It's a rarity for a game to get by entirely on charm, but sometimes that's all it takes for a title to become a cult classic. Case in point, take a look at Nintendo's 1986 wrasslin' game Pro Wrestling. It's a simple game, really, detailing the trials, tribulations, and shattered vertebrae of a wrestling promotion called VWA. Each member of its roster has championship fever on the brain, and the only cure is the federation's huge over-sized gold title belt. But its lack of plot obviously isn't what makes it so damn charming. No, there's much more to it than that, which this here write up will hopefully show you. Much of its charm comes from its characters, so we'll start there.
Fighter Hayabusa (ファイター隼)
Antonio Inoki Fighter Hayabusa is basically the hero. He has a maneuver called Back Brain Kick that's the coolest move in the entire game. But he almost always misses with it and just ends up falling on his ass.
Star Man (スターマン)
Star Man wears a lucha libre-style mask and a costume with a color palette that no human being alive would be caught dead in. With his awesome back flip kick to the face and flying head butt, he's the fan-fave.
Kin Corn Karn (キン・コン・カーン)
With his nonsensical name, absurd design, and ridiculous move where he hops into the air and does a karate chop, Kin Corn Karn is disliked by all.
Giant Panther (ジャイアント・パンサー)
Giant Panther is a practitioner of the arts of looking like Hulk Hogan without facial hair and of squeezing people's faces. He's a master of both.
The Amazon (ジ・アマゾン)
A strange fishman that looks like he crawled out a Castlevania game, The Amazon finally got fed up with having the living carp whipped out of him by Simon Belmont, so he ran away and joined the circus... I mean the VWA. If you like your wrestlers to be villains/cheaters, then this is your guy.
King Slender (キング・スレンダー)
King Slender is basically just your average wrestler. Has a wicked back breaker move, and a mane of hair that could have only come from 1986.
I probably don't even have to tell you this, but Pro Wrestling is best remembered for the phrase "A WINNER IS YOU". It also contains the less memorable "GO FIGHT!" on the visible side of the ring, and "CHALLENGE NEXT MATCH" after each fight on your way to the title. Its graphics gives it a great deal of camp appeal, as well - there's nothing more ridiculous looking than watching two 8-bit sprites grunt their way through their attacks' lone animation frames. Compared to other wrestlers in 1986, though, this must have looked amazing. There's a logo on the canvas, a camera man at ringside, two commentators silently conversing with each other in the background, an actual audience, and a ref that moves around throughout the entire match. Everything considered, this is possibly the most memorable looking game in the genre to this day.
Nintendo made a boatload of other games for NES where the title was just a description of the theme. Each of these games was as generic as possible so that if you had even a vague idea of what the title meant then you already had the game entirely figured out. Ice Hockey was just shooting, passing, and fighting. Baseball was just pitching and hitting. Soccer was just kicking and passing. Tennis was just hitting a ball. Mahjong was just mahjong. Well that's what Pro Wrestling is - it's just pro wrestling. Punch, kick, run, button mash face button/D-Pad combos for grappling moves, count outs are 20 (Japanese rules) - you get the idea. Even most of the moves that you can do are iconic wrestling maneuvers that will be familiar to anybody who's played as Zangief in i>Street Fighter II.
This is all fine and good, but what's it like to actually play the game? Sure it's campy, and yeah, everybody likes "A WINNER IS YOU", but a lot of games are campy, and A LOT of games have horrible translations. What is it that keeps people playing Pro Wrestling all these years later?
Honestly, it actually doesn't seem like it should be that good of a game. While you can always take on a second player, there aren't any extra modes, rulesets, different kinds of matches, or match customization. And its button mashing, small roster, and relatively few moves aren't exactly a major draw. But each of these smaller parts come together in-game to form a much greater whole. You'd be surprised at how much you can do with so little, playing around with different fighting styles, working different match finishes, and just wreaking all kinds of havoc in general. The "bad" animation actually enhance this mayhem even further, leading to some hilariously disastrous bumps after you whiff certain maneuvers. It's here, in the tone of these matches, that the game's charm really shows.
It might be tough to describe, but it makes total sense when you're playing the game. So, I figured that I'd do just that - play it through to the end and detail all of the carnage that I wrought to give you a better idea of what it is that makes this game tick. Of course, winning the whole shebang could take a while, and I don't have any patience. All I really care about is cracking skulls. And crack skulls I did...
First I picked Fighter Hayabusa. He has that move Back Brain Kick move that you can never get to work. I was determined to pull it off anyway, so I decided that I wouldn't pin anybody without having hit them with it first. First off was Star Man. I eventually found an opening, drop kicked, and promptly fell right on my ass. After getting pinned, I decided to give it another shot. This time I was getting destroyed. I kept barely kicking out of pins in time, and falling flat on the mat after several failed attempts at the elusive maneuver. Then I knocked him down, got in position, and gave it another shot. The drop kick connected with the back of his head, sending him face first down to the canvas. VICTOLY! I also landed the move against Giant Panther, and TWICE against Kin Corn Karn, but missed like thirty times in the process.
