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Monday, April 21, 2014

NES Replay: Pro Wrestling

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: March 1987
The last thing I wanted to do after the twin terrors of M.U.S.C.L.E. and Tag Team Wrestling was play yet another wrestling game. Yet, there was Pro Wrestling, standing in my way. Something happened, though: I found that Pro Wrestling is really, really fun.

So what's the difference between Pro Wrestling and those other, terrible games? Controls, controls, controls.

When someone first picks up a fighting game, the controls are unknown. Oh, sure, you can look in a manual and read the buttons to press, but the timing necessary to pull off moves can only be learned by playing the game. It takes a little bit of training to figure out the timing, but in the meantime a novice player can "button-mash." By doing things that they think might work, they're usually able to pull off some moves and be mildly successful.

Some "hardcore" players think that fighting games shouldn't allow players to button-mash, but this period is crucial. Without a brief window where a player can get used to the controls and achieve a little bit of success, they give up. Having novice players quit on you is great if you want your favorite genre to die out due to lack of interest. A regular, fresh influx of players is the only way to keep a genre afloat.
Now that the player's interest is piqued, they're going to dig a little deeper. That's when they find out how they were doing those moves, how to counter moves with other moves, and then they're hooked. The fighting genre has another devotee.

Pro Wrestling was designed by the late Masato Masuda, who later worked on the "Fire Pro Wrestling" series of games. He died recently at the young age of 48, but he left behind a legacy of some of the best wrestling games available, no mean feat for the young NES and the nascent fighting game genre. You can clearly see the bones of future games in Pro Wrestling. It's easy to pick up and play, with a lot of depth for players who want to dig deeper. It looks excellent to boot. Bear in mind, he was only 20 at the time that this game was developed, which really should impress upon everyone what a great natural developer he really was.

Another great thing that Pro Wrestling does? The players actually play different from each other. This sounds really basic to us now, but early fighting games weren't this way. I remember an early boxing game for the Colecovision where you could select from nine different characters. We randomly selected one that we called "Sheepherder" for some strange reason, and no one used him. I decided to play as Sheepherder and found, to my dismay, that he was exactly the same as everyone else.

But here, in Pro Wrestling, there was variance. Each character has a unique special move that they can activate in a certain situation. Some took a little more skill than others, but they were all slightly different. That was a huge step forward.

So I guess I was wrong. In a previous article, I complained that there were no good fighting games on the NES. Well, here's one, and it's a doozy. Pro Wrestling holds up remarkably well all these years later, so I guess a winner is it. Thanks, Masuda-san.

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