One of the gripes about modern gaming is the lack of originality in mainstream games, with limited innovations in gameplay and mechanics, seemingly just updated teams and the same brands churned out. Football fans have FIFA, golf fans have Tiger Woods, and for a number of years, wrestling fans have had to contend with the WWE to experience wrestling on their consoles. Although there is nothing wrong in emulating WWE superstars, it’s nice to look back before licensed names and brands, to a time where the imagination was king and wrestling fans didn’t have the brawn and might of the biggest name in wrestling. Gamers had to contend with whatever characters the big N threw their way. One of the earlist wrestling games for the console was Pro Wrestling, and although technically it was the second wrestling game in the NES library after M.U.S.C.L.E, so is this game down for a 1-2-3 count or is it one to beat violently with the back of a chair?
Pro Wrestling was released in Europe in 1987 and rather than control the Hulk Hogan’s and the Ultimate Warriors’ of this world you get to control one of 6 original dashing characters:
Fighter Hayabusa, Star Man, Kin Corn Karn, Giant Panther, The Amazon, King Slender.
At this stage, without knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each character, at the start it’s a question of picking who you like the look of. Maybe your taken by the All-American-Hero looking King Slender, or part piranha (supposedly) part man The Amazon. So you pick your character and away you go, ready to start your journey towards becoming the VWA (Video Wrestling Association, obviously) champion and becoming a legend amongst NES gamers.
So as you start the match, you’ll notice that for a NES game, the settings in-match look quite detailed. You have the crowd cheering you on fist pumping in the background, and within that crown in the middle you’ll notice the two commentators dressed in black. You have the cameraman at the bottom following all the action and inside the ring you have the ref making sure it’s a fair fight. He will lay down next to you counting upwards when one character is being pinned, and will run over to you rather than just lay down on his stomach the moment you pin.
The idea, either by skillfully pressing the buttons in a rhythmic way at the right time (or by button mashing like a true hero Track and Field style) is to wear down your opponent enough so that when you pin them, the ref counts to 3 and the match is over . You can even venture out of the ring to brawl like some street hoodlum but be careful, if the ref counts to 20 and your still out there you lose whereas both of you are out there, well, you both lose. However when you win, your treated to your man, arms aloft proclaiming “WINNER IS YOU”, not the worst example of Engrish but nevertheless one of those who love poorly translated Japanese. So with your trusted fighter you climb up the proverbial wrestling ladder fighting each character until you reach our friend King Slender, for a shot at the title. To get this far you’ll need to have been good, but now you’ll need the reflexes of a bumblebee with a dodgy stomach finding the nearest lay-by to relieve himself in.
So for a NES game the game is colourful, and the characters are drawn well enough to distinguish them between each other, making it easy to relate to the wrestler you’ve chosen and have a favourite. When you turn on the game your treated (as most of the early NES games) to a jaunty opening music before you choose your character. In game the music is the same 4 seconds looped but does throw something different every now and then. The sound effects, well it’s the same sound effect should you kick or punch your opponent, or body slamming them onto the mat. There are slight variations in the sound effects and it’s good enough that you won’t need to mute the TV to put on your latest One Direction LP or whatever the youth of today listen to.
For those not in the know about wrestling video games or for the NES system having simple controls such as one button to run and the other button to jump, the controls are quite advanced and set the precedence for other wrestling games in how the matches are fought. The A button kicks and the B Button does a punch, though with Kin Corn Karn he’s unique in performing a vertical kick like nothing you’ve ever seen before and B does a jumping chop, which is as close as I’d get to explaining it. But where the beauty of the controls lies is when you grapple your opponent (by walking in to them), when pressing a direction and either the A or B button, it performs a different move. For example, in a grapple holding up on the d-pad and pressing will do a suplex, or down and A will do a pile-driver, but only if you’ve worn your opponent down enough – if you haven’t then your character will struggle, and your opponent will reverse the move. So it’s fun to change your character and mixing up the combinations seeing what moves the characters perform. Each character has their own special move too so get to work on those combinations. And finally, as per all good wrestling games should let you to, you can climb onto the top turnbuckle to perform an aerial attack, but don’t miss your opponent otherwise it’ll leave you worse for wear to say the least, like quaffing those Jaegerbombs I hear the youth consuming these days.
So all in all, Pro Wrestling is a damn good addition to your NES library. What makes this game even better is the little things, things that nowadays may be taken for granted and standard in WWE games, however for it’s time and given the limitations of making games on the console was innovative. Having an in-ring referee, cameraman and ring announcers present is a nice touch, as well having the referee come over to you when one character pins the other, which if he is the other side of the ring it does give you valuable seconds to try and recover. There is a 2 player option, in which you and a friend go mano-y-mano to slug it out in a best-of-3 match, and as well you cannot both choose the same character, in case both of you wanted to be King Slender, in all his fabulous quiff-haired glory. Copies of the game are not cheap in the wild but if you get the opportunity to, then do pick up a copy, and live in the resplendent glory of a time before the McMahon’s, and the legacy of the Walls of Jericho, I mean where else can you fight as a half piranha? The kids of today, tsk…
Rating – 4 out of 5