Natsume Championship Wrestling (SNES)

Pub and Dev: Natsume | June 1994 | 16 MEGS

My brother Kevin and I were huge wrestling fans growing up. I remember in the early ’90s when Virgil, a WWF superstar, visited my local mall. I wanted to ask him, “Is wrestling real?” I was seven or eight. But when I got up to him and saw how big he was, I timidly handed him my Virgil trading card and said not a single word. I was in sheer awe. The question I had rehearsed in my head all week long and on the car ride over, it flew straight out the window the second I caught sight of those gigantic biceps.

Virgil signed my card, and he didn't charge me $50!
Still got my signed Virgil card to this very day ^_^

In the summer of ’94, my brother saw an ad for Natsume Championship Wrestling in EGM. The ad, much like the cover, was one of the cheesiest, most laughable ads I ever saw. Two wrestlers that hardly resembles any of the actual NCW combatants are seen sparring. The text read NATSUME CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING IS DEFINITELY THE MOST INCREDIBLY EXCITING GAME EVER DEVELOPED. IT WILL BLOW YOU AWAY!!

What an ad, huh?
What an ad, huh?

Well hot damn. Say no more. I’m sold. Ah, the innocence of youth. In addition, it had a ton of engrish. And just what in the BLUE HELL is a “Jumping Kneepat” … “Shoulder Through” … “Kitchen Sink” … EH? O_o

My brother then uttered the words I’d heard a hundred times before…

“Steve, go rent it this weekend.”

I wanted Double Dragon V but couldn't betray my bro
I wanted Double Dragon V but couldn’t betray my bro

And so, it was that Friday night that my dad and I were off to the rental shops. No store had NCW except Ultimate Video — the new gigantic mom ‘n pop that opened circa spring of ’94. I remember seeing Double Dragon V and wanting to rent that instead. But I had a direct objective to see through. My dad checked the game out and we stopped by Burger King to grab dinner on the way home. Hey, isn’t it kind of funny how our brains remember the most random little details? Man, I remember it as if it only happened yesterday…

I opted to stay in the car. Ultimate Video did a rarity in those days… they included the game’s manual. Sitting there in the faint orange glow of the street lamp, I studied the extensive manual. To this day it’s a vivid memory that’s stuck with me all these years later.

Read this outside a Burger King summer of '94, heh
Read this outside a Burger King summer of ’94, heh

I remember being impressed by the large move set. Most wrestling games of that era simply didn’t have very many moves. Here you had different moves for the SAME button! All you had to do was hit left, right, up or down to do a different maneuver. Maybe the ad wasn’t lying. Maybe this was indeed the most incredibly exciting game ever developed. But then I spotted some funny errors in the manual. What the hell is a slipper hold? And why is Conan 6’9″ when he’s 6’0″? The game received extremely limited exposure in magazines. I was beginning to think I should have gone with Double Dragon V [Yeah like that one turned out so hot -Ed.]

Long story short(er), we ended up loving this game. It’s a shame that NCW has never really been in the spotlight like it deserves. So without further ado, let’s see why this game is the most incredibly exciting game ever developed. Or at least, why it’s a damn fine wrestling title, anyhow.

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What is Technostasy? Why is there no space in between since and 1987? What an odd bunch! [You’re one to talk -Ed.]

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There are five modes in all. If you play against the computer you can choose from easy, medium or hard. With friends, it’s possible to have 12 players via the Round Robin Tag Match, though obviously not simultaneously. Don’t start on hard if you’re new and wish to keep your teeth intact. The system is based on timing, not rapid button mashing (thank goodness) but for newbies it’ll take a while to get the timing down pat.

FEEL THE POWER!

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ncwgreen

ncwyellow

ncwred

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ncwblack

The energy bar system is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Like Vampire Savior (but much earlier, mind), when you take damage it’s possible to recuperate health. However, the more damage you take, the slower the healing. There are six bars. Blue, green, yellow, red, dark red and black. I found it innovative as hell back in ’94.

It’s bloody ace. Other wrestling games of that era had one energy bar, with no healing potential. Think of all those WWF games, Saturday Night Slam Masters and so forth. You’ll never look at an energy bar in a wrestling game quite the same again after playing NCW.

In tag matches this feature especially shines. Tag out with your health on dark red, two minutes later tag back in and you’ll find your health in the green. Therefore, tag team strategy in this game more closely mimics the real thing than other wrestling games of that era.

And nothing satisfies more than beating someone up SO bad that his health recovers at a snail-like pace! That’s when you know you’ve truly given someone a legit beat down.

