As far as i can remember, this is the first wrestling game I ever played, courtesy of my Uncle Dee. He had this particular game when I was very young. I must have been about seven years old when this came out and this is one of the games he and I used to play together a lot. A few pro wrestling games came out before this one but in a lot of people's minds, this was the first game to get it right. As always, let's see how this game still holds up after all of these years.
BACKGROUND: Originally released on October 21, 1986 in Japan, it was known as "Puroresu - Famicom Wrestling Association" Puroresu is Japanese for pro wrestling. For the record, I've never quite figured out how to pronounce puroresu either, so don't feel bad. It was later released in North America in 1987.
It is an unlicensed game in that it was not licensed by any pro wrestling federation active at the time so it features fictional pro wrestlers. I believe though, in my personal opinion, that some of the grapplers featured in the game resemble actual wrestlers. As a child i would pretend that Fighter Hayabusa was Japanese legend Antonio Inoki and that King Slender was Ric Flair, etc. Designed and programmed by Masato Masuda, it was one of the original 30 "black box" games for the NES, in the sports category, along with Volleyball, Tennis and Ice Hockey. Masuda later went on to work on the popular, long running Fire Pro Wrestling series.
GRAPHICS and SOUND: The opening title screen alone is nostalgia overload for me. That opening theme is still stuck deep in my brain after all of these years. I've always thought it was an excellent tune and Nintendo actually used it for most of their early sports games so they must have agreed....or perhaps they wanted all of the sports games to share an official theme. In fact, all of the music in this game is classic, in my opinion. The wrestler select screen features close up profile pictures of the wrestlers that are very detailed and well done. There are only six wrestlers in the game, seven if you count the "boss champion" at the end... but that's not really saying anything negative. There are only six to choose from but they are all different and unique in their own way. Personally, I always liked to use Fighter Hayabusa with his "back brain kick" and The Amazon who according to the manual is "half man, half piranha". The Amazon's "piranha bite" features some very early blood effects in pro wrestling games. Also, as far as graphics go, this i believe is the first wrestling video game to feature an in-ring referee. It also has a ringside cameraman and an annouce team, although they are silent. There are some rudimentary sound effects whenever the referee counts to three and whenever the crowd cheers a big move though. This game also features the birth of a fairly famous internet meme. After you win a bout the screen proclaims "A Winner Is You!".
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay feels really tight.... but I'll be honest, outside of button mashing, I've never been able to figure out how to pull off moves every time. I think this particular game may have a timing-based system to the grappling like Fire Pro Wrestling but I'm unsure. Regardless, most of the time you can pull off whatever move you want, which works perfect. I mean, if you could ALWAYS be sucessful with EVERY move then the game wouldn't be fun anyway. There is actually a gameplay mechanic, or lack of intelligent AI, or whatever you'd like to call it, that you can take advantage of to easily win every match but it's also easily avoided for those that don't want to exploit it so it doesn't really hurt the gameplay much.
Each wrestler has a unique style and an almost unique move set, which is nice, although some moves are common to a variety of the combatants. One cool little thing that every wrestler can do is, when you throw your opponent out of the ring, you can run towards the ropes and dive over them and splash the unlucky wrestler that happens to be laying on the floor. I think most people who have ever played this game will agree that every grappler featured here is legendary in their own right.
The only 8-bit legend from this game that I've never encountered until now is the "bossman", the champion, the Great Puma. He is supposedly one of the hardest boss characters of any NES game and for this playthrough I attempted to best him. Well folks, to paraphrase an overused internet cliche, the struggle was real. I've seen Youtube videos showing people destroying this mystery man in 2 minutes or less but I can tell you, I will not be filming any videos like that anytime soon. After a few battles I could finally say that "A Winner Was Me" as the game likes to put it but it was no easy feat.
VERDICT: Maybe it's just my opinion, but this game is almost perfect. Obviously it lacks a ton of things you can find in more recent pro wrestling games, but experiencing this game when it first came out back in 1987, it was the best. It was actually playable -- very playable -- and that doesn't sound like much, but previous to this there were two other wrestling games for the NES which were Tag Team Wrestling, that was sort of playable with a strange control setup, and M.U.S.C.L.E, which was an abomination of a game (my God, that game is an ugly, broken mess but maybe we'll get to that at some point in the future.)