ARM WRESTLING / Nintendo / Arcade

Arm Wrestling was a 1985 spin-off of Nintendo's Punch-Out!!, a spin-off that never gained nearly the following the parent game did (and, strangely, was never released in Japan, being exclusive to North America.) The cabinet featured a similar large stick, but the action resembles a modern "rhythm game" more than the mechanics of Punch-Out!! You've got a very similar spinach-haired hero, entering into some arm rasslin' tournament run by some sleazy Old West lookin' promoter, similar huge and cartoony sprites, there's even a surprise cameo by a Punch-Out!! baddie.

Obviously, due to the extreme rarity of functional cabinets of this game (I'd imagine whatever are left are in the hands of private collectors by now), this review is based on emulation in MAME. I think it's actually more useful this way, however, as that's also the only likely way you'll be playing it. It translates pretty well to the PC - a joystick or gamepad with an analog stick is ideal, but you can keep up with the action even with a keyboard since the gameplay consists mostly of tapping left, right and a fire button, with occasional up or down taps to counter a particular opponent's special attack.

As with Punch-Out!! you face a series of larger-than-life foes, though the ethnic stereotypes are replaced by simple weirdness in this one. According to Wikipedia there's only five characters to take on in this game, which makes me feel a little better because I never even got close to beating the fifth one - I thought he was just some mid-carder and I really sucked at it, but turns out he's actually the final boss! You work your way through a Texas cowboy, a Sumo wrestler, a mysterious dude named Mask X, possibly the ugliest little girl in the history of video games and her remote-controlled robot, and finally Frankie Jr. the Frankenstein clone. The first match against the "Texas Stud" serves as the game's tutorial basically, as it gives you on-screen cues as to what to do. Generally speaking, you keep tapping left to shove the opponent's hand down, but when they snort or make faces you have to quickly press to the right to counter their oncoming push. If you do it quickly enough, they're stunned for a couple seconds and you can mush the fire button to gain power and bonus points. The first guy sticks to this simple pattern, but the cues disappear with the second guy, and the third through fifth have their own quirky attacks that require differing responses in addition to the usual pattern. Also, you've gotta get their hand down before one minute passes, or they automatically win. There's also a bonus game after the second match, where the sadistic promoter drops a bag stuffed with $50,000 at you, and if you catch it you get to keep it, but if you time it wrong you get brained and fall slowly to the ground while the evil promoter guy has a hearty chortle at your expense (now that I think about it, this might have been that "Marry me with my money!" guy from Sunset Riders in an early role in his career ... hmm.)

The highlight of this game, however, has to be the spastic sound. The game is narrated by a Dr. Sbaitso-esque robotic synthesized speaking voice typical of computers in the 1980s, think Stephen Hawking and you have the idea. I really don't blame Mask X for constantly trying to headbutt the player character, because he whoops and jabbers like a highly caffeinated Ewok throughout the entire match. I can't even describe the sounds he makes, but there's like a different one for every motion, and when you stun the enemy and get a bonus barrage against them, he screams something like "SMACK AND RACK! SMACK IT UP SMACK IT UP SMACK IT UP SMACK IT UP!" over and over, for great lulz and win.

I'm surprised and kind of saddened this game never had any real popularity because it represents many of the great things about gaming - envelope-pushing graphics (for 1985), a creative setting and gameplay style, and just wild random comedic fun. This seems like a perfect title to revive for the Wii ... maybe someone from Nintendo will read this. Until then, give it a go on MAME - even with unlimited virtual quarters the game is a pretty good challenge, as you only get ten continues from the current match before having to start back at the beginning again.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video