Title Match Pro Wrestling
"Ladies and gentlemen... announcing the most competitive wrestling ever to be played in the Atari® 7800™ arena. Tonight's the night, Title Match is here! State-of-the-Art animation combines with realistic sound effects to give you all the excitement of professional wrestling. Choose from some of the meanest wrestlers in the business to compete one on one or tag team. Either way, the action never stops. Make all the pro moves like headlocks, airplane spins, rope dives, and body slams. And when you think you're really good, enter the ring against the computer to see who's the Absolute Champion."
Some of you long time readers may remember my review of Title Match Pro Wrestling for the Atari 2600, more than a few years ago at this point. To be blunt; it was one of the worst and probably one of the most offensive wrestling games I've ever played. You may now be asking yourself if it's one of the worst wrestling games I've ever played, why would I buy a copy for my Atari 7800 as well? My best answer would be that I was curious to see the changes made to this port of the game. An Atari 2600 game getting a 7800 port back in the day is like the equivalent of a PS3 game getting a PS5 remaster, nowadays. I'm curious to see how it was improved upon. I mean, at least it couldn't get any worse than what it already is, right? Come to think of it, the real question would be why did the game developers at Absolute even think this game deserved or warranted a "remaster"?
As soon as I start the game up I can see that there is definitely an update in the graphics department. For this 7800 version of the game (released in 1989, two years after the original game's release on the 2600), we actually get a title screen. That being said, I won't shit on the original release for not having one. I can't think of any Atari 2600 games that actually have a title screen off of the top of my head. When you turn the games on, it just shows you gameplay like the "attract mode" of an arcade cabinet would until you start the game and jump right into the action.
The title screen features all of the wrestlers (yes, all four on the roster) punching and kicking and seemingly thrusting their hips in a suggestive manner at times. I don't know what's going on with this. It looks like it could be some sort of funky wrestler dance party because they're all lined up just thrusting away but there's no music playing at all so that couldn't be it. Perhaps they're just "warming up" for all the in-ring action we're bound to be a part of, shortly. That's gotta be it, right?
Now we go to the wrestler select screen which is where most of the offensive content in this game arrives in the form of some of the wrestlers on the roster. First, there's Mad Dog who's just a standard "crazy guy" kind of heel. Then we have Mr. Mean who is basically dressed as a gimp. I would dare say that's a little edgy but, to be fair, the NWA currently has a wrestler on their roster with a "gimp gimmick" named Gaags the Gymp and he's actually pretty over and entertaining so we'll move on. Now, we come to Big Cheif; a Native American gimmick. The problem with this is the developers made his skin tone literally red. Like, a deep, dark red that couldn't possibly be redder. Was this really necessary? I mean, name the character Big Chief and give him any sort of normal skin tone that you'd actually see on a human being and we'll get the idea. Last, and most certainly not least, we have a character with a shaved head named Skin Head. Seriously... come on guys. You couldn't go with "Curly" or "Cue Ball" or any other jokey type of name for a bald wrestler. You're just gonna jump straight to Skin Head? Alright.
Despite choosing not to change any of the questionable content (because why mess with a "masterpiece", right?) the graphics for the wrestlers are miles ahead of the 2600 version, that's for sure. Don't get me wrong, they still don't look "good" compared to any wrestling game that was on other consoles at the time but it does look better for whatever that's worth. The final thing I notice on the wrestler select screen is the ability to have a tag team match. That's also something that's exclusive to this version of the game. Man, that's like the 1989 equivalent of remastering Modern Warfare 2 and giving you a whole new map to play on! At least they did attempt to improve on this game. When I say "they" I should probably be more specific and say, Mark Nichols, whoever the hell he is. He's listed in the credits as being the sole person responsible for this port of the game.
Once I begin to play a match, it's painfully obvious that even if the graphics were updated, the gameplay is not. The 7800 has two buttons on its controller like most respectable consoles of the time, but this game is still programmed to use the one-button input of the original 2600 design. If you read the manual, there's a convoluted control scheme of pressing and holding the one button that does anything and releasing it and holding a direction on the joystick in order to switch from moving your wrestler around the ring to being able to actually pull off one of the 3 or 4 moves available but really, if you try to learn to actually play this game then you're just going to lose. Most matches last about 30 seconds and you're far more likely to win by walking into your opponent and spamming the button to punch and kick them over and over until their health bar drains within a matter of seconds. Secure the pin and match over. Sadly, the tag match option adds very little to the game except for the ability to tag out to your fresh partner which just prolongs the punishment of actually playing the game.
All things considered... this port of the game is slightly better than the Atari 2600 version but only ever so slightly. It looks better but it plays and sounds the same as its older counterpart. Unless you're a collector, there's no real reason to pick this up. I don't imagine you'll be playing it much if at all. It's just not fun. I remember comparing the 2600 release of this game to a paperweight that makes for a decent conversation piece in your game collection and that's about as high as this version ranks as well.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!