Review: Pro Wrestling for the NES

Wrestling was huge in the 80's. The WWF was ubiquitous; licensed t-shirts, wrestling figures, and bedsheets were everywhere. While Nintendo would license plenty of video games, the best wrestling game on the NES was Pro Wrestling, an early first-party title, part of the black-box series.

The game can be played with one player, in a circuit-type campaign, or two player, which is head to head. The latter has consumed many a Friday night for me as infinite rematches and controller bashing prevailed. The fervor of such matches rivals that of Tecmo Bowl matches.

The body slam is a basic move in all wrestlers' repetoire
What makes it such an ideal head to head game is the simplicity of controls. Most moves are simply the result of a directional press and a button. Even if you don't know how to play, you will learn quickly. There is a punch and kick, using B and A, respectively.
Landing a kick is all timing
Body slams are easy to pull off by pressing up and B.You can throw your opponent into ropes (left or right  and B), and clothesline him on the rebound. You can throw your opponent out of the ring if you are close to the edge, and get out yourself to continue the carnage (just be sure to re-enter the ring in 20 seconds or you will be counted out).

Flying off the turnbuckle is very satisfying, as long as your opponent doesn't roll out of the way at the last second

You can even climb on the top turnbuckle and launch yourself on your felled opponent; if he gets up while you are in mid-leap you will crumble to the mat, so timing is critical.

The clothesline in all its glory

Once you think you've worn your opponent down, you can attempt a pin by pressing A while standing near him. If he has enough fight left, he will push you off before the 3-count. Likewise, if you are being pinned you can mash the buttons to get up.
Pick your opponent up off the mat and take advantage of his exhaustion
While every wrestler has their own special moves, these moves cannot be used right away. Your opponent needs to be broken in a bit before they become available. To execute, press some combination of A and a direction after engaging. The exception is Fighter Hayabusa's back-brain kick; you need to be positioned at a 45 degree angle below the opponent. This is the most difficult move to land as your opponent is generally always moving.
The Iron Claw
Against convention, there is no life meter visible. You are always guessing as to how much vitality you and your opponent have. A subtle clue is how long a wrestler takes to get up off the mat; the longer it takes, the weaker he is. An obvious sign is the loud alarm that sounds when a player is subjected to a devastating move. Recovering from a pin attempt at this point is difficult.

A suplex can land your opponent out of the ring

Pro Wrestling has seven selectable wrestlers, each with their own ethnicity and special moves:
  • Fighter Hayabusa - a nondescript Japanese wrestler, with a devastating back-brain kick that is difficult to pull off
  • King Slender - the classic, long haired, blonde American, he is stereotypical wrestling hero. His special move is the suplex.
  • Starman - a pink unitard and star face makes this Mexican wrestler a throwback. He has the ever-amusing standing sommersault kick, and less impressive flying cross chop.
  • The Amazon - the most unique character on the roster, he is the usual favorite due to his vicious piranha bite and head lock choke. Oh, and he has the head of an angry fish and he's green.
  • Giant Panther - a blonde, tan skinned giant, he is anti-hero of sorts. He finishes opponents with his iron claw and head butt.
  • Kin Korn Karn - a Korean wrestler that is less interesting to use, given the other choices. His special moves are a Karate kick and Mongolian chop (why Mongolian if he's Korean?).
If you're not warmed up before you attempt a suplex, your opponent will counter with is own

The final wrestler is the Great Puma, who is the title holder. This guy is super tough and can utilize all special moves, and seemingly has endless stamina. Being the final boss, he is not selectable as a player. If you manage to defeat the Great Pumu, you then have to defend the title against all challengers. I'm not sure if there's a proper end to the game, as each successive match becomes more difficult.

The visuals are very early 8-bit, but sprites are drawn well enough that you can clearly see everything that you need to. Each wrestler has enough visual flair to set them apart. The background consists of a ring, the announcers, and the mildly animated audience.

The music is a catchy tune on a loop, which sticks in your head when you're done playing, but is not annoyingly redundant as you might expect. The sound effects are appropriate for the action, and the crowd will cheer when you pull off a special move.

Beat your opponent down out of the ring, just make sure to get back in before 20 seconds
Somehow this game was truly forgotten, as it doesn't seem to come up in any kind of list for the NES, which is a crime. It doesn't have the flash that other games have, but it has supreme playability. Find a way to play this game, an give it a few tries, you won't regret it. Better yet, grab a friend an play it together for the first time.

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