Earlier this month THQ invited GamingNexus (as well as a number of other online and print publications) to come to Houston, Texas and cover a multi-day event called the WWE Superstar Challenge. It was a three-day event full of interviews with wrestlers, stories about the good old days, a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, alcohol and, of course, the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania. It was a wild time that I was glad to be a part of. There's just one thing: I don't like wrestling.
Contrary to everybody else attending THQ's little shindig, I am not one of those obsessed WWE fans who knows all of the superstars and dreams about meeting their favorite legend. In fact, I barely knew anybody's name. The last time I seriously watched wrestling is when I was a youngster, hanging out with friends who were bitten by the WWE bug (apparently I got the shot of vaccine early in life). Since then I've caught one or two of the events, but nothing that would help me feel at ease going into the lion's den.
What I learned from this fantastic trip was that no matter where I was, the wrestling fans always had my back. If I didn't know a particular back-story or feud, a helpful WWE fan was there to clue me in. When I didn't realize that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had retired, there was a helpful fan who told me the whole story about how he turned his back on the "sport" and rode off into the sunset. I found that the WWE fans were among the friendliest group of deranged uber-fans I have ever met. It was even friendlier than the devout members that go to the Christian Game Developers Conference or the estrogen-filled room at the Women in Games seminar.
But that's not the only thing I learned. While having a good time watching hours of wrestling, arguing with WWE fans and interviewing some of the hottest talent in the organization, I learned a lot about myself and wrestling in general. To help guide you through my whirlwind weekend, I have decided to point out nine other things I learneed while attending THQ's WWE Superstar Challenge.
Only One Company Has Ever Made Wrestling Games
When I arrived at the beautiful Westin Galleria hotel (five hours late, thanks to hurricane-force winds and flight delays) the first thing I noticed was the THQ gift bag. There I found two different tee-shirts (one celebrating the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania, the other advertising The Legends of WrestleMania video game) and a 350 page hardbound book called the WWE Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to World Wrestling Entertainment. As somebody with a failing knowledge of professional wrestling, I found this encyclopedia to be the single most useful study guide imaginable. It was full of amazing stories about over-the-top characters, an entire guide to the matches of previous WrestleMania events and even went into excruciating detail about all of the different wrestling shows throughout the ages.
This encyclopedia is where I learned the sorted history of the Iron Sheik, the tragic tales of the Von Erich family and just how buff Buddy Rogers used to be. It's also where I learned that only one company has ever made official WWF/WWE games. That company is THQ, the makers of many of the most recent wrestling releases. Despite mentioning other wrestling games in the two-page write up about video games, the WWE Encyclopedia only featured games made by THQ. Heck, the video game section is conveniently in the "T" section, for THQ. This section has pictures of Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth, WrestleMania X8 and even WWE Crush Hour (the ill-conceived kart racing game). Yet no pictures of WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game? No actual mention of video games from other publishers? That doesn't sound very definitive to me.
Shad Gaspard Loves Ms. Pac-Man
So here in front of me is an enormous mountain of a man, he's the type of over-the-top macho man you might see in one of those Predator-style action films. It's only natural to expect this hulking dude to eat, sleep and breathe hardcore first-person shooters and extremely violent Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox games. But no, Shad of Cryme Tyme had a favorite video game lass ... and her name was Ms. Pac-Man?
The truth is, how can you blame him? This student-developed pseudo-sequel betters the original Pac-Man in every way. It offers variable speeds, fun cinemas and, best of all, more than one level to master. Unfortunately this game doesn't get the credit it deserves. But not Shad, he took his time to express his undying love for this 28 year old masterpiece. He could have rattled on endlessly about all of frags he has in Halo or how he can't get enough Call of Duty, but he broke stereotype and genuinely shocked me. No, he did more than shock me, he impressed me. And that's just what I needed at the start of this exciting weekend.Free Alcohol + WrestleMania Fans = Man on Man Violence!
Like most gaming events, the Superstar Challenge was full of free booze. It was also full of wrestlers and games journalists who are by their very nature young-at-heart. Put all this together and you have a recipe for disaster. It would start at the bar, where two or three of the wrestling fans would start looking for people to smack them across the chest. Later it would spill into the hotel lobby, where these obviously inebriated journalists would reenact some of the biggest moments in WrestleMania history. Oh, and they would push each other around and even land a few punches, much to the chagrin of the nice employees at the Westin Galleria. Thankfully nobody got hurt and it was all in good fun, but it's always a little jarring to see grown men drunkenly play fight mere hours before watching a pro wrestling event. Their mothers would be proud.
Sgt. Slaughter Is a Man of Very Few Words
The night of the Superstar Challenge is a blur; it felt like people were rushing in and out as we were doing our best to get our questions answered. Some superstars took their time with the media and answered as many questions as we could throw at them. They rattled on endlessly about their favorite games, systems, wrestling secrets and much, much more. They loved our questions and we loved hearing their the stories behind some of these larger-than-life personalities.
