Retro Respawn – Natsume Championship Wrestling

This week we return to the wrestling ring for a rather solid Super Nintendo effort in the form of Natsume Championship Wrestling. Outside of Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium, the SNES didn’t necessarily have a cacophony of great wrestling games to draw from, and even Fire Pro was limited only to a release in the East and never reached the Western regions. Indeed, Natsume Championship Wrestling itself actually began as a game for the Japanese market before finally making its way to the West, although only in North America during the fourth gen itself.

Originally named “Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling” in Natsume’s native land of Japan, the game actually had the official licensing of the All Japan Pro Wrestling organisation, which at the time was possibly the best male wrestling company in the world thanks to top stars Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue. Natsume decided to forgo the use of the license in the west, perhaps feeling that it wasn’t worth to pay the fee required to license the game when All Japan had little more than a niche following outside of Japan.

As a result of this, the wrestlers in the game have all been given horrendously goofy fake wrestling names like “Asteroid” and “Hungry Snake”, and their likenesses have been modified so as not to require the dishing out of any pesky licensing fees to All Japan. The names really are terrible though, and it honestly makes me wonder how hard it must be for companies to come up with names for wrestlers. I mean, one wrestler is called “Phantom”, but he doesn’t wear any sort of ring gear that matches that at all, and the name doesn’t suit him at all. Even something generic like “Bill Cruel” would have worked better.

Terrible names aside though, Natsume Championship Wrestling actually plays quite well. Rather than requiring you to mash buttons to succeed in a grappling battle like the WWF games of the fourth gen, such as Super WrestleMania and Royal Rumble required you to do, Nastume Championship Wrestling has far more in common with Fire Pro, whereby grappling success is based more around timing and getting your button input in just right. Like Fire Pro, the Y Button sees you do weaker attacks, like slams and hip tosses, whilst the B and A Buttons will see you try more impactful moves, although these can be easier for your opponent to reverse if they are still fresh.

Thus, you are encouraged to wear your opponent down with the weaker attacks first before unleashing the more deadly ones when the bout is nearing its end, which mirrors the ebbs and flow of a real wrestling match. One downside compared to Fire Pro, however, is that the wrestlers have less grappling holds and moves that they can deliver in Natsume Championship Wrestling, which does mean that you will see a lot of moves repeated quite a bit. The wrestlers will share a lot of moves, and they don’t have designated unique finishing moves like in the WWF games.

Despite being somewhat light on moves when compared to Fire Pro, Natsume Championship Wrestling generally plays quite well and is a tad more nuanced gameplay-wise than most of its Western contemporaries on the console. For instance, you are actually able to apply holds to downed opponents (something you couldn’t do in the WWF games unless your wrestler had a specific ground-based submission hold, like with Ric Flair or Bret Hart), and the general hit detection is pretty good as well. Like the WWF games, the wrestlers in Natsume Championship Wrestling have a life bar above their names that can slowly go down as the fight progresses. Having an empty life bar won’t automatically end the bout, but it will make you susceptible to being pinned, so you best be wary as it depletes.

Outside of Exhibition Mode, the modes on offer are quite limited, including the standard arcade ladder mode called Championship Tournament, with the option to do both singles and tag team versions, and also Round Robin, which sees you again either taking control of a single wrestler or tag team and amassing enough points in a league-styled format to claim victory. There are no special gimmick matches, like battle royales, and you can’t amend the match rules either, outside of whether the matches are 10 or 20 minutes. So it’s a bit sparse when it comes to match types, but then again, All Japan Pro Wrestling really used gimmick bouts and instead focused solely on standard wrestling matches, so it makes sense that a game that carried the license for it wouldn’t really include any either.

Graphically, the game looks decent for a fourth gen release, with the wrestlers being well animated and the crowd looking rather impressive for the time frame. The music is also very fun to listen to, with some of the tracks that play during matches really getting you in the mood to wrestle your way to victory. Overall, I like the game’s general aesthetic, and it definitely retains the Japanese feel of Zen Nippon, such as the crowd stomping their feet when a wrestler narrowly kicks out at the last minute, just as the All Japan crowds used to do at Budokan Hall during some of the more epic main event bouts that were held there.

Natsume Championship Wrestling isn’t as deep or enjoyable as Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium, but it’s still a very playable wrestling offering on the Super Nintendo, and in the West it could possibly be the best wrestling game on the whole console. It looks nice, it plays well, and it has a fantastic soundtrack. It only originally got released in North America during the fourth generation, but it has since seen releases on the Virtual Console on the Wii and Wii U in all regions, so if you like the sound of it from reading this and own one of those two machines, then maybe you might want to give it a look-see.

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