, this is for you!


For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley

For All Mankind:  The Life and Career of Mick Foley (2013)

For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley (2013)

A great source of nostalgia for me is the mid to late 90’s wrestling scene.  Any time a DVD or Blu Ray is released high-lighting the career of a popular wrestler from that era it always grabs my attention.  I’m usually able to resist and wait for the price to come down, but every now and then I feel compelled to jump in right form the start and that was the case for me with the latest Mick Foley collection titled For All Mankind:  The Life and Career of Mick Foley.

Foley is the wrestling superstar who was never meant to be a superstar.  Bad-bodied and lacking any sort of flash, Foley seemed destined for mid-card status.  His defining trait was a willingness to sacrifice his body for whatever promotion he happened to be working for in such a way that it made other wrestlers look good.  This lead to the occasional program with some main event types like Sting and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but the glass ceiling was always firmly kept in place.  This changed though in large part to the WWF’s Attitude Era which gave wrestlers the freedom to express themselves to the audience on a more personal level.  The rise of the internet also helped spread the tale of Foley’s hardcore exploits in smaller territories and he fast became a legend amongst the diehard crowd.  As wrestling gained in popularity, the diehard audience became the mainstream crowd and the WWF saw fit to throw Foley a bone in the form of a (brief) reign as WWF Champion.

The story of the unlikely hero rising to the top is a familiar one, but Foley’s always felt special.  A major assist for that goes to Foley’s best-selling autobiography Have A Nice Day! which he wrote without the aid of a ghost writer.  When the book hit newsstands, Foley had already risen to the top so the book can’t take credit for that, but it can take credit for making Foley something more important to me than just another wrestler.  Foley’s writing was both witty and articulate.  He has a natural sense of humor and he comes across as 100% authentic.  He’s not afraid to boast of his good qualities, but he’s also quick to point out when he stinks up a match.  I can see how his willingness to pat himself on the back could rub people the wrong way, but I never found it off-putting.  He takes his job and his legacy seriously and he has a strong opinion of how the business of wrestling should be run.  This did get him into some trouble when he spoke ill of Nature Boy Ric Flair’s booking, but it’s the kind of thing readers are looking for when they buy this type of book.

With his unkempt hair and gap-toothed smile, Mick Foley never really embodied the image of WWF Superstar.

With his unkempt hair and gap-toothed smile, Mick Foley never really embodied the image of WWF Superstar.

Foley’s reputation for being a hardcore legend naturally sparked a great deal of curiosity on the part of wrestling fans who missed out.  A lot of these matches occurred in Japan or smaller promotions in the US which were never commercially released.  Fans were forced to purchase low-quality VHS bootlegs and trade them amongst each other.  As a result, Foley’s career has lent itself well to home video.  For All Mankind is his second major collection released by WWE following the more match-oriented Mick Foley’s Greatest Hits and Misses.  That collection contained a lot of the matches fans really wanted to see.  For All Mankind chooses to focus on Foley’s life and in many ways is like a visual complement to his written autobiographies.  There are matches included as well, but they’re secondary in this case.

I own The Greatest Hits and Misses set so I was more interested in the documentary this time around.  It runs around 2 hours and covers a lot of the same ground the books do but the visuals are a great benefit as some of the wrestlers Foley talks about have been almost forgotten.  It’s certainly familiar territory but the documentary livens things up with interviews from wrestlers past and present as well as some of Foley’s friends and family.  Surprisingly, we never hear from Foley’s wife which is too bad as I would have liked to have heard what was going through her mind every time her husband agreed to partake in some crazy barbed-wire death match or whatever.  Less surprising, but equally disappointing, is the absence of the Undertaker who was a big part of Foley’s WWE career.  The Undertaker is one of the few wrestlers left who basically refuses to break character so I didn’t expect to hear from him, but it didn’t stop me from holding out hope for it.

The documentary basically covers Foley’s entire profressional career, though it does refrain from acknowledging Foley’s run with TNA which is understandable.  There’s probably close to 45 minutes of outtakes on the Blu Ray release.  Most of these include funny stories from other wrestlers such as Triple H recalling a doomed attempt at a top-rope dive from Foley while other wrestlers rib him for his cheapness.  Foley himself comes across as a charming sort and it’s fun to hear him talk about all of the things he’s done.  He’s a natural story-teller that can draw in non-wrestling fans with little effort.