Unfortunately not everybody was so excited to take questions from the online media. When Sgt. Slaughter and Ted DiBiase (aka "The Million Dollar Man") showed up to answer questions the entire room exploded in excitement. Here were two of the biggest wrestlers of their era, and one of them was still in his army uniform. Even a non-wrestling fan like myself knew how big of a deal it was to interview Sgt. Slaughter, especially since he was one of the only pro-wrestlers that I actually recognized. But just as quickly as Sgt. Slaughter came, he left. He was in that room answering questions for no more than a couple of minutes. Thankfully Ted DiBiase was able to win back the audience by regaling us with amazing stories about the industry twenty-plus years ago. Why nobody asked him about Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler is beyond me.
Kid Rock Needs Some New Material
After only a couple of short fights, everybody cleared the stage and let Kid Rock do his thing. Unfortunately that thing is making people's ears bleed with some of the most hideously annoying rap/rock hybrid this side of Limp Bizkit. But I'll admit this was definitely the right event for a guy like Kid Rock. I have a hunch that his outwardly patriotic demeanor and southern rock influence plays better deep in the heart of Texas than it does in my neck of the woods. Regardless, I was ready to endure what seemed like a perfectly appropriate concert for this type of event.
What I wasn't ready for was just how old this Louisiana-bred musician's set was going to be. He runs out with his first major hit, Bawitdaba, and followed it up with a couple more outdated songs. Doesn't he have a new album to promote? He's not our monkey, he shouldn't need to come out and only play his most popular songs. When I closed my eyes I was instantly transported back to 1999 ... only this time around I had to put up with the terrible acoustics of Reliant Stadium. The good news: Kid Rock quickly left the stage and the audience was free to unplug their ears.
Game Journalists Have an Uncanny Ability to Predict the Future
Scoff all you want, but every single moment of this year's WrestleMania was predicted by at least one person flown in by THQ. It's true, just about everybody had an idea of what was going to happen and, surprise, practically everything played out exactly as the game journalists expected. Would Mickey Rourke fight Chris Jericho? The game journalists said he would, and they were right. Would Santino Marella come out in drag for the divas fight? You better believe it, and that's exactly what the journalists said would happen. From start to finish, the writers knew what was coming. If only they could harness that power and predict the end to the recession.
There was one exception to the rule, and that was when Rey Mysterio battled John "Bradshaw" Layfield. While sitting on the barstool eating Mexican food and drinking a double shot of Crown Royal, GamingNexus's very own Nathan Murray stated that this match would be a lengthy match that would go on and on and on. Just as those words left his lips, Rey Mysterio defeated JBL and Nathan commenced eating crow.Shelton Benjamin Owns a Lot of Forgotten Game Systems
Now here's a man after my own heart. Who knew that I would have so much in common with professional wrestler Shelton Benjamin? Apparently he's the other guy that buys all of the game systems, regardless of whether they have a future or not. Unfortunately he capped it at the N-Gage (which I also own), but I can imagine him going into great detail about the Jaguar CD, 3DO, Neo Geo Pocket Color and Amiga CD32. Unfortunately the rest of the gaming journalists steered the conversation back to wrestling, but for a brief few seconds I found somebody that I could see eye to eye with. Well, not if I was standing next to him, he towered over me. But you know what I mean.
Mickey Rourke Needs to Rewatch 'The Wrestler'
The Wrestler was a movie about an aging pro-wrestler who, twenty years later, is trying to decide between continuing his faltering career or becoming an everyday Joe. In the end he gets up in that ring to battle one more time and it ... well, let's just say it doesn't end on the cheeriest of notes. Knowing that this is how it plays out for the fake Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, Mickey Rourke proves once again that he's not afraid to throw caution to the wind and temp fate.
The only thing more tragic than losing your life in a wrestling ring is to lose your life in a wrestling ring immediately after you starred in a movie where the very same thing happened. Oh sure, that would make for a great ending to a movie, but now that Mickey Rourke's stardom has been resurrected, it would be a shame to see a comeback cut short. So I cringed (albeit excitedly) when the star of Wild Orchid slowly climbed into the ring to street fight Chris Jericho. Thankfully
THQ Spent a Lot of Money
In a sign of appreciation to all of the wrestling-obsessed game journalists (or a sign that the company has too much money), THQ flew several dozen game journalists to Houston, Texas, put us up in a swanky hotel for several days, plied us with alcohol, made sure we were eating at least one meal a day and put us up in one of the nicest suites in Reliant Stadium. All told, the company that killed off the Stuntman franchise spent upwards of three or four thousand dollars for each and every person that attended this thing.
Trust me, the amount of money spent on this event did not go unnoticed. Everybody involved with the event wanted to be there and, based on what I saw, a great time was had by all. However, it seems foolish in this economy to spend so much money on a guy who, let's face it, can barely tell the difference between "Nature Boy" Rick Flair and "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. But it gave me a chance to have a better understanding and appreciation for what these athletes do on a day to day basis. It got me up close and personal with some of the biggest characters in the game. And, most importantly, it really ate up all of my WWE-loving friends who were jealous of me attending this thing. So thank you THQ. Thank you for giving me the chance to show up all my friends by meeting Sgt. Slaughter and Jimmy Hart. No matter what you spent to fly me to Houston, it was worth it just to see the look of people's face when they sarcastically asked: "You mean, YOU are going to WrestleMania?" That's right, I went, I conquered and now I'm back to review crummy games (none of which were published by THQ, thank you very much).