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I played a lot of arcade wrestling games back in the day and I mean A LOT! Wrestlefest, The Main Event, or even Tag Team Wrestling; if I happened to run across a wrestling game; best believe I was sinking at least a few dollars into it. This is one particular arcade adversary that I never tested myself against, though. I just never happened to run across one in the wild so, today, I'm gonna check it out for the first time along with you guys and we'll see how it measures up to the steep competition that was late-80s/early-90s arcade wrestling games.
Champion Wrestler was developed by Taito and released to the arcade masses some time in 1989. Taito was always an interesting game developer for me. They would occasionally have massive hits like Bubble Bobble and even the "granddaddy of all shooters" and one of my all-time favorite games, Space Invaders, but they were also known for releasing massive amounts of games in that era that weren't so memorable. We'll have to see how this game stacks up in their prolific lineup of releases.
When the game starts up; you get to choose from one of 8 wrestlers to represent yourself with. Like most "unofficial" wrestling games of the era, almost the entire roster is made up of lookalikes of actual pro wrestlers competing at the time. Also like most unofficial wrestling games; these wrestler's names are somewhat "unique" to say the least. Names like Matterhorn Decker, Nitoro Punks, and Cobra Bloody Joe. Filling out the roster in spot number eight is one of Taito's more familiar characters and star of his very own video game - Rastan. Okay, so maybe not everyone has heard of Rastan but I guess it makes more sense to include a somewhat recognizable human character into this game rather than an alien from Space Invaders or Bub and Bob (possibly baby dragons? I'm honestly not sure) of Bubble Bobble fame.
Each wrestler has their own quick, somewhat simplistic ring entrance which adds a nice little bit of detail. Also, after each match, the winner and loser are shown in their own brief "vignette" depicting them celebrating in some way or demonstrating how their life has been ruined after losing the match. A lot of these are actually pretty amusing to see.
All of the move animations look smooth and there's even some quality digitized speech in the game. Some wrestlers even have managers present at ringside. Granted, they don't do much besides pace back and forth but they add a little bit of flair to the matches.
This game controls as you'd expect. Pretty standard fare for an arcade wrestling game of this era. One little nuance added to the gameplay here, though, is a "power meter". You can fill your power meter depending on how quickly you press the punch button. The fuller your power meter is; the more damage your moves dish out to your opponent. It's a nice little addition to the standard gameplay.
This being a late 80s arcade game, there's really only one mode to participate in -- the tried and true "chase the belt" mode where you take on everyone else on the roster, one at a time, until you win the world title. Then, as always, you have to defend the belt at least once to make it legit. Along the way, you even get to have a cage match or two, but as you'd expect from a wrestling game of this era; the cage doesn't really add much. It's basically just something for your opponent to bump into when you Irish whip them into the ropes. If you're lucky or skilled enough to procure the coveted championship belt then you're awarded said belt by someone who resembles a young Eric Bischoff in an ill-fitting suit.
I enjoyed my time playing this one. Although the game play and wrestlers are pretty standard fare for the time, this particular game adds a lot of small details to make it an enjoyable and memorable experience to play. I particularly like the various win/loss screens for all the wrestlers. This is one game that's worth at least a few dollars investment.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!