WrestleMania 36: The One With No Crowd But Plenty Of Fanfare

 

Mania logo
Source: Scottsblogofdoom

There’s every chance you went into this years WrestleMania with muted expectations (not quite WrestleMania 32 levels, but muted all the same). The more broader conversation opens up ideas as to whether this years event should have even gone ahead at all – the truth though, is that no one really expected WWE to prolong their marquee centrepiece, they were always going to push on regardless.

In essence an empty venue setting gave WWE the chance to capitalise on opportunities they simply wouldn’t have had under an ordinary scenario, so why not roll the dice? Never again will Vince McMahon and co have the opportunity to stage a second night of WrestleMania for no extra venue rent cost, if they were ever going to pull a two part stunt, the timing would never be more rife.

You can commend WWE for being bold enough to take real risks with this years ‘showcase of the immortals’ (that phrase has become a bit cringe worthy now, hasn’t it?) But it’s inescapable that some flaws were exposed with weeping wounds. As the dust settled, the company had done a phenomenal job under the circumstances of, for the most part, hitting the right story beats. But when ‘The Gronk’ somehow managed to not be the worst part of this show: there are issues that need to be addressed.

For years now the shows have been just too long, last years spectacle could well have gone down as one of the greatest they had ever put on had it dropped, or at least shortened 2/3 matches (are HHH and Batista still fighting?). You’d think that now split over two evenings – the show would feel less like an absolute marathon sit through, even to the most adorning pro-wrestling obsessive.

This still wasn’t the case though, and even with both world championship encounters across both nights lasting a combined 6minutes, part 1 and 2 still felt sloggish. It has become clear that WWE’s mantra of ‘let’s put as many people on the card as we can because it’s Mania’ has started to detract from the ebb and flow of sports entertainments most important evening.

Baron Corbin and Elias were the very illustration of this problem. A feud thrown together at the last minute that people weren’t invested in and knew full well this was just a way to fill 10 minutes, that’s not what WrestleMania is. Side note: last year Baron Corbin retired Kurt Angle – one of the greatest of all time. Had they moved Corbin’s heel character forward in the months after you’d have accepted it, one year later and his most memorable moment of the last 365 was having dog food poured on him by Roman Reigns and The Uso’s. What a waste.

baron-corbin-eats-dog-food-1
Source: WrestlingWorld

You’d forgive this if WWE only fell down the rabbit hole of throw away matches this year to capitalise on an extra evenings work, but that’s not the case. In retrospect – did the women’s tag title match from last year really need to happen? How about Braun Strowman and Nicholas the year prior? We could go on.

In fairness there’s some cases where crowing the show is necessary, defending titles at the biggest show of the year adds importance to them right? There’s truth to this, but importance is only added when either the story going in, or the story told in the ring MAKES the match important. Case in point: Had we removed Baron Corbin and Elias from the card, Sami Zayn and Daniel Bryan could have had a competitive, 20 minute match to add glory back to the Intercontinental Championship. What we got instead might be a nice moment for a superb, under-utilised performer in Zayn, but this did absolutely no favours for the title round his shoulder.

You could open this further if you wanted, there are simply too many titles in WWE. Would the company benefit from one show being the home of tag team, the other being the home of women’s wrestling? That’s a debate for another time, but no show exposes the company’s over abundance of gold than WrestleMania.

Even when you add in the throw away matches, lack of crowd, and… The Gronk though – it’s fair to say WrestleMania 36 was a success – regardless of circumstance. It stings that fans weren’t there to pop when Otis got the girl, or Mcintyre overcame the beast incarnate, but what’s more important is that they happened. And there’s never a guarantee that Vince McMahon isn’t going to throw an unnecessary swerve just for the sake of it.

It would have been more beneficial to Drew to have more of a back-and-forth match with Brock though these kind of Lesnar matches are infuriatingly few and far between in the present day despite how great a worker he actually is. The bigger picture though, is that a young, new WWE champion that the fans want has been put over by the older, larger name. It’s not exactly the same story for Braun Strowman taking the Universal Championship from Goldberg – as the monster among men has ‘transitional champion’ written all over him, but you can’t cry for youth at the top of the card and then moan when they get there (or at least you shouldn’t).

Drew WWE title
Source: http://www.thesun.co.uk

Yes, Edge and Randy Orton’s Last Man Standing/Performance Centre tour match went 15 minutes too long, but seeing Adam Copeland be capable of putting on a lengthy, stiff match for half an hour bodes well for the future. The right man won, the desperate brawl story telling was, for the most part interesting, and the mind boggles at what could be done with Edge and younger talent. PLEASE ALSO GIVE US EDGE AND AJ STYLES.

