Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling 2: 3-4 Budokan
Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
I believe Japanese puroresu games hit their peak in the 16-bit era. I'm racking my brain and honestly can't think of a "bad" puroresu game for the Super Famicom. Some are easier to understand and navigate than others and some are better than others but I don't recall ever playing a bad one. The FMW and Takada games are pushing their luck a little in that department but I enjoy both of those as well, for what they are. All this being said; I have pretty high hopes that the game we're gonna check out today will at least be decent. The odds are in its favor but we'll have to investigate further to see if it's going to just be a good game or a great one!
Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling 2: 3-4 Budokan (yeah, some of these titles for these puroresu games are a mouthful) was developed by Natsume and published by NCS (Nippon Computer Systems) in Japan on April 7, 1995. It is the fourth and final game that Natsume produced with the Zen-Nippon/All-Japan Pro Wrestling license. A lot of gamers may be familiar with the second game in the series, Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling Dash: Sekai Saikyou Tag, which was reskinned and released in North America as Natsume Championship Wrestling, which I've previously reviewed.
This game, being the "swan song" of Natsume games featuring All-Japan, it only makes sense that it features a bigger roster than the other games in the series and also features a lot of modes brought back from previous games. As a bonus, the "Budokan" in the title refers to the Budokan mode included in this game which is basically your classic booker/GM mode where you try to book and put on the most exciting matches possible. The honestly never recall running across a GM mode until I played Smackdown vs Raw 2008 but ever since then; it's always a favorite mode of mine to play. I just love being the booker!
When I first start this up, I have to say, the theme music is really awesome. I'm not sure if it's an official All-Japan theme or not but it sounds like the music for a circus parade or something. Really bouncy and upbeat. There are a lot of game modes but nothing surprising when it comes to puroresu games. You can chase after the World or Tag belts or you can have an Open League or an Open Tag League tournament. There is also a Battle Royal option which I guess is a little less commonly seen in these types of games. In it, four wrestlers compete against each other until there is only one left standing. The strange thing is, though, is the way you choose which match type you want. At the main menu, you can only choose from two choices - Start and Options. Naturally, most people would choose "start" at this point but that only begins the Budokan/GM mode. If you want to do any other sort of matches then you have to choose "Options" and set it up from there. Once you figure that out; it's pretty smooth sailing.
As I mentioned, there are a ton of wrestlers to choose from in this game. Well, 16 to be exact but for a puroresu game on the SNES; it's basically a ton. A veritable shit-load, if you will. You can guess many on the roster for yourself like Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Stan Hansen, the Miracle Violence Connection (Steve Williams and Terry Gordy), and Mrs. Baba's baby boy... or at least her favorite boy for reasons known only to her - Johhny Ace a/k/a John Laurinaitis.
There are however two "dark horses" on this game's roster who prove to be interesting. The first is Joel Deaton, who was a longtime journeyman wrestler who traveled throughout southeastern territories in the United States during the 80s and early 90s. The only time I ever actually saw him compete is when he was briefly in Smoky Mountain Wrestling alongside his tag team partner, Billy Black. They comprised a team called The Wild Bunch who were also popular in All-Japan at the time. For whatever reason, though, Joel is the only half of the team represented in this game.
The other interesting roster inclusion here is a masked wrestler called The Eagle. I was completely unfamiliar with him and had to look him up and I never would've guessed who was under the hood - yet another Smoky Mountain Wrestling alumni, George Hines a/k/a Jackie Fulton. Jackie and his real-life brother Bobby Fulton (a/k/a James Hines) were The Fantastics after Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers quit teaming together. I knew The Fantastics toured Japan during this era but I had no idea that sometimes Jackie would also wrestle solo and don a mask.
The gameplay here is as solid as any Natsume wrestling game and that is to say - pretty damn solid. It uses the same timing-based grappling system that Fire Pro games used at the time but it's dumbed down a little and not quite so unforgiving which isn't a bad thing. It makes the game more accessible to a slightly more casual audience. Each wrestler has their own move-set, taunts, and special attacks/finishers so it makes it fun to play as each wrestler on the roster to see what moves are in their arsenal. Also, the Battle Royal mode can be quite fun with a friend or two to join in on the action.
A lot of gamers consider this to be the best wrestling game for the Super Nintendo. I have to say; they may be right. It ranks high at the top, for sure. It's a game that every wrestling game enthusiast should check out!
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!