Natsume Championship Wrestling
Super Nintendo / Nintendo Switch
Two of my favorite things about owning my Nintendo Switch are the "free" (as long as you have an online subscription) NES and SNES apps that allow you to play loads of classic games from both consoles. The other day, I was pleasantly surprised as I rolled out of bed at the crack of noon (it was my day off from my "9-5" so cut me some slack) and turned on my Switch to see that this classic wrestling title was one of the latest games to just be added to the SNES app!
Natsume Championship Wrestling was developed by and released by Natsume (go figure) in June 1994. Technically, this is a North American exclusive game because it's a re-skin of Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling Dash: Sekai Saikyō Tag (All Japan Pro Wrestling Dash: World's Strongest Tag) which was already released in Japan. This is one of my favorite 16-bit wrestling games and I spent hours and hours playing it, back in the day. I would assume a lot of people must feel that way because Nintendo has continued to port it over to the "virtual consoles" of the Wii, Wii U, and now the Switch. I can't wait to see if this port holds up to the quality of the original cartridge that I first owned so many years ago.
When I first start this game up, I'm reminded that, along with the game's title, the opening "press start" screen is a little bland and underwhelming. It does feature appropriately epic music, though. Seriously, it's a pretty awesome theme worth taking a listen to at least once through. After a few moments of rocking out... we now come to the main menu where we see our choices of modes to play.
Since this is a converted puroresu game; the various game modes are ones you'd often find in Japanese wrestling games. Here, these include a "tournament" option which is the standard "chase the championship mode", as I always call it. You know, the mode in which you pick your wrestler or tag team and then face all of the other wrestlers on the roster until you become "le champion". The other mode featured in this game is a round-robin tournament option which is more commonly known as a "league", in Japan. With this option, you can hold a singles round-robin tournament or even recreate the World's Strongest Tag Determination League or, Real World Tag League, as it's known in the western world. As this game's Japanese title suggests; this mode was the main selling point of the original game.
Earlier, when I said this was a re-skinned version of a Japanese puroresu game; I guess I sort of misspoke. It's more of a "re-name" then a re-skin. I'd be willing to bet the game mostly looks exactly like it's Japanese counterpart except for not having AJPW logos on the ring mat etc. Giant Baba can masquerade here as "Asteroid" but he's still most definitely Giant Baba when he hits the ring. There's no official "rename list" that I can find for this game but other wrestlers I can potentially spot on the roster are Mrs. Baba's favorite, Johnny Ace, who's going by the name of Jet Craze here. There also seems to be an odd selection of wrestlers who very much resemble The Sheik and Dick Murdoch. I use the word "odd" because, even though both wrestlers were famous in Japan, neither worked for All Japan at the time of this game's release. Murdoch had previously worked in New Japan Pro Wrestling and The Sheik was doing his thing in FMW at this time.
Altogether, there are 12 wrestlers available to pick from but be forewarned that if you attempt to play any sort of tag match; the teams on this game are predetermined and you can't deviate from them. Usually, this annoys me when it comes to old-school wrestling games. I mean, why you wouldn't you be able to team with whichever wrestler you choose, right? In this case, I'm a little more forgiving because the original game is based around the Real World Tag League so the developers are basically saying, "these are the top teams in our promotion to compete with". I don't know if that makes sense to you all or if I'm just making excuses for the slight inconveniences of this otherwise stellar game but I'm more forgiving here, nonetheless.
This game looks great and plays like a dream. It uses the standard puroresu gameplay mechanics of timed button presses as opposed to button mashing. After playing so many LJN button-mashing WWF games on the SNES; this was a hard style for me to get used to, back in the day, but it's always my preferred style of play nowadays. It always makes the matches much more realistic; having to wear down your opponent with weak grapples and strikes before being able to perform more devastating moves.
This game also claims to include over 50 wrestling moves! I realize that doesn't sound like much now but having 50 different wrestling moves spread out over 12 different wrestlers on the roster means each wrestler's style is truly unique here. That makes the replay value and the importance of the different wrestlers on the roster much higher than it normally would be. A very nice inclusion, indeed.
I was super excited to see this classic wrestling game available to play on the Switch and for basically free, no less! That is, as long as you own a Switch with an active online membership. I would suggest that all current Nintendo fans check it out. It's especially fun to play with friends, perhaps after consuming an adult beverage or three.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!