I’m a huge wrestling fan, always have been since my childhood, and on the eve of the biggest night in professional wrestling, what better time than now to take a look at the first wrestling I’ve ever played, simply titled Pro Wrestling. That’s right to the point, isn’t it? Reminds me of those Atari and Intellivision games that were one compound word titles or even less. Wrestling games have had a rollercoaster ride in simulating grappling in the squared circle and long before THQ spent years of trying to craft play mechanics that weren’t repetitive as hell and collision detection that resulted in cheap wins for the CPU, Pro Wrestling (and for that matter some of the 16 bit titles) a simple control scheme that in hindsight was pretty advanced for its time that made for entertaining play. That was long-winded...
When I was 8 years old, I was very amazed at the amount of detail that was paid attention to in this game. The play-by-play and color commentator in the back, positioned like Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan (except they’re sitting in the crowd?) to the cameraman capturing the action, it felt at the time like a big deal to see the 8 bit system provide such an aesthetic. Even the ref is quick on his feet, following the action, though he does not stop The Amazon from using his super illegal Head Bite, so he’s an AEW official, just enforcing the rules whenever. Each wrestler has a unique look, from the incredibly tan Giant Panther to StarMan, a luchadore who I think is wearing a full body purple suit.
The animation is cool for its time and includes nice touches, like wrestlers colliding after botched Irish Whips (that does get annoying, more on that later) and individual animations for each of the characters’ signature moves, except for Fighter Hayabusa’s Back Brain Kick, which is just his kick-out animation of him falling on his ass. For its simplicity and age, Pro Wrestling is still pretty cool to look at and beats the ever-living hell out of Data Easts’ Tag Team Wrestling, a horrible disappointment I rented with my own allowance money one weekend, thinking it would be as cool.
The controls are pretty iffy at first until you begin to get the hang of its quirks. Most of the time the melee attacks never land when you would like them to (timing that spinning back kick is something I still can’t consistently do on purpose) and often you and your opponent will fall into a Rock’em’ Sock’em’ deal where you’ll stand there and punch back and forth until one of you falls down.
Attacking while running requires a clearance space of about a character’s length away and on the same vertical plain in order for the clothesline or the Harley Race High Knee to land. Probably the two worst examples of all are Hayabusa’s previously mentioned BBK Enzuigiri and Kin Corn Karn’s Mongolian Chop. Hayabusa’s Kick involves standing just below your opponent and hitting the kick button. The success rate of this move dips the more you try to land it and your friend catches on. To land it, slap the controller out of your friend’s hand and as he scrambles to pick it up, nail the BBK for the 3 count. This only works a few times, as you will run out of friends to play Pro Wrestling with. I made up my own secondary finisher; two top rope knee presses followed by a big splash off the top rope!
To beat the game, you must play through it twice. Once, to win the VWA Championship from the game’s biggest heel King Slender, then you have to successfully defend your title by beating all challengers again until challenging Great Puma, who sells moves about the same degree as the Road Warriors did. King Slender has to win TEN matches (in some copies of the game, allegedly. Everyone hates King Slender. He's a jerk.) before getting the title shot, so his path is three times as hard. I have only gotten to Great Puma a couple of times and beaten him even fewer times than that!! He has everybody else’s moveset and takes a long time to wear down. I can only beat him by count out, and even then, I time it so he doesn’t reverse my whip into the guard rails, which is trickier to pull off than you think.
Pro Wrestling may not be as good or as polished an 8-bit wrestling game as Tecmo World Wrestling, but this can be a great party title. It's accessible and satisfying, one of the more memorable wrestling titles of the era, if not all time. Sell someone WWE 2K20, find an NES, and have a good ol' time.