With the popularity of Human’s Fire Pro Wrestling series in the early-mid ’90s, Natsume counteracted with their (underrated) Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling trilogy. They even Americanized a version of this, calling it Natsume Championship Wrestling, which came out on the Super Nintendo market in June 1994. I have fond memories of NCW, so it was a great deal of fun to play the original Japanese version.
Growing up in the late ’80s a kid only needed two things really: Nintendo and Hulk Hogan. I still remember how my uncle would watch Saturday Night’s Main Event with me and my brother. As well as that time he took us to the mall to get an autograph from visiting WWF superstar Virgil. It was a great time.
ZEN NIPPON PRO WRESTLING is an excellent wrestling game featuring solid graphics, good sound and terrific gameplay. The grapple system relies on timing rather than speed. You have weak, medium and power attacks during grapple. The energy bar is perhaps my favorite thing about these games. The “whiplash rope” trick is pretty damn cool too… more on this later on.
EGM introduced me to this series when they ran a cool little preview back in 1994.
Your energy bar starts out BLUE.
The bar decreases as damage is taken, revealing these colors in sequence:
Like Capcom’s Vampire Savior, health can be recuperated. For example, you recover health when you’re on the apron resting during a tag match. When you eat a move, like a power bomb or dropkick, you lose the proper amount of health but your energy will recover at a decent pace. However, the more damage you sustain, the slower your energy will recuperate. Brilliant.
Japanese wrestling legend Giant BABA is no match for the younger and quicker Patriot. I dig the simple, colorful visuals. That health bar system was innovative for its time!
There was a subtle sense of black humor, too. You can knock the opposition silly right before they can make the tag. Or even knock out their partner off the apron right as they’re going for the hot tag!
As good of a first entry as this was, the follow-up made some vast improvements.
ZEN NIPPON PRO WRESTLING DASH was released only five months after the first one. It’s more of an upgrade than a sequel. Like the original, 16 wrestlers are available. So what’s new? Besides minor roster changes, the focus is now on tag team play, though the first game had tag team modes as well. The difference here? Tag team moves.
OK, I know what you’re thinking
“Tag team combo moves. BIG DEAL!”
That’s why, to save Dash from being simply a hack cash-in, they included…
This mode is a wild free-for-all providing great multiplayer action. There are no energy bars cluttering the screen. The only way to win is via pin fall or submission. Over-the-top-rope doesn’t matter here — hell, you can take the battle outside if you wish.
The mat on the outside even has a different (more brutal sounding) sound effect as compared to the ring mat. Great attention to detail and made slamming fools on the outside all the more satisfying.
The third and final game of the trilogy, however, is by far the best of the bunch.
Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling 2:3-4 Budokan (yes, I know it’s an incredibly weird and awkward title) is my favorite SNES wrestling game. I even prefer it over Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium, which I just reviewed earlier today. While I don’t think it’s technically better than Premium, I do find it to be slightly more fun. There’s a difference between what one considers to be their favorite versus what one considers to be the best. Let’s see what makes this final game in the Zen Nippon trilogy so good.
A CLASSIC FORMULA
Similar to the Fire Pro games, Natsume chose wisely when they decided to make the Zen Nippon games based on timing rather than button mashing. When two wrestlers go to lock up, the first to press an attack button right as the two combatants touch hands will win that grapple. However, if you use a medium or power based attack early on, it may be countered as the opposition might still be too strong. Therefore, you must weaken them bit by bit until you can pull out the heavy hitters (power bombs, pile drivers and so forth). It made for progressive matches that flowed nicely, like real life wrestling matches on TV. You don’t see wrestlers hitting their big power moves right after the opening bell (well at least you don’t in most cases). It’s a classic formula that works and has stood the test of time.
PICK FROM 19 WRESTLING SUPERSTARS
They’re all actual real wrestlers that competed in Japan back in the ’80s or ’90s. My favorite is this guy…
Asteroid was my favorite wrestler from Natsume Championship Wrestling which was a 1994 Super Nintendo release based off Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling. Man, did my brother and I have some good times with NCW. From buying the last copy at Toys R Us in ’95 for its clearance price of $19.99 to all the late evenings we spent glued to the TV screen waging war in tag team battle. Even my mom, who never cared for video games, would occasionally stop whatever chore she was doing to glance at the game. My bro and I played NCW to death for a good number of years until we finally laid it to rest in 1997 when one day my bro simply refused to play it. It was a sad day, but such is the life of video games, I suppose. Thanks for all the good times and fond memories, NCW! You and all your cheesy charm will never be forgotten.
WHY BUDOKAN IS THE BEST IN THE TRILOGY
Press ‘A’ to hold. If you catch your opponent, you can hit Y for a weak move, B for a medium move, A for a power move or X to sling them into the ropes. It allows you to skip the grappling process but be warned, your opponent can still counter if they’re too strong.
Just like in the previous games, the 2.5 and 2.9 dramatic counts return. These close counts result in the audience stomping in unison causing the screen to shake. Adds nicely to the drama and intensity of a match.
OUCH, nothing says pain like taking a missile dropkick straight to the mush!
Akira’s face slam is devastating enough on its own. But when combined with the top cable rope? It’s downright dirty.
Jackhammer?! Close enough. In real life Akira used this move which he called Chichubu Cement. Odd name, sick looking move. The crash of the mat sounds extra loud on this move in particular, and never fails to make me wince a little on the inside.