THE WRESTLERS

There are 12 in all, with three different body shapes: big, medium and small. Let’s meet these barbaric savages now shall we?

asteroidASTEROID

6’4″
269 pounds

My favorite. According to the manual he has won many championships and bloody hell, he does one mean face slam!

faceslam
Do this close to the ropes
WHIPLASH CITY!
WHIPLASH CITY!

 

conan-ncwCONAN

6’0″
259 pounds

One of only two medium body types, Conan does one hell of a moonsault! Maybe it’s the name, maybe it’s the unique look, but I always thought Conan was one cool ass dude.

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Beautiful moonsault. No one does it better. Because nobody else can even do a moonsault! Always been a fan of Conan because of this very fact.

viperVIPER

6’1″
248 pounds

Fast as lightning, with some of the game’s coolest moves, thanks to the fact that they belong only to him. I liked his unique blue tights with the fangs, and his blue hair was quite a riot back in ’94. Viper was my brother’s second favorite wrestler in this game

Wicked spinning heel kick!
Wicked spinning heel kick!

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Viper delivers one hell of a flying elbow drop. Somewhere the Macho Man Randy Savage is looking down with a grin on his kisser. “OOOH YEAH!”

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Small in stature perhaps, but don’t underestimate the little guy’s strength. He pulls off a mean powerslam. The snap is so smooth and crisp on that sucker.

phantomPHANTOM

6’0″
258 pounds

Palette swap? Shh, Natsume knows no such thing. Phantom has that devious look down to a science, but unfortunately lacks cool moves. As such, my brother and I hardly ever picked him as our choice wrestler. He was fun as hell to beat up, though!

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Nice cross chop to the throat though. Ooof!

spikencwSPIKE

6’4″
279 pounds

Spike is the tallest bloke in NCW at shockingly just 6’4″ — it would have been cool to see a 7 footer in this game. Spike sports one hell of a tan. Hmm, he reminds me of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. My brother and I used to hype up Spike as one tough customer because he reminded us so much of Jake Roberts, who was one certified badass.

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Spike even finishes off his opponents with a DDT, much like Jake himself. However, Spike adds a little twist — it’s a jumping DDT. Ouch.

jkrazeJ. KRAZE

6’3″
277 pounds

He sure could use Spike’s tan, eh? A former mental patient, he’s earned his name for good reason! My brother and I used to love beating up J. Kraze. We got a kick out of his “crazy” backstory and the fact that his last name is “Kraze.” Oh Natsume, you bastards you.

Look at all that cray cray
All that cray cray…

I mean, just look at that kisser! He’s a psychopath! Nothing beats beating up crazy folk…

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Clothesline from hell! The victim will receive a NASTY whiplash if near the ropes.

bigapeBIG APE

6’2″
322 pounds

Big Ape is the heaviest competitor but I was always disappointed at his lack of height. I wish they made him a towering 6 foot 10 or even 7 foot tall. A King Kong Bundy clone, Big Ape knows how to throw his weight around!

Wrong side of town, Phantom...
Wrong side of town, Phantom…

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It’s like using Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr. in Super Mario Kart. You don’t want to be bumping (no pun intended) into this guy!

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Avalanche Slam wipes out the competition. Love this finishing move. I always thought it was super cool and often wondered why no wrestlers in real life use this move. It’s like a running powerslam without the running, but the way Big Ape spikes them, with all of his 322 pounds crashing on them, is devastating.

hsnakeH. SNAKE

5’9″
245 pounds

No knee pads? Is he mad, or just plain dumb? I hate this guy. I always take great pleasure in beating him up. He looks like the kind of guy you just want to pummel! My brother and I never used H. Snake. He was kind of a lame design to be honest! And his moves weren’t very interesting.

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Clothesline him against the ropes. Then smack ‘im in the face, bouncing him off the ropes, before he can counter.

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Cap off the combo by evading the punch and nailing a sick standing dropkick.

fangzFANGZ

6’1″
262 pounds

Fangz may be the dullest of them all. Basically a swap of Asteroid but hardly any fun to play as. He doesn’t even have the cool tights of Viper or H. Snake. He’s just there and very forgettable.

fangz1fangz2fangz3

 

 

 

 

Delivers one decent power bomb, though.

pythonncwPYTHON

6’2″
302 pounds

Hmmm, Viper, Fangz, H. Snake, now Python?! Snake fetish, much? This fool is mad strong! Arguably has the best looking move in the game too. His throwing power bomb is a sight to behold.

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Decapitation city — what a brutal looking clothesline!

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Python’s throwing power bomb is a beautiful sight. You can even throw them out of the ring with this move!

mroachM. ROACH

5’9″
229 pounds

Roach was my bro’s favorite. Easy to see why. Not only is he great fun to play as, but those are some killer trunks! Plus that name is a hoot. M. Roach. Weird enough that it sticks with you.