The set is light on matches, but does include a few bright spots including this barbed wire match with the Sandman.

The set is light on matches, but does include a few bright spots including this barbed wire match with the Sandman.

The other large portion of the release is dedicated to actual matches from throughout Foley’s career.  The set, like most WWE sets, seeks to avoid repeating matches that appeared on other sets which is good for the wrestling diehard that buys everything, but it prevents the WWE from ever putting out a definitive collection of matches for any one wrestler.  Foley is no exception as his best matches are on the previously mentioned Mick Foley’s Greatest Hits and Misses.  There are two repeat matches from the set; Foley’s debut match as Jack Foley and his infamous Hell in a Cell bout with the Undertaker from King of the Ring ’98.  The good thing about the HIAC match being repeated is that the WWE has now finally ceased censoring out the old WWF logo from its matches which helps enhance the viewing experience.  The previous release also was only available on DVD, but seeing these matches on Blu Ray does very little to enhance the experience as so many of them are taken from old masters.  A lot of the new matches added are from Foley’s early run with WCW including one against Sting.  There’s also a few choice ECW fights with the Sandman in a barbed wire match and a humorous bout with Shane Douglas during Foley’s final days with the promotion.  Unfortunately, a lot of the other matches are pretty forgetable but one match I was happy to see included was Foley’s original farewell match at No Way Out against Triple H.  It’s not the best match they ever had with each other, but I like having it for the sake of completion.

This set works best when viewed as a complement to Foley’s previous releases, including both print and DVD.  If you’re a Foley fan who hasn’t read his books for several years this should be a fun trip down memory lane for you.  Others looking for Foley’s craziest matches will be let down by what they find here.  It’s all about expectations.  I got a lot out of this release and if it’s something you’re interested in checking out definitely opt for the Blu Ray if possible as the extra content is worth the extra five bucks.  Foley’s documentary is good!


Catching up with ESPN NFL 2K5

images-72It used to be that the world of sports video games was a free-for-all.  While various movie, television, and comic book licenses were sold off to developers, seemingly anyone could produce a football, baseball, basketball, or hockey title and pony up the dough to get a professional league’s endorsement of their product.  Before that happened though, publishers had to first find out there was value in that.  It used to be that most sports games were just about the sport.  Most of the games on the NES and before were just called Baseball or Football while other publishers would get a little more creative and gives gamers a title like Blades of Steel.  Eventually publishers saw the value of marketing with star power, but before they went the route of acquiring full league licenses they tried the marque player route that put Larry Bird on our 2600.  I don’t know what the first game to get a full league license was, but I do know that the first one I played was World Series Baseball on the Sega Genesis.  All of the teams I was familiar with were now present as were the different players.  Licensing agreements between leagues and their respective player’s unions made this possible (even though some mega stars liked to opt-out of these agreements and annoy gamers throughout the country; I’m looking at you, Michael Jordon) and sports games became more authentic as a result.  This was the status quo for a long time and for some leagues it still is.  For football though, that’s no longer the case and hasn’t been for a long time.

This was basically the cover of every sports game pre 1994, just swap out the athlete with another.

This was basically the cover of every sports game pre 1994, just swap out the athlete with another.

EA Sports has been the king of the virtual football world for a long time now.  Originally Tecmo held that honor with its popular line of Tecmo Bowl games but when those failed to evolve EA, partnered with John Madden, stepped in.  EA’s games thrived during the 16 bit era, especially on the Genesis which performed exceptionally well in the United States.  There were other competitors, most notably Acclaim and eventually Sony’s 989 Studios, but Madden was generally regarded as the best.  When EA announced that it would not support Sega’s new Dreamcast console it was a mighty blow to the doomed machine.  Sega had more or less won the 16 bit wars with sports titles but now found itself without its star general.  Sega did what only Sega could do:  develop its own NFL game.

Visual Concepts and Take-Two Interactive led the way with the inaugural NFL 2K in the late summer of 1999.  Sega showed off an impressive demo at E3 earlier that year that had caught the eye of many gridiron gamers but few really expected Sega to deliver a game in its inaugural year that was worthy of challenging Madden.  Sega had put out a few football titles on the Genesis but making a football game in the 3D era was totally different. The naysayers were proven wrong as NFL 2K was a critical and commercial success for the fledgling Dreamcast, and even though it wouldn’t be enough to save the console, it proved worthy of hanging around.  It’s timing was perfect too as Acclaim’s Quarterback Club was growing stale, and 989’s NFL Gameday had completely fallen off.  Madden was left to run unopposed for the most part, and needed a worthy adversary to prevent it from sharing the same fate as its vanquished foes.

