For my money, artists such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Bob Fosse don’t hold a candle to men like Ric “Nature Boy” Flair or Kerry Von Erich. Nor can Pavarotti or Maria Callas match the passion and drama of performers like Gorgeous George or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Professional wrestling is the finest of fine arts, and damn the eyes of anyone who tries to say otherwise.
In the past, I’ve written about games like the NES classic “Pro Wrestling,” and the Game Boy title “WWF Superstars,” but today I’m travelling even further back in videogame history. This trip takes us all the way back to 1983, before The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff captured the WWF Tag Team Championship under the watchful eye of “Classy” Fred Blassie.
The game Tag Team Wrestling was developed by Technos Japan. Originally released in the Land of the Rising Sun, the game did not debut in the United States until 1984, appearing first as an arcade game before being ported to the Commodore 64 and Apple II. The best known version of the game was released in 1986 for the NES.
As the name suggests, gameplay involved taking control of a professional wrestling tag team. In the NES version, you could choose between the Strong Bads (a name which inspired the internet character “Strong Bad” in the Homestar Runner cartoons) and the Ricky Fighters. You then took part in a series of matches to claim various titles. Three wins earned you the American Championship, eight earned you the European Championship, fifteen wins carried you to the rank of World Champion, and twenty five wins garnered the ultimate title of Super Champion. If, during the course of your climb, you happened to lose a match, you dropped down a level.
The Ricky Fighters were the face (a wrestling term which means the good guys), while the Strong Bads were the heels. Your wrestlers could perform a variety of moves, including body slams, drop kicks, back breakers, flying headbutts, and more. Like real professional wrestling, fights took place inside and outside the ring. Weapons could be found while outside the ring should you be inclined to have a little extra aid while fighting your battle. However, you only had until the count of 20 to climb back in the ring or you would lose the match.
You had an energy level that you had to keep track of as you fought. You won by pinning your opponent or by making them give up. To break out of a pin, you had to frantically pound the “B” button to increase your energy until you could kick out of the pin. Before your energy got too low, you could run and tag in your partner.
A peculiarity of the game was how you selected your moves. You didn’t press a combination of buttons and directional keys as you would in other fighting games. Instead, your move was determined by the number of times you hit the “B” button. It worked like this, once you engaged an enemy in a grapple, a menu would appear and you had to quickly hit the keys the proper number of times to select your desired move. There were eight total possibilities.
Later games would have more sensible controls and (obviously) better graphics, but I’m reluctant to be too critical. After all, the game is the whole reason the world was eventually blessed with Strong Bad Emails. That enough should cement its place in history.