Chichubu Cement against the ropes! Now that definitely makes me wince.
Undertaker would be proud. Love those flashing cameras. Totally captures the spirit of pro wrestling in the mid ’90s!
Akira also delivers one mean power bomb. But wait, there’s a twist here…
There are actually two versions of it! To execute Akira’s power bomb, press A to catch them in a hold first. Then press up or down + A. Tap A once for a regular release power bomb. But tap A multiple times and Akira will turn it into a pinning power bomb! The first time I discovered this by pure accident of button mashing for the hell of it, I almost fell out of my chair. It’s such a deep game, only second to Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium.
Akira just heaves them like they were yesterday’s garbage. I love the ability to do moves from behind — the previous two games didn’t allow this.
Samoan drop and a beauty! Budokan added in quite a few new moves the previous two games didn’t have.
Beautiful frog splash — Eddie Guerrero would be proud.
WHAT IS THE ACTUAL BUDOKAN MODE?
First, check out the cool entrances. Most wrestlers wear some sort of special t-shirt or robe that they only wear during their ring entrances. Good stuff. Baba is PIMPING!
Budokan is a unique mode where you book the wrestling matches. The arena starts out looking rather sorry and sparse, but depending on the quality of your booked matches, more fans fill in as the evening progresses. It’s a cool little niche mode but it’s not my favorite.
This is a bit tricky. If you hit start you’ll begin the tournament which is meh. But if you press start on OPTION you actually open up the game’s various modes. Kind of weird, huh?
The Fatal Four Way leads to some good old fashion arcade-esque fun and chaos. Bum rushing folks from behind is oddly one of the greatest pleasures in multi-player history. There’s just something about attacking your friends from behind that will cause you to grin like a Cheshire cat. Trust me when I say… it’s priceless.
Like in Natsume Championship Wrestling, the ropes can be your friend if used wisely. You can actually ram them into the ropes, bouncing them off! This makes a neat sound effect as you watch in pure joy at the clever brutality and sheer violence of it all. It’s viciously, deviously violent.
Part of the fun is waiting in the wings, then rush attacking the opponent in the middle of his wrestling move. Here we see a well-timed dropkick in the middle of a suplex. All three bodies crash loudly to the mat, but of course only you get up immediately. The others? Licking their sore wounds on the canvas! Sweet.
Indeed, taking out two wrestlers at the same time, particularly nailing one in front and the other from behind, is too damn fun. You can imagine the chaos and temporary allegiances this may create when playing against friends.
If anyone is foolish enough to taunt during a Fatal Four Way match, it’s your civic and rightful duty to remind them why doing so is not a good idea. Hey, someone’s gotta do the dirty work… don’t mind if I do!
On average, my Fatal Four Way matches roughly go anywhere from about eight to 12 minutes. The real fun lies in trying to see how long you can prolong the torture of the three other wrestlers. You can break up pin falls by pressing ‘B’ to stomp, but it doesn’t always work, oddly enough. My longest time was 24 minutes and 38 seconds. However, on my last play-through, it went a record long 51 minutes and 28 seconds! After Patriot and Eagle were eliminated, this damn fool refused to lose. He kicked out at 2.5 and 2.9 at least 30 times. He was a man possessed. I hit him with about 15 missile dropkicks yet, like Freddy or Jason, dude kept coming back for more. I never saw anything like it before. After a back breaking power bomb, he finally submitted to my foul desires. It’s just fun to see how long you can keep a match going with all three guys, then two, then finally one. It’s like some sick game within a game type thing. I know, I’m weird. But damn if this isn’t fun.
Whenever the fight spills outside the ring, there’s a decent chance one of the computer wrestlers will be counted out. They stay out there no matter what until the count of six. Also, when they’ve been beaten to a pulp, the first submission animation leads to a submission victory. It’s trickier than you think to keep all three computer opponents alive, and it’s fun to see how long you can take them to the limit. Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling Budokan is largely a dream come true for this ol’ wrestling fan. I see something new almost every time I play it. The other night Patriot and Eagle actually did a tag team move in the Fatal Four Way match to take out Kobashi. It was a suplex-top rope splash combination. That same match I discovered that Akira Taue can counter a rope reversal by hitting UP + Y or B, which produces a DDT! Speaking of Akira, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out he had two different power bombs (based on whether you press A once or tap it a few times). The depth of this wrestling game is second only to Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium.
Budokan took everything that worked in the first two games and cranked it up even further. Budokan offers more wrestlers, more moves, a superb Fatal Four Way match, better gameplay, better graphics and so on. This is one of those games I can pop in after a long day, play for even just 10 minutes and be satisfied with each and every time. It’s just a bloody brilliant fun time — especially for wrestling fanatics like myself.
Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling Budokan is my favorite wrestling game on the SNES. If only the game featured WCW and WWF guys, it would be flawless. Imagine using guys like Sting, Undertaker, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels with this graphic style and gameplay system. Alas, we get 19 All Japan Pro Wrestling stars. They’re not bad but I don’t connect with them as I do with the more well known American wrestlers of mid ’90s fame. But I digress. Combining the arcade-like fun and chaos of Saturday Night Slam Masters with Fire Pro’s purity, Budokan is a gem that deserves more props. Bravo, Natsume!
Gotta love those lovely entrances, complete with the wrestler’s theme music!