If you wanted to bring the pageantry and bone-crushing moves of professional wrestling to your console of choice, there's pretty much been just one game in town for the last several years. However, that's all about to change. TNA iMPACT! is here to officially end the monopoly on licensed professional wrestling videogames.
If you need a quick primer, Total Nonstop Action was founded in 2002 by former WWE and WCW star Jeff Jarrett along with his father. Since then, the organization has moved to a six-sided ring, landed a Thursday night spot on SpikeTV, and picked up a number of big time professional wrestling stars such as Kurt Angle, Sting, and Kevin Nash. Now, Midway is bringing the high flying moves of the federation to videogame fans across the world.
The first time I got the chance to sit down with the developers behind iMPACT!, they admitted that they couldn't match the competition's feature set their first time out of the gate but were focusing on bringing a brand-new, fun gameplay experience to the market.
In a few ways, Midway succeeded but that's only apparent if you're using the Classic Controller. Overall, iMPACT! on the Wii is just a super-stripped down version of the PlayStation 3 game
, and that title was already missing a lot of stuff.
iMPACT! attempts to utilize a control scheme that's simpler than other wrestling games to nail that "pick up and play" experience. There's a punch, kick, grab, and action command, but these are spread all over the place with the Wiimote/nunchuk scheme. The A and B buttons punch and kick, the C button runs, and the Z button is your strong modifier. Pretty simple, but from there you need to have unrivaled dexterity to hit up on the D-Pad to block, left/right on the D-Pad to Counter, down on the D-Pad to perform actions such as leaving the ring, and 1 or 2 to taunt. In the heat of battle, locating all of these directions while waving the Wiimote to grapple and the nunchuk to Irish Whip can be a bit much. Luckily, you can use the Classic Controller to take one of about 25 TNA superstars (sorry, gals and guys starved for female contact, there are no lady competitors) into seven arenas and nine match types that are all no count out/no DQ. The classic scheme is simpler and what you'd expect from a wrestling game controls, although it sucks that you need to buy a peripheral to enjoy TNA.
The best thing iMPACT! has going for it is a smooth animation system. In the game, moves and grapples blend together so you can go from a suplex to an arm bar submission to a couple of stomps without having to stand there for a second while a reaction animation plays out. Anytime you're playing, you can break up a move or deal out an attack.
Now, when you're playing you'll have a three part heads-up display on the screen -- a silhouette to manage limb damage, an iMPACT! meter above your name, and a stun meter behind your name. As the match wears on, all the parts will change -- the silhouette parts will change from green to red as you take attacks, iMPACT! will slowly fill with yellow as you pull off moves, and the stun meter will slowly fill with red as you get tossed around by your opponent. When the iMPACT! meter is full, you can execute a strong grapple and pull off your finisher; every wrestler gets one finisher and it's preformed from the standing grapple. When the stun meter fills, your character will be left defenseless until the bar drains of the red juice, which you can supposedly expedite by pumping the Wiimote and nunchuk. Sadly, you and your opponents will never move any differently no matter how red your silhouette is.
When you get your opponent in a submission hold, a button combination will pop up below each of your HUDs. If you, as the guy in charge of the hold, get your combos in first, you execute the damage and maybe get a tap out if the limb you're working is damaged enough. If you're the dude in the hold and get your buttons in first, you break the attack.This breath of fresh air is carried over to the reversal system. iMPACT! uses one button to get out of moves, and you can pretty much reverse any move outside of a finisher. If Shark Boy leaps off the top rope, you can reverse his cross body into a slam. If AJ Styles is spinning around your head on his way to delivering a side-Russian leg sweep, you can reverse the move into a shoulder breaker. If you're quick enough -- the D-Pad pops up underneath your HUD when you need to tap it to turn the tables -- you can reverse most reversals and chain together spots that are no doubt impressive.
Most of iMPACT!'s nine matches will be familiar to anyone who's jumped into a wrestling game before. There's a singles match, tag team, Free For All (a three-person bout where the first pinfall or submission wins), submission (the only way to win is to get the opponent to tap out), Falls Count Anywhere, Falls Count Anywhere tag, and a two-on-one handicap match. However, there is one exception to the match formula that only TNA fans will know about -- Ultimate X.
In an Ultimate X match, a big red X is suspended above the center of the ring by two ropes connected to four posts. The first opponent to get up there and untie it wins the bout. The catch is the fact that there are no ladders. To get the X, you have to climb one of the four turnbuckles that has a X-supporting post behind it, grab onto the suspended rope, shimmy out, and untie the X while hanging above the center of the ring. Of course, your opponent or opponents (you can have a one-on-one bout or a three-way dance) can grab you while you shimmy and yank you to the mat, leap from the turnbuckles, or climb up to the ropes and battle you from there. This match also adds another meter to your HUD that tracks your progress in untying the X. See, when you get up above the ring and start fooling with the X, a mini-game will start where you need to stop a triangle that's bouncing side to side in a specific sweet spot. When you nail it, progress is added to your progress meter. If you miss it, you have to restart the game but keep any progress you've already earned. When the meter's full, you drop to the mat with the prize and are declared the winner. Oddly, whereas you can break up a person grabbing the X pretty easily on the PS3, whoever is grabbing the X in the Wii version of iMAPCT! is pretty much invulnerable and can take a ton of kicks before dropping to the mat.
