Booking Mpire is an excellent wrestling management simulation from Mat "MDickie" Dickie, arguablye among the world's most underrated "lone wolf" designers. This is no average wrestling game: instead of playing a wrestler, you play a promoter who must boost the popularity of a shaky wrestling channel to the top, by arranging exciting fights, signing up rising wrestling stars, and balance the books. As the official blurb ambitiously claims, "...life behind the desk of a wrestling show can be just as exciting as what goes on in the ring. Having retired from active competition, you must now make your presence felt in the office. The wrestling industry is in a slump, and only the most talented of bookers can restore its former glory. The successful applicant must orchestrate exciting nights of action, build arena improvements, nurture the performers, and bring in new talent if they're not up to the job. All the while making sure that the show makes a profit, and keeps the fickle TV Network happy. Only then can a wrestling show once again reign as the undisputed champion of entertainment."
Coded in Blitz 3D like all of MDickie's games, Booking Mpire makes up for amateurish pixellated graphics with the sheer number of gameplay options that form an intricate and addictive interplay. Although the first few minutes of the game will likely put you off - thanks to cliched dialogues and very blocky Lego-like characters that have all the grace of mountains - try to stick with it, and the game's superb design will shine through after you survive your first week in the office. I was confused by the first 10 minutes or so of this game: for some reason, my newly created character Mr. Booker has to duke it out in the wrestling ring with MDickie, the angry, outgoing booker whose job I just replaced. While MDickie proceeds to mercilessly pound my character into a pulp, I was left thinking I bought the wrong game. But soon I realized it was just a show, a gimmick to start off the game proper (although my poor Mr. Booker took a real beating and couldn't recover for weeks).
Being a non-wrestling fan, I was skeptical at first about Booking Mpire. But it didn't take long for me to become hooked: the game is simply a blast to play. For starters, the razor-sharp focus on the management side of wrestling means that you don't need to be a joystick expert or wrestling nut to enjoy this game. Only prodent business management skills and a sense of what people look for in an "entertainment" sport are required to succeed in the game. Booking Mpire plays like a great cross between Mad TV, Extreme Warfare Revenge, and soccer management simulations. Your overriding goal is to get the rating of your wrestling TV channel to the top of the heap, surpassing all competing channels. But to get there requires a lot of skill and even a little bit of luck. You need to constantly monitor all the wrestlers under your contract to make sure the best ones are happy (you can re-negotiate his contract to increase his pay, to give more incentive to stay), the bad ones don't stir up troubles when you show them the door, and the up-and-comers get enough training to put up a good fight. In true wrestling fashion, some wrestlers may be "at feud" with another wrestler, which may prevent you from arranging the match between them. From time to time, wrestlers will come to you with problems or questions that require your decision - for example, whether you want to let Big Oaf change his costume (which may attract more fans if they like it, or reduce his popularity if they don't). I like how the game does not assume that all wrestling matches are staged (I'm sure many wrestling fans do argue endlessly about this), but uses the entertainment value of the sport as an important gameplay element. This means you can enjoy the game even if you think wrestling is a 'fake' sport - just concentrate on putting on the best fights and watch the money roll in and the ratings climb up :)
The astounding range of customization is one highlight of Booking Mpire. Just about any option you can think of in a game can be changed, from cosmetic options (e.g. how you and your wrestlers look) to match options (e.g. what your special attack is, and even how you walk - you can walk with a swagger or like a kung fu master!) - it's all up to you. You can also add arena improvements, such as a cage, to add excitement to the matches. You will even see how these improvements affect match results, since each match you stage is "played out" in real time, with 3D wrestlers doing their stuff in the ring. This part can get boring, but fortunately the wide variety of moves and convincing animations make it quite entertaining.
After spending many hours late into the dawn with the game, I daresay that Booking Mpire is hands-down the most fun I have ever had with a wrestling game. It's similar to Extreme Warfare Revenge, but with a lot more heart and character. Whether or not you like the sport, you owe it to yourself to check out this excellent underdog if you have just a little bit of interest in sports management or TV/entertainment business. The game costs $14.99 to register - a price tag that may seem high, but is well worth it given the sheer variety of gameplay. If you like this game but prefer more action as a wrestler, check out other wrestling gems from MDickie, including Federation Booker and Wrestling Mpire, at his website. Two thumbs up, way up!Reviewed by: Underdogs