Funaki Masakatsu: Hybrid Wrestler
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I'm always amazed at the hidden puroresu gems on the Super Famicom. So many wrestling games were released that we never got to play in North America and a lot of them are quite good. This one ends up being one of the best; hands down. Let's take a closer look at it. First, though, a little background on Masakatsu Funaki...
Funaki started his career in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1985 and passed through a few promotions before deciding (along with Minoru Suzuki) to form Pancrase, which was labeled as "Hybrid Wrestling." Pancrase was essentially an MMA promotion that used "pro wrestling rules." Rules like no gloves but no closed fist striking to the face, no rounds, rope breaks for submissions, etc. Pancrase is one of my favorite forms of MMA (being a pro wrestling fan and all) and Funaki was one of the best! He liked to "carry" a lot of his opponents a bit before finishing them off to create drama and excitement. Josh Barnett once said, "When you're that good, you can have a guy thinking he's doing so much better than he expected and have no idea that they're just letting you last like a cat playing with a mouse."
This game was released during Funaki's heyday in Pancrase (hence the title) but it plays more or less like a standard wrestling game complete with pinfalls (which Pancrase itself did not utilize). Developed by one of my all-time favorite developers, Technos Japan, the game was officially released on October 21, 1994. Being responsible for games like River City Ransom, Double Dragon, Super Dodge Ball, and even WWF Wrestlefest - you can always count on Technos for quality!
When the game first starts, we get to hear a nice catchy opening theme, which is also a standard of Technos. The menus are mostly in kanji as with most Japanese games but, through a guide, you can figure out what's what. What's really interesting in this particular game is the career mode.
You start your career by designing your wrestler however you see fit with the early create-a-wrestler options included in the game. As you can see in my pic; I decided to go with bright purple attire with a nod to Rick Steiner by wearing my amateur wrestling headgear. What can I say? That's just what I was feeling at the time.
Once you create your wrestler, you then travel around the world, facing challengers, trying to become the best in multiple organizations. One organization is even suspiciously known as ECW but I'm sure it's purely coincidence, right? I haven't made it all that far in my hybrid wrestling career yet but apparently, down the line, you're even able to choose a spouse and have a son. Eventually, your son inherits your ring attire and continues the family legacy. It might seem like a frivolous addition to a wrestling game but I always like anything that makes a wrestling game unique.
Speaking of unique, there are some unique wrestling rings featured in this game. Most of them have their own gimmicks like a ring that's suspended high in the air that you can potentially fall through to end the match or a ring in which fires randomly break out across the ring mat, harming you and your opponent. It sounds a little over-the-top but I like the variety that the different rings add. There's always a normal ring to utilize in your singles matches if that's more your style.
Finally, this game looks and plays great, like all of the Technos Japan games. I seriously can't think of a single bad game they ever made. It plays much differently than a lot of other puroresu games, though, because the grapples aren't timing based and there aren't moves that are considered weak, medium, or strong attacks. Hybrid Wrestler controls more like an arcade wrestling game which is fine with me. It really works here. Basically, you have punch, kick, and block buttons. If you're close to your opponent then your punch button becomes a grab button and you can grapple your opponent to perform various moves. Pretty straight forward. It's also enjoyable that even though the moves aren't pulled off by well-timed button presses; they're also not accomplished by button-mashing. It's a nice balance between the two styles of the time.
I really enjoyed this game and it was under my radar for a long time, sadly. I'm glad I finally discovered it and can enjoy it now. One of the best arcade-style puroresu games and a must-play for sure!
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!