Tag Team Match M.U.S.C.L.E.
Some of you readers who've been around a while may remember me teasing how "bad" I thought this game was in some of my early reviews. Well, I finally decided to dust off the cartridge for an official review to see how it really stacks up.
To be fair, it's not the worst wrestling video game I've ever played. Other descriptions besides "bad" might actually fit better. Descriptions like "extremely inappropriate characters" (as far as the Japanese version goes) or "seizure inducing" but we'll get to that in a bit.
First, as usual, a litlle bit of history: this game is based on "Kinnikuman", a Japanese manga (comic book) series and animated television series created by Yoshinori Nakai and Takashi Shimada that debuted in 1979. Basically, the series is about Suguru Kinniku -- a clumsy and inept superhero -- discovering he is the missing prince of planet Kinniku. In order to claim his throne he must battle through the intergalactic pro wrestling rankings to prove his worth.
In 1983, Bandai gained the licensing rights to Kinnikuman and started producing little, collectable erasers called Kinkeshi, featuring the characters from the manga and television series. Two years later Bandai further licensed rights for the North American market to Mattel who released the erasers which, like a lot of kids, I thought of as small rubber wrestling figures. At the time, I never realized they were meant to be erasers and they weren't marketed in North America as such; just marketed as minifigures.
Also for the western release, the line of figures was renamed from "Kinnikuman" to "M.U.S.C.L.E." which stood for "Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere". One of the inspirations for the re-branding comes from the fact that "kinniku" is Japanese for "muscle" so Kinnikuman literally translates to Muscleman. In North America, to go along with the line of figures, Mattel also released a "Hard Knockin' Rockin' Ring" and a board game that you could use the figures with. Later, in 1986, this questionable video game was released by Bandai themselves. Bandai produced their fair share of bizarre and quirky games, especially for the NES. "Monster Party" jumps to mind as a fairly good but quite bizarre one.
This game goes along those lines as it also does not skimp on the quirkiness or the strange. As an "80's kid", everyone I knew had at least a few M.U.S.C.L.E. figures but but far fewer kids ever played this video game, as far as I know. It wasn't as well known as the other pro wrestling titles on the NES and I'm guessing maybe the kids that did play it never spoke about it so, let's see what it's like for ourselves, eh?
Originally released in Japan about a year earlier (November, 1985), it was known there as "Kinnikuman: Muscle Tag Match. The roster is small (8 wrestlers to choose from) but it's nothing to complain about; a pretty standard size for the time. The first seven wrestlers available are Kinnikuman/Muscleman, Terryman (based on Terry Funk in the original comics), Ramenman (an old school, stereotypical version of a Chinese man complete with a fu-man-chu moustache), Robin Mask, Buffaloman/Teri-bull, Warsman, and Ashuraman.
The last member of the roster is different between the North American and Japanese releases. Here, we got the only slightly questionable, Native American character of "Geronimo" who used the Apache War Cry as his finisher. In Japan, they decided to just go "full-on inappropriate" and make the last wrestler "Brocken Jr." who happens to be a nazi! This is further evidenced by his finishing move which is literally called the "Nazi Gas Attack".
Once you get down to actually playing the game, the music is really well done! Well, the little of it you hear anyway. You hear a nice tune on the title screen and another on the "win screen" in between matches, and that's about it. It's a shame that it's featured on a game like this where it, more than likely, won't be remembered fondly by anyone.
After you pick which nazi or racial stereotype you want to play as, the "fun" really begins. The matches in this game are very simple. You're only able to do two moves in the whole game... well, three if you count everyone's finishing move. It reminds me a little of Title Match Pro Wrestling on the Atari 2600. Your two available moves are, punch someone, or do an awkward looking dropkick(?), I suppose it is. Kinda looks like a dropkick...
At random times throughout the match, Kinnikuman's sidekick throws "power pellets" into the ring and the wrestler who can touch it first gets a huge powerup and the ability to do their respective "finisher". It might bear mentioning that Kinnikuman's sidekick is a little boy named "Meat". I'll avoid any comparisons to Shawn Stasiak, though.
Even though the moveset makes the matches themselves feel limited, the match types have a slight bit of variety, but that's also the games biggest downfall -- match type number 3 in particular. Just like Tag Team Wrestling for the NES, you can only wrestle in tag teams here. Every time you meet new opponents in the game, you have to defeat them in all three match types. The first match is just a regular tag match. The second match is contested on an "ice top ring" which is blue and I guess is literally supposed to be a block of ice with ring ropes. As you can guess, the difference in this match is that the movement of your wrestler feels a little more "slippery" and you slide around a little.
The third match type is an "electrified ropes match" which sounds awesome but is in reality the very reason they put seizure warnings in video game manuals (back when video games came with manuals, anyway). This match is almost unplayable for me and probably impossible for some folks to play because during the whole match, the ring ropes, ring apron and ringside area flash in a "seizure inducing light show". Maybe it's just me and you can decide for yourself, but I would almost call this match type a little dangerous to play for any real length of time. This particular match is the main reason why I've probably played this game the least out of any game in my collection. Even the few times I've wanted to play it, just playing through one electrified ropes match makes me feel like it's not good for me to be staring at that.
To sum everything else up; the graphics are very simple looking compared to other wrestling games on the NES. Again, I'm reminded of Title Match Pro Wrestling, because it looks pretty similar to that game. Also, this game uses the same "tag animation" that a lot of games were guilty of at the time. You know, when your partner just stands at ringside and leaps over the top ropes when he's "tagged" in. That always irked me in these old games like, it doesn't seem that hard to make your partner stand in your corner and animate a hand slap when tagged in but maybe I'm asking too much.
This game is interesting enough as a sort of "conversation piece" in a collection but's it's not a must play title by any means. You really could just watch a YouTube video of someone else playing it and get the basic idea without having to actually play it. Playing it really adds nothing but frustration to the mix so you'd be just as well.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!