Saturday Night Slam Masters/Muscle Bomber
Professional wrestling peaked in popularity in America in the 1980's, and in Japan in the 1990's (or so I have been told). While there were a few decent 8-bit wrestlers, for the most part the genre never really had any consistency before the 16-bit era. Then came the early 1990's, and we got everything from LJN's 16-bit WWF games, which improve on the standard formula of 8-bit wrestlers, to the mighty Fire Pro and it's many equally Japan exclusive clones, to Technos' great arcade exclusive WWF Wrestlefest. Capcom's original foray into the genre is a game called Saturday Night Slam Masters.
As fighters were quite popular at the time, Capcom differentiated Slam Masters from other wrestlers by combining it with elements of a fighter. The original was popular enough to get ported to SNES and Genesis not long after it's arcade release, and two differently titled sequels, which remain exclusive to the arcades, making a trilogy that is generally collectively referred to as "Saturday Night Slam Masters" ("Muscle Bomber" in Japan). The second game is merely a revision of the first, but the third is more a straight fighter. Each game's combination of elements of both genres is actually executed quite well.
Also noteworthy, it takes place in the same fictional world as Street Fighter, Final Fight, and Captain Commando. When I first played Street Fighter Alpha 3, I thought it was pretty cool to have Cody and Guy from FF as playable characters in a fighter, and I wished they had done the same with FF's Haggar (my favorite Capcom character). Luckily, Slam Masters does just that, making Haggar a playable character in each game.
Saturday Night Slam Masters/Muscle Bomber - The Body Explosion (1993) Arcade/SNES/Genesis
The first Slam Masters game, and the only game in the series to have been ported to consoles, is pretty much 75% wrestler/25% fighter. The fighting factor is more than enough to distinguish it from other games of its genre. It possesses a simply awesome cast of ten playable characters, with two of them playable only in Team Battle Royal mode, and several of them bearing resemblances to real life Pro Wrestlers. If these characters have a familiar aesthetic, it is because most of them are designed by Tetsuo Hara, the man behind Hokuto no Ken. This is most evident in the design for Grater, who is as Mad Max looking as any character in the prominent anime series. He also does character art here or there in Slam Masters and its sequels, like in intros or character profiles.
Biff Slamkovich (Aleksey Zalazof in Japan)
A methodical wrestler, and arguably the main character of this game. His simple yet effective style has won him many a match. Friend and rival of Gunloc. References Zangief in his losing quote.
Gunloc (Colt or Lucky Colt in Japan)
A reckless ill-tempered friend and rival of Biff Slamkovich. Rumored to be a brother to Guile from Street Fighter, though Capcom has said this is not the case. If Biff is Slam Master's Ryu, Gunloc is it's Ken. They have similar, but not identical, movesets.
Great Oni (Mysterious Budo in Japan)
A fast wrestler with several aerial attacks. Looks like a kabuki actor. He is somehow able to utilize his hair (!) as an effective weapon. Possibly based on Great Muta, aka Mutoh.
Titanic Tim (Titan the Great in Japan)
A absolute behemoth, whose name is, obviously, a play on Tiny Tim. Former tag team partner of Birdie from Street Fighter. Their tag team was called "500 Trillion Powers", a parody of the Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage tag team The Mega Powers. Possibly based on Giant Baba.
El Stingray (El Stinger in Japan)
A very fast masked wrestler who has several aerial attacks. While small, his agility and technical skill is more than enough to compensate for his shortcomings. Rival of Great Oni. Possibly based on El Santo and Lizmark.
Generally referred to simply as Haggar, he is the main character of Final Fight. After his wrestling career ended he became the mayor of Metro City. His portrayal here is based on Randy Savage, and his ring name is even Mike "Macho" Haggar. His daughter Jessica (also from FF) appears in his win pose, as a reference to Randy Savage (Hagger hoists Jessica up on his shoulder, just like Randy Savage would do with his valet).
Alexander the Grater (Sheep the Royal in Japan)
Former rugby and American football player, and current wrestler. Possibly based on Vader (the wrestler, not the Star Wars character). He was made a butcher in the American version.
King Rasta (Missing IQ Gomes in Japan)
A man who was raised by apes, like Tarzan, and watched cartoons to learn English. His ever-present speaking pet monkey, Freak, has a female and child monkey with him in the sequel. He is the original design for Blanka from Street Fighter, and he even shares Blanka’s brutal face bite attack. Possibly based on Bruiser Brody.
