I've always loved the arcade atmosphere. That particular atmosphere of 80s and 90s arcades has changed a little since it's "golden years" but thankfully, arcades do still exist. I live right next to a movie theater that has one (although you have to buy a movie ticket to be able to access it) and there's even another one within driving distance. Hell, even the public laundromats around here usually have a game or two. Ms. Pac Man seems to be the popular game and the most likely to be seen amongst the laundromat crowd.
I'm glad that arcades haven't quite gone the way of the local video store or "wrestler-written" promos; that is to say, basically extinct. Arcades are still hanging in there and it seems that at least a few new arcade cabinets get released, every so often. Just like I did previously with WWF Wrestlemania... I want to take the time here to celebrate the greatness of classic coin-op pro wrestling games.
When it comes to pro wrestling coin-op titles from the late 80s; the WWF had a pretty good stranglehold on the market. There were no other wrestling federations around popular enough to warrant the release of an international arcade game. Jim Crockett Promotions was a solid number two (if you'll pardon what that sounds like) but they weren't quite the "WCW juggernaut" that they later became. Also, by this point the AWA was dead.. or at least taking it's last breaths, so I don't think anyone was ready to invest a whole lot of money into making a game featuring perennial jobber, Jake "The Milkman" Milliman or "convicted creep" Buck "Rock and Roll" Zumhofe (I really shouldn't lump Jake Milliman in there with that pervert like that. I always enjoyed The Milkman's work in the AWA. He just has a niche audience, is all).
Technos Japan is responsible for releasing this one to the arcades in May 1989. Technos made a lot of great games for the arcades and for the NES. Classics like River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball and the Double Dragon series. Their first hand at trying to develop a wrestling game ended up giving us Tag Team Wrestling, though, and we all know how that turned out. Thankfully, they took a long time off from the pro wrestling genre and by the time they developed this game; everything was much improved upon from their first attempt.
The game looks great in it's "attract mode". You know, the preview of the game that the monitor shows while no one's playing it. The thing that's supposed to catch the mark's eye as they walk by and get them interested to play. This game's attract mode consists of showing in ring action of all of the superstars. It also shows some cutscenes that play out as you make your way through the ranks, but we'll get to that later. Just saying, it all looks really great.
Once you pop the quarter in, you decide on your tag team -- and you better decide quick! The game seems to literally give you about 10 seconds to choose before it picks two superstars for you, randomly. The roster you get to choose from consists of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Big Boss Man, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and The Honky Tonk Man. Once you pick your team, you wrestle the other superstars until you get to take on the champions (in this game, at least), The Mega Bucks (Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant).
The matches play out nicely. It's the classic "two button set-up" that a lot of the older arcade cabinents have. When standing, one button punches and one button kicks. Two superstars can walk into each other to initiate a grapple at which point one of the buttons performs an irish whip and the other button transitions to a headlock where one of two superstar specific moves can be applied. All of the wrestlers look pretty good.
Technos was known for always having nice looking games, in my opinion. The move animations are really smooth and each superstar has bits of their own respective, realistc personalities. For example, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan will give a big thumbs up occassionally while doing his "Hooooo pose" (*ahem* for lack of a better term) and I could have sworn I used to see Ted DiBiase doing the classic "cowardly heel begging off routine" at certain points in a match. You can even take the fight to the outside of the ring, if you'd like, as long as you make it back in before the 20-count.
Outside, there's a table than can be smashed on your opponent and occassionally your partner will help out by heading off screen and returning with a metal folding chair. Violence like that seems a little out of place in the late 80s era WWF but I'm not complaining. Shame you can't take the weapons back into the ring with you, though.
One thing that's a little different from most pro wrestling games is, here, you don't really see the audience at all. You can hear the crowd noise and they sound good but you never really see them. I guess that made it easier for the people who have to animate such things and I actually didn't miss the crowd at all. It took me a good while to even realize that they weren't present. There is a ref in the ring at all times but you can't interact with him or bump into him or anything. He's just there to count the pins. Speaking of which, I swear he sounds like someone doing a Vince McMahon impersonation when he makes the count.
After you win a few matches, you get to take on the champs. Before the match takes place there is a very nice looking cutscene featuring (friends of Wrestling Merchanidse & Memories) "Mean" Gene Okerlund and Virgil, alongside Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant. As nice as the cutscene looks, the voice acting is atrocious. Virgil can sleep easily knowing that no one butchered his voice but the same cannot be said for "Mean" Gene, Andre and especially poor Million Dollar Man. Whoever did Andre's voice did a passable job (just barely). "Mean" Gene's voice is a little more questionable and really sounds nothing like the man himself.
As far as DiBiase's voice goes... it was really a kick in the pills when I first heard it. Not only does it not sound like DiBiase but I seriously don't think they could've have picked a worse voice for him here. As best as I can describe; he sort of sounds like a young man going through puberty.. or perhaps Fred from the old Scooby Doo cartoons. Yeah, some sort of mixture of those two things. It's really kind of shocking, to be honest. If you're able to beat the champs, Miss Elizabeth gives you your props and you get your picture on the front page of the newspaper.
At this point, like most pro wrestling arcade games with limited rosters, the cycle of matches begins again but with a harder difficulty. I have a lot of fond memories of this game. It was the first WWF game released for arcades and it was a classic title; pro wrestling or otherwise. I still say that hearing Ted DiBiase's in-game voice for the first time is like a slap in the face but the game is just so much fun to play, has personality, and looks so nice. It's really hard to ruin something as good as this. A true classic.
Until next time.. keep mashing those buttons!