Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling: Fight Da Pon!
Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
Today, I want to take a look at a wrestling game that is unlike any other wrestling game you've ever played. It also happens to be the most difficult puroresu (Japanese pro wrestling) game that I've ever attempted to understand enough to be able to play because of its unique presentation and a veritable shit-ton of kanji text that's involved throughout the game that you can't even begin to translate. Well, I can't even begin to translate, anyway. Just because I'm ill-equipped to traverse this kanji-laden landscape doesn't mean it's a bad game, though. I always like to think of it as just a "learning curve" you have to overcome to be able to enjoy the game and this game is very interesting and unique, to say the least, so I had to give a good, solid go of it to see what it's like.
Zen Nippon (All Japan) Pro Wrestling: Fight da Pon! was developed and released by veteran pro wrestling game developers, Natsume, on June 25, 1994, exclusively in Japan. Aside from the great AJPW games they released, when I was a kid, I LOVED Natsume Championship Wrestling for the Super Nintendo. I still play it every once in a while on the SNES virtual console on my Nintendo Switch. That being said, even if this game is a little "off-kilter" compared to your standard wrestling game, I can go in fairly sure that it's a quality title and not just a "rush job" of a game.
The first unique quality this game possesses is that it's a parody/comedy game done in a "chibi" style. I looked up the term "Chibi" to best explain this style and it roughly means, a “small person (with dwarfism),” “small animal (runt),” or, with affection or annoyance, a “small child (pipsqueak)”. This means all of the wrestlers in this game are presented as small, "cute" versions of their real-life counterparts. I must say, it does amuse me to see cute, cartoony, little versions of (among other AJPW stars) Stan Hansen and Abdullah the Butcher gracing the cover art for this game. Abby even comes complete with the cutest little forehead scars that you ever did see. Amusing to say the least.
The title screen music for this game matches the cartoony presentation perfectly. It's sort of a "bouncy remix" of the theme music you hear in all of the AJPW games for the Super Famicom. Once we get past the title screen; we can see our options of play. I'll be honest, the story mode or "scenario mode", as this game calls it, is the only one that I've ever been able to navigate through enough menus to be able to play. I honestly don't know what the other modes would be because as we'll soon find out; you don't actually ever "wrestle" in this game. You "battle" but you don't wrestle. Maybe the other modes (granted you can navigate the menus and not get lost in them) are just single battles. Don't worry. That'll all make sense pretty soon.
I think there are six scenarios to play through in the scenario mode, altogether. Obviously, we're starting with Scenario 1. You don't get to choose your wrestler for this mode. You play through the scenarios as Giant (chibi) Baba who's always amusing to look at. I guess you could say that for all the characters in this game, though.
The way the game plays out is a hybrid of a board game and a collectible card game. Just imagine Mario Party mixed with Magic: The Gathering with a dash of Saturday morning cartoons thrown in... if you can wrap your head around that. You "roll the dice" and move around the board landing on various spots. Some spots reward you with cards that you'll use to battle your opponents. Other spots require you to battle your "rival" in the scenario. Your rival in the first scenario is The Patriot and you'll be seeing a lot of him. At least in this round of the game. Additional spots show you cutscenes and progress the story along. Whatever story that we can understand given our ignorance of Japanese, that is.
Whenever you have to battle, you begin by picking five cards from the ones you've collected so far. Each card represents a move that you're able to do in the match. When the matches start, you scroll through your list of five cards on the bottom of the screen and click on them at various times to do your various attacks while your opponent is doing the same with his set of cards. Whenever you win these battles, you're rewarded with a new move card to possibly use in your next battle.
Towards the end of me playing Scenario 1, I'll admit, I was getting a little sick of it. I was a little sick of battling The Patriot over and over and watching cutscenes that I couldn't fully understand but... that all went away with the end of Scenario 1! The bastards... they hooked me again as I was getting ready to give up. What hooked me back in was, when you reach the end of Scenario 1, you approach some sort of skyscraper. Chibi Stan Hansen and chibi The Miracle Violence Connection (Steve Williams and Terry Gordy) leap off of the top of the building, landing in front of you. They appear to talk shit to you and then run away. At this point, you enter the building and see someone pretending to be you, having a wrestling match with Abdullah the Butcher. When you storm the ring and unmask him; it ends up being some dude with a clock for his head. You then proceed to battle this strange abomination in the finale of the first scenario.
My final verdict for this game - it's a really unique wrestling game even if it's barely a wrestling game. It revolves around the concept of wrestling, if nothing else. It can get repetitious at times, but I quite enjoyed it. I love Mario Party and collectible card games, though (shoutout to Capcom/SNK Card Fighters Clash. My favorite CCG video game) so that helped me to enjoy it. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but if you like taking a deep dive into the world of obscure and unique wrestling games then I would suggest giving this one a go.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!