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Pro Wrestling: More than a meme, less than a classic

Pro Wrestling was the first and only wrestling game Nintendo ever made. It's become a bit of a cult classic thanks to its victory text: "A WINNER IS YOU." The game is somewhat impressive for 1987 but like many NES games doesn't hold up that well today.

First, the good: the game features six playable wrestlers, each of whom has one or two special moves. King Slender, for example, can perform a backbreaker if you press A while grappling. This fact alone places Pro Wrestling well ahead of all the sports launch titles and both early fighting games (Karate Champ and Urban Champion). It is by far the best player-versus-player game I've played so far on the NES (though I only played against the computer).

Not only are the characters unique, but they have personality and even stats screens that display when you start the game. Several are based on real 80's wrestlers (King Slender = Ric Flair; Giant Panther = Hulk Hogan; Fighter Hayabusa = Antonio Inoki, a famous Japanese wrestler). The roster is rounded about by Star Man, a Mexican luchador; Kin Corn Karn, a Korean karate master; and a monster-like fighter called The Amazon (who looks like the inspiration for Blanka). These colorful and unique characters are by far the best part of Pro Wrestling.

The game features all the basics of professional wrestling, including jumping off the top ropes, running and bouncing off the ropes, and fighting outside the ring. Naturally, you win by pinning your opponent for three seconds. Instead of trying to pin him when he's down by pressing A, you can lift him up by his head by pressing B, so you can wear him down some more first. You win the game by beating all the opponents in succession, though the game is no doubt best enjoyed by playing against a friend.

My main complaint about the game is the controls, which I found hard to use. Maybe I just suck, but I couldn't win a single match against the computer. Whenever I would hit the opponent and then lift him back up for another attack, I couldn't get the timing right. If I pressed the attack button (A is kick, B is punch) right away, my character would do nothing and then get counter attacked. But if I waited, my opponent would recover and hit me instead! Either way I would get hit. I also struggled to initiate grapples. They happen automatically when the wrestlers are next to each other, but usually I would get hit if I tried to start one; other times we would just move past each other. When we did grapple, more often than not the computer would execute his move. Apparently my reflexes were too slow. I have no doubt that the controls can be mastered with practice, but when you just keep losing, it's hard to really want to. There is no difficult setting, so I can't turn it down and try to work my way up.

I couldn't get a screenshot of "A WINNER IS YOU" because I suck so hard.

As cute as the game is, it lacks depth. It's hard to see anyone playing it for more than a few minutes nowadays. But for the time, it was the only good option for kids who wanted to have a decent simulated fight against a friend or sibling.

Grade: B-

Gameplay: Fun, but perhaps not for everyone (16/20)
Theme: Compelling, well designed concepts and characters (20/20)
Controls: Controls are solid, if occassionally irritating (12/15)
Difficulty: Hard to the point of frustration (12/15)
Graphics: Good-looking if a bit lackluster (12/15)
Sound: Music and sounds are repetitive and generic (9/15)

Linked Reviews
"Pro Wrestling is still the kind of game that's fun to play drunk at a party, which makes it about as close to timeless as you're gonna find in a Black Box game."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works

"Pro Wrestling is not just one of the best wrestling games of the 8-bit generation, but it established the control scheme for most wrestling games and influenced almost every wrestling game that followed."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library, 4/5

Stats
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Wrestling
Release date: March 1987

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