Ultimate MUSCLE: Legends vs New Generation / Bandai / Gamecube
Kinnikuman, known as M.U.S.C.L.E Wrestling in the West, was a big trend in the '80s. It originated in Japan and was based on an anime there, but over here we had no idea what "anime" was at the time. So the little rubber wrestler toys just sort of showed up in stores here, and it was kinda amazing how popular they got given that no one knew the backstory or even what any of the character's names were.
As it turns out, the whole thing is centered around King Muscle, who looks like Homer Simpson back in his Chad days before he got married and developed a crippling carb addiction. The series inspired one game for the Famicom, which was pretty terrible but nevertheless managed to get localized for the NES anyway. Kinnikuman seems to have faded out just as fast in Japan as it did in the US, as there wouldn't be another game until this early 2000s release for the Gamecube.
This one is based around a revival of the toy line and anime that happened around that time. Surprisingly, this game does a lot of calling back to the NES game like it was some beloved classic that everyone remembers. It's arcadey, focusing on simply whopping opponent life bars down with no pinning or submissions, and a central feature is random items and power-ups sort of drifting into the ring at random points.
The relatively shallow and arcadey style is also surprising in that it was developed by Aki, the famed team that created the quartet of WCW and WWF wrestling games for the Nintendo 64 that were arguably the first really good games of the genre. Aki's previous work had more of a deliberate pace and a focus on an expansive selection of moves; this game is utterly the opposite. It feels much more like a fighting game that just has an unusual focus on throws.
Sure looks good, though. Cel shading was kinda a trend at the time, and Ultimate Muscle makes good use of it for a colorful cartoony aesthetic that holds up well. Aside from the usual clipping endemic to wrestling game grapple moves, of course.
So each character gets only one strike, and one set of grapples that depends entirely on positioning when you execute them. In addition to the utter lack of pinning or submitting foes, you can't climb the turnbuckle or go outside the ring ... no "foreign objects" either. Your limited set of power moves (used by filling a meter) are accessed simply by holding one shoulder button or another while grappling, or pressing both together for the ultimate move when the meter is full (reminiscent of Marvel vs Capcom 2).
Since the meter fills so fast and the ultimate moves take off nearly half an opponent's life bar, matches pretty much degenerate into spamming those at each other. The game is actually pretty tough to come to grips with just due to the crackfed pace though, I had to crank it down to "easy" just because I was getting hand cramps after a couple of matches. It doesn't provide any kind of training mode or even a multiplayer AI to practice on, so you just have to jump right into the story mode and experiment with a hyper computer opponent buzzing all around you.
Not to say this isn't any fun. It's all quite solid. It still has the basic feel of an Aki wrestling game, just a much more limited one (and one with an odd amount of jumping). The cartoony characters are big and appealing, there's a guy named Dik Dik that has a move that sounds like he's yelling Hitler Fist, a good time is had by all.
Ooooooh Ultimate MUSCLE, you would be sooo #Canceled if anyone knew you existed
There really isn't much going on beyond the story and multiplayer modes, though, and the multiplayer matches are inaccessible to a single player. As you win story mode matches, you earn coins you can use to buy toys, but these are about as basic as possible (and they all seem to be from the series reboot, I was really hoping to see the original '80s toys). There is a create-a-character mode, but with limited appearance options and no way to choose your moves other than picking your ultimate move and naming it (other moves are filled in based on some weird opaque personality traits that you pick). I couldn't actually figure out how to use the created character, though, they never appear for import in any game modes.
It's a nice-looking game, and though it's kinda disappointingly simple for an Aki game it does have a unique feel. I felt it was just too basic to be interesting for long, though.
* Gameplay Video