It goes without saying that SNK are well known for their fighting games. And rightly so - they made about twice as many of them as any other developer. Not only that, but many of their entries in that genre - like Samurai Shodown, Last Blade, King of Fighters, and Fatal Fury - rank among the greatest titles to ever hit the arcades. Combine those with their other games (Art of Fighting, anything for NGPC, etc) and you've got the most varied, most innovative selection of fighters made by any developer ever.
Logically, it seem like it would have been an easy transition for them into other combat themed games. Yet their other efforts into video game ass whooping are a bit mixed. There's the highly regarded, but impossibly obscure, arcade exclusive 3-D fighter Buriki One, which tells the tale of a mostly grappling oriented MMA tournament, and that's mostly remembered for having Ryo Sakazaki (of Art of Fighting fame) as a playable character. They also made about a half dozen or so beat-em-ups, ranging from P.O.W., to 8 Man, to Sengoku, but those were at best lackluster. On a couple of occasions - first in 1993, and a second time just before going bankrupt in 2000 - they also took a shot at the wrestling genre, producing two vastly different titles called 3 Count Bout and Big Bang Pro Wrestling.
3 Count Bout and Big Bang Pro Wrestling are SNK's only two pure wrestling titles (They also made the wrestler-ish flavored kaiju battle themed games King of the Monsters). The first is a take on arcade-style wrestling games, whereas the second instead opts for the formula of Human Entertainment's Fire Pro Wrestling series. Honestly though, the first is pretty horrid, but the second is actually among the better wrestling games out there. While they vary greatly in all other respects, both games have casts of ten wrestlers a piece. There aren't any real wrestlers in either game, but they both have a few characters that are probably based on real people. Neither game has seen any ports, so they both remain pretty obscure.
3 Count Bout (Fire Suplex in Japan) was SNK's first shot at the wrestling genre. It follows ten members of SWF (SNK Wrestling Federation) as they compete in the promotion's big tournament, called SWF Wrestle Festival, in hopes of winning both the championship title and boatloads of cash. The game itself blows like nobody's business, but the characters are half decent, so we'll get that out of the way first.
In this corner, standing 6'1" and weighing in at 284 lbs... if his long blond hair doesn't prove that he's American, then his patriotic pants sure as hell will... TEEERRRRYYY RRROOOOGGGERS!!!
In this corner, hailing from Mexico, standing 6'2" and weighing in at 352 lbs... the masked, knife wielding, Blues... HAAAAAAAAAAABLAAAAAAM!!!
In this corner, from his native Germany, standing 6'6" and weighing in at 297 lbs... you'll recognize him from his bigass hair, but probably not from his total lack of character... ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOY Wilson.
In this corner, coming from Canada, standing 6'3" and weighing in at 247 lbs - the chain that he wields is almost as lethal as his giant mullet - Leo... BRADLEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYY!!!
The Red Dragon
In this corner, from Japan, standing 5'10" and weighing in at 250 lbs - he spits mist, he wears face paint, he's Great Muta is sprite art form, he is... The Red... DRRRRAAAAAAGGGOOOOOONNN!!!
In this corner, from the country of Spain, towering over the horizon at 7'0" and weighing in at 441 lbs - he wears a mask to hide his face, but can't find a shirt that doesn't show off his huge gut - GOOOCHACK BIIIGBOOOOMB!!!
In this corner, from his home country of India, standing 5'11" and weighing in at 200 lbs... the fire breathing, the loin cloth wearing, The GAAAANDHAARRAAAA!!!
In this corner, from Mexico, standing 6'2" and weighing in at 352 lbs... he's taken off the mask, but still wields his knife - yes, it's Blues Hablam alright - BLUBEEEEERRRR MAAAAAAAAAAN!!!
In this corner, standing 6'8" and weighing in at 360 lbs, from The Netherlands, or Holland, or whatever the hell you wanna call that place - the long lost third member of the Road Warriors - MASTEEER BAAAAARNES!!!
