Forget the Saturday afternoon Brit wrestlers - the real stagers of the business are the Americans! Microleague Wrestling features Hulk Hogan and other stars of the Stateside ring in a simulated contest for the World Wrestling Federation Championship belt.
Upon loading, the player selects a control method, which of the three wrestlers he wants to play, and the length of the match, from a ten minute tussle, to an hour-long 'Grudge' match. This is where the wrestlers not only want to win, they also want to inflict as much pain as possible on their opponent.
As part of the pre-match build-up, the game loads digitised interview sequences between 'Mean Gene' Okerlund and each wrestler, in which eat mat-man tells anyone who can be bothered to listen, how much better they are than the others. The screen then switches to the ringside where the Master of Ceremonies announces the match and introduces the contenders.
The bell then sounds to start the action. Instead of having direct joystick control over each wrestler, the player controls a selector bar with which he chooses his moves from a menu unique to each contestant. The menu carries four categories of move, from Basic moves (punches and stomps) to a wrestler's specialist manoeuvre, each of which carry a trade-off between ease of use and effectiveness in terms of damage points. When both have chosen their next move, the computer decides which of the two would be more successful, taking into account the level of damage the wrestlers have already sustained, their 'Relative Dominance' and the probability of successfully completing that move.
To represent their progress in the match, both wrestlers have a damage rating and a Relative Dominance Meter. Basically, Relative Dominance depicts how well the match is going for a wrestler by combining a power rating and damage. This increases as moves are successfully accomplished, and drops as hits are taken. The damage rating represents a threshold of damage points over which the wrestler is seriously weakened. This is useful for indicating when to change from offensive to defensive manoeuvres.
A sequence of digitised ringside graphics showing the accomplished move is then shown on screen, with the occasional crowd shot for good measure. To add that extra touch of realism, two well-known American match commentators sit at the bottom of the screen passing judgement on the wrestlers competence.
Should things be going especially badly, the player may take advantage of a limited number of moves not listed in the rules of the sport. Hulk Hogan, who always plays fair, might gain a boost of energy by calling for the support of the crowd. The less sporting wrestlers can twice make use of a dirty trick which weakens his opponent, but brings the risk of disqualification.
Strange as it may seem, I used to watch the Saturday afternoon wrestling diligently, because better comedy is thin on the ground. The feeling of over-the-top showmanship I got when watching the American version of the sport has been successfully recreated by Microleague Wrestling, which, as you would expect with Microprose, plays as a simulation rather than an action game.
I'll admit that I'm surprised at the reasonable success of the approach with which the programmers have turned the sport into a well-presented computer program, even allowing the essential cheating element.
To enjoy it to its fullest, though, you would have to be acquainted with wrestling, the moves (which aren't explained in the manual), and the ay it is presented by the media. Its playability, therefore, is very much limited to the real grapple fans.
Unfortunately, unusual and original concepts don't always work, and Microleague Wrestling proves the point. The presentation is all there: a wide variety of control methods complements the easy movement selection system, and excellent front end, in-game comments and rapid disk access.
However, actually playing the game isn't as much fun. The combination of digitised action shots and limited response commands is interesting to play around with at first, but it soon becomes dull. Particularly irritating is the lack of different comments and screenshots: the shot of the grinning ringside woman time and time again is particularly nauseous.
With a bit more variety, this interesting concept could have been a compelling game; as it is, it's not interesting enough to deserve praise.
Copious control options and good screen layout. Presented in much the same way as a television wrestling programme.
Well-timed but sometimes indistinct digitised graphics.
Crowd noises, thuds and thumps. Pretty poor tunes.
Digitised graphics and the original approach to wrestling inspires initial interest.
Long-term appeal would be limited to wrestling fans.
Not a brilliant game, but it recreates the atmosphere of television wrestling well enough.