Jikkyou Power Pro Wrestling '96: Max Voltage
Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
Jikkyou Power Pro Wrestling '96: Max Voltage was released in 1996 by Konami. I blindly bought this game recently because A) I'm always interested in obscure Japanese wrestling games; and B) It's a freakin' wrestling game made by Konami!
I guess you can add them along with Rare and CAPCOM to the short list of classic developers that tried their hand in creating a professional wrestling game. For the record, they did a pretty good job with this attempt. It's really a hidden gem as far as puroresu games, or wrestling games in general go.
Konami has so many classic franchises like Contra, Castlevania, Gradius, just to name a few. I even remember the first time I ever heard of the legendary "Konami Code". Back in the late 80s, pre internet obviously, everything was spread "word of mouth" and I remember another kid in the neighborhood telling me about how I could use the Konami Code (although we didn't call it that then) to get 30 lives in Contra for the NES. It was one of the greatest days ever up to that point in my short little life! That code is still committed to memory for me to this day. Up, Up, Down, Down, .... but I digress. Let's get on to the game!
Max Voltage (let's call it that for simplicity's sake) plays a lot like other Japanese puroresu games from this era on the surface, but it has enough distinctions to really stand out. First, the game box and manual advertise "Response Sound System" which I can only take to mean "super good audio" because that's what it is.
All of the sound effects and wrestler grunts sound realistic and the Japanese commentator for the matches is amazing! He commentates almost constantly throughout the matches. The only game from around this time that I can think of that even comes close to that is Tony Schiavone doing commentary for the WCW Superbrawl Wrestling game but even then he only makes occasional comments. This game also uses "pre-rendered graphics" for its wrestlers and referee. It makes the wrestlers and ref stand out as 3-D models that look more like PS1-era polygon graphics and it's pretty impressive, actually. The resolution is pretty low and it makes it to where all of the wrestlers are basically just pallette swaps of each other but the effect is still pretty cool and the pallette swaps are done so well that there is still a lot of variations of the looks of all the combatants.
This game features 50 fictional wrestlers spread across four different fictional federations. The federations featured are Super Japan Pro-Wrestling (a 'normal" style Japanese promotion, as in NJPW or AJPW or perhaps even NOAH), REAL'S (a shoot style, MMA promotion based on the old Figthing Network RINGS style), Battle Operation Mafia whose name is shortened to B.O.M. which you may be able to guess is the featured deathmatch promotion here (get it? B.O.M. = bomb, like the kind used for explosions during Japanese deathmatches... sort of clever) and finally World Wrestling Kingdom, shortened to W.W.K., which is where things get a little interesting.
A lot of Konami games feature references to each other, such as cameos by characters in a different characters game for example, and in this game Konami uses the W.W.K. federation to pack in a lot of cameos of their more popular characters. Even ones that aren't human are anthropormorphized into wrestler form! Imagine being able to wrestle as the tag team of Bill and Lance from Contra or as Richter Belmont from the Castlevania series. You can even play as Goemon from The Legend Of The Mystical Ninja series or a character that represents one of the old characters from the classic Yie Ar Kung Fu game. Most of the non-human based characters come from the Gradius/Salamander series. Gradius and Slamander are turned into masked luchadores named El Gradius and Mill Salamander respectively and even the red and blue options (power ups) from Gradius are transformed into the mystical looking tag team of Dr. Mist and Mr. Gel. All of these Konami characters mixing with the standard roster of "fictional wrestlers based on real wrestlers" can make for some interesting match-ups.
This game, like most at the time, has a few different modes of play. You can do a shoot-style RINGS match that features their old point based scoring system of "escape points" and "down points". It's also really similar to the old Pancrase rules where if you have to use the ring ropes to break a submission "pro wrestling style", you get an escape point or if you're knocked down by a strike, you get a down point. If you get too many points or are tapped out or KO'd, you lose the fight. These matches are represented very well in this game.
The match type that is sort of hit and miss in Max Voltage is the deathmatch. These matches feature exploding barbed wire in place of ring ropes, and this part of the match is actually pulled off better here than a lot of games. When a wrestler hits the barbed wire, the explosion looks and sounds great and the commentator goes crazy for a second, just like a real match, as the wrestler slowy slumps off of the barb wire and onto the mat. Pretty cool. The part that Konami didn't get quite right are the exploding landmines at ringside. Everyone knows that you slam your opponent on the landmines, they explode, and joy is to be had.... but here the landmines never seem to work properly. They never seem to go off when you slam or suplex or otherwise throw someone onto them. In fact, they rarely seem to explode at all. You and your opponent can actually walk all over them most of the time but sometimes, occassionaly, they just randomly explode when you step on one. It's just really sloppy programming in an otherwise great game.
The story mode is what really shines. A lot of time and effort was put into it, you can tell. You start off as a "young boy" or rookie wrestler looking to break in. You can choose your sporting background that also affects your starting moveset and your physical attributes. Most of these choices are standard, like wrestler, boxer, karate, judo.... but Konami also throws in the odd choice of having your background as a basketball player. It makes for an interesting choice (I believe it makes your character extra tall among other things) and it's possible... technically that would be Kevin Nash's sports background previous to pro wrestling.
Although the story mode is great, it's also the hardest part of the game to navigate because of the large amount of options, all written in kanji. There's a lot that is being said to you by other wrestlers and characters throught the story that I wish I could read. Not being able to understand doesn't hurt the fun of playing it, though. Apparently there is an English translated ROM available online but I don't have much experience with those. I'm more of an old school cartridge guy. Through Gamefaqs I was able to decipher the menus and basically understand what was going on. It's well put together and almost built like more of a wrestling sim game. You have matches but in between those you can decide on your workout routine, food intake to regulate your weight, outfit, buy and apply new moves and so on.
Random things happen that affect your stats for better or worse. For example, at one point, I was shown a picture of a hurt ankle and a negative sounding buzzer went off and i assumed I injured my ankle for that month. Sure enough, when I wrestled my next match, my wrestler didn't seem quite as healthy as usual in the ring. Little details like this really add to the game. Even if you're not able to understand quite everything that goes on, you can tell that this game was made by a group of people who really loved pro wrestling.... which actually brings me to the cool easter egg I found that, to be honest, wasn't buried too deeply in the game. Whenever you hit the reset button on the console, a screen pops up for just a second that says (in broken English) "Dedicated to all the people love professional wrestling: Team Picnics Japan".
All in all, this was a great game with only a minor flaw or two. Really the only thing that would have made it better for me would be being able to understand it completely. Max Voltage, like a lot of Super Famicom wrestling games, was released to cash in on the popularity of the Super Fire Pro Wrestling series that was ongoing at that time but this game actually surpasses those games in some aspects. A definite must play.
Until next time.... keep mashing those buttons!