This review comes courtesy of Gary Heneghan, a long-time reader/commenter on the site. Thanks for taking one for the team, Gary!
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
PUBLISHER: Asmik Corporation
DEVELOPER: Copya System Ltd
RELEASE DATE: 12/12/90 – (JP)
Unless you had a Power Base Converter, a copy of Pro Wrestling for Master System and a lot of patience, there weren’t really any options available to Genesis wrestling fans in 1990. Most gamers might assume the first Genesis wrestling game was a WWF title. Surprisingly, an obscure Japanese wrestling title would beat WWF Super Wrestlemania to the Mega Drive by over two years.
Only released in Japan, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel is an attempt to appeal to fans of ‘Joshi Puroresu’ (women’s wrestling to Westerners) which was very popular in the 80’s and 90’s. Japanese pro wrestling traditionally eschews the showmanship of American wrestling for realistic combat. This applied to the Joshi wrestlers too, who would be critically acclaimed for their hard hitting matches and in-ring athleticism.
The above description of Joshi Puroresu might come as a surprise to you if you’re basing your opinion of this game on the above box art and screenshots. Indeed, first impressions of Ringside Angel aren’t great. The cartoony graphics might hide some slick animation, but they’re unimpressive, even for a 1990 game. The twee music is as functional as the graphics, never impressing nor distracting you from the game.
What Ringside Angel does offer is substance. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, from 5 difficulty levels (each with a tournament to win), various commentators (including a dinosaur?!?) rambling in the corner of the screen, a mode to view available moves and the option of a CPU vs CPU battle. The nine wrestlers (Cutie Suzuki and 8 other fictional grapplers, based on real life wrestlers) have a special move, two ground submissions and a selection of suplexes, holds and slams that the player can pick pre- match. Being able to alter your move set is a nice customizable touch and not an aspect seen in many wrestling games at this point.
Like Fire Pro Wrestling, to grapple you tie up by pushing towards an opponent, then input a command for the move, usually direction and A/B. Unlike Fire Pro Wrestling, the results are random. For example, I often found myself being body slammed repeatedly despite battering my opponent with strikes and submissions.
I have no idea how reversals work. Maybe it’s linked to the ‘Fighting Spirit’ style health bar (a picture of the wrestler that gets more upset the more damage they take), but I could only trigger reversals by button mashing. Shame, as the reversals add to the drama. One great reversal in particular, where I escaped a torture rack and managed a backslide pin, had me genuinely surprised at the game’s speed.
The grappling does get more intuitive as you play the game, but I still wish I understood it better. It’s easier to spam strikes and ground submissions to wear an opponent down, but that misses the point. When I play as Cutie Suzuki, I want to unleash the Cutie Special (a bridging fall away slam), not run away and throw hundreds of kicks. It’s a shame that grappling is such a struggle, as Ringside Angel feels like a labor of love, with considerable thought put into the game mechanics and presentation.
Overall, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel was a pleasant surprise. Once you get past its simple graphics and adapt to its quirks, there is a surprisingly fun, challenging wrestling game there. Admittedly, it would never have sold outside of Japan. Wrestling games were still niche titles in 1990, and an average looking women’s wrestling game wouldn’t have changed that. Still, this game is an interesting footnote for Asmik, who would go on to publish Virtual Pro Wrestling 1 and 2, games that would form the basis for the AKI N64 WWF/WCW wrestling classics.