Natsume Championship Wrestling is a game for fans of ‘puroresu’
Natsume Championship Wrestling is a port of a game based on legendary Japanese wrestling promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling. The original Japanese title is Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling Dash: Sekai Saikyo Tag, and had a massive focus on tag team wrestling.
For hardcore fans of Japanese wrestling, or ‘puroresu,’ Natsume Championship Wrestling contains some winks and nods to legendary wrestlers from the 90s.
It also helps that Natsume Championship Wrestling is a competent pro wrestling game in its own right. Natsume Championship Wrestling contains the timing-based grapping of the ever popular Fire Pro Wrestling series, along with colorful graphics and tight controls.
The game was quietly released in 1994 over in the United States. While it was popular over in Japan, Natsume Championship Wrestling never got a hold (wrestling pun intended) in North America. Perhaps it was the lack of then-WWF or WCW name branding or the overall different gameplay from other pro wrestling games at the time.
A brief history of All Japan Pro Wrestling…
Natsume Championship Wrestling is based upon the promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling. Founded by Shoei “Giant” Baba in 1972, All Japan Pro Wrestling was originally part of the National Wrestling Alliance (or NWA) for the majority of the 1970s and early 80s.
The promotion utilized “King’s Road” style of wrestling. King’s Road contains a big focus on athleticism and storytelling, while maintaining the over-the-top nature of American pro wrestling.
Upon breaking off the NWA, All Japan started promoting top talents such as Baba himself, Mitsuhara Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama and recent WWE Hall of Fame inductee Stan “The Lariat” Hansen. Throughout the late 80s and 90s, All Japan’s “King’s Road” style of wrestling proved to be massively popular.
Giant Baba’s tragic death resulted in more than a few massive shake ups within All Japan Pro Wrestling. The 2000s started a rather unpopular period for the promotion, due to just about every popular wrestler either leaving or retiring. However, around the start of the new decade All Japan has slowly regained its foothold in Japan.
Natsume Championship Wrestling is unique among other SNES wrestling games
Natsume Championship Wrestling is one of the few wrestling games on the SNES to attempt to match the gameplay style of Super Famicom grapplers. Players will not be mashing the attack button and expect to win after a bombardment of kicks and punches. Natsume Championship Wrestling instead urges players to time their grapples and strikes.
It’s a system that rewards patience, but it is far more user friendly than Fire Pro Wrestling. For example, Fire Pro matches are generally slower and more deliberate. Natsume Championship Wrestling’s matches are fast paced and allows players to perform moves quicker. Using a combination of the D-pad and grapple button, players can perform a wide array of moves. Timing is everything though and this will take a while to get used to it. It does make for fun gameplay, once a player finds their routine. There is also a health meter to keep track of a wrestler’s stamina.
Unlike the WWF games of the time, Natsume Championship Wrestling has distinct moves for each wrestler. Many of them being techniques they used in real life. Stan Hansen has his infamous lariats, Jun Akiyama has his vicious suplexes and Kenta Kobashi has his devastating strike maneuvers.
The roster is composed of several popular wrestlers from the mid-90s in All Japan Pro Wrestling. However, due to all of them being near-unrecognizable to American audiences at the time, they all of psuedonyms. Kenta Kobashi is dubbed Conan and “Dr Death” Steve Williams is rechristened as Big Ape. Puroresu fans will be able to recognize the grapplers based on their well-detailed character portraits.
The impressive graphics aren’t just shown on the character select screen. Natsume Championship Wrestling is very colorful. The ring itself is a nice blue, like the All Japan ring during the 90s. Sprites during the matches themselves reflect each wrestler well and are well animated when big moves are performed. Occasionally there is a hiccup, but the graphics are more than serviceable.
Natsume Championship Wrestling has features not seen in other US professional wrestling games
The addition of tag team wrestling is welcome and it’s executed well. Unfortunately, players cannot customize teams, since they are all preset teams. Interestingly enough, many of them were teams during the 90s in All Japan.
Other modes include championship tournament and round robin tournaments. Round robins are common in Japanese wrestling and they consist of blocks where wrestlers will fight each other a few times. Winner with the most points based on their performance moves forward. It is yet another creative inclusion to Natsume Championship Wrestling that is sure to be a blast with friends.
The music is decent too, with several wrestler’s theme songs being highlights. Jun Akiyama/M. Roach’s is a standout. Although, the SNES soundtrack is changed from its original Japanese soundtrack. For example, the title screen are drastically different.
Strangely enough, All Japan’s founder, Giant Baba is not playable in the SNES version. Depending on the translation, neither is Mitsuharu Misawa who is one of puroresu’s biggest stars.
One of Gaming’s Undervalued Treasures
Natsume Championship Wrestling is exceptional and more fulfilling than the WWF games on the console. The tactical aesthetics and gameplay may be daunting to many players, but once they get in the groove, it’s fun. The game could even be a great introduction to Japanese professional wrestling.
Natsume Championship Wresting is not expensive to buy and can also be downloaded on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles for a few bucks. Any fan of ‘puroresu’ definitely check it out.