Though it may be hard to imagine today, Madden was mostly geared towards casual players back then.  The game was at its best, and most fun, when dropping back to launch a deep ball down the sideline to Moss.  No longer confined to the world of two-dimensional sprites, Madden was fully realized in 3D but the oddly proportioned and stiff animating player models left something to be desired.  NFL 2K was the shiny new muscle car parked next to the Madden station wagon.  It was faster, leaner, and more explosive.  Running the deep post with Moss was now even more fun than it was before, and things like running the ball and rushing the passer no longer felt like chores between pass plays.  Madden wanted you to have fun, NFL 2K wanted you to experience NFL football.

Go ahead, try and stop him.

Go ahead, try and stop him.

The debut game was not perfect, and a lot of the front end needed some polish, but the presentation shined in other areas.  Commentary from the fictitious duo of Dan Stevens (Terry McGovern) and Peter O’Keefe (Jay Styne) felt vibrant and alive even without the name recognition.  A sports ticker scrolled by to update the player on other games and replays were used judiciously.  When dropping back to pass, the player no longer had to call up the button assignments for receivers, they were already present.

Visually, the game was a tour de force when compared with Madden.  Madden did a good job with player faces, but 2K topped them everywhere else.  They were better proportioned, but mostly they just plain moved better.  Madden was always stiff and steering a running back thru the defense felt like steering a boat.  In 2K, players were quick and cutting left and right.  When the gap between blockers was minimal they turned their bodies to squeeze thru the tiny hole.  When the ball was in the air receivers would leap over defenders if they had to in order to pull it down while a tiny scat-back would get blown up if trying to truck a stout middle linebacker.

Playing the game was also fast and just generally more entertaining.  Passing the ball was a true blast as so many weapons were made available to the player.  Quarterbacks were not restricted to the play called as far as how the ball would travel thru the air.  If the player wanted to lob it, he could.  If he wanted to put a little extra mustard on the throw to zip it into tight coverage, he could.  Maximum Passing meant players could intentionally under or over throw targets with a flick of the analog stick.  Have an agile receiver running outside with a corner over him?  Under throw him so only he has a play on the ball.  Have a tall receiver streaking towards the back corner of the end zone?  Take advantage of his height and toss it up.  He may not come down with it, but neither will the defender.  Knowing how to pass the ball to each receiver is a must for continued success.  If your stone-handed blocking fullback is open in the flat it’s best to lob him a softy than toss him a bullet that will probably bounce of his face-mask.  Knowing your personnel is equally important in the running game as scat-backs like Warrick Dunn are not likely to find much success between the tackles.  Get those guys in space where they can spin and juke their way to pay-dirt and leave the stiff arms and truck maneuvers for the likes of Mike Alstott.  NFL 2K also proved that defense could be fun.  Playing the line and rushing the passer was a game of cat and mouse.  You may find initial success with a certain technique but offensive lines will adapt and double you if necessary.  Playing in the secondary and trying to stick to a receiver was extremely difficult and only for the true pros, but hanging back and making plays on the ball with a safety was both rewarding and fun.

NFL 2K was here to stay, and though Madden routinely topped it in sales, EA wasn’t pleased to have legitimate competition.  EA was especially perturbed when 2K5 (now dubbed ESPN NFL football) was released for only 20 bucks.  This was the last straw and soon EA locked up the NFL license (along with the NCAA, Arena League, and others) and basically put an end to Sega’s annual football game.  This was especially unfortunate as 2K5 was a godsend for football fans.

The addition of the ESPN license meant full animated game intros hosted by a virtual Chris Berman.

The addition of the ESPN license meant full animated game intros hosted by a virtual Chris Berman.

