Inside Pulse 12

Playing the Lame, Vol. 3

Hola cats and kittens, it is I, the Crapmaster himself, Mark B., here to bring you more bad gaming goodness, because I love ya. I’d have sooner been the Crapkeeper, but Lloyd Kaufman said if I did that, he’d sue me for defamation of character. If you don’t get that joke, congratulations, you have better taste than I do.

On the agenda for today, we have a game that I’m sure y’all have some experience with, either by reputation or by experience, so here’s hoping you enjoy it. For the record, if anyone out there feels the desire to defend/defame the games I’ve brought up, wants to suggest terrible games for me to slag, or whatever else you can think up, feel free to drop me a line through the E-mail link at the bottom of the page.

That’s about it. Nothing exciting to share personally, and I don’t think y’all want to be regaled with my tales of work and school, so let’s get to the crap.

LINKAGE:

Tom Pandich talks about games he really wants to see on the Revolution. Me? I want to see old stuff. Give me both Earthbound (Mother) games, both SMT games (the actual ones, no spinoffs), and Clock Tower, all translated, hell, I’ll buy the Revolution day of release. No questions asked. I swear.

Eric S. isn’t dead. I’m happy about this, obviously.

gloomchen talks about mix CD’s. The sad thing is, I like most of the songs she listed. It’s not sad that I like them mind you; it’s sad that I can remember them as opposed to, say, anything from my high school history classes.

PK talks about WWE figures. All I know is, I clicked on the link, and about halfway down I’m staring at Dave friggin’ Batista’s crotch. If I have to suffer through that, you should too.

Kennedy makes fun of a couple of movies I’ve never seen, and it’s still damn entertaining. Of course, I think Tomb Raider would’ve been a good film if there had been some nudity, so that sums that up.

Scott Keith reviews Final Resolution. I watched it as basically my first complete TNA PPV, and he summed it up almost perfectly; lame. Oh, and I hated the ending to the Daniels/Joe match, largely because I can’t stand Samoa Joe. Don’t bother to send me hate mail for that; I couldn’t care less.

PLAYING THE LAME, VOLUME 3.

Name of the offending title: WCW/NWO Thunder
What system was this forced upon: PS1
Who was responsible for this crap: THQ, Inland Productions (who apparently no longer exist, thank god).
Date this abomination was foisted upon us: 12/31/1998.

Last week I neglected to keep the trend going, so I’ll fix that this time: Today I’m listening to the wonderful stylings of the band Eisbrecher. Fans of KMFDM and Rammstein would do well to check them out.

Unlike most of the write-ups I might do, I’m pretty confident that I don’t need to explain the subject matter at hand in today’s column. This is Inside Pulse; if you don’t know what WCW, the NWO, et al, are, there’s really just absolutely no helping you out here. You’re beat, sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.

So, let’s you and I move onto the licensing aspect of the product instead as it relates to video games. WCW was something of a number 2 wrestling promotion until about 1996, and as a result, didn’t exactly see wonderful representation in the video game world. Whereas the WWF saw billions of games bearing their name hitting store shelves, courtesy of LJN nee Flying Edge nee Acclaim (what are three synonyms for the word “crap” Alex?), WCW wasn’t so lucky. They managed to see a whopping three titles bearing their license, courtesy of FCI, Inc, hit store shelves before the company folded in 1994. This left WCW without a game developer, a state in which they’d remain until 1996/7. I’d like to say that the FCI titles were good/bad/whatever, but I’ve thankfully managed to stay far the hell away from them up until this point, and I don’t see the point in trying to find them now. Unless they’re absolutely hideous; then I might.

Once 1996 came around, however, the NWO (my spell-checker keeps turning that into NOW for some stupid reason) became the hot angle in wrestling, and WCW found a publisher who was more than willing to join up in THQ. THQ, it seems, was absolutely more than willing to accept big bags of cash for mediocre video games, and WCW was more than willing to allow such behavior, so one could almost see that the companies were made for one another. See, THQ might have a reputation for occasionally producing something playable at this point, but back in the 16-Bit days, things were much different. To put it simply, THQ had a reputation for producing the worst games not produced by Acclaim. Remember all of those crappy “Ren and Stimpy” games we played when we were kids? Yeah, that was THQ.

