"Get a headlock on fun with HAL Wrestling! "Eight rompin' stompin' brutes square off in head-to-head matches that any sports fan can enjoy!"
It's always nice to find a decent wrestling game that you can play on the go. You know, while waiting for an appointment or while on break at work. Well, if you have a Game Boy Advance, there are the two great Fire Pro Wrestling games available. On the original, monochromatic Game Boy; the choices are a little slimmer. You have WWF Superstars (1 and 2) which aren't very much fun at all. Then, you have WCW: The Main Event which is arguably at least slightly better. Finally, you have this game, HAL Wrestling, which is supposedly the best of the lot. There's not much competition, though, (sort of like having an arm wrestling contest with your five-year-old nephew) so we'll see how good it really is.
To start with, even if they could have come up with a far better title for this game, HAL Laboratory has released some great games over the years. They released two of my favorites for the NES, Kabuki Quantum Fighter and Vegas Dreams They're also responsible for the popular Kirby series that's been featured on Nintendo consoles over the years. Human (the company that programmed this particular game for HAL) is also partially responsible for Pro Wrestling on the NES and the Fire Pro Wrestling series prior to Spike picking up the license, so they should be able to make a quality pro wrestling game. It's always hard to tell with the constraints of the Game Boy, though.
As I mentioned, the title for this game could have been better. They didn't even throw a "Federation" or "Association" onto it. In Japan, this game was simply known as Pro Wrestling but it was changed here, I assume, to avoid confusion with the NES game not to mention the SEGA Master System game called Pro Wrestling.
Basically, the lineage of this game goes as follows; Masato Masuda was the sole programmer for the NES version of Pro Wrestling. Afterwards, he left Nintendo and joined TRY. TRY later became Human who were the programmers for this particular piece of antiquated entertainment in 1990. I'm guessing that we can probably expect some similarities between the related games but we'll have to find out for ourselves.
Once you start this old thing up, the title screen is as generic as the title itself. Nothing much to see. The wrestler select screen, on the other hand, looks pretty darn good. Whoever did the art for the wrestler's profile pictures did a nice job. Each one is unique and detailed. Like almost all unlicensed wrestling games at the time, this game features a roster of wrestlers based on real-life grappling legends. There's no official "online list" of who these wrestlers are supposed to be, though, so let's see whom I can decipher for myself.
Ryu Masaki - This one I'm not really sure of, you'll have to forgive my lack of puroresu knowledge here.
Kansuke Yamada - I assume this would be based on Keiichi Yamada a/k/a Jushin Liger sans his mask. Liger wrestled under his real name until around the time this game was released.
Kim Riki - I assume he's based on Riki Choshu because of his look, the name Riki, and because he's billed as being from Korea. Too many coincidences not to be.
King Sampson - Based (fairly obviously) on the bad man from Borger, Texas; Stan Hansen. You can always count on him to take your head off with a lariat whenever he gets half a chance in these old games.
Death Monster - I assume this is supposed to be "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. It could also possibly be Bruiser Brody but since "Death" is included in the character's name, I'm going with "Dr. Death".
Super Cyber - This appears to be Keiichi Yamada after he donned his mask and jumpsuit and became Japanese hero; Jushin "Thunder" Liger!
Joker - Well, the last game I reviewed had a Road Warrior Hawk rip-off character. This time it appears to be Animal's turn. This could also possibly be Sting but I'm leaning towards Animal on this one.
Big Crusher - Obviously a Big Van Vader character sporting Vader's original mask.
There's also a "boss character" named Mr. Hu. I don't think he's based on anyone in particular, just a masked guy who can do everyone else's moves, including signature moves.
Once the matches start, I have to admit, the game looks a little underwhelming at first. You really can't expect much graphically from the Game Boy, though. At least all of the wrestlers look slightly different from one another. The crowd here also seems underwhelmed but perhaps it's supposed to portray a calmer Japanese crowd as opposed to a riotous, beer-swilling crowd like you'd see in, let's say, Jackson, Mississippi circa 1983. There's a (barely decipherable) announce team at ringside but there's no referee present in the matches. Not even a disembodied voice to count your pins; just a numeric counter at the bottom of the screen.
Whatever this game lacks graphically, it makes up for with its gameplay. It's kind of like that girl you hooked up with in college... you know? The one you didn't want your buddies to find out about. Yeah, this game is like her; it doesn't look like much but man can it go! It plays like a slightly "dumbed down" version of a Fire Pro Wrestling game.
The difficulty isn't quite as hard as a usual Fire Pro title and the timing isn't quite as finicky but it feels the same. Each contender has their own move set and (aside from Stan Hansen's Lariat) their own unique signature move. There's also more available moves per wrestler in this game than in most at the time. In an effort to pack more moves into the game, the developers even utilized the "start button" to perform some maneuvers. That's almost unheard of but it actually works pretty well. I'll take extra moves and be having to use the start button over small, shared move-sets any day.
Any retro wrestling game fan should be able to have a lot of fun with this one. I'm glad I took the time to check it out. Is it the greatest wrestling game of all time? No. It's not even the greatest handheld wrestling game but it's quite good... surprisingly good. There are only eight playable wrestlers but at least they're UNIQUE wrestlers. You can take your time and play as each one and figure out who you prefer as opposed to getting the whole feel of the game in 60 seconds or less like other Game Boy titles.
If you have a Game Boy Advance or a different handheld console, you have better options to waste away some minutes with. If all you have is the original Game Boy your parents bought you on your eighth birthday, though, this would be the pinnacle. Not too shabby.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!