Jumbo Flapjack (Kimala the Bouncer in Japan)
A sadistic wrestler who previously worked as a bouncer and a bodyguard. He is definitely the heaviest out of all the characters, and he also has the ability to spray mist. He shows absolute obedience to Scorpion. Possibly based on a wrestler named Earthquake.
Scorpion (Astro in Japan)
Primary antagonist of the series. His identity is a mystery. While not the biggest guy in the ring, he has these freaky powers that endow him with dark energy and make him able to teleport. Possibly based on Tiger Mask and Black Scorpion. His mask also looks very similar to that of Tinieblas.
By the way, that referee is named Harry Hicks.
While most of Capcom's fighters (or almost any of their games, really) have absurdly convoluted plots, Slam Masters' is very simple. During the 1980's, eight very popular wrestling promotions are merged to form Capcom Wrestling Association (CWA). After CWA's champion abruptly disappears, it is decided to have a tournament called "Crash Carnival" to decide a champion.
Everything about Slam Masters makes it appear to be a traditional wrestling game at first glance, but after you play it for a while you will find that it is also something of a "dumbed-down" fighter. Specials are a very important part of gameplay, and there is probably going to be more kicking and punching during a match than suplexes and body slams. In most wrestlers where a life bar is present (such as any LJN wrestler) your life bar will gradually refill itself, but in Slam Masters it works just like in a fighter; the lifebar never recovers, and once it’s completely drained, all that has to be done to end the match is a simple pin.
However, there are plenty of wrestling elements that co-exist with the game's fighter flavor. The playing field is a wrestling ring and it works exactly like that of a wrestling game, allowing you to move up and down on the screen and even to leave the ring (double tap toward the ropes while standing directly against them) and fight out of it. The ref will even begin a count after you leave it, and you have to get back in before it reaches 20 or you will be counted out and lose the match. While out of the ring there can potentially be glass bottles or buckets to attack with (stand over them and tap Attack to pick them up). As you can move up and down on the screen, there is a jump button. Every attack is executed with a lone button and there is a third button for pinning. You can climb the turnbuckle (push diagonally toward it twice) and do aerial attacks from there (Jump, Attack). By double tapping the appropriate direction you can run toward your opponent, or away from them and bounce of the ropes, and do running attacks as you approach them. You can also attack downed opponents by hitting the attack button while standing next to them, or doing a running jumping attack as you approach them. Like in (perhaps) any wrestler, matches consist of a lone round, and these can last as long as three minutes.
Grappling is performed by holding Toward and tapping Attack when you are close to your opponent. After initiating a grapple you have the option of body slamming your opponent (Up or Down & Attack), whipping your opponent into the ropes (Left or Right & Attack), or performing a special via a fighter style command. To escape a grapple that your opponent has initiated, rapidly tap each button and move the the joystick left and right rapidly.
Playing against the computer is nice and all, but Slam Masters is an absolute blast with multiple players. This is especially true for "Team Battle Royal" mode, which you are given the option of choosing instead of 1-on-1 mode before selecting your character. This mode allows 1-4 players, each fighting in teams of two. To keep everybody on screen at all times, the ability to leave the ring has been eliminated. Beer bottles and buckets are still available, and will occasionally be hurled into the ring by fans. Beer bottles I get, but who the hell brings a bucket to a wrestling match? While you can choose a computer controlled team mate and play alone, this is practically made for multiple players and is what makes Slam Masters really stand out. This is probably the better of Slam Masters' two modes, regardless if you are on your own.
Slam Masters is a good and fairly original game, but there are complaints to be made. Grappling works well and the controls are very responsive, but perfect judgment of distance can be difficult, and sometimes you are going to execute a standing attack when you mean to initiate a grapple instead. Most standing attacks have pretty good range, so it is pretty easy to simply stand back and poke. As there is no blocking whatsoever, there is nothing you can do about this. This effectively reduces the amount of grappling - perhaps the most interesting gameplay element in Slam Masters - that occurs during each match. Also, as in most fighters, the computer’s artificial intelligence is absolutely ridiculous. The difficulty is not so bad for the first few matches, but it quickly becomes a bit much. Luckily, playing against other people alleviates this problem.
The version for SNES retains four player capabilities if you have the very rare four player adapter made for the system. The Genesis port only allows two players, but it has an exclusive Death Match mode. This is not as cool as you would hope, as it is essentially just electrified ropes. Still, it’s a very interesting touch and might cause gamers to check out the Genesis version. This port also has a few exclusive win/loss quotes. Both versions look great, but, of course, are not graphically perfect.