Earlier games in the series had their own issues.  Not all would be solved but by the time 2K5 came around a lot of them would be.  Earlier games featured an over-powered run game.  Perhaps VC and Sega really wanted to make running the ball as fun as passing, but by making it so effective they messed up the balance.  Changing the blocking patterns and playing up to the difference in backs (power vs finesse) helped to solve this.  The dreaded suction-blocking was also less of a problem come 2K5.  Suction-blocking is a fan-coined term that described the game’s programmed blocking animation that forces a defender to engage.  Even when controlling a defender manually, it was something the game forced upon those who played.  Madden was plagued by it too and would be for some time longer but 2K found a way to nearly eliminate it come 2K5 (though it was still hard to disengage from a blocker).  Earlier games were light on options and Madden seemed to always trump 2K in this department, but 2K5’s franchise mode was quite robust and a series of challenges in the ESPN 25th Anniversary section kept gamers busy.  Other additions, like the virtual Crib and first-person football, were there for those who wanted it but were mostly duds.

ESPN NFL 2K5 is kind of like the NFL equivalent to WWF No Mercy.  A lot of football fans to this day still feel it’s the best of the best.  I was a 2K guy and before the series went multi-platform I rarely played a football game.  Madden never felt right to me, and the most fun I had with a football game was NFL Blitz.  NFL 2K2 was my first taste of the series and I was hooked.  To this day, I’ve only owned two versions of Madden with all coming after the exclusivity agreement.  Neither entertained me as much as 2K5 did, though the inaugural Madden on the Wii did entertain me for quite a while.

Visually, the game is no longer a tour de force but is far from ugly.

Visually, the game is no longer a tour de force but is far from ugly.

With the NFL season winding down, I’ve been going back to 2K5 recently to see how it holds up.  A lot of the flaws I remember still jump out at me.  Lead blockers can be annoyingly dumb.  Perhaps it’s because of the whole suction-blocking thing getting blown up, but a lot of the times a blocking fullback will run right by a blitzing linebacker or defensive end and head straight for the next level.  This does my running back no good since he doesn’t have a chance to get into the secondary when a guy is already all over him at the line scrimmage.  Receivers tend to be too stone-handed with 3 or 4 drops a game from my receiving corps being a common sight.  I know guys are going to, on occasion, drop an easy one but it seems to happen too often.  Defensive backs are also really good in man coverage.  While receivers are not omniscient, they don’t know the ball has been thrown in their direction if they haven’t actually turned to look, corners seem to know exactly when to break off their assignment whether they’re watching the QB or trailing a receiver.  It makes it hard to find the “gimme” completions and even check-downs can be an adventure (why do so many check-downs to backs in the flat or receivers running out patterns result in incompletions?!?).  There’s also the matter of the near game-breaking QB evasion moves initiated by flicking the right stick.  Even statues like Drew Bledsoe can shrug off what looked like a sure sack and as a result I rarely use it because it feels cheap.

Not everything VC brought to the table proved to be a good idea.

Not everything VC brought to the table proved to be a good idea.

A lot of this stuff would be rectified by now as most are AI problems.  And at least it goes both ways.  The CPU will miss out on some easy completions because of receivers that can’t make a clean catch.  And your team will also have some pretty sticky cover guys of its own to roll out.  Since the 2k series was shelved, Madden has adopted a lot of what made the series great including guided passes and placing more emphasis on animations.  2K is still fast though, even compared with the current games, and still a blast to play.  I love approaching the line, checking the coverage, and adjusting the play on the fly.  I wish there were more robust audible options, but the hot routes make the majority of plays incredibly customizable.  If a defender is playing way off the line I’m happy to check into a short pattern and if I notice a corner has no safety help on a speedy receiver I’ll audible to a fly or slant pattern.  The adaptive AI reduces the presence of money plays which dogged older football games.  Sure, most will still have a few go-to plays for certain situations but good gamers will experience the full playbook as opposed to a handful of the same plays.  Few things are as rewarding in gaming as executing a perfect stop-and-go with an expertly timed pump-fake followed by a deep lob over the top.

My head tells me that the recent versions of Madden have likely trumped ESPN NFL 2K5 at this point.  The game came out over 8 years ago so surely it’s been improved upon by now.  My heart though won’t allow me to admit it.  When I play Madden I enjoy it but it doesn’t pull me in.  When I turn on 2K5 for a game I can’t stop at just one.  Not even the dated rosters can dim my enjoyment of this one though it does sadden me that the series was cut down in its prime.  There is hope though as EA’s license agreement with the NFL will expire at the end of this year and it was announced that Take-Two will revive its long-dormant NFL franchise in 2014.  It seems hard to believe that the developers could come in and create an exceptional football game after 10 years without the NFL license, but that just puts Take-Two and Visual Concepts in the same position they were in back in 1999 and we all know how that turned out.


