Genre: Fighting Developer: Riot Publisher: Renovation Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Let’s be honest… the Genesis didn’t have much in the way of wrestling games in The States. Sure, U.S. gamers eventually got a few WWF (now WWE) games, but for a while, it was pretty barren. During that dry spell, the good folks at Renovation, being the great supporters of the Genesis that they were, released Beast Wrestler in 1991. It didn’t have any superstars, licensed names or movie/comic tie-ins, but it did have a rather noticeable hole in the Genesis’ library waiting for it. Did this game fill that hole, or simply plummet harmlessly into it like a teaspoon of dirt being tossed into the Grand Canyon? Read on.
In the world of entertainment, when something becomes big, it’s a major hit. But in the world of DWC (Dragon Warriors Committee), “big” describes everything that’s delivering major hits. Dragon Warriors, genetically engineered beasts made to be fighting machines, are trained by humans to compete for the title of world champion. You are a newcomer to this strange and over-sized world… a world filled with monsters of all types that are waiting for your beast to enter the ring. Can you take your creature through the myriad of challengers and become the world champion?
The visuals for Beast Wrestler are a bit of a mixed bag. The monster designs are interesting (except for the blob, Allowena), they have good amounts of detail and variety, and they show some real creativity on the part of the designers. The arena is a step down from the monsters, looking decent overall, but lacking the kind of attention that was given to the beasts combating in it. I say “arena” because there’s only one, which makes you wonder why it wasn’t given some extra pizzazz since it’s there for the entire game (though the electric “ropes” were a nice touch). Sadly, the visuals take another step down when everything starts moving. The animations range from just being stiff and framey, to looking downright odd. Sure, there are the same number of frames for all the angles your beast faces what it moves, so consistency is there. It’s just that some of the monsters look rather silly when they move and others are very awkward… like the animation made doesn’t fit with making the monster believably move.
Unlike the graphics, the sound for Beast Wrestler is more consistent in quality. The music has a fitting Rastan-like orchestral feel, which comes courtesy of the synths chosen and some pretty good song compositions. The drums you occasionally hear feel a bit weak and don’t quite fit with the kind of dramatic, almost epic atmosphere that the rest of the instruments are trying to create, but the fast and slow-paced music is pretty good overall. With the sound effects, you’ve got hits, choke holds, special moves and such, and they all work well enough. They’re not the greatest choices (the headlock one is a bit odd), but you’ll have heard a lot worse. My one big complaint is that the monsters all use the same roar when they’re beaten. With such a diverse cast, the game would have benefited from more varied audio work to go with them. Unfortunately, that opportunity was left behind.
When it comes to gameplay, Beast Wrestler has a pretty healthy number of basic moves to use on opponents that are standing or laying down, along with a special move that you earn after a certain amount of time has passed and/or damage has been done to your opponent (this move can be earned regularly during each match, not just once). Throws, dashes, grabs, body slams… there’s a good amount to work with when trying to “pin” your opponents the required three times (a pin in this game is making the monster cry out while it’s on the ground).
The game’s broken into two modes: match and tournament. In match mode, two players can go head to head with ten selectable beasts, or one player can fight a CPU controlled beast. In tournament mode, you use a pre-chosen creature that’s not available in the match mode. However, you’ll also be fighting against the entire roster in approximately fifteen matches through three acts; Pro Test (trial), Domestic Rank (beginner) and World Rank (expert). You won’t have to do all fifteen matches in one sitting though, as you’ll be given a rather long password between rounds in this mode, allowing you to come back later where you left off… or simply pretend your previous crushing defeat never happened.
As you make your way through those tournament matches, you can increase the stats of your beast. After every other match you win, you can use your winnings to purchase various items and serums that will boost your monster’s strength, speed, or stamina via the training room. Some items like the bullhorn (the weakest one) don’t add a lot to whichever category you decide to increase, while the three specific serums (which require the injection gun to use) add a considerable amount to their respective areas. Later, you’ll also merge your beast with opponents you’ve beaten, creating an even stronger (and at times, stranger) wrestler.
