A sort of precursor to Fire ProWrestling, by Human Entertainment themselves… but definitely not as good.
It was inevitable that in the course of covering these old game system libraries, we’d eventually get to a wrestling game. The trouble here is not that I dislike pro wrestling, but rather that I measure my disinterest in and aversion for the sport on a scale of magnitude normally reserved for stellar bodies. I can suffer through most sports games and know enough about the real things to have a pretty decent sense of that adaptation’s quality. I can even enjoy games about sports if they’re made well — Nintendo’s Golf, for example.
When it comes to wrestling, though, I’d rather just, y’know, tap out. So what you’re about to read is definitely not the best indication of whether or not HAL Wrestling is any good; please hunt down actual informed opinions if this game seems interesting to you. To be honest, though, I can’t seem to find an online consensus over the quality of this game. It seems to have inspired some genuine enthusiasm in some corners of the internet, with superlatives like “excellent” and “almighty” be tossed about in reference to HAL Wrestling. On the other hand, it also appears have elicited quite a few dismissive waves of the hand. So while I can say I got zero mileage out of this game, your mileage will seemingly vary according to whatever mysterious factors determine the quality of a wrestling game.
As for HAL Wrestling — despite the title, this is not a game developed by HAL; the company merely published it. Instead, it was developed for HAL by the legendary Human Entertainment. While that studio flickered from existence way back at the turn of the millennium, with its talent drifting to the wind and its properties carved up and parceled out like a Thanksgiving turkey, Human’s brief time on this earth gave us some of the most revered wrestling games ever. For that, we can most likely thank the late Masato Masuda, a young game design savant with a particular fondness for pro wrestling; I have to assume my utter lack of enthusiasm for the sport simply reflects the fact that Masuda’s love for wrestling was so intense it acted like a black hole, draining away the fanaticism that should have been my birthright.
In fact, Masuda made his debut with a game called Pro Wrestling — as in the NES “black box” game. We’ll get to that one in due time on NES Works, but it’s worth mentioning here because HAL Wrestling was actually called Pro Wrestling in Japan (whereas the NES game was Pro Wrestling: Famicom Wrestling Association over there). Pro Wrestling for NES was directed by Masuda under the auspices of a company called TRY, which changed its name a short while later to… Human Entertainment. Curiously, though, Masuda doesn’t appear to have had any involvement with HAL Wrestling, if the game’s credits are to be believed. But considering he was the wrestling savant at the company responsible for its creation and it plays an awful lot like his other work, certainly he looms large over the production.
Masuda’s greatest legacy, of course, is the Fire ProWrestling series, which debuted on PC Engine in 1989 and generally stands as a sort of platonic ideal for how wrestling video games should work. Currently that property belongs to Spike Chunsoft, who launched a new entry in the franchise in 2017 after a very lengthy slumber.
HAL Wrestling plays quite a bit like Fire Pro, with an emphasis on grappling, a remarkable variety of moves, and generally a more “realistic” approach to wrestling than competing games, which tend to work more like fighters or brawlers. Fire Pro is not pretty (especially the new one), but what the games lack in visual appeal they make up for with depth and substance. However, HAL Wrestling does not belong to the Fire Pro franchise, perhaps because it was commissioned by HAL while Fire Pro was one of Human’s rare and precious self-owned properties. Or maybe it’s not called Fire Pro because it lacks Fire Pro‘s distinctive isometric visual style. Or simply because Masuda didn’t have any involvement in its development.
Rather, its lead designer was one Yuuichi Kobayashi, whose other credits appear to be a melange of Human and Konami titles, including Vasteel, Clock Tower, and The Adventures of Bayou Billy. However, he had also worked on the original Fire ProWrestling — not as a lead, but it seems likely that his involvement in that breakout title would have played a part in his landing the lead role for this offshoot in the portable ghetto. Whatever the full lineage, you can definitely see some sort of family connection here. Even a wrestling idiot like me can recognize the commonality between HAL Wrestling and Fire Pro.
Much like Fire Pro, HAL Wrestling emphasizes grappling, holds, and pins over your typical fighting game moves like punches and kicks. Certainly you can pull off simple blows, or even do a running attack from the ropes, but ultimately to win a match here you need to enter the clutch, or whatever they call it in wrestling.
The game also resembles a scaled-down take on Fire Pro in some other ways. It has a simple one-on-one career mode in which your wrestler of choice can take on a succession of competitors, but it also has a three-on-three exhibition mode — a trimmed counterpart to Fire Pro’s five-on-five skirmishes. Oh, and while there’s no build-a-wrestler function, it does feature a decent cast of original characters. Instead, it follows in the trend of most of its contemporaries and does the “like a real sports personage but tweaked just enough to avoid the need to pay image rights” thing. According to YouTube commenter ElectricViking: Joker is absolutely Road Warrior Hawk; Big Crusher is Big Van Vader; King Samson is Stan Hansen; Death Monster is Steve Williams; and Super Cyber is Jushin Thunder Liger.
For a Game Boy release of its vintage, HAL Wrestling strikes me as being a remarkably solid adaptation of the sport. In fact, it’s probably the most refined adaptation of any sport we’ve seen so far on Game Boy outside of the aforementioned Golf — which shouldn’t be surprising, given the involvement of both HAL and Human here. I can’t really speak to HAL Wrestling’s quality as a wrestling simulation, but we’ll be seeing many more wrestling games throughout the course of Game Boy Works. And I’m 100% positive that most of them will be much, much worse than this.