Title Match Pro Wrestling
Imagine that it's 1987. You're a kid. Being a wrestling fan, you're jealous that all of your friends are playing Pro Wrestling for the NES or the Sega Master System (two completely different games, by the way, but they were released around the same time and happen to share the same name).
All you have is the Atari 2600 your grandmother bought you at a yard sale last summer. What do you do? Well, Absolute Entertainment had an answer for you...Title Match Pro Wrestling!
Absolute Entertainment was founded by game programmer Gary Kitchen, along with David Crane, after he left Activision in 1986. Between the two of them, they are responsible for the most classic of Atari 2600 games like Pitfall (1982), Keystone Kapers (1983), Kaboom (1981) and even the NES cult classic A Boy and His Blob (1989), so you'd think you could count on their company to make a solid game. Well, let's take a look...
BACKGROUND: Title Match Pro Wrestling was the first and only wrestling game for the Atari 2600 as far as I have been able to determine. It features four playable wrestlers, Mad Dog, Skin Head, Mr. Mean and Big Chief. The game seems to have been designed by Alex DeMeo and the Atari 7800 version was programmed by Mark Nichols but I'm unsure of the 2600 version. Facts are a little vague on this old cartridge. I don't think it was ever that popular and Absolute was not the most well known publisher out there at the time aside from the fact that most people were probablly unaware that games were still being produced for the 2600 at that point. Although it's a little on the scarce side nowadays, you can find a copy online easily enough for a pretty affordable price. I found my copy "in the wild" at a junk store for a few dollars.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND: As the Grappling Gamer, I always try to critique graphics fairly, as in, a game on the Xbox One obviously would make an Atari 2600 game look ridiculous by comparison. But as far as 2600 games go, this one actually looks pretty good. I would venture to say it's even one of the best looking games on the system. A lot of people may not realize how long of a life span the Atari 2600 had. It was officially released on September 11, 1977 in North America and wasn't officially discontinued until January 1, 1992 although the last official North American release was Secret Quest in 1989. My point being, by 1987, when this game came out, programmers had finally figured out how to use the system to it's full potenial at least graphics-wise.
Gameplay is a whole different story. One thing I thought was strange, as far as the graphics go, is that they chose to give the Native American wrestler Big Chief a dark purple/maroon skin tone. That could be viewed as racist but honestly it's such a ridiculous color for skin that it just makes him look like an alien of some sort. By the way, another shady somewhat dubious element to the game is the fact that the bald wrestler's name is Skin Head. It's just a little questionable. Sound wise, there's a sound effect that to me sounds like seagulls by the ocean, which I assume is supposed to be crowd noise but any sound in an old Atrai game beyond standard beeps is almost considered above average. All of the sprites (come to think of it, I don't know if the Atari had "sprites" but whatever you call the graphics for the wrestlers) are big and look as nice as can be for the most part. It sort of looks like Real Sports Boxing and I believe it might run on the same engine.
GAMEPLAY: As we all know, gameplay is always the most important part of a game. It's what makes classic games still playable. Despite graphical limitations there are some games on my old Atari that are still some of my favorites to play. This game, however, is not one of those. It took a few minutes to get used to the controls. It's a weird set-up thats hard to describe.
Once I did get used to it, I was able to pull off some moves. From what I could see, the moves basically consist of: punch, kick, body slam, and Irish whip. Not much variety, which is to be expected for this particular console. It must have been hard to try to program a wrestling game for a console that has a controller with only one button. Like I said, through button mashing I was able to conjure up some moves but the control scheme is very difficult.
After a few minutes my hand actually started to ache. I realize the 2600 contoller is not ergonomic in the least but I've never experienced this problem except for this particular game. I was also unable to kick out of a single pin. As soon as the computer attempted to pin me the first time, it was over. I wiggled the joystick and pressed the one button during a pin, (what else can you do?), but I was never able to kick out....not even once. The matches are also extremely short. From an educated guess, I'd say most matches only last 1-2 minutes. All of the wrestlers play exactly the same as far as i can tell which equals zero replay value unless you've got some friends over to battle. All in all, this game isn't great....or even that good really, to be honest.
VERDICT: Unless you're a collector or a bitter old man stuck in his ways that must play retro games (of which I am both), I wouldn't reccomend this game. It's a little rare. It's kind of cool to show off in your collection but it's still just a sub-par game. Even if you do buy it, I wouldn'y expect you to actually play it much. Literally when i bought my copy I just thought it looked cool and I'd never heard of it but once I got home I played it for about 4 minutes and said, "Okay, this is garbage.", and put it on the shelf. There is where it sat until I played it again to do this review to make sure it was garbage and yes......garbage confirmed.
Still, it's the only wrestling game for the Atari so if that's all you have, then this is all you get, sadly. I think I would honestly rate it as one of the worst wrestling games I have personally ever played.....perhaps the worst. M.U.S.C.L.E still haunts my nightmares, though, so until I decide to replay that monstrosity again, for history's sake, I couldn't tell you for sure. If you've ever watched any of the popular, long running internet videos in the Botchamania series, the opening of every episode has a soundbite declaring a certain match as -5 stars, which is exactly what i rate this game. Perhaps next time, my fellow virtual grapplers, I will unearth a better game from the vaults.....