Ignoring the fact that I should have thought of this for January, I have decided to do something a bit different for this year of WILW. Each month the first post of the month will highlight a different wrestling game. There have been quite a few over the years and I have played most of them. And in the almost two and a half years of doing this column I've only ever featured one video game. (WWE No Mercy here) Well, consider that oversight corrected. For the first installment of WILW Games I wanted to jump back in time to one of my favorite wrestling games of all time, the simply named Pro Wrestling for the NES.
Releasing in March of 1987 for the NES (check out the Stone Age Gamer Podcast the last week of march to hear Kris and i gush about this game right here, on geekade.com) Pro Wrestling was one of the Black Box NES sports titles. This line featured such creatively, obtusely named games as Golf, Baseball, Tennis, and Slalom. All joking aside this line was dedicated to straight up representations of these sports done with trademark Nintendo charm. And while many of these titles were great, none of them featured more Nintendoness than Pro Wrestling. The game was simple. Select one of six different wrestlers, win the VWA title, and defend your belt all in an effort to wrestle the mysterious, nigh unfair Great Puma. Being an NES game, the moveset was extremely limited compared to today's wrestling games. Matches consisted of relentlessly spamming your most effective move, bodyslam/suplex/backbreaker, until your opponent was worn down enough to receive a finishing maneuver. Hit your finisher, cover for the 1,2,3, rinse and repeat. It should have been boring. The novelty should have worn off rather quickly. Except that it wasn't boring and the novelty never really has quite worn off. This is a game I go back to often and one I dream about having a new version of. As a gamer who has been burned by Nintendo systems of recent memory, a new Pro Wrestling would bring me back.
Limited gameplay aside, what really hooked me on this game was the character design. In the 80's Pro Wrestling was much more character driven than it is today insofar as gimmicks were concerned. There were far more Amazons than King Slenders jockeying for mat time. The most basic wrestler here, Antonio Inoki, I mean Fighter Hayabusa, would have been right at home in New Japan. The rest though were WWE through and through. Giant Panther was equal parts Von Erich and Hulk Hogan. King Slender was Nature Boy Ric Flair. Star Man was Mil Mascaras, Kin Corn Karn was Killer Khan, and the Amazon was obviously... well Blanka's father I suppose. Each wrestler had a unique finisher with Star Man's somersault kick obviously being the coolest. Nintendo managed to capture the spirit of professional wrestling in a very authentic way. What I wouldn't give to have an updated version of this game with new characters and online play. Make it happen Nintendo.
Playing the game with a modern gamers sensibility, it still holds up. While the final match against Great Puma is as unbalanced as could be, (really, what boss fights back then weren't) the rest of the game was very well balanced. Did it devolve into a button masher when playing two player? Absolutely it did. Did it suffer because of that? No, no it did not. A wrestling game that was a blast to play single or two player, had amazing characters, cool moves, and fantastic music? I'm in. Pro Wrestling had a ton of cool features like the ability to climb the ropes or do moves in and outside of the ring, a real time ref on screen, a full crowd, camera men, and ringside commentators that while commonplace today were a visual marvel in 1987. One of my favorite titles for the NES and one of the best wrestling games of all time, if you haven't played Pro Wrestling then do yourself a favor and find a copy, a friend, and a few hours to kill. I promise you won't regret it. Make sure to follow me on twitter, @geekadedan, and let me know your favorite memories with Pro Wrestling or what you would like to see in a new game. And make sure to check back next week right here on geekade.com for more reasons to love pro wrestling. Until then...