To put things into perspective, THQ, Acclaim, and Electronic Arts (except for their sports games) were consistently releasing some of the worst games ever made on a fairly constant basis. James Pond, Shadow of the Beast, Ren and Stimpy, Michael Jordan in Chaos in the Windy City, Shaq Fu… almost all of your old school “bad games” came out of these three companies. These days, Acclaim is bankrupt, THQ is a hit and miss company, and EA owns every-goddamn-thing on Earth but baseball. And I just remembered why I hate perspective.

Anyway, when THQ managed to latch onto the WCW license, they handed it to Asmik, who managed to turn out a not hideous game in “WCW Vs. The World”, which played suspiciously similar to most modern AKI titles (I’m of the impression that Asmik became AKI or something to that effect, but I’ve no idea). Sure it was ugly, sure Sting looked like a mime, sure it’s primitive by today’s standards. But I could play as Great Sasuke, so piss off; I liked it. And along with the much better WCW/NWO: World Tour on the N64, THQ had managed to build up a solid amount of goodwill from WCW fans, because they had managed to bring out some highly solid wrestling games that were on par with (and in most cases, far superior to) the games the WWF was publishing at the time.

So they handed the Playstation game development to a sub-development team named Inland Productions, and Inland Productions begat “WCW Nitro”.

Two things: first, I’ll be referring to said above mentioned game developers as “Inland” from here out; every time I try to type the acronym, I know what it will end up being and I throw up. Second, of Nitro, which was only slightly less hideous of a game than Thunder, one gaming site owned and operated by CNet (you can figure it out, it’s not hard) said “Even with its graphical difficulties, WCW Nitro is still the best WCW-licensed wrestling game out there.” For reference, this is not even remotely accurate or true, not even when it was written. I don’t care how many drugs you’re on, this was and is a blatant fallacy. Kay? Kay.

Nonetheless, the game managed to make a pretty penny (so much so that THQ released a port of the game to the PC and N64, the latter of which is highly puzzling considering the N64 had much better WCW games on it), so Inland was given the go-ahead to develop a sequel. Most reviewers seemed to like WCW Nitro, for reasons that are beyond me, but it was largely believed that if Inland could correct the “few” (their word, not mine) issues Nitro had, the sequel would be extremely awesome.

So leave it to them to make the sequel, WCW/NWO Thunder, WORSE.

Seriously, that takes some major talent. If you slapped the Thunder logo on the box and re-released the EXACT SAME GAME it would have been better than what Thunder was. I’m still thoroughly boggled by how someone could make a sequel and make the game staggeringly worse than the original it was based on. Somehow, though, Inland managed it: Thunder looks worse, plays worse, and has stupider AI than Nitro, whilst retaining the (lack of) charm of the original title. Make no mistake: THIS, without question or exception, is the worst wrestling title of the modern era.

A BRIEF LAYOUT OF WCW/NWO THUNDER:

It’s a wrestling game. Guys get into the ring and beat the holy hell out of one another. There’s really no more to it than that; if you’re somehow unable to grasp the subtle intricacies of such a concept, then you’re well and truly screwed.

For those that feel I might be glossing over the concept somewhat, no, I’m really not. This was before every wrestling game on Earth felt the need to have a Story mode, so literally all you do is beat the crap out of your opponents until you win. Normally this would be considered something to hold against the game, but if you watched WCW during the NWO Red/White period (or at all for that matter), you’ll understand this is really more of a blessing.

WHY THIS GAME SUCKS:

First off, look at this:

Now compare it to this:

Tell me which wrestlers are which in each picture.

“Oh!” you’re saying, “That’s not fair Mark. You’re comparing Thunder to the first Smackdown, which came out two years later! Smackdown SHOULD look better, it came out later!”

To which I say, who the hell are you and why are you in my house?

And also, fine, then compare it to this:

and apply the same test, yeah?

Not to mention Steel Cage matches (couldn’t find a screencap, sorry) look like you’re staring through a pixilated chickenwire fence at a bad wrestling match. I’ve watched scrambled pay channels that were easier on the eyes.

Bottom line: once again, from a certain CNet owned operation, “While Thunder does a good job of looking like real wrestling, the gameplay just doesn’t hold up.” I think they’re on drugs.

Picking a character is all sorts of fun too. See, in most wrestling games (just about every one made after 1996), each of your playable characters has variable movesets based on who they are and how they play. Simple, easy to understand.

