Let's be honest here: wrestling is essentially one big television drama, and that's no way an attempt to belittle the incredible athleticism of the men and women involved. It's Eastenders with a mullet and tight pants, complete with plot twists and a cast of larger than life characters to root for. These heels and faces are the reason we come back week in, week out.
Natsume Championship Wrestling's biggest problem is that it doesn't have characters as such, just a suite of bland meat-heads of varying height, tweaked outfits and slightly different haircuts. Where are the mad personas? We want someone with a bit of personality, not some chap called K. Bruto who looks like a bloated Eddie Van Halen after eating a very large carvery dinner.
Their move sets are largely the same too, save for each wrestler's unique finisher and a few aesthetic differences here and there. Some fighters prefer a running clothesline to a dropkick, for example, but the effect is largely the same – you're still knocking some bloke down to the canvas. It just feels a little flat and lacking in imagination.
Aside from the familiar move-sets Natsume's combat mechanic is quite technical, and we actually had to consult an online fan FAQ to really understand all of the conditional moves and little nuances required to win our first match. The first encounter was a slaughter that saw our six-foot behemoth tossed around like a frisbee until they got pinned. It was embarrassing.
But the more time you spend with this game, the more it starts to reveal a degree of depth. In something of a missed trick there is no practice mode to help you learn the ropes – all you get are two-player exhibition matches, so you have to be prepared to learn through several crushing defeats before it all clicks. The first rule is to not mash buttons when locked into a clinched grapple and, instead, simply input your next move before the opponent does to punish them. Spamming commands will make you lose out every time.
It only gets more layered from there, as there are different commands for picking up your foe when they're laid flat out or stunned in a sitting position. Things you would think simple – such as climbing up on the turnbuckle or tagging in your buddy during a 2v2 match-up are complex and require a trip to the manual or, again, a guide to fully understand.
This is both a plus and a minus in our book, because depth and technicality are rarely negative features in fighting games, but when those rules are obscured, it can often sap the fun out of your experience. All we're saying is: be prepared to invest time into learning this game. Once you know the rules solo play almost becomes redundant on easy and normal modes, because you'll figure out how to time commands so that you win every grapple.
We almost perfected our way through every round of the game's Championship Tournament mode, which shouldn't really happen, but for some reason the CPU mostly tries to throw you. All you have to do is input your next move as soon as their arms lock and you'll never fail. Hard mode narrows the throw window considerably, but chances are you'll still win constantly.
And so it falls to multiplayer to pick this game's broken body off the mat and into the squared-circle of fun. Up to four players can participate here – although the original SNES cart allowed for six with controller port extenders. There are 2v2 tag matches and a round robin mode that can be tailored to include a selection of wrestlers.
It's much more fun with a second person because the grappling feels less mechanical, and it really does become a game of discipline and patience. If you mash inputs to break out of a clinch first you'll easily fail and eat a suplex sandwich for your carelessness, while level- headed players will get their timing down and dish out the hurt before their buddy.
There are some cases where mashing is encouraged and is actually quite fun – such as getting up after a throw, breaking out of submission holds and trying to shrug of your opponent when pinned. There's always something endearing about local play games that involve a degree of mashing, as it creates tension in the room and a playful competitiveness that's often lost in modern online fighters. To that end there's certainly a degree of rose-tinted nostalgia tucked into this game's tight black trunks.
This is no Fire Pro Wrestling, but Natsume's effort is worth looking at if you're a fan of the sport, and if you have other people to play with. You should absolutely avoid this one if you intend on playing solo, however, because it really does become soulless quite fast, thanks in part to the bland roster and predictable CPU.
Natsume Championship Wrestling is passable, but it's surely no slobberknocker – whatever that means. We're not exactly sure.