In this corner, from Spain, standing 7'0" and weighing in at 441 lbs - totally NOT Gochack Bigbomb without his mask - BIIGG BOOOOMBEERRDERR!!!
3 Count Bout was released in 1993, the same year as Capcom's Saturday Night Slam Masters. With the two games being released around the same time, it's improbable that it was intended to be a Saturday Night Slam Masters clone, but somebody at SNK definitely had a similar idea. It basically plays like your generic arcade wrestling title, except that, like in Saturday Night Slam Masters, you do a hell of a lot of striking, you've got a bunch of fancy special moves at your disposal, and there's even a jump button.
Despite being a pretty horrible game, it does bring some interesting things to the table. Besides being able to do all of the standard wrestling game maneuvers - striking, grappling, leaping from the turnbuckle, applying submission holds, whipping your foe to the ropes, fighting outside of the ring, running - you can also perform leaping drops when standing over downed opponents, kind of like in SNK's King of the Monsters series. Your very-not-standard ability to jump means that you've also a couple jumping attacks in your arsenal. Similar to Saturday Night Slam Masters, you've got a health meter, but you can also win by submission or knockout, as well as by pin.
Every two or three rounds in the tournament you fight in either a street fight or a death match. The street fights have the two wrestlers brawling in either a parking garage or a construction site. In both stages you can leap off of things in the background, or bust up various objects to the far left and right of the arena by throwing the other guy into them. If you dent the cars in the parking garage then one of their owners will get pissed off and you can hoist him over your head and hurl him around as a weapon (!!!). The parking garage has barbed wire wrapped laced baseball bats, crates, and TASER's to smack the other wrestler in the face, break over his head, or electrocute his ass. The death matches take place in a ring, but with electrified ropes and barbed wire laced baseball bats on the canvas. You can win any way in death matches, but you have to win street fights by knockout.
The game also sports some really excellent presentation. The music is good, and the graphics are on par with anything else that was out there at the time. The character designs aren't exactly inspired, but the sprites are HUGE, and everything's very well detailed. The wrestling moves are all well animated, the canvas actually shakes when you pull off a really big slam to the mat, the ring entrances are show in their entirety, there's a cameraman wandering around at ringside snapping away, and you can even taunt by pushing Pin when not above a downed opponent. And then there's this WAY over excited fan spazzing out to the right of the wrestler here...
Then you get to the meat and bones of almost any wrestling game - the grappling system - and that's where the game completely falls apart. After entering into a grapple you have like half a second to mash the A button before entering the attack button/joystick direction combo for your move. Seems all fine and good - and it should be in theory - but the requirements to win a grapple are so ludicrous that you're damn near guaranteed to lose EVERY TIME. You have to button mash faster than anybody should even be physically capable of and you have literally only about a half second to do it. So the CPU ends up winning - and I'm not exaggerating here - EVERY grapple, without fail. Any potential that the game has is killed right there.
It gets worse. If you thought you could get around the grappling system by playing it like Saturday Night Slam Masters and relying on punches, kicks, and specials, then you thought wrong. Trying to play it like that will only make you run head first into the overly aggressive A.I., which puts the CPU right in your face non-stop. Should you try to confront them head-on, you'll find that there's a bit too much startup time on your standing attacks, which is only made worse by the fact that there's a VERY stiff feel to both the controls and the characters' movement. Meaning that you won't be able to do much of anything with your striking attacks, either. Nor will you be able to effectively evade the CPU's onslaught. Even if you try to spam running attacks or aerial maneuvers you'll find that they're far too easy to miss with, and if you do you'll probably fall flat on your face. In short: This game sucks. It's that kind of bad that transcends bad and becomes downright frustrating. If you can pull of the miracle of actually beating the game, then I commend you, but I sure as hell wouldn't recommend trying. Nice going, SNK.
