I've previously reviewed the original arcade version of this game but, as always, when an arcade wrestling game receives a console port, I always want to pick it up (just to be able to have a copy of classic, arcade wrestling games) and check it out to see how accurate the port is.
This port was released by Hamster, who for years have been releasing not only classic arcade wrestling ports to current consoles but also have been releasing ports of hundreds and hundreds of classic arcade games in general. I really love that company! They are almost the only ones currently keeping arcade games alive and available to purchase on current-gen consoles and I own countless amounts of their arcade ports at this point. When this game was released not too long ago; I had to pick up a digital copy right away, for sure!
Champion Wrestler was originally released for arcades by Taito in 1989. Taito was responsible for its fair share of classic games. I always loved the Bubble Bobble/Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move series the most. I even picked up what I believe is their most recent release in the series; Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey for my Meta Quest 2. I have to say that playing a virtual reality version of Puzzle Bobble is pretty awesome but, I digress. The point is; Taito made some great games over the years so let's see how this game and this particular port stack up to the competition.
When you first start the game up; the title music is sort of low-key and subdued but it does sound "dramatic," if that makes sense. I quite enjoy it and you can watch the game go through the wrestlers' bios' during its "attract mode" just to give you an idea of who our choices are to compete with. There are only eight to choose from here but that's not bad for an arcade wrestling game from 1989. Like the title of the late-70s/early-80s American TV show suggests - "Eight Is Enough". The eight we have to choose from are actually pretty cool. All of them are unique and have their own styles of play. The smaller wrestlers are quicker but their moves do less damage and their health depletes a little faster than the "big boys". The bigger wrestlers are slower but their moves and strikes do more damage and they tend to have more health. A few of the wrestlers on the roster fall between these two categories as "average size" wrestlers and their stats are pretty much balanced between being strong and fast.
The grappling greats we get to choose from are Rocky Garner (based on Stan Hansen), Matterhorn Decker (based on Andre The Giant); The Samurai (who's similar to The Great Muta sans the face paint); Nitro/Nitoro Panks (a Road Warrior/LOD type of character with a little bit of "Surfer Sting" thrown in); Black Machine (based on Tiger Mask); Jimmy Carbon (based on Jimmy Snuka); Cobra Bloody Joe (based on The Sheik/Tiger Jeet Singh, whichever you prefer. I prefer The Sheik, for the record); and "Miracle" Rastan who is well... Rastan from Taito's 1987 side-scrolling hack and slash game of the same title. I never played a ton of Rastan but it's a pretty solid game and it's pretty cool that this mythical warrior decided to try his hand out and pro wrestling here.
All of the wrestlers also have unique move ets that pertain to them which is nice. Cobra Bloody Joe can breathe fire (as opposed to throwing fire as The Sheik did but hey, it's close enough) and bites his opponents. Jimmy Carbon and Black Machine can pull off some high-flying maneuvers from the top ropes. Rocky Garner can even begin to devastate his opponents with a Western Lariat at later points during a match. That's how detailed the move sets are - Garner/Hansen's running attack is an "elbow bunt" but as your opponent weakens; your running attack switches to Hansen's dreaded lariat and you can REALLY take your opponent's head off!
Another thing that makes this particular arcade wrestling classic unique is that two of the wrestlers have managers that accompany them to ringside. Cobra Bloody Joe has a manager that sort of dresses like "The Doctor Of Style" Slick, and The Samurai has a manager that's reminiscent of Mr. Fuji. Both of these managers carry a "weapon" with them ("Slick" carries a cane and "Mr. Fuji" is in control of a kendo stick) and both will throw their weapon into the ring in order to try to help their charge win, more often than not. They will also attack their charge's opponents when thrown out into the ringside area and, if you happen to be the victim of such an attack, you can fight back and lay them out on the floor as well. If you find yourself battling it out on the outside of the ring; you can also sometimes find a metal folding chair to use on your opponent. If you use any of these weapons in the ring during the match then the ref will give you a 5-count and make you drop it and eventually throw the weapon out to the ringside area themselves when they've become completely fed up with your cheating ways.
In Champion Wrestler, you can compete in singles and tag matches but the only way to play a tag team match is by having two actual players. Sadly, if you're going it solo, you have to play the singles match option. With two players, you can also choose to compete against each other in a singles match. As with all arcade wrestling games from this era, this game is laid out pretty simply. You choose your wrestler and then make a run for the championship belt against the other wrestlers on the roster. There are 8 rounds to complete - 7 to win the title (going against all 7 other wrestlers) and then an 8th round to defend your strap against the champion that you just won from. After each match, there are win/loss screens for each combatant involved. A lot of these can be quite amusing like showing the loser badly beaten up or showing them scrounging for food in a back alley while showing the winner of the match having a fine meal. The third and sixth rounds consist of a cage match which adds even a little more excitement. Granted, it doesn't add much except the ability to Irish whip your opponent into the cage but it's a nice little change-up every few rounds and adds a little variety to the game. The difficulty of your opponents also really starts to ramp up beginning in round 3.
This game controls more or less as you'd expect. The joystick (analog stick if you're playing this Switch port) moves you around and there are two buttons to utilize. One button punches and one kicks. The wrestlers all have different, character-specific punches and kicks but it boils down to one-button punches and one kicks. You can initiate a grapple by walking into your opponent. Once a grapple is initiated, one button plus a direction on the joystick will Irish whip your opponent or even throw them out of the ring if you're close enough to the ropes. Pushing the other button and a direction on the joystick will perform one of the grappling moves you have at your disposal. If you're playing as one of the smaller wrestlers in the game; expect to have to wear down your opponent with strikes before you'll be able to slam them or piledrive them into oblivion.
I'm really happy to see this game get a port on the Switch. I will continue to say over and over again; if you're a fan of pro wrestling games, old and new, owning a Switch is the way to go! You'll miss out on some of the games in the WWE 2K series but hey; you can always play those on other consoles. As far as classic wrestling games from the arcades, the NES, the SNES, and even down to a hidden gem or two from the NEO GEO Pocket Color - this is the console that you want to own. On a side note, the best thing going about this port is the online leaderboards for the two high-score modes that are available. It is imperative to include worldwide leaderboards for these old arcade games. Improving your score and moving up the rankings is what keeps you coming back to play again and again. I would highly suggest that anyone with a Switch should pick this up as soon as they can. Like all of Hamster's games in their Arcade Archives series; this one only costs 8 bucks (USD) which is a very fair price indeed to be able to enjoy these classics again.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!