Sougou Kakutougi: Astral Bout
I always like to deep dive and find obscure gems when it comes to wrestling games and today we're going to take a look at a very obscure one to say the least. Sougou Kakutougi: Astral Bout is the first game of the short-lived Astral Bout series and was originally released as a Japanese exclusive on June 26, 1992.
Developed by A Wave and released by King Records (two companies I have absolutely never heard of), it's based on Akira Maeda's Fighting Network RINGS promotion. Maeda had made a name for himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling during the 80s and then split off alongside Nobuhiko Takada to form the shoot-style wrestling promotion, UWFi. UK fans may also remember Maeda as "Quick Kick Lee" in the old World Of Sport promotion. I've seen quite a few of his World Of Sport matches from that era, myself. Then, Maeda went solo and formed RINGS which started as another shoot-style wrestling promotion but morphed into an actual MMA promotion during the mid-late 90s.
This particular game is from the promotion's early puroresu days. It bears a strong resemblance to an early MMA game, though, because of the style of RINGS itself. There aren't a lot of fighters to pick from (I'll have to use the word "fighters" because not all characters in this game are pro wrestlers. Only a couple are, to be honest) and there aren't many game modes to pick from because of, yet again, RINGS' no-nonsense style that the promotion itself had. They're going for realism here, not jumping off of ladders and setting tables on fire or maiming opponents with various kitchen utensils. The only modes are 1 Player vs Com, 2 Player vs, and a practice mode to hone your skills.
As I mentioned, the roster for this game is small (only 9 playable characters) but the fighters are varied and interesting. A lot of care went into creating characters representing every major style of fighting at the time. you can choose from Barnov Gainer who's a Russian Sambo fighter. Somchai Pet Noi, a Muay Thai fighter from Thailand. The man himself, Akira Maeda. Kenji Takezawa, a karate expert from Japan. Shiro Kimura, a Japanese judoka (Judo expert). James Taylor. Not the singer/songwriter but an American boxer who looks almost exactly like Mike Tyson because hey; you couldn't have an American boxer in any video game during the 90s that wasn't based on Mike Tyson. Those were the rules. Lee Wang-Yu, an elderly kung-fu master (Why do all kung-fu masters have to be old men?). Billy J. Gibson who's an American kickboxer and finally; Spell Falcon, a Mexican Luchador.
Each of these fighters has a different move-set and different style based on the real-life martial arts that they represent. For example, the Muay Thai fighter utilizes very strong kicks and knees while the judoka and Sambo fighters use a lot of throws and submissions. Akira Maeda uses his extensive knowledge of pro wrestling. The Lucha Libre style of fighting seems the weakest which makes sense. Have any of you guys ever seen the Pride FC fight when Mirko Cro Cop almost literally kicked the top of Alberto Del Rio's (at the time he wore a mask and went by "Dos Caras Jr.") head off? That pretty much tells you all you need to know about Lucha Libre in a real fight situation. Still, every fighter in the game is unique and fun to experiment with.
I haven't mentioned it yet but I also enjoy all of the music in this game. It really is top notch and it's not just one song on repeat the entire time like some wrestling games from this era. I'm very happy I gave this game a try because even though it's somewhat "simple" as far as presentation and gameplay go; it truly was a first of its kind. You can almost call it the original "MMA game". I would suggest that every wrestling game fan and even fans of fighting games check this one out. You won't be disappointed.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!