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"Plug in Hammerlock and get a look at in-your-face, action-packed wrestling like you've never seen it before: up close."
How close? Well, let's take a look...
HammerLock Wrestling was developed in-house by and published by Jaleco in October 1994 in North America. Like a lot of Super Nintendo pro wrestling games; it was a "re-skinned" version of a game that was previously released in Japan. This particular game started it's life as "Tenryu Genichiro no Pro Wrestling Revolution" which was a game based on Japanese wrestling legend Genichiro Tenryu and his wrestling promotion, "Wrestle and Romance" (WAR).
Jaleco had a pretty decent reputation for making games in the 8 and 16-bit eras. There were oddball titles like Pinball Quest (a hybrid pinball/RPG game, believe it or not!) and they even had some popular sports titles like the Bases Loaded series. I believe this may be the only professional wrestling game they ever developed, though. Hopefully, it will stand up to the quality of their other sports games.
The first thing I notice is the title music isn't that great. I mean, it's not annoying but it's nothing inspiring. The title screen itself is also kind of plain; just the game's logo. No shirt-ripping, Hulk Hogan knockoff bursting through your screen like in Saturday Night Slam Masters or anything like that.
The match options are pretty standard for what was originally a Japanese puroresu game. You can play a single match or a single elimination tournament. There's also the standard league mode which sets up a round robin style tournament reminiscent of All Japan's yearly "World's Strongest Tag League". Man, Japanese wrestling fans really love their "leagues". This mode is never omitted from a puroresu game; even to this day, I assume.
The final mode you can choose here is "Top Ranking Match". That's where you wrestle everyone else on the roster, one at a time, until you become the champion.
Now, we get to the wrestler select screen. Let's see if I can explain how the roster is set up... As I said, this game was originally based on the Wrestle and Romance (WAR) promotion in Japan but that's in name only. No WAR wrestlers were actually featured in the game except for the owner himself, Genichiro Tenryu, whom I always thought of as "the Hulk Hogan of Japan".
The rest of the roster were fictional wrestlers based on Hulk Hogan himself and other popular wrestlers at the time. Superstars like Lex Luger, Yokozuna, Stan Hansen, The Great Muta and (as I always say) one of my favorite Canadians, Abdullah the Butcher. Some of the fictional names are actually pretty funny. Mitsuharu Misawa's character is known as "Spud Marmoset". Road Warrior Hawk is "Alpha Bozak" and Yokozuna goes by the name of "Mondo Fundi". Fundi-San also appears to be in the midst of some sort of psychotic rage in his profile picture. Perhaps he was just refused service at an all-you-can-eat buffet?
For my re-playthrough of this old game (I hesitate to call this game a "classic"... yet), I decided to play through the "Top Ranking Match" mode with Hulk Hogan's character who is known as Sam Warhammer. Once the first match begins, it's obvious that the main selling point for this game back in 1994 was the graphical presentation. Most of the time, the screen is divided into thirds. The top and bottom thirds of the screen show close-ups of the action going on, anime style. The middle of the screen shows the standard view of the match.
At first, this looks pretty cool. I do remember it confusing me a little back when I fisrt played this, though. As a kid, I would get distracted by watching the close-ups of the action and not pay attention to what I was actually doing. It also gets repetitive fairly quickly to see "dramatic camera angles" for every punch and kick thrown.
For the most part, the presentation works fairly well. I can see why they attempted to do it this way. For better or worse, it makes this game really stand out from the rest of the Super Nintendo wrestling games at the time, and it gave the game a gimmick to attempt to drum up sales. As we know, pro wrestling is all about gimmicks. It can be disorienting and repetitive at times, though. It would have probably worked better to not have the close-ups be a constant thing and to just use them during particularly devestating moves, like Tecmo did with Tecmo World Wrestling.
The sound during the matches doesn't impress. The crowd noise is a little different than most games and there is no music or entrance themes. Apparently, there's in-match music for the Japanese version of this game but that's one of the few Japanese puroresu games from this era that I haven't played so, I can't comment on the quality of it. Regardless, it's all absent here in this release so I guess it'd be a moot point anyway as far as my review for this game goes.
The action unfolds in the standard Japanese style of timed button presses. When I first encountered this style of wrestling game years ago, it was a difficult learning curve as opposed to button mashing but it quickly became my preferred style of wrestling game. Whenever two wrestlers lock up, there's a small window of time to input a button press for a move. If you're quicker than your opponent then your move is successful and vice versa. The difficulty of the timed button presses in this game isn't too bad. It's easier than you average Fire Pro Wrestling game, anyway.
There are enough unique moves and finishing moves between the grapplers to keep things interesting for awhile. Each wrestler feels a little different to play a,s so that helps the replay value a little.
What doesn't necessarily help the replay value is the brief ending when you win the title in "Top Ranking Match" mode. There's no real ending at all. To again compare it to Saturday Night Slam Masters, whose ending features you being attacked in the ring after winning the title, in this game all you get is the obligatory "congratulations screen" and a brief sentence about your wrestler. When I completed the game with Sam Warhammer (Hulk Hogan), the screen said, "Cry havok and let slip the meerkats of war!". For me, I'd play through, every so often, to see the congratulation message for each wrestler but I'm not sure that's enough to keep everyone coming back for more.
All in all, I'd say that this game averages out to being just that, average. It's not bad and the graphical gimmick is cool at first but it's far from the best wrestling game available for the Super Nintendo. Still, if you're a collector of wrestling games, I wouldn't pass up a chance to buy it if the price is right. It's interesting and it's also a game that some people may not remember. Even at the time, it was a little under the radar compared to the popular WWF games that were getting released.
Until next time.. keep mashing those buttons!