Depending on which side of the fence you sit, you’ll either be furious, or fine with the state of the women’s division in the events aftermath. Charlotte taking the NXT title from Rhea Ripley might leave a sour taste right now, but if there’s one woman who can elevate, and add star power to the women’s division in NXT, it’s her. Rhea Ripley will be fine, she’ll be champion again within a year, and Charlotte will have made stars out of at least two women in NXT – stop worrying.

Shayna Baszler’s failure to overcome ‘The Man’ Becky Lynch is slightly more bizarre, especially when she lost to a basic, flat looking roll up. But this goes one of two ways from here: we’re either stalling till Ronda Rousey returns, or Shayna bases Lynch’s victory on luck and suggests some kind of gimmick match where pinfalls aren’t as prominent and takes the title then. Again, it’s early days here, and the big money points to Baszler Vs Rousey somewhere down the line.

What made WrestleMania 36 a memorable spectacle though, was the matches that, had it not been for the pre-taped environment, simply could not have been as grandiose as they were. The Undertaker’s ‘boneyard’ grave style match with AJ Styles was produced, and executed so expertly, you’d be forgiven for never wanting to see Taker’ wrestle an in-ring match again.

Taker Styles
Source: http://www.thesun.co.uk

The return of biker Taker worked, the casket entrance of AJ Styles was classic heel work, and the story the two told exchanging set pieces made for both comedy and sympathy. It was over the top, and slightly silly in places, but this felt fresh, unique, and it’s undeniably the best program Undertaker has worked since WrestleMania 34’s ‘will they, won’t they’ squash of John Cena. The Deadman feels exciting again for the first time in a long, long time.

Everything pales in comparison though to the whacky, wild, outlandish genius of the Firefly Fun House match, though. Last month ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt was almost being mourned on social media, his loss to Goldberg in Saudi Arabia felt like the harshest middle finger creative had given us in a long time. But on April 5th 2020, The Fiend was wholeheartedly rescued.

It’s difficult to really describe this (match?), it’s simply one of those: GO AND WATCH THIS moments. The references of Cena to Hogan, Vince playing the puppet master role on commentary, the NWO skit, the journey through Cena’s career, the flashbacks of WrestleMania 30, this was truly one of the greatest pieces of production, and creativity that WWE have shown in the entirety of the PG era.

His loss to Goldberg is forgotten, The Fiend has been let back in to relevancy. It goes to show that under the right setting, with the right performers, and ideas going in – anyone can be resurrected in pro wrestling. The showmanship of both Wyatt and Cena throughout the skits was unmatched, and utterly compelling. Similar to the boneyard match, this simply could not have happened in an arena with 80,000 people in, and there was more character building on show for Wyatt here than what could ever have been possible in a standard match in between the ropes. Utter gold.

Sometimes modern day WWE really makes you work for your moments of happiness, we got treated to more than our fill here. Special mention for Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins too, who put on a stellar, stellar performance on night one. When you look back at WrestleMania events over the years, though this one still highlighted much of what needs to be addressed in the company, WWE bought themselves a tremendous amount of faith on a night where under the circumstances, you can’t help but thank everyone on the company’s payroll for working to make it happen.

 

 

God Of War: Playstation 4’s Crown Jewel

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Image Source: godofwar.playstation.com

More than just one of, if not THE greatest game of this console generation; God Of War is the benchmark for what Sony’s gaming philosophy has stood for over the last 8+ years.

You’ll remember that the launch of Playstation 3 wasn’t anywhere near as successful as Sony wanted, a luxury priced machine with clunky online functionality wasn’t going to cut it when Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was reinventing multiplayer gaming, introducing achievements and bringing digital games to life.

But Sony’s faith, attention, and emphasis on single player experiences such as InFamous, Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavy Rain, Uncharted, and The Last Of Us kept the PS3 in the fight with the 360 – despite receiving a few hay-makers in the early going.

As we fast forward to 2018, the Playstation 4 has had one hell of a run in its near five year life span, and the tide has most certainly shifted back in Sony’s favour. A large component in this shift has without a doubt been, once again, a focus on single player experiences: Bloodborne, Horizon, Crash Bandicoot, Nioh, Uncharted 4 (you get the point.) But nothing speaks of the success of the Playstation 4 quite like God Of War.

For context on the success of the game thus far: Gran Turismo 5 was the PS3’s greatest selling exclusive – clocking in at around 12 million copies. God Of War sold 3.1 million copies in 3 days. Reaping the rewards of the huge install base that was there to appeal to, the games developers Santa Monica have taken what seemed to be a tired concept, and reinvented it to what could be looked at as a stand-out moment in the annals of gaming history.