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His running hip toss is smooth AF!

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He’s got a pretty sweet legdrop too. He gets great height on it.

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Exclusive to Roach is this super excellent looking neckbreaker! Great animation. Like everything he does, it’s smooth as butter. Love the crash of the mat as Roach drives his opponent into the canvas.

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Phantom is dazed as Roach goes for the kill.

Killer missile dropkick!
Killer missile dropkick!

kbrutoK. BRUTO

6’2″
312 pounds

A 3-time champion, Bruto lives up to his moniker. He’s got some of the game’s most brutal moves. Check out his finishing move below. It never fails to make me wince a bit on the inside whenever I see it.

highangledpbhighangledpb1highangledpb2

 

 

 

 

His high angled power bomb will compress your spinal cord and crack your skull. I like how K. Bruto and Python have different power bombs. Poor Fangz though just has a regular power bomb as his finishing move. Like I said, Fangz is forgettable.

THE GAME

Tries to cop Street Fighter II a bit with this
Tries to cop Street Fighter II a bit with this

Post match quotes even rear their ugly head in NCW. I guess no brawler of any sort was safe in those days, no? By the way, some of the comments are hilarious I recall. “Wow, he’s heavy” just feels so random. And the excuse of twisting your ankle during the match? It’s got a funky little sense of humor.

Take the fight outside for more destruction
Take the fight outside for more destruction
Reach out and touch somebody [Har har -Ed.]
Reach out and touch somebody [Har har -Ed.]
Go to sleep, GO TO SLEEP...
Go to sleep, go to sleeeep

When you pick up an opponent, he sits up half way. From here you can pick him up again so that he stands, or leave him sitting, whereby you can kick the back of his skull or wrench his neck in a sleeper hold! I always liked this versatility.

Blood? Only for Roach, oddly
Blood? Just a smidgen

Although no weapons like chairs and broken beer bottles are available, the steel barricades make for a great ally. Try and time it so you can follow up with a killer clothesline combination, right as this animation expires. Simple but highly effective stuff!

QUIRKY BLACK HUMOR TRICKS

This is a neat little "trick"
This is a neat little “trick”

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My brother and I nearly fell out of our chairs when we first saw this back in the summer of ’94. We were just messing around as usual, wondering if we could knock the other guy off the apron. We figured we couldn’t, but we had to try anyway. Imagine our shock when we saw that it worked. Nothing beats knocking him off right as the computer tries to go for the tag ;)

You’ve seen how the ropes can come into play (i.e. face slam, clothesline) for a nice added whiplash effect. You’ve seen the dirty tag team tactic. There are some others but I have to show this one…

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You’ll need to use a faster wrestler (i.e. Viper) and it only works against a bigger, slower guy (i.e. Big Ape). On the outside, fling them toward the far left of the screen. As soon as you do, RUN. By the time they get to the other side of the ring if you time it right you can actually knock them down! It’s completely satisfying and a bit demoralizing for them. My brother and I played NCW to death back in the day so we knew all the “tricks” of the trade. The game was amazingly deep for its time, especially for the US market. There was no other wrestling game like this.

Ah, the "monkey" commentators. Good times
Ah, the “monkey” commentators. Good times

My mom never cared for gaming. She never bothered to stop and watch me play. However, there was something about Natsume Championship Wrestling that caught her eye. Maybe it was all the devious whiplash tricks, or the catch-you-from-behind spot, but my mom used to stop and watch my brother I play NCW. She would be doing her chores, then she’d hear laughter roaring from the game room. She’d poke her head in and actually watch us play for a bit. She never did that with any other game. One day she made the comment “Are those guys monkeys?” My brother and I never noticed it prior, but they did look a bit like monkeys, so my bro and I started calling them the “monkey commentators.” It’s just one of those funky memories that has stuck.

MORE NCW MEMORIES… AND THE DAY IT DIED

After my brother and I enjoyed the heck out of Natsume Championship Wrestling, we decided it was a game we were going to buy, once it went on budget. Sure enough, one year later we were browsing the SNES game aisle at Toys R Us in good ol’ 1995.

And there it was, like a beacon of light.

NCW on clearance for $19.99.

I grabbed that classic Toys R Us game slip — it turned out to be the last one!

We played NCW for a good long time. My mom would casually walk by and actually stand there to watch for a minute or two. She couldn’t care less for video games, but something about the barbaric game tactics (rope whiplash trick, catch-you-from-behind, etc.) appealed to her, and of course, the outlandish chimp commentators. Looking back, those were truly the good old days…

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We played together mostly, but when against, I usually got the better of him.