Thunder has two movesets: Lightweight and heavyweight. And the difference is nominal: Lightweights can do a Frankensteiner and a head scissors (gee, what variation). That’s it. The manual claims that heavyweights only can do a Gorilla Press, but as the Cruisers do something animated suspiciously similar when the motion is done, I have to call foul on that one. Anyway… let us discount the fact that the Frankensteiner is so named because, hey, SCOTT FRIGGIN’ STEINER used it… that’s just not even possible anymore, so it’s only mildly insulting. What’s HEAVILY insulting is that, say, Hulk Hogan can do a Missile Dropkick (or so they call it; it kind of looks like he just tries to do a Flying Teabag to his opponent), or that Kidman can Powerbomb the Giant.

“But Mark”, you whine, “ALL wrestling games were like that back then!”

No, no they weren’t. And get the hell out of my house already. See, moves like Chokeslams and Powerbombs were reserved for large wrestlers; just because Stone Cold was a “heavyweight” doesn’t mean he does a Powerbomb… ever. But Bret Hart has one, and boy oh boy can he use it, despite almost never using one, EVER, that I can recall. And what’s the point of even trying to limit what moves what weight class can do when it’s still blatantly obvious that they can continue to do highly insulting moves? Why even bother pretending you give a damn?

Oh, but I forgot! Each character has three or four “special moves”! You know, their finisher… and… um… a Side Slam or a Russian Legsweep… uh…

Great job guys. Next tell me a Belly-to-Back is spe- oh, wait. I take that back. You did.

The presentation is also horrendous. Character entrances are handled with FMV, so you see whoever you pick coming down to the ring with a grainy video package that lasts all of five seconds. Each character is complete with their entrance music, unless they aren’t. Chris Jericho, for example, uses the generic entrance theme, as does Billy Kidman. Okay, Kidman I get; he was part of the Flock… but why not use Raven’s music? And Jericho? He HAD HIS OWN THEME SONG at the time. What the hell?

Not to mention characters like Alex Wright (I swear his WCW theme didn’t sound that bad) and the Giant (no matter when he comes down to the ring, no matter the affiliation, it’s the NWO B+W theme, despite also having his own). Right from the get-go, things are rough, and it’s not getting any better.

The only enjoyable part of the FMV bullshit and licensed audio was the character rants; by pushing a button, the characters would rattle off perversely enjoyable promos on you to either pick or not pick them. I say “perversely enjoyable” because with few exceptions (Jericho, Piper), they were all horrendous.

The game also made a big deal about how you could “change a character’s affiliation”, which amounted to Hollywood Hogan wearing a Raven’s Flock shirt out to the ring. Big whoop. Not like you could tell half of the time anyway; I could barely tell I was PLAYING Hogan, let alone what his shirt bitmap was supposed to be.

Actually PLAYING the game is an exercise in frustration. First off, practically everything is button combinations. Alright, in Attitude this wasn’t so bad; usually you’d be stuck with one or two direction presses and a button tap, and here it’s similar with requiring one direction and three buttons. Mentally it’s probably harder for most people to remember “Up Triangle Circle Square” than “Up Down Up Square”, but nevermind. The problem here is that none of the buttons are really associated TO anything, so by simply pressing buttons you get various strikes, assuming you’re in range of your opponent. By association, there’s no button you can really reconcile with anything, IE “Oh, this does grapples, so I press this to do this” et al. Adding to this is that there is a VERY small window of range you can do anything within, so if you finish a move combo and you’re outside of that window, you do nothing. At all.

Worst of all here is the fact that all you ever really needed to do, EVER, was spam the “Test of Strength” and button mash, then watch as your opponent dies and your life bar refills. Do this a few times, then knock him over and pin, bam, instant win. Not that you’d, you know, ENJOY really playing the game, but damn.

Round this out with sticky movement, generally ugly animations, and some of the worst in-game audio imaginable (I hear Bobby Heenan shouting “VERTICAL SUPLEX!” in my nightmares), and that’s Thunder. There are all sorts of title belts and unlockable characters and such and you won’t care about a damn bit of it. This is amongst the worst games ever created, like someone managed to find a way to press human feces into disc form and sell it to the American Public.

I poured Holy Water on the disc and I swear I heard it scream.

Seriously, Thunder is either good for perverse amusement or a WCW themed coaster, nothing else. A lame, ugly, messy, unplayable garbage game is what awaits the bearer of this plastic abomination. Should you choose to try it out, be warned: don’t touch it with bare skin… you can scrub forever, but the shame will never come off.

WHY THIS GAME REALLY SUCKS:

Inland, WCW, and THQ pretty much knew that anything with the WCW logo on the front was a cash cow, and weren’t terribly concerned with turning out a quality product. Nitro had been rated reasonably well, so it stood to reason that if they re-packaged the same game with different visuals, people would buy it all over again without complaint; hell, they liked the first one, right?

