Time to kick off another year long challenge, methinks. Also, an excuse to play lots of games. First up, an N64 wrestling game that you probably haven’t played… or heard of.
Not that long ago, I wrapped up a 52-week challenge, writing a single short story per week for an entire year. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and it’ll be available as an eBook shortly.
At the same time, it left me pondering what to do next. At the same time, I started to slowly catalog and organise a bunch of my older games systems. As I’ve written about previously, I never set out to be a “game collector”. I just never got rid of anything!
Retro Gaming: It’s getting worse
The dark side of retro gaming
The problem with having a large games library and all those pesky adult responsibilities is that it doesn’t give me a whole lot of time for actual gaming. I’ve really got to put time aside to game these days, if I’m honest (something I wrote about here). That’s when the idea struck me: Why not do a year long writing challenge where I play retro games?
I think it’s a bit of winner (but then I would say that). Few particular rules, nothing’s out of bounds and I can write what I like. Some weeks it might be a review, or a reflection, or a guide, or a haiku, or maybe (time permitting) even video content.
Each week, I pick a new game and spend at least a few hours playing it before writing about the experience. There’s no shortage of titles to pick from. The only key rule is that I’m not allowed to make Bubble Bobble my weekly game until week 52, if I get that far.
On with the show.
Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation
Ask me what the best wrestling game of all time is, and I’ll inevitably namecheck WWF No Mercy. There are good wrestling games, just a few great wrestling games… and then there’s No Mercy. It’s based on what’s usually just called the “AKI Engine” (after the developers of the title), which was also used for WWF Wrestlemania 2000, WCW/nWO Revenge, WCW vs nWO World Tour and WCW vs The World, as well as a host of games after No Mercy, such as the early Def Jam games and a handful of Ultimate Muscle titles.
What’s that got to do with Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation?
Simply that it’s an N64 wrestling game not made by AKI, really. As an odd historical note, it’s by Yukes, who of course ended up being pretty much the last wrestling game studio standing, as they now do the WWE games each year, often with diminishing results. Back in 1998, though, this was where they were, producing a number of Toukon Retsuden games across multiple platforms.
A couple of years ago on a trip to Tokyo I made it a point to track down copies of Virtual Pro Wrestling and Virtual Pro Wrestling 2, both AKI engine games (essentially the Japan-only counterparts of the WCW games) with good reputations. Along the way, I spotted the Toukon Road N64 games, both quite cheap. So naturally, I had to pick them up, although up until now I hadn’t paid them that much attention.
I have to be honest here; my first impressions weren’t that great, simply because while in motion Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation looks a lot like the AKI games, in play it’s significantly more stilted. It’s somewhat like what would happen if you took the generally woeful Acclaim WWF engine of the same era and put it over the visuals of Virtual Pro Wrestling 2.
At first that’s all I thought Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation was, but a bit of extended play revealed some interesting depths. Yes, it’s more stilted in play animation and timing, but once you start to understand how it works, it becomes more fluid than the Acclaim games could hope for, and the slower animation gives moves a lot more impact.
This gives Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation a rather distinctly more Japanese wrestling feel. Specifically, because moves really do seem to have impact on players, it’s more of a strong style bout than the more fluid but distinctly more American themed AKI titles. You can win by pinfall or countout of course, but you’re much more likely to see a bout come down to a tense battle of submission holds.
Of note, Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation has really made me appreciate the humble ab stretch. It’s typically a rest hold style move in US Pro wrestling, but here you’ve got to seriously worry when you’re stuck in it, or indeed any other submission hold.
There are also a number of neat touches not found in the AKI games, from more elaborate entrances to an in-ring referee who audibly warns each wrestler if they’re cheating, or if they’re about to be counted out. Notably, you don’t have to break a hold at the ropes automatically. You can opt to keep it held to a five count if you’re playing proper heel style. It might even be the first wrestling game to think that way, as not many do even now.
The game’s roster gives you Shinya Hashimoto, Kensuke Sasaki, Tatsumi Fujinami,
Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima, Osamu Nishimura, Jushin “Thunder” Lyger, El Samurai, Koji Kanemoto, Shinjiro Ohtani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Kendo Ka Shin, Riki Chosyu, Power Warrior, Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, The Great Muta, Dr. Wagner Jr., Shiro Koshinaka, Antonio Inoki, Tiger King, Naoya Ogawa, Don Frye, Kazuo Yakazami and Genichiro Tenryu. Some of them are hidden at first according to the guides I’ve read (my Japanese isn’t that fluid and Google Translate can only take you so far), but for the understandably second-hand copy I bought, everyone was available.
If you didn’t follow Japanese wrestling back in the day (and I only really dipped my head into it lightly) this only gives you a few “known” names in the West. Historically speaking, though, the game is awash with great names, all of whom have quite distinct move sets. If I’ve got a complaint here, it’s that the understated visual style of most of the wrestlers makes them visually a bit indistinct from Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation’s default long view. Not an issue with Lyger, of course. That guy stands out wherever he goes.
After a week’s play, does Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation overtake No Mercy in my wrestling game heirarchy? No, it doesn’t — it’s still distinctly the “lesser” game. Still, against the fare that was otherwise available in PAL markets at the time (essentially WWF Attitude) it’s well ahead of that. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time this week, and instead broadened my retro wrestling game horizons.
I’m going to see if I can get some feedback for this one, just to mix things up a bit. As such, the choices for next week’s game are The Firemen (SNES), Blast Chamber (PSOne) or Donkey Konga (Gamecube). If you’ve read this and you’ve got a preference, then let me know!
If nobody votes, I’ll pick it myself. Comment below, or hit me up on Twitter.