Muscle Bomber Duo - Ultimate Team Battle/Muscle Bomber Duo - Heat Up Warriors (1993) Arcade
Muscle Bomber Duo has an even simpler plot than Slam Masters. CWA holds a tournament called "Heat Up Scramble" to decide which team will be champions of Team Battle Royal. Muscle Bomber Duo is Team Battle Royal mode from Slam Masters, with a few minor gameplay changes, which are thankfully all for the better. There are still three buttons, but the Pin button will also initiate a grapple, and the original method of doing so has been eliminated entirely. This rectifies problems that existed in the original with attacking when you mean to grapple instead. Blocking can be performed by holding back after holding Attack, like in Capcom's beat-em-up Knights of the Round. This makes Muscle Bomber's difficulty more fair than its prequel, and, best of all, makes it possible to avoid people spamming long range attacks. Even though 1-on-1 mode has been eliminated (I have no clue why), Muscle Bomber Duo is definitely the best version of Slam Masters. Capcom fixed everything that needed to be fixed in the original, and the result is a game that feels like it is what Slam Masters "should have been". It is a shame that this was never ported.
Ring of Destruction: Slammasters II/Super Muscle Bomber: The International Blowout (1994) Arcade
Slammasters II brings back each character from Slam Masters, and introduces four other playable characters.
What appears to be a highly disturbing effeminate male who isn’t averse to showing off some butt actually turns out to be a female wrestler posing as a male. Has a web projectile that draws her opponent slightly toward her (though not quite like Scorpion's spear). Can crawl forward along the ground.
Capcom Wrestling Association's ('roided to the gills!) champion wrestler. Never lost a match. Appears in the intro to the original, but is only playable in the final game of the series. Possibly based on "Superstar" Billy Graham. Resembles Hulk Hogan, who also based his character on Billy Graham.
Definitely the creepiest wrestler in the circuit. A demon who has snakes in his body that he can attack with. Is he even human? Given his morbid theme, it is possible that he is based on the Undertaker.
A soldier, or at least soldier themed wrestler, who seems to be based on Bret and Owen Hart. Attacks with a shovel in several of his moves, and tosses around grenades as well to keep with his soldier motif. Wears a backless costume that shows his ASS CRACK!!!
Slammasters II is still a wrestler/fighter hybrid game, but more like 75% fighter/25% wrestler this time around, making it more of a wrestler-flavored fighter. There is no longer a jump button and you can only move left or right, so jumping is executed via up on the joystick. The number of attack buttons has been raised to four, with two each for punches and kicks. Muscle Bomber Duo's grapple button has been retained, but it is exclusively for grappling, as there is no longer any pinning to win a match. Instead you have to knock your opponent out to win a round, and win the best two out of three rounds to win a match. Like in Samurai Shodown, your character can become angered after being hit several times, and their attacks are slightly stronger during this rage. It is also possible to rise from a fall faster by pushing Up & the grapple button. While the first game is pretty much devoid of combos, Slammasters II allows for as much combos as would be expected from a Capcom fighter, and there is even a combo counter. It is no longer possible to leave the ring, Team Battle Royal mode has been removed, and submissions have been removed as well.
Despite these changes, grappling remains a major part of Slammasters II's gameplay. You have also been given a move that allows you to dash in and initiate a grapple, allowing you to get in quickly and grapple opponents who stand back and poke or, as grappling can not be blocked, opponents who turtle. It is also possible to perform a Grapple Reversal by tapping the grapple button immediately after being grappled by a opponent. Even though most of Slam Master's other wrestler gameplay elements have been removed, running, running attacks, the ability to bounce off the ropes or whip your opponent into them, and counter attacks against running opponents have each been retained. If you finish your opponent in any round with an in-grapple special they will be driven through the mat. These non-fatal finishing moves are a nice touch, and were most likely intended to contend with the presence of fatalities in countless other fighters at that time.
Slammasters II is a very good fighter, and its wrestler elements give it an identity that separates it from other Capcom fighters. This game is definitely recommended if you are into fighting games, be they by Capcom or not. However, this game has never been ported, and you are most likely not going to find this at any arcades, so emulation is likely your only choice.
Both the Japanese and English versions of this game are identical in gameplay, but in the Japanese version if you win a match in two rounds your character will speak Japanese.