Pro Wrestling’s charm, playability, and admiration for its source material work in tandem to create a satisfying and rewarding wrestling game experience, which history shows is no small feat.
Japanese Title: プロレス Puroresu
English Release: Pro Wrestling (NES, 1986)
Release Date: October 13, 1986
Developer: Nintendo R&D3
Product Code: FMC-PRO
Disk Format: Single-sided
Notable Credits: Designed and programmed by Masato Masuda.
For a long time, wrestling games weren’t very good. Starting with the 8-bit iterations and well through the 16 bit era, wrestling games relied heavily on licenses to sell themselves. Hidden beneath the visage of familiar brands and stables of well loved (and hated) characters, no software developer ever thought to actually to translate the wrestling loved by millions on TV and live in Madison Square Garden into an enjoyable video game experience. It wasn’t until the N64 when developer AKI finally got wrestling games right, with such late 90s dorm room staples as WWF No Mercy and Wrestlemania 2000.
However, when reflecting back on wrestling games, one worth while title does manage to penetrate the fog of junky controls schemes and sluggish game play, a beacon of light in a sea of mediocrity; Pro Wrestling.
Pro Wrestling both understands, and has reverence for its source material, making it substantially better then all other wrestling games released for both the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System and even many Super Nintendo titles, the Japan exclusive Fire Pro Wrestling series not withstanding.
The first thing that differentiates Pro Wrestling is a distinct and immediately apparent sense of charm and personality. This is best represented in the odd ball cast of wrestlers at your disposal. You have six to choose from; Star Man, a mexican luchador; King Slender, an obvious Ric Flair homage; Kin Corn Karn; a korean martial artist; Giant Panther; a Hulk Hogan-styled behemoth; Fighter Hayabusa, a tribute to beloved Japanese wrestler-turned-politician Antonio Inoki; and finally The Amazon, who is curiously based on the monster from Universal Pictures Creature from the Black Lagoon.
These characters are each given unique move sets, something seldom found in this class of more primitive wrestling games. Despite the fact that all the characters essentially play the same, it is refreshing in retrospect to see that sole designer and programmer Masato Masuda was smart enough to realize that the bedrock of professional wrestling is a cast of memorable characters with distinct personalities.
Pro Wrestling has two modes of play. The single player mode finds the player choosing a wrestler and bruising through the remaining 5 to ultimately become the Famicom Wrestling Association champion. After winning the title belt, you must further defend it 10 more times in order to face the final boss, Great Puma. Great Puma is notable as one of the toughest final bosses on the Famicom, as he has the moves of the 6 selectable wrestlers at his disposal. The 2 player mode is 1 on 1 wrestling, and unlike the single player mode, all versus matches are best 2 out of 3 falls.
There are a lot of little touches that add to the overall lustre of Pro Wrestling. The inclusion of high flying maneuvers off the top rope, battling outside of the ring, and a referee who must get into position before starting the count all show that Masuda not only understood what people loved about professional wrestling, but was able to synthesize these elements into a highly playable and authentic wrestling experience. Masato Masuda would leave Nintendo shortly after the release of Pro Wrestling and join Human Entertainment, where he would be instrumental in the genesis of the immensely popular, mostly-Japanese exclusive Fire Pro Wrestling series.
Like most games that innovate, Pro Wrestling did have its draw backs. The music is very clunky and repetitive. The same tune endlessly cycles throughout every match and can become near unbearable. The game play can also become monotonous, as all opponents can be successfully defeated following the same basic template of moves for each match. Over the course of playing the 16 matches required to beat the game, this rinse and repeat formula becomes a bit of a slog, to say the least.
The sheer amount of gravitas of the game far out weight these minuses, however. Pro Wrestling’s charm, playability, and admiration for its source material work in tandem to create a satisfying and rewarding wrestling game experience, which history shows is no small feat.