Light spoilers will lie ahead here, nothing that gives any of the twists and turns of the game away (there’s plenty) but some of the combat elements and story ark will be discussed.

Kratos and Atreus
Image Source: cnet.com

Story and characterisation are two organs of the anatomy of a game which cannot be understated in terms of importance – especially when it comes to single player experiences. You remember the first time you played as Solid Snake, Marcus Fenix, Commander Shepherd, Nathan Drake, the list goes on. But for all the success that God Of War had experienced in its ferocious combat in previous years, Kratos was rarely a protagonist whose character and back-story were particularly compelling besides him being a super-human Spartan who got angry quite a lot.

With this latest iteration of God Of War, Santa Monica have taken Kratos from his high-horse of emotive ignorance and have turned the Spartan into a tired monster among creatures, but more than that: he’s just a father acting out his wife’s final living wishes. Accompanied by his young, wide eyed son Atreus; this isn’t just a journey into the trials and tribulations of a god-like Spartan, this is front seat viewing of a connection, or seemingly lack thereof between a man and his child.

History confirms that ever-present sidekicks can be more of a hindrance than an addition in gaming, but the story between Kratos and Atreus is so insatiably fascinating that the imaginary thought of this being a solo mission almost doesn’t bare thinking about. You sink into every ounce of dialogue between the two, you have an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge on their back-story; it’s all fed to you in a way that is terrifically paced and Kratos’ mentor over father attitude makes every occasional micro second of affection between the two live long in the memory.

Newcomers to the franchise are more than welcomed here, and Santa Monica employ the genius tactic of feeding you enough information about the characters involved to make you feel a personal connection – while still leaving enough room for you to be curious about certain aspects of their lives. Each participant in God Of War’s 30+ hour story feel absolutely vital to its make-up, and while the main story only involves around 7 characters, they are explored tremendously; from Kratos himself to the dwarven merchants – everyone has a cemented place in this tale.

Despite the flawless story between man and son, combat is where God Of War shines at its brightest. Moving on from the hack and slash, Devil May Cry-esque styled combat of the previous games in the series into a more strategic form of combat, this iteration of the game is some of the most satisfying combat you will ever experience. You sense the power of a univerise at your disposal, and dishing it out on your foes is immediately gratifying.

GOW Axe
Image Source: theverge.com

The Leviathan Axe is your meat clever in a butchers shop, and the way it slices through enemies with unmatched gore never stops being a thrill ride. Each new skill you learn or purchase comes with the added bonus of seeing the obliteration of your enemies in another way; throwing your axe into an enemies skull is just as fun as summoning a river of ice to rip them apart.

The Souls like element of being handed a shield and a button for dodging adds to the glamour too, the moments where you’re surrounded with enemies makes for tense chess battles of combat; dodging or parrying just in time before getting a few strikes in and repeating manifests itself into duels of bravery and timing.

Atreus is more than just a character with an intriguing story too, his presence in combat is not only a pleasant addition – it’s a necessity at times. Summoning mythical animal attacks, distracting enemies with arrows, or holding them in position while you decapitate them – Atreus is a vital part of what makes God Of War’s combat as smooth as silk, and the ability to level him up while you go sets in a subconscious mindset that you are part of his growth along this journey.

Perhaps God Of War’s greatest, and possibly unnoticed by some’s masterstroke though is in its camera angle. Yes the visuals are beyond stunning, and the vibrancy of certain areas in the vast world of the game are so breathtaking you’ll be legitimately staggered, but the fact that the entirety of your adventure is done from one entire shot is the cherry on top of this ten tiered cake of excellence. It feels like you’re a first hand witness on this twisting journey, there’s a level of escapism bought with that you may never have felt in a game before. Every boss fight feels extra climactic, every rage burst is a true adrenaline rush. This is a first hand experience of Norse mythology unlike any other you’ll find.

As season passes and micro transactions continue to become ever-present in the gaming world, God Of War is a reminder of the power a single player experience can hold. There’s no other way to dissect it – Cory Barlog and co at Santa Monica Studios have taken a franchise that seemed to be running low on steam and turned it into the Mona Lisa of this console generation.

A story of scattering your wife’s ashes manifests itself into a touching, vivid, incredibly deep journey which stands out as the pinnacle of storytelling over the last 5 years. Several games have paid back Sony’s faith in solo experiences in the last decade or so, but arguably none more so than God Of War. Prepare for shocks, blood, anger, twists, and to immerse yourself in the greatest story on Playstation 4.