Luckily, there's also a 2 Player mode - either co-op as a tag team against the CPU, or 1-on-1 against each other. The tag mode does exactly jack shit to alleviate all of problems that this game has, but the 1-on-1 mode is actually half decent. It obviously does nothing whatsoever to make the game feel any less stiff, but it does solve the major, major problem of the grappling system. So, if you're a wrestling game fanatic, you've got a second player along for the ride, and you absolutely must try out every goddamn wrestling game ever made, then you'll probably have a decent enough time fooling around with 3 Count Bout, especially if you're also interested in SNK.
Seven years after the non-stop crap-fest that is 3 Count Bout, SNK took a second shot at the wrestling genre with Big Bang Pro Wrestling for their tragically failed Neo Geo Pocket Color console. If you're worried that it's anything like their disastrous first entry in the genre, then don't be - it's actually a really badass game. Its plot follows ten wrestlers who compete in a federation called IEW (NO clue whatsoever what that stands for) as they fight for the heavyweight title.
Probably meant to represent the average style of pro wrestling. While his color palette and endless Toukon bring Kenta Kobashi to mind, it's more likely that he's partially based on, or at least inspired by, The Rock.
Your classic massive Big Van Vader-style wrestler. His "street clothes"-style attire and raw, brutal moveset make him the closest to a pure brawler in the game.
Like Brian, Alex is probably just supposed to be an average-style pro wrestler. Despite his comparatively small stature, he's as strong as they come.
A completely shameless knock-off of 'Taker, down to his moves, mannerisms, and general style.
A high flying lucha libre-style wrestler who wears an eagle mask. It's worth noting that he bears a resemblance to a smaller version of Tizoc "Griffon Mask" from SNK's fighting game Garou: Mark of the Wolves.
Sho is your basic shoot-style wrestler. His fighting style is supposedly based around Vale Tudo, but he looks more like a Muay Thai fighter. If you're looking for a submission fighter, this is your guy.
Probably the closest that Big Bang Pro Wrestling has to a pure power-style wrestler. Many of his moves look absolutely brutal. Possibly based on Bill Goldberg or Stone Cold Steve Austin?
Given his face paint and mist spiting ability, it's safe to assume that Macey is probably meant to be based on Great Kabuki. Also has a surprisingly diverse moveset.
The extremely tall boss of IEW Champion mode, who becomes playable after he's defeated. Possibly based on Shawn Michaels?
Definitely one of the most excessively well endowed female character in video game history. Not the Mai Shiranui-style flirt that you'd expect, she's actually a mega badass, complete with a spinning back-fist, ala Aja Kong. As far as I can tell, Kei becomes playable out of nowhere after you keep a saved game going for a month.
Big Bang Pro Wrestling basically plays like Human Entertainment's masterpiece Fire Pro Wrestling, in that it's based around a timing based grappling system. When the wrestlers make contact they'll immediately enter into a grapple. You have to enter the command for your move IMMEDIATELY after their palms hit each other's shoulders. If you do this before your opponent, without being too early, then you'll perform your move. At first you'll only be able to pull off body slams by pushing A, but after you've warmed your foe up a bit you can execute other maneuvers by combining the command with any direction on the joystick.
As great as the system works, the timing is much, much more difficult than it is in most Fire Pro Wrestling clones. This is in part because of the timing being so precise, but it's mostly because of the awkward grappling animation. After the wrestlers reach all the way back they'll IMMEDIATELY snap into place grabbing each other's shoulders, with NO frames of animation between the two positions. This is so awkward that before you get accustomed to it you'll literally find yourself counting frames just to be able to get the timing right with any kind of consistency. If you're playing it on an emulator then try slowing it down at first to see what I mean. Either way, you'd be wise to practice on Easy mode when you first start playing the game.