Getting Cloud Connected with MLB and the Vita

MLB 12 The Show (PS3, Vita)

One of my main motivations for acquiring a Playstation Vita was the potential for connectivity between it and the Playstation 3.  It’s been the main focus of Sony’s advertising campaign to get consumers interested in their new handheld and while the launch titles did little to exploit this feature, it didn’t take long for Sony to release a game that did.

Enter MLB 12 The Show.  The game is the latest in Sony’s first-party, and much heralded, baseball title.  Released for both the PS3 and the Vita last week, it makes use of the Vita’s cloud feature in the most logical manner by letting the user take their franchise on the road.  Now when you finish a game on the PS3, you can upload the save file to Sony’s cloud and then download it onto the Vita.  The process is as simple as it sounds and it only takes a moment.  Once it’s been loaded onto the Vita, it’s just like any save file and can be saved down to the Vita’s memory card.  Then you can play it on the Vita while you’re out and about, and once done re-upload it to the cloud to download onto the PS3.  The only limitation is the Vita obviously needs an internet connection to make use of the cloud. I’m not sure if it works over the 3G network for those who opted for that  version of the Vita.

There are some limitations.  For one, there’s only one save available on the cloud per user.  In other words, you can’t upload both a franchise save and a Road to the Show save at the same time.  You can upload either one, but not at the same time.  The other limitation is that in-game saves can’t be uploaded to the cloud, which seems to contradict the ad campaign running on television at the moment.  It’s a little annoying when you’re in your living room but have to finish a game on the Vita before transferring to the PS3, but it’s not the end of the world.

The power of the PS3 in the palms of your hands! Mostly.

It helps that the two versions of The Show are pretty similar.  Visually, the PS3 version is superior.  It’s most noticeable in the textures as everything just has a nice coating to it.  There’s also some minor frame-rate drops on the Vita version during some animations, mostly batter walk-up ones for some reason.  It’s more of a presentation issue than anything.  The Vita is also limited slightly in the control department, though San Diego Studios tried to compensate for this by adding touch controls.  I haven’t used many of them, but also haven’t felt my gameplay experience hindered much by absence of the R2 and L2 buttons.  I do like the touch controls for pitching as riding the train can make precise pitch locations a little challenging.  If you wish, you can simply touch the screen where you want the pitcher to throw the ball, then use the buttons to deliver the pitch.

The game itself is pretty similar to past versions.  There’s some new controller configurations for both hitting and fielding that I personally have no use for.  I stick with meter pitching and zone batting, and it’s plenty hard enough as is.  Hitting is particularly challenging and takes a lot of practice, especially if you’re like me and haven’t played a baseball game in a couple of years.  I’ve only used franchise mode, exhibition, and practice.  I assume Road to the Show is pretty much unchanged.  Franchise mode has actually been simplified to a certain extent when it comes to ballpark upkeep, but roster management has become more complex.  The added complexity makes the game more authentic, but just be careful when using the “Auto” function when it comes to roster moves.  Sometimes it’s tempting to let the CPU auto-fill your Double A or Triple A lineup but sometimes it takes way too many liberties and makes changes to the MLB roster, which can be unwelcome.  I made the mistake of simming Spring Training in one year of my franchise and found my roster turned into a disaster by the AI management.

Uploading to the cloud (or downloading from it) is about as simple as this image makes it look.

I hear online still sucks, but I haven’t tried it myself since I’d just get thrashed.  Online being laggy and unplayable is unfortunately nothing new for this series.  It’s borderline criminal that they haven’t been able to fix it over the years, but I guess it’s on us at this point.  I mentioned in my last post that Sony also chose to knock 20 bucks off the price of the Vita version if bought alongside the PS3 one.  This makes sense since Sony wants people to experience the cross-platform play.  It still means it will set you back 80 bucks for the full MLB experience.

Is the novelty of being able to bring the console experience to the road worth the price?  Depends on how much you like baseball, I suppose.  I really like baseball, though even I have to admit this is probably a one-time thing for me.  It’s a cool thing to have, and the game runs well enough on the Vita to not diminish the experience much, but it’s still 20 bucks just to play your franchise or other single player mode on the go.  Though now that I think about, 20 bucks for a full-fledged portable baseball game isn’t really that bad.  I guess everything depends on your outlook!


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