Funny thing about that. See, the N64 WCW titles, while not exactly graphical showcases, were fun and played well enough. And the WWF titles Acclaim was publishing at the time (War Zone and Attitude, FYI), well, they were leaps and bounds above anything THQ was publishing on the PS1 at that point, on every single level imaginable. Even discounting the changing tide of the wrestling war (at the time, Stone Cold was red hot, and the NWO was becoming over-saturated), most wrestling fans had played Nitro, knew it was weak, and weren’t really interested in what was effectively the exact same game, only worse. Nitro had been given the benefit of the doubt by a lot of reviewers (I’m trying to be kind here), because it showed a mild amount of promise. Thunder showed the ugly truth: that no one involved in the production of WCW video games gave a shit about making anything but money.

WHERE IT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED:

The single area the game is lacking in most is gameplay, so to do anything with the game at all we’d need to fix that first. Assuming THQ was in talks with Yukes at the time, fire Inland and let Yukes make the game engine; bam, instantly a better game. Failing that, let Asmik/AKI take over the gameplay engine duties; again, bam, instantly a better game. If we’re talking about actually trying to revamp THIS gameplay engine to make it better, forget it. It’s crude and basic, and there’s honestly no way you’re getting anything awe inspiring out of it; that’d be like trying to squeeze gold nuggets out of your own feces.

It would also be highly advisable to find a way to put a Create-A-Character mode into the game in some form or fashion. WWF War Zone had one (a terrible one, but still) at that point, and War Zone had come out earlier that year.

Delete the entire damn commentary track, and use the space to add in some more theme songs.

Delete the feature where you can change a character’s affiliation; nobody cares.

Clean up the poly count; I want to know who’s who in a Giant/Scott Hall/Kevin Nash/Bryan Adams match, dammit.

Delete the rants; they’re taking up entirely too much space and contribute nothing; if you don’t know who Hollywood Hogan is by now, you’re beyond help.

Render some ACTUAL entrances, and delete that FMV bullshit. Please. It’s useless.

Even with all of that work, we’re still going to end up holding a hacked-off two-bit War Zone, but at least it’s not a shameful rip-off of a game we made BETTER a year ago. That’s better than nothing, right?

… no, I guess not. Set it on fire and go get a beer doc, there’s no saving this one.

WHERE YOU CAN GET IT:

I got mine from EBGames for $1.49. Yes, seriously.

Most game stores will have piles upon piles of over-produced, under-developed PS1 games, and Thunder will invariably be amongst them in probably every store you walk into. Barring that, said company websites will most likely offer said game for about the same price. Amazon.com doesn’t carry it, but several vendors sell copies through the site, starting from (literally) one thin penny.

If you have any interest in laughing at a bad game, this is probably the bad game to start with. Hey, what does a penny get you? WCW/NWO Thunder!

CLOSING COMMENTS:

There are so many amusing aspects to this story that don’t fall within the actual lambasting of the game that I figured I should try to mention them here. After the abysmal failure that was Thunder, THQ ended up dropping the WCW license and acquiring the much more financially lucrative WWF nee WWE license, which they still own to this day (so far). Inland went under and was dissolved, and THQ turned to Yukes to make their PS1 wrestling games, which begat the Smackdown! series of games. Thunder has, at this point in time, become notorious for being the single worst wrestling game ever created. Acclaim, now bereft of a wrestling license, picked up ECW and produced games for that promotion until ECW eventually collapsed. Acclaim then began producing terrible (but still better than Thunder) “Legends” based wrestling games until their demise in 2005.

But perhaps the single most telling part of the situation was what ultimately became of the WCW license. After shopping around, WCW ended up signing their gaming life away to, of all people, Electronic Arts. EA published two terrible wrestling games, “Mayhem” and “Backstage Assault”, and they were working on a PS2 game before WCW was eventually purchased by the WWE in 2001.

In other words, out of the five PS1 WCW wrestling games manufactured, the best one can say about any single one is that it “wasn’t too bad”. And ironically enough, that one would be WCW Vs. The World, the first and oldest of the games.

Cue Alanis Morrisette. No, it’s not really ironic, but hell, neither is a fly in your drink, so I’m in good company.

And that wraps up another week of Playing the Lame. I’ll be sure to see you soon, if not with a new PtL, then hopefully with another equally interesting project some of us here are working on. Either way, until next time, remember, I’m Mark B. and you’re not (and be thankful for that).

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