We played NCW well into 1997. It was loads of fun, but one day, my brother finally “laid the game to rest” — as they might say.

“Hey, let’s play NCW,” I said.

“Naw, I had enough of it.”

“What? One more time… c’mon.”

“We’ve played it to death…”

And he was right. We had slammed J. Kraze’s crazy ass probably a zillion times, crushed Snake’s wind pipe five hundred thousand times and sent Spike to the hospital more times than I could count. We truly exhausted the game for all it was worth. With my brother retiring from NCW, so too did I. It was a sad day, but inevitable. Such is the life of video games…

WHERE HAVE I SEEN YOU BEFORE?

Notice the name there? JULIE...
Notice the name in the bottom right corner?? JULIE…

The person who did the artwork for NCW, Julie Bell, also did several other gaming covers. I thought the work looked familiar. I did some research and I found out Julie Bell also worked on these games. After you see the artwork you can kind of see her style. For years I noticed a “Julie” on some of my SNES games but never bothered to look it up. It’s nice to solve this little mystery. You already saw Double Dragon V earlier in this review. That was a Julie piece of work. Here are some others…

juliencw
Splatterhouse 3 (March 1993)
Run Saber (June 1993)
Run Saber (June 1993)
Eternal Champions (December 1993)
Eternal Champions (December 1993)
King of Dragons (April 1994)
King of Dragons (April 1994)
Demon's Crest (October 1994)
Demon’s Crest (October 1994)

Good stuff there, Julie! I always liked these covers. Well, aside from the NCW one. Sorry but that one is a bit hideous based on the fact that the drawn wrestlers don’t match the actual in-game wrestlers! But other than that, nice work Julie!

ZEN NIPPON PRO WRESTLING TRILOGY

NCW was based off the Zen Nippon games
NCW was based off the Zen Nippon games

If you enjoy NCW then I highly recommend Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling Budokan. It’s the third and final game in the trilogy, and features more wrestlers, more moves and a sweet Fatal Four Way match. To be honest it pretty much renders NCW a bit obsolete as it’s everything NCW is and more. Still, I appreciate the generic localization of NCW’s wrestlers and they have a bit of personality to them that makes it worth revisiting once in a blue moon for that odd nostalgic rush. Plus, it never hurts to beat up J. Kraze one last time.

There's a devious aspect to the Fatal Four Way
Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling Budokan is awesome!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thanks for the memories, NCW

February 20, 2006.

A little over a month into my SNES resurrection, I re-bought NCW to relive not only the memories, but just to play again a very good wrestling game.

And sometimes good memories obscure a game’s flaws… well, not the case here! NCW still holds up well but of course Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling Budokan is essentially an upgraded model. Still, when viewed on its own, NCW certainly holds it own.

Unlike other wrestling games from that time period, the move set was extensive, the grapple system relied on timing (much like the awesome Fire Pro series) and there were so many nice touches. Got your opponent on the ground? Stomp his face or his knees. Do an elbowdrop. A kneedrop. Fling them into the ropes? Backdrop. Clothesline. Running hiptoss. The list goes on and on. Y is for weak moves, B for medium and A for power. If you attempt too strong a move on a fresh opponent they will counter! They must be sufficiently weakened before you can slap your finisher on them.

The first time you witness a running clothesline followed by your opponent ducking seamlessly into a back suplex you will go, “OH NO! But damn if that wasn’t sick.”

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While the graphics don’t match that of a Saturday Night Slam Masters, its gameplay is simply unrivaled. There is no comparison between NCW and any other American SNES wrestling game. NCW also has nice sound and music too. Actually, quite catchy indeed.

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Here’s another cool twist — instead of 2 going to 3 — there’s 2.5 and 2.9 first. If you kick out during these close counts, the fans can be heard stomping in unison from the rafters!

The wealth of moves and how extremely playable it is makes ita shame this game went under the radar as much as it did. There was ZERO coverage in GameFan and EGM only had a one page preview in their May ’94 issue. Neither publication reviewed the game. It also came out the same time as arcade champion Saturday Night Slam Masters. Tough way to break in, eh?

What a shame. It deserved so much better.

What is the best American SNES wrestling game?

Without hesitation I’d say it’s

ncwlogo

It’s not the most incredibly exciting game ever developed. BUT… it is pretty damn good.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Longevity: 7.5

Overall: 8.5

Double Silver Award
Double Silver Award

 

 

 

There's my guy! Rock on, Asteroid. Rock on
There’s my guy! Rock on, Asteroid. Rock on

 

 

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