Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling Jet
Today, ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to take a look at yet another handheld game that I'd love to have owned back in the day but have only yet recently discovered. I gotta tell you, while I was slugging away playing the WWF Superstars games and WCW: The Main Event, I don't know if the Japanese children in their part of the world realized how lucky they were to have games like this to play on their Game Boy! I'd have gladly traded 10 copies of WWF Superstars 1 and 2 just to be able to play this game for an hour.
To be fair, about an hour is all you really need with these old handheld games, though. It was impossible for them to pack but so much content on these old carts so, after about an hour or so, you pretty much have either completed the game or have had your fill of it. Still, being a simplistic and monochromatic dinosaur of a different era aside, let's see how this game ranks amongst the best handheld games that were available at the time. Zen Nippon (All Japan) Pro Wrestling Jet was programmed by Geo Factory and released in Japan by NCS on July 15, 1994. Since the Game Boy was originally released in 1989; this game was released fairly late into its "life cycle" which is usually a good thing. By this point, developers should be very familiar with the hardware and what it's capable of and can push the limits of what was possible, if they so chose. I'm completely unfamiliar with Geo Factory but it seems like they truly did pour as much time and love into this game as they could.
Once we start this game up; we can see that there are only three options to pick from on the title screen. Although written in kanji, it's not too hard to figure out what they are. Option one is the single-player mode where you choose one wrestler and compete against all other wrestlers on the roster, trying to win the Triple Crown Championship. Option two is the same as option one except you choose two wrestlers to form a team and then compete against other teams to win the tag team belts. Option three is a multiplayer option where you can compete against your friends to see you is the greatest puroresu competitor but with the original Game Boy; two people each had to own a Game Boy and a copy of the said game and then lash their two Game Boys together with a cord in order to play competitively. Needless to say, back in the day, I only participated in a handful of Game Boy two-player sessions, and most of those involved Tetris which seemingly everyone owned since it was a pack-in game that initially came with the system itself.
As far as the roster goes, there are only eight playable wrestlers with no "secret boss characters" but if you compare that to the five playable superstars on WWF Superstars for the Game Boy then it's an improvement, for sure. The eight playable wrestlers on this game are also the heaviest of the heavy hitters in All Japan at the time so that also helps. You can choose to play as Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, and, representing the gaijins of the time, Stan Hansen and "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. That's quite a cast of characters to pick from, for sure!
Once you begin to play your first match; you can tell that the developers put some time and effort into giving this game whatever "realism" that they could. Each wrestler has their own move set and signature move and only the more agile wrestlers are able to do aerial moves from the top ropes. Rest assured, you won't be seeing Giant Baba do any moonsaults or 450 splashes -- which is a good thing.
All of the grappling moves are also based on timing and not button mashing which is how most Japanese puroresu games are laid out. Man, I can't even count how many times that I've wished, over the years, that Western developers would've taken this approach to gameplay as opposed to mashing the shit out of buttons, wearing out not only the controllers but making your hands ache in the process. This approach to a wrestling game is far superior regardless of the semi-steep learning curve it takes to master these types of wrestling games. Once you do master the technique; it's worth it!
To sum things up - I really enjoyed playing this game and I wish I had a copy back in the day to enjoy. Despite its limitations and shortcomings; it's still way better than any wrestling game that was available for the Game Boy here in North America at the time. I would suggest that all wrestling and puroresu game enthusiasts pick up a copy and give it a playthrough. Definitely worth your time!
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!