Jesse "The Body" Ventura - Wrestling Superstars
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Today, I'd like to take a look at a classic wrestling game that could have been but never was - Jesse "The Body" Ventura: Wrestling Superstars.
In 1991, Human (longtime developers of the Fire Pro Wrestling series) were working on their next game which was to be a title for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis that was eventually titled Thunder Pro Wrestling Retsuden. DreamWorks decided to scoop up the rights to the North American release and approached Jesse Ventura about possibly basing the game around him to which he agreed. Ventura was apparently very much behind the idea as he has been quoted on this game being the reason he decided to leave the WWF at the time. The Body approached Vince McMahon and told McMahon that a company proposed the idea to base an entire pro wrestling game around him and he was going to do it. Apparently Vince wasn't pleased and said, "If you do it; you're finished". Ventura said he responded by saying "Okay, I'm finished." and promptly left the company.
Once the deal between Ventura and DreamWorks was set, work began to reskin the game and have it feature The Body in all his glory. DreamWorks announced the game at Winter CES 1991 and began to take out ads in various gaming magazines to promote it. After taking the game with them to Summer CES 1991 and showing off a few screenshots of it; it was never to be seen or mentioned again. Well... until decades later when the ROM for the (mostly finished) game's prototype was released online. Now, gamers such as myself, can see what we missed out on back then. Join me as I take a look at this unearthed relic of gaming's past.
When the game first starts up, a digitized picture of Jesse Ventura (complete with a moving mouth; if you count that as a bonus for "realism") warns us: "Get ready for my wrestling superstars! Are you up to the challenge? Let's wrestle!". Right off the bat, I'm certain that featuring the word "superstars" in the title of this proposed project had to piss Vince off to no end. I mean, "superstar" is kind of his thing.
This game features a fairly hefty (for the time) roster of 12 grappling greats to choose from. Aside from Ventura himself, all of the other in-game wrestlers are fictional but based on real-life wrestling legends (just like most Fire Pro games). The ones I can easilly spot are the characters based on Jushin Liger, Bam Bam Bigelow, Vader, and Stan Hansen (who's going by the name of "Black Jack Jones" here). There's a decent variety to choose from.
There are a few different modes to choose from as far as playing the game goes. Standard for the era is the "World Championship" mode in which you compete against all of the other wrestlers in order to fulfill your dreams of capturing the gold. The handicap match mode in this game is somewhat unique and something you didn't see often at the time but it doesn't really add much. I've never been a fan of handicap matches while watching wrestling or especially while playing a wrestling game. It just doesn't appeal to me.
Once you choose your representive to duke it out with the competition and the matches start, this game becomes wrestling bliss. It plays just like a Fire Pro game -- which is to be expected considering Human's involvement in the development process. If you've ever played any Fire Pro games then you know exactly what I mean; the gameplay is extremely well-balanced and just challenging enough to be fun. By the way, if you have never played a Fire Pro Wrestling game than I suggest you should do so at the soonest possible oppurtunity.
I did notice a few things worth pointing out while playing - the standard FPW "blood effects" seem to be missing from this game. Either that or I just never triggered them to occur, which seems unlikely. Usually, everyone in these old 16-bit FPW games are "free bleeders" as they used to say. Like a bunch of Tommy Rich's, if you will. I once heard Jim Cornette say that Tommy Rich could cut himself shaving and there would be enough blood afterwards to make the bathroom look like a crime scene. I guess that's beside the point but, regardless, this game seems to be lacking "color."
Also, I have to complain a little about Jesse Ventura's character model used in the game. He appears to have a luscious, full head of hair the likes of which I can't remember the last time I saw him own; if ever. If he ever did have hair of that caliber, it wasn't in 1991, for sure. Aside from that, this still seems to be a very solid wrestling title to enjoy.
All in all, this is a really fun game to play. I'm not sure why it never got released back in the day. Maybe DreamWorks changed their mind and decided the market wasn't big enough for it. That somewhat makes sense considering that Jesse had ceased being an in-ring competitor long before the time of this games proposed release. If you asked a kid in 1991 who his wrestling hero was, you'd more likely get responses like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior as opposed to heel commentator Ventura. Regardless, I enjoyed playing this one a lot and I would suggest everyone should give it a try just for curiousity's sake, if nothing else.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!