Mat Mania/The Exciting Hour: Pro Wrestling Network
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Today, I wanted to take another look at an arcade classic - Mat Mania/Exciting Hour: The Pro Wrestling Network. I've previously reviewed this game itself and you can check that out if you're unfamiliar with it. This time around, I want to take a look at the port for the Nintendo Switch that was done by Hamster and see if it stacks up to the original.
Mat Mania (as it's called in North America) was originally developed in 1985 by Tchnos Japan and released in North America by Taito. I've previously stated my love for classic Technos Japan games more than once so I'll skip it this time. Long story short; they made a lot of great games in the 80s and early 90s.
Hamster decided to release their port of this game on the Switch late last year and I'm glad it finally showed up on my radar. Somehow, I had missed out on knowing of its existence until recently. I was excited to snatch up a digital copy and give it a go because Hamster did such a good job porting 3 Count Bout to the Xbox One and they usually do a very good job on all of the massive amounts of arcade titles they've ported over to modern consoles these last few years or so. Seriously, they've ported an insane amount of games. Upwards of one hundred at least, I'm certain.
Just releasing that amount of ports is bound to create a few problems, every so often, and I've seen reviews where players have complained of lag issues and bugs. I personally have only had minor, non-game breaking, issues with the Hamster ports that I own but it is true that you can seem to find at least one small thing that's "broken" in all of their games. For example, the cursor for the menu screen for my copy of Bubble Bobble 2 moves way too fast from option to option and you either have to nudge the analog stick ever so slightly to not skip past your intended choice or hold the stick down and attempt to release it at the proper time which sort of feels like you're playing a slot machine and not in a good way. We'll have to see what (hopefully) small issues are bound to arise in this port but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's gonna be a good one.
Alright, once we start things up, I can see right away that picking options on the game's main title screen isn't a crapshoot like it seems to be on Bubble Bobble 2. That's a good start. Our options are playing either the North American or Japanese versions of the game with unlimited credits or trying out one of the two "high score modes" that most of these Hamster releases feature.
I love that Hamster always includes the Japanese version of the game in all of its ports. There's usually little difference between versions but it's a nice touch. The small differences in this game include the ring apron being changed from reading "Technos Wrestling Association" into "Taito Wrestling Association" and the commentator's nameplate being changed from "Nari" to "Cory". The in-game champion is also changed up a bit and goes from being called "Blues Bloody" (an homage to Bruiser Brody complete with his patented one-arm bodyslam move) to being called Golden Hulk in an obvious nod to the insanely popular (at the time) Hulk Hogan. Other than these small changes; the core gameplay and graphics stay the same. The "Insane Warrior" character is also named "Insane Worrier" in the Japanese release. I've often wondered what he was so insanely worried about but I guess that's perhaps a question whose answer has been lost, over time.
The two high score modes that Hamster provides make for a lot more replay value than what this game would normally offer. It really makes you wanna play and master the game to rise to the top of the worldwide leader boards. Trust me; I know. These high score modes are what caused me to grind away at King Of The Monsters on my Xbox until I broke into the top-5. The first mode is called "High Score Mode" (appropriately enough) and you simply just try to get the highest score you can on one credit. The second mode is called "Caravan Mode". Now, I'm not sure how they came up with that name or what it's supposed to allude to but the rules in this mode are; you attempt to get the highest score possible within a strict 5-minute time limit. You try to get as many points as you can as quickly as you can and the game is over either when you "die" or the time limit is up; whichever comes first. It makes for an interesting twist to the classic high score mode.
The game plays, looks, and sounds just like it did in its arcade glory days. There aren't any issues with lag or bugs that I ran across. The aspect ratio of these old arcade games kinda suck on newer televisions and the Switch screen itself but you can't fault Hamster for that. It comes from the fact that arcade monitors were taller than they were wide and most modern screens are now wider than they are tall. It makes it to where the game basically takes place on one-third of the screen, dead in the middle, while the other two-thirds of your screen is blank on both sides.
I do love that they kept all the "celebrity cameos" in the live crowd and didn't try to change them up or alter them at all. That was always my favorite quirk about this game: if you take the time to scan the audience, you can see some very recognizable and famous faces! Some people claim there are many audience cameos but the ones that I can personally verify are blatant versions of Darth Vader and Superman, Stevie Wonder, someone who is probably Popeye, and a group of people who are most assuredly ZZ Top. Definitely an interesting and star-studded group to be hanging around and checking out the matches.
It also took a while but I did find one minor thing that's "broken" within this port, as I assumed I would. There's an option to save your game while playing the non-high score modes so that you can come back later and pick up where you left off but it seems to be broken. It claims to save your game but I couldn't actually find a way to load the save again once I returned to play. A very minor problem but still an issue worth noting.
I'm really happy to finally own a digital copy of this arcade classic for myself! Perhaps it'll hold me over until RetroMania Wrestling finally gets released for the Switch. At a $7.99 (USD) price tag; it's well worth the investment!
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!