Stepping out of the gorilla position.
At first glance, it would seem strange to see Midway suddenly striking the world of wrestling entertainment, but considering the flashiness and the over-the-top drama of the “sport”, it’s not terribly shocking. TNA iMPACT! - the hexagonal ring, the grunting and gun-raising ape-men, the wrestler’s
lack sense of clothing, the sparkly pyrotechnics, and the C-movie script undercutting the hypermasculine desire for sadistic vengeance as a means of reclaiming power from a helpless state (or something like that) - has everything that a growing Midway title needs.
[image1]In line with Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and Gauntlet, Midway attempts to differentiate its wrestling title from THQ’s venerable SmackDown series by ramping up the action to a fast and furious level. Only after you irish-whip your opponent into the ropes, smack him with a clothesline, punch him twice while he’s on the ground, lock him in a sleeper hold, run outside of the ring, grab a chair, bash his face in, and taunt him while he’s writhing on the mat… are you allowed to breathe.
TNA iMPACT! fully lives up to its “Total Nonstop Action” name, taking you through the rush of intense, in-your-face combat… at least for the first few hours. You’ll slam your opponent to the ground and watch as he reverses your ground punch, sends you to the mat, and kicks you when you’re down. Then you'll dodge your opponent's stomps, pick yourself off the mat, and hope your opponent is ready for a dose of seething retaliation. Strikes hit hard and fast, turning your limbs into virtual sledgehammers, and bodies reel back at every hit with a hyper-realistic impact that keeps your sadistic nerves twitching. Compared to the SmackDown series, the fighting is smoother, more visceral, and just more satisfying.
Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. In short, the A.I. is unfathomably cheap. It's not really due to anything that the A.I. opponents do, but due to recovery systems that are almost completely against you. Even on the easiest ‘Backyard’ difficulty setting, the A.I. reverses at least twenty percent of all your moves, while you can only reverse theirs about ten percent of the time at best. You can press the reversal button however you like when the indicator pops up, but you’ll likely watch all your efforts get piledrived.
[image2]Eventually, at least one of your wrestler’s body parts will slip into the orange and red, the opponent will pin you, and then you have to face the dreaded “analog stick wiggle”. Whenever your character is dazed or held for a three count, your only means of escape is whacking the left analog stick from left to right, but strangely not with “Total Nonstop Action”. Instead, you’re supposed to move the stick in a calm and controlled motion from absolute left to absolute right, and since you’re too pumped up on the action, you will usually fail. Of course, the A.I. has no problems getting out of your pins, unless they’re near death, so ha, ha, I guess it’s your fault.
Any chance of completing story mode then depends on the only method that can defeat cheapness: more cheapness. Several moves are perhaps unintentionally irreversible - hip tosses, clotheslines, jawbreaking grapples, and the lovable steel chair - so suffice it to say, you’ll have to abuse them. Expect to run around the arena, find a chair, have the opponent discover the density of metal, and then run around some more. But you’re so confined by the few moves that allow you to win that you’ll likely find a friend, online or offline, and just play an exhibition match where you don't have to care about how you win as much.
The other problem is that the SmackDown franchise has so long monopolized its genre that it has established all of what we’ve come to expect and demand from wrestling titles. My internal Maya designer always looks forward to creating a wrestler - tweaking and crafting tattoos, the facial structure, gear, stables, entrances, and movesets from scratch. But here, all the “create-a-(blank)” systems are clearly not a priority.
[image3]In fact, it only underscores how much every wrestler generally has the same moves despite having different appearances. You only have a choice of one gender (male), three body types (lean, muscular, or chunky), and a number of facial features, apparel, colors, decals, and moves that can mostly be counted on your fingers. Seriously, the CAW options are worse than that of WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64 (and I’m not letting my mind go further back than that for fear of an aneurysm).
Midway concentrated on turning TNA iMPACT! into a viable contender in the wrestling arena by focusing solely on the action. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not have the breadth, the depth, or the legacy of its SmackDown competitor, but just like its counterpart on television, TNA iMPACT! doesn’t need all of that to stay alive. All it needs to do is get in, rough things up a bit, and get out. Bam!