I hit reset and selected Star Man. I wasn't about to neglect his fancy acrobatics, so I decided that I was going to make all of the matches as flashy as possible, win or lose. Before I remembered that you can leap off of the turnbuckle, this pretty much just consisted of back flip kicking people in the face and doing flying head butts over and over. This also lead to a buttload of misses, like when I ran face first into Kin Corn Karn when I was trying to do a flying knee instead, or when I fell face first to the canvas trying to leap off of the turnbuckle onto somebody who was out of range, or when I dove over the ropes too late and crashed landed on the mats. Eventually I completely forgot what I was doing and left the ring for a double count out.
Then I chose Kin Corn Karn. I was curious how far I could get relying as much as possible on his crappy karate moves. I didn't expect that I'd get very far, but I actually beat the first two guys. Then Giant Panther began the match by punching me in the face something ridiculous like eight times, and probably a good thirty over the course of the match. In fact, all three of the wrestlers that I fought kept punching me in the face over and over. I guess they don't like Kin Corn Karn either.
Then came Giant Panther. My basic goal here was to play him as much like Hogan as possible. To maximize the Hogan-ness of my moveset, I did mostly knee drops and kicks, in place of Hogan's leg drops and Big Boots. And I certainly couldn't neglect Giant Panther's face squeezing or head butting skills, so I did those, as well. I kept trying to whip everybody into the ropes and then kick them on their way back to recreate the Big Boot, but my timing was off, so I kept colliding with everybody. During a match against Fighter Hayabusa he tried to clothesline my ass, but I ducked and avoided the hit - that would have been a badass move even for Hogan. I was even able to end a match after a knee drop, Hogan-style. Later on I got so caught up with squeezing Star Man's masked face that I let the clock run out.
I decided to play The Amazon as a damn cheater, and only do illegal/sneaky/insane moves, and try to win by count out as much as possible. Things got all Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots when me and Fighter Hayabusa stood toe to toe and exchanged punches to the face for what seemed like a solid fifteen seconds. Keeping with my efforts to be a huge pain in the ass, I moved out of the way just after he leapt off of the turnbuckle and sent him crashing into the canvas. Then I kept hurling Kin Corn Karn out of the ring for no purpose other than to be an annoyance, and eventually got that dumbass counted out. A favorite technique of mine was to stab people in the face with a fork. Then when the ref would tell me to knock it off I would deny all knowledge of it. I was fighting outside of the ring, winning by count out all over the place, and just being a total bastard in general. In an especially cruel match, I spent most of a fight just biting King Slender in the face. Later on I tried to beat Giant Panther by repeatedly whipping him into the ropes and then letting him run face first into me on purpose in hopes of irritating him into submission. Apparently that doesn't work.
When I decided to go for Great Puma, I chose King Slender. And a turbo controller. And decided to do nothing but body slams and back breakers. For every match. Man, did I kick ass. I was getting 3 counts left and right, and winning almost every match in less than a minute and a half. The only guy it took me longer than 1:30 to beat on my way to the title was Kin Corn Karn - figure that one out for yourself. The second time through the ranks I had a little trouble with Fighter Hayabusa. He even had the gall to hurl my ass out of the ring and bring death from above down onto my flowing blond locks. So I piledrived his ass onto the mats and left him there to get counted out. When I was defending my title I actually beat The Amazon in thirty-nine seconds. Then Kin Corn Karn tried to do a flying knee drop off of the turnbuckle, but he missed, and I pinned his ass for a 3 count. What an idiot.
Eventually I reached Great Puma. Holy crap, is this guy a challenge! Even with my turbo controller King Slender was taking repeated kicks to the face and getting bodyslammed all over the place. I was dishing out a fair share of punishment from my arsenal of turbo (controller) charged body slams and back breakers, but he broke each and every pin I put him in before the ref could even reach 2. Then he knocked me down to the canvas, and pinned me for a 3 count. Damnit! Rematch!
During the rematch I was able to get in a series of bodyslams, followed by a back breaker, and I went for the pin. 1... NO! I went straight to back breakers and applied another pin. 1... Denied! More back breakers. A third failed pin. I switched to body slams, followed with a back breaker, and went for yet another failed pin attempt. I came right back with more back breakers. Then he mockingly attacked me with my own back breaker move - I was not going to put up with that crap. With less than a minute left on the clock, I quickly applied a series of devastating back breakers of my own, and went for a fifth pin attempt... and then it happened. The ref couldn't have possibly been standing in a better position. He flopped straight down to the canvas. 1... 2... 3! WOOOOOO! WOOOOOO! (Ric Flair reference) Proof that this really happened:
Yeah, so that's Pro Wrestling. It's button mash-y, but it's an amusing way to kill time with two people, and it's completely ludicrous, which is always good. In Japan, it was originally released for Famicom Disk System as "Puroresu - Famicom Wrestling Association". This version is identical to the American release, except that the title and character selection screens are different, and the federation is called FWA instead of VWA. References to the game have also shown up a few times in Nintendo games in recent years. The line "A WINNER IS YOU" has been spoken by characters in a couple of Pokémon RPGs, and The Amazon makes a cameo in WarioWare: Twisted! for Game Boy Advance. Also, if you have Fire ProWrestling Returns for PlayStation 2, you can make the characters from this game in the create-a-wrestler mode, as this YouTube video demonstrates.