Memories of the Tag Team
Wrestling Arcade Game
It’s funny how certain memories stick with you whether it’s your first kiss, your favorite teacher in high school (hopefully this memory doesn’t connect to the previous one!), or a video game you loved as a kid. The other day I was mall walking and I passed an area where the mall used to carry several video games set up for people with a few quarters and some time to kill. Instantly, I was taken back to 1984 and the video game Tag Team Wrestling, the first arcade wrestling game my friends and I played.
By 1983, the Golden Age of Video Games was well underway. Games such as Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Berzerk, Defender, Pole Position, the imaginative vector-based games Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator and Star Wars and many others captured the imagination and quarters of players everywhere. However, as more and more genres of games developed, my friends and I wondered, “Why isn’t there a pro wrestling game?”
One day I was perusing the local mall when my brother and I stumbled upon a video game that seemed like a wish come true. Anyone who remembers the glory days of arcade games remembers the excitement of coming across a new game. Insert a quarter and you’d be transported into another world. With any luck, it’d be a world you’d want to visit again.
This game was called Tag Team Wrestling. Being diehard wrestling fans, we had to see if the game captured some of the sport’s excitement. We were not disappointed. You played the roles of Jocko and Spike (ignore the names Wikipedia gives for our heroes), two average sized wrestlers looking for to make it to the top of the tag team ranks. Your opponents are a masked man and a fat man known as the Mad Maulers, two villainous grapplers who could have worked in any territory at the time in the days before Hulk Hogan injectable vitamins became a prerequisite for getting over.
Tag Team Wrestling, like many games of the time, featured simple controls executed by two buttons and a joystick. It’s been a while since I played but an article on Wikipedia seems to be on target for how the game worked:
The player is provided with a joystick and two buttons: a "select" button and an "action/pin" button. The player uses the joystick to move Sunny or Terry around the ring, where they must make contact with the member of the Heel Team (in the first match, the skinny wrestler from the Heel Team starts, then the fat one in the 2nd, and it continues that way from there on in, as does with the player's wrestlers). Upon making contact with the opposing wrestler, the two wrestlers will immediately grapple. The player then releases the opposing wrestler by pulling away, then grappling again, waiting for the "Action" command, which will flash onscreen. Due to being one of the earliest professional wrestling video games, Tag Team Wrestling has a limited number of wrestling moves and characters. Moves and counters are performed through the use of a real-time, menu-based action-reaction fighting module. After engaging in a grapple and the "Action" command flashes, players quickly scroll through a menu and choose a technique to perform.
This means that the player has an advantage over the opponent, and must utilize the "select" button to go over the list of wrestling moves provided, and then the "action" button to choose the desired move. The player has 3 seconds to choose the desired move, or else the opposing wrestler will gain an advantage over the player's wrestler and execute their own move. If the Heel Team wrestler in the ring has not been grappled with in a while, they will enter their "red" mode: The wrestler will turn all red and, traveling at twice the normal speed, attack the player's wrestler in the ring with an immediate advantage. In this situation, the player can only tag out with the "Action" button (if the wrestler is weakened and the tagged-in wrestler is strong enough to withstand the attack) or keep away from the Heel Team wrestler until their "red" phase runs out.
The game featured several memorable features which made it a game worthy of playing over and over again.
One of them was the moveset, which featured a surprising variety of maneuvers for a game from the time. Players were able to use moves such as the Nutter, the Straight Jab, the Karate Chop, the Kick, the Rabbit Killer the Body Slam, the Drop Kick, the Pile-driver, the Brain Buster, the Western Lariat, the Rear Drop, and the Cobra Twist.
The Rear Drop could lead as a pinning move if your opponent was weakened enough. The Cobra Twist (an abdominal stretch) could lead to a submission if your opponent was weakened enough.
The game’s designers added an extra dimension to the moveset by having the moves work against one of the Maulers (the masked one) but not all of them against the other (the fat one). From what I remember, the only move that worked against the fat Mauler was the nutter. My friends and I always laughed as we had our wrestler lock up with the fat Mauler and deliver low blow after low blow. Whenever one of my friends or I mention the game, the first thing someone remarks is “Nutter! Nutter!” We usually say it when a wrestler delivers a low blow today.
The game captured many of the elements of tag team wrestling. If your wrestler got into trouble and had low energy, he could tag in his partner. The game was a one player game but we usually played together, one player working the controls until tagging it. Our timing had to be perfect as you couldn’t waste a second or the computer opponent would take advantage of the lull in activity. The game’s tag team aspect was even more important for the heel team. Just like its real-world counterpart, the ultimate goal of Tag Team Wrestling was to pin your opponent or make him submit. If you locked the masked wrestler in the Cobra Twist and he wasn’t weakened enough, his partner (the fat Mauler) would run in and break up the hold. Likewise, you had to weaken your opponent enough before pinning him or his partner ran in to break things up.
While tag team wrestling only consisted of two teams (your team and the heel team of the Mad Maulers), the game’s developers did their best to keep the gameplay fresh. The first match would begin with the masked wrestler starting out. If you made it to the second match, the fat wrestler started things out.
The game continued as long as your team won the match (by pinfall, submission, or countout). As you won more matches, your team won trophies. If you made it to the tenth match, you competed for the tag team championship. If you won the coveted tag team belts, your wrestlers would defend the titles against the Mad Maulers.
Another element of the game that made it realistic was the chance for the action to spill out of the ring. If wrestlers got too close to the ropes and executed a move, the two of them could fall outside of the ring. Once outside, they had until a count of twenty to get back into the ring. If you got counted out, you lost and the game was over. Adding to the outside the ring excitement was the wrestlers’ ability to execute moves outside the ring. While you only had a handful of moves to choose from (such as the karate chop and the jab) you could sock it to your opponent by ramming his head into the steel post. Tag Team Wrestling even featured run-in’s. If your wrestler was thrown outside of the ring, a mysterious man with a turban and goatee would run down the aisle and clobber your wrestler. This made it harder for your wrestler to answer the twenty count.
It’s hard to believe that Tag Team Wrestling is 35 years old. Even today, the gameplay provides enough fun to make it entertaining and it’s worth checking out should you stumble across it at a vintage arcade. While better wrestling arcade games would come along, Tag Team Wrestling still stands out as not only a classic wrestling arcade game, but a classic arcade game.
Wikipedia contributors. "Tag Team Wrestling." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Dec. 2018. . Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.
“Tag Team Wrestling.” Dave’s Classic Arcade. Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.
“Tag Team Wrestling.” The International Arcade Museum. Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.