While it's VASTLY simplified compared to Fire Pro Wrestling, there's still a lot of cool things that you can do, given that there's only two buttons on the machine. All of your attacks are performed with the A button. While standing you have two strikes, two more ways to attack downed opponents, and you can pull of another move to counter a running wrestler. Your running attack differs depending on whether your foe is standing or downed, and you can whip your opponent to the ropes or right out of the ring. If the fight goes to the floor, you can pull a chair out of the stands, bring it back into the ring, and wail away on you foe with it. Everybody besides David can climb the turnbuckle and bring death from above to the other wrestler in two different ways (one that works if they're standing, and another that works if they're downed). With the B button (either in neutral or when combined with a direction on the joystick) you can climb the top two turnbuckles, run, whip, exit or re-enter the ring - even do character specific taunts. After dishing out a decent amount of punishment your character's name will begin to flash, which signifies that you can perform your finisher (really just a special move - it doesn't necessarily end the match). When you hit both buttons at once your wrestler will lunge forward - if they make contact then you see a close up of their face and they'll pull out their most devastating move.
Not only have you got four different modes of play, but you can also do a fair amount of fooling around with setting up the matches. You can play a stand alone match against the CPU or a second player, organize an eight wrestler tournament, or fight your way through IEW Champion mode, which is basically like a story mode, complete with the wrestlers smack talking each other on the mic before each fight. Anybody that you've got available can compete in the other three modes, but only the original eight can enter IEW Champion mode. For stand alone matches or tournaments you can change the time limit, the difficulty setting, the ring, and the ring's color palette, turn off count outs, and select which kind of match to fight out of four different rule sets. In standard matches you can win by pinfall or submission, rope breaks apply (meaning you can't be pinned or made to submit if you're against the ropes), count outs are 20, and you'll get DQ'ed for making three chair shots. "No Rules" is like standard matches, except that pins and submissions apply outside of the ring, and count outs and DQs don't apply at all. Then there are Casket Matches, where you can only win by hurling your foe into an open coffin. The last kind of match is a Cash Match, where you can only win by climbing a pole to reach a sack of cash (rapidly alternate between A and B). You can knock your foe off of the pole if they're low enough, of climb after them and throw them to the ground if they're out of reach.
SNK's entries for NGPC tend to have spectacular presentation, and Big Bang Pro Wrestling is no exception, ranking up there with their best for the platform. The character sprites had to be made relatively small for enough of the ring/arena to be visible on screen at once, but it still excels when it comes to detail. The wrestling moves themselves are all beautifully animated, and full of subtle nuances. Each character has their own ring entrance, complete with their own entrance music. All they really do is walk into the ring, but there are differences between how each of their entrances is presented (smoke, pyrotechnics, strobes, flashbulbs going off in the crowd, etc). It's nothing short of amazing to see how lively the crowd is - EVERY audience member that's visible is separately animated and NO sprite is identical (though several are palette swaps/mirror images), and there's even audible crowd noise before the bell rings. There's an announcer table to the far right, flashing monitors around the arena displaying "IEW", and people in the seats holding signs telling you to "Sock It!" or other such nonsensical crap. You even get to watch an animated intro before getting to the title screen. SNK also had the smarts to keep the ref very actively attentive of the match, but still keep his distance, so that he never blocks your view of anything. Like in many, many other wrestlers, you can run into the ref and knock him out temporarily.
Big Bang Pro Wrestling was the last title released by SNK before they went bankrupt. So despite the fact that it was fully translated into English, they never had the time to release it outside of Japan. It's completely identical when played in English, except that there's a third ring to select from when the machine's language setting is set to Japanese.
Apparently, Big Bang Pro Wrestling was originally going to be called Wrestling Madness, as evident by the fact that there's actually a beta version of the game floating around in rom form with that title. The two play identically, but Wrestling Madness differs from Big Bang Pro Wrestling in the following ways: the title screen is different, the options mode doesn't work in any way that I've been able to find, Mike has a different color palette, Kei's sprite is different during the intro animation, and all of the wrestlers have different character portraits, both at the character selection screen and when they perform their finishers. The WM character portraits differ from those in Big Bang in that they're much goofier looking versions of the characters and ugly as hell, as opposed to the tamer and much better looking portraits of Big Bang. Interestingly, the sprites shown during each the intro and ring entrances more closely resemble their portraits in Wrestling Madness than in Big Bang Pro Wrestling, so it seems that SNK never got around to redrawing them when the change was made.