Saikyou: Takada Nobuhiko
Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.
It's been a while since we've taken a trip to the "land of the rising sun" here in the Grappling Gamer. The last Japanese game we took a look at, Max Voltage, was an interesting entry by Konami. Come to think of it, I never tried to use the "Konami code" in that game to see if it works and what effect it may have! I really have to do that after we finish up here... For now, let's start to take a look at this gem from (arguably) the "motherland of pro wrestling video games".
First, even if you're not familiar with who Nobuhiko Takada is, it's fairly obvious the game is based around him and his wrestling promotion at the time, the UWFi (Union of Wrestling Forces International). Takada is a longtime legend of Japanese puroresu and MMA starting his career with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1981. After gaining popularity there for a few years, he decided to form his own company, the UWF, which would focus on a "shoot style" of pro wrestling that looked very real and very stiff. He went through a few incarnations of the UWF, the last of which is the promotion fearured on the game here, the UWFi.
After all of this, he decided to try his hand at actual shoot-fighting when he competed in the early PRIDE FC shows, mostly losing. I believe his MMA record is 2-6 with one of those two wins being against a low level opponent and the other win was against Mark Coleman at PRIDE 5 in a "fixed" or "worked" fight in which Coleman agreed to lose for a certain amount of money. There's probably a lot of losses that Coleman would love to say "I meant to do that" about but this is the only time he's actually "thrown a fight", as far as I know. It's really a strange fight with the commentators even being confused as to what's going on because of Coleman not taking advantage of obvious oppurtunities and because of him basically "feeding" Takada his leg for a fight winning, heel hook. You should check it out...
Regardless of all of that, Takada always had the Japanese fans respect and the consensus was that he was technically very skilled but being "middle aged" and his body having already been beaten up by years of wrestling, he jaust physically couldn't get the job done in the ring. He eventually opened "Takada Dojo" and trained students for MMA and he even trained probably the greatest Japanese mixed martial artist of all time, Kazushi Sakuraba but.... I guess at this point we should back track to 1995 and get back to this actual video game.
Saikyou: Takada Nobuhiko, which translates to "The Strongest: Nobuhiko Takada", was programmed by Dual and released by Hudson on December 27, 1995. Hudson has a nice track record of quality games like the Adventure Island series and they also manufactured a neat little contraption called the "Honey Bee" which was an adapter that would allow you to play Japanese Famicom games on your NES. They were not known for releasing pro wrestling games however so we'll have to see if this game lives up to their usual standard of quality.
After firing this old cart up; the first thing you see is an intro featuring the UWFi logo and the man himself, Takada. One of the first things I noticed was the fact that most of the text in this game is in English. I've played a lot of Japanese games, pro wrestling and otherwise, and you always see a little bit of English text used but here, almost the entire game is in English! That's pretty helpful. It makes it a lot easier to navigate with less deciphering involved. Since the game is in English, it's easy to see that our choices of play are "Sparing" (sic), for practice, "Story", for the standard "fight the other guys on the roster and win the title mode" and Vs. Singles or Vs. Tag for single matches.
After you pick your mode, we head to the wrestler select screen. Here, the wrestlers are chosen in sort of an odd way. At the top of the screen, you see a line full of blank spaces that sort of look like empty inventory slots in an RPG game. This line of empty boxes is labeled "Reserve". Below this there is a line of the same looking boxes featuring the wrestlers you can choose from. This line of boxes is labeled "Standard". It bears mentioning here that the roster consists of 10 of the top stars of the UWFi but Takada is the only one who's officially licensed. The others like Vader and Gary Albright have their respective likeness slightly changed and are going by different names a la Fire Pro Wrestling.
For whatever reason, the way you choose your wrestler is by picking one of them on the "Standard" line and moving them up to your "Reserve" line. Once they're in an area that is apparently, exclusively reserved for you; you can finally pick them again and use them to wrestle. The reason why you can't just click on the picture of the guy you want to play as instead of doing this weird version of musical chairs, escapes me.
Before the match, a "Rules screen" is shown attempting to explain the very specific UWFi rules that were in place for all of their matches. For example, being MMA style matches, pinfalls are not counted. The ways to win are by submission, KO or by "point loss". Each combatant starts with 15 points. If you're suplexed or have to hold the ropes to escape a submission, you lose 1 point. If you're knocked down long enough that you're dazed and the ref has to begin a 10 count, you lose 3 points. If you lose all 15 points then you lose the match. It's somewhat similar to the old Pancrase point system. Okay, now that we know the rules, we can finally fight.
As far as the matches go, it reminds me of the FMW: Onita Atushi game. It feels like a slow paced fighting game mixed with a wrestling game. There is no "up and down" movement in the ring. Even though the matches take place in a ring, you fight against your opponent on a 2-D playfield where you are constantly facing each other like Street Fighter or Tekken. The ring is just the "background" basically and doesn't come into play at all because, like MMA, there were no top rope moves or Irish whips in the UWFi. There were only martial arts strikes, throws and scientific grappling. This really doesn't hurt the game though because it gives the matches the "feel" of the UWFi. The wrestlers are always in each others face, no wasted motion, no pandering to the crowd, it ends up working out great here!
The wrestlers all look great. All of the move animations are really good and seem to "carry weight" and have impact. Each wrestler also has their own move set that pertains to them. Gary Albright does his singnature suplexes and Vader even does his patented "forearm blows to the ears" thing that always looked particularly painful to me. Whenever I used to see him do that to someone I would think to myself, "Man, I would almost rather him punch me square in the face then to have him club my ears with his forearms like that!". As opposed to the usual "health bar" found in most of these old wrestling games, this game features two gauges for how your wrestler is doing in the match. One is a "down bar" that depletes when you're hit and when it's empty, you go down for a count. Maybe not the full 10 count but the ref starts the count until you recover and get back up. The other is a "give up" bar that depletes when you're put into submissions and if it drains completely, you submit to whatever move you're currently entangled in and you lose the match.
Other than that, there's not a lot to speak of. There's no "story" to the game or character specific end screens; it's just "wash, rinse and repeat". That's not to say that this game is bad. Hopefully, I've made it clear that this game is quite good. It just is what it is; a no nonsense, no frills game about a no nonsense, no frills professional wrestling promotion. The two fit together perfectly. Also, it never gets old to use Vader to box somebody's ears a little. Always brings a smile to my face.
Until next time..... keep mashing those buttons!