So, I can hear you asking, “That’s all nice, but what’s wrong with the game?” Well, the first main issue is that the grappling and damage systems come off as rather unreliable. You could be pounding the hell out of your opponent, stand them up and grab them, only to find yourself getting slammed, head-locked, and made to cry out three times out of nowhere like you were the one who was beaten silly before you grappled with your opponent. Meanwhile, pounding buttons quickly does little to help your chances of winning a grapple, nor does trying to time when to press it once (the instruction booklet says timing is key… I’d like to know this mysterious version of timing they used). It really is hard to say if there’s a system at play that decides these aspects of the game, or if it’s simply pure randomness. Personally? I’ve been leaning toward the latter for a very long time.
Another big issue is that once you’ve gotten the enemy knocked down the first time, you can just pummel them over and over for an easy win with the same couple of normal moves. For about half the enemies, simply stand them back up, back away a step or two and either punch or tail whip them to the ground again. Do this over and over until your special move returns, use that special move in the appropriate fashion and you’ll win pretty easily in about two minutes. The remaining monsters aren’t quite that simple, but the basic strategy usually only needs a small tweak to get very similar results on them. This is a real shame since the game designers obviously took the time to put in all these moves, but you really only need three to beat the entire game without much trouble, and other moves are left crippled because of the aforementioned randomness of the game’s grappling system.
Attacking in the game is a mess. You can’t punch or tail whip at an angle and if you try, your character just attacks straight to their left or right. It’s great that you can move all around and have your character face six directions, but why can we attack in only two of those directions? You also can’t block, dodge or even get your character to scramble away when getting up, so there’s not much in the way of defense (sometimes your beast slides backward a bit and stands up, but then it just stays there panting only to be hit again anyway). What’s also messy is the game’s hit detection set up. When you’re fighting against the taller enemies, your punches and tail whips hit about like they should. The problems come when you’re fighting a very short enemy. Besides the fact that several of these short beasts can attack at an angle, you’re forced into relying on tactics that in all honesty are tedious and shouldn’t work. What tactics? Punching an opponent that’s clearly not supposed to be hittable.
For some monsters, when your character and opponent’s shadows aren’t even close to being lined up horizontally, you’re still able to hit them. It’s hard to describe, as the sense of depth that the isometric angle should create vanishes in these instances. This happens to some degree with a good number of the opponents, but it really stands out against the short ones that walk on all fours. When this occurs, Beast Wrestler plays like the monsters are magnets on a refrigerator… no playing field depth, just a flat plane. To give an example that I think conveys this oddness, it would be like Axel in Streets of Rage 2 being able to hit an opponent whose feet happened to be where Axel’s fist stropped in a straight punch. It’s truly strange and smacks of bad hit detection programming.
As if this weren’t enough, there are the typos. These things are everywhere. Missing spaces, words spelled wrong, and names that don’t match what’s in the game manual. I don’t know who proofread the text for this game, but come on… “Combine tow monsters” in BIG white letters? How do you miss that? “even a bovice like you can handle this beast”? Not even capitalization was safe in this game. If it was an RPG with copious amounts of text, maybe you could excuse it a little. But there’s not much text in Beast Wrestler, making it come off as a very poorly done job.
So, what’s the verdict? Sadly, this game falls quite short of what it was trying to do. Nice monster designs become hampered by stiff and awkward (and silly) movements. Lots of moves to choose from gets stifled by an iffy grappling system and needing only about a punch/tail whip and the special move to win easily almost every time. Some good music is hurt by a somewhat limited set of sound effects. And all this is marred by busted hit detection that just can’t seem to make up its mind what kind of plane you’re fighting on. It’s a game that could have been a fun wrestling game with a twist. Instead, we get glimmers of creativity buried under the disappointment of little coming from it.
It’s still reasonably playable despite all the things wrong with it. You can win if you work within the game’s broken traits. But Beast Wrestler just isn’t much fun. It could have been a contender for the title, yet only winds up being pinned quickly for a three count. As such, this game gets a three solely for the monster designs and nice music.
SCORE: 3 out of 10