As fun as the controls and Ultimate X are, after your first few matches, TNA iMPACT! will begin to wear thin.
Even if you get past the cumbersome control scheme or wisely choose to use a Classic Controller, there aren't that many moves to do. When Midway made the announcement that it was bringing TNA to the videogame world, it boasted that it was mo-capping more than 2,000 moves for the game. Now that the launch date is upon us, Midway has admitted
that it couldn't get the majority of those maneuvers processed and into the title.
A lot of kids flipped out when it was announced that the game would only have 25 wrestlers, but I didn't see a problem with the roster if everyone felt different and original. Thanks to the limited move set, that doesn't happen. The same suplex, atomic drop, stomp to the crotch, and submission holds are shared by large portions of the TNA talent list. Worse, iMPACT! doesn't support character-specific taunts, so individuality has been scratched out there, too. I understand that real wrestlers share a pool of moves, but you can't tell me that everyone feels this similar with the exception of their finisher.
The wrestlers also feel the same in terms of their limitations. There are no grapples from behind in iMPACT!, but the game does a fine job of masking the issue and keeping you from noticing it -- there are German suplexes in the game, but they start in the front and move to the back via an animation. However, the game does nothing to hide the fact that there are no grapples when your opponent is lying face down on the mat and you grab at his legs or arms. If you try to grab the prone opponent, you bend over, your arms go through the enemy, you stand back up, and the opponent rolls to his back so that you can do moves.
Seriously? Couldn't they have programmed the game so that a face down enemy would roll to his back automatically? The fact that Midway has a nice animation system that blends maneuvers so well means that this omission sticks out like a sore thumb and really takes you out of the experience -- especially because it happens to everyone.
The fact that everyone starts to feel like everyone else could be excused if iMPACT!'s Create A Wrestler knocked my socks off, but it didn't because the feature doesn't exist. That's right; there is no Create A Wrester in the Wii version of TNA iMPACT!.
This discovery left me flabbergasted.Aside from the fact that CAW has been a staple in wrestling games for basically a decade, iMPACT on the current-gen consoles packs a story mode that's tailored and grounded in you making your character. A video introduces you to Suicide as LAX tells him to take a dive in his title fight. He says to hell with that, wins the match, and then gets beat into amnesia. When he wakes up in Mexico, doctors agree to reconstruct his face, and this is where you build your character.
That doesn't happen in the Wii version. The roughly eight-hour story mode is in the game, but you don't create a player. Instead, you're just assigned some dude who looks a lot like the real Suicide, and you have to take him from the independents in Mexico to the TNA main event.
This story was fun enough on PS3 when I had created someone as I could change their moves and appearance on a whim, but why would I want to play this now? I'm buying a TNA game because I like TNA. If I can't create my own character, why would I want to play for hours as some nobody? Even if you decided you didn't ever want to touch the story mode, you'd have to because it's the only way to unlock the game's full roster and arena list.
Sigh. Like I said, the story itself is somewhat interesting. You make it to Orlando, Kevin Nash takes you under his wing, and you begin crawling to the top. Pretty much right away, you'll get teamed with Eric Young. It'll provide some fun stuff and become a key part of the tale, but the sad fact is that the tag matches in iMPACT! aren't fun.
To begin with, the game pulls the camera back to show the entire ring and then just sits there. The camera cuts and interesting angles from the singles matches are gone. On top of this, the AI is dumb. I've had my own tag partner break up a move I was doing outside the ring, I've seen the opponent's partner attempt to walk from one side of the ring to where I was pinning his partner, I've lost matches because Eric refused to come in and help me when pinned, and I've pinned people in front of their partner -- literally inches away from them -- and watched as the illegal opponent did nothing. Eventually -- whether you play the story or not -- you'll do things other than tag matches, but you'll find the AI isn't much brighter. When you crank up the difficulty and get rolling with your moves, the AI reverts to just reversing everything.
Aside from all the missing pieces and frustrating tactics above, TNA iMPACT! doesn't look good on a visual front either. Although it looks better than the jagged PS2 version, the Wii version of iMPACT! features blocky character models that lack detail, there are a ton of clipping issues, and the game doesn't support widescreen. If you don't want everything looking stretched and crappy, you'll need to jump into your Wii or TV settings before you hit the mat.
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