The 5 best — well, least objectionable — women’s wrestling video games of all time

The 5 best — well, least objectionable — women’s wrestling video games of all time
‘Super Wrestle Angels’
Source: Mic/‘Super Wrestle Angels’
‘Super Wrestle Angels’
Source: Mic/‘Super Wrestle Angels’
opinion
Mic invites contributors and staff to offer commentary and context about news and timely issues.

The summer of 2017 will surely be remembered as the women’s wrestling renaissance. Netflix’s Glow series is a big success and likely to be renewed, World Wrestling Entertainment is pre-taping its matches for the Mae Young Classic — a tournament featuring local and independent talent from all over the world (including Abbey Laith, aka Kimber Lee, the first woman to hold the top championship at a major wrestling company) — and Shimmer just produced its 95th show, the line for which looked like it stretched into the next town.

It’s a good time to be a fan of women’s wrestling ... if you’re watching TV. But when it comes to video games — which have been part of the wrestling fan experience for decades — women’s wrestling still gets the short end of the barbed-wire-wrapped steel chair. In contrast to the modern wrestling’s world acceptance of women’s wrestling, it seems that video games about it have an increasingly poor opinion of the legitimacy of women’s wrestling itself.

When it comes to video games, women’s wrestling still get the short end of the barbed-wire-wrapped steel chair.

It is true, to a point, that all wrestling games inherently stink, though I could easily lead the parade I’m about to rain on. I have, in my lifetime, owned more than 40 wrestling games, and would put Fire Pro Wrestling Returns and WWF No Mercy on my list of all-time “stuff-them-in-my-pockets-before-you-maroon-me-on-this-deserted-island” favorite games.

There are games, like WrestleFest, that perfectly capture what wrestling is to the viewer: a vehicle for living gods. And there are games like the Fire Pro series, that perfectly capture what wrestling is within the internal logic of those gods: the ultimate game of human chess. No game can fully realize both aspects of wrestling’s identity, not while struggling with the question of “how do I make this controller do the 30 damn things that’s required to play out a convincing wrestling match?”

In a sense, every wrestling game is incomplete. But games about women’s wrestling are even worse: They are the incomplete games made for people viewed by their respective societies as incomplete, compared to men.

On that note, I’ve decided to round up five classic women’s wrestling games, ranging from the almost-decent to the straight-up problematic.

1. Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel (Sega Mega Drive, 1990)

‘Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel’
Source: Lunatic Obscurity/’Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel

Japanese wrestling is emotive by nature — there’s a lot of screaming. With men’s wrestling, this screaming is akin to the kiai, an empowering shout emitted while performing an attack. With joshi (women’s wrestling), the pretense of masculine stoicism is abandoned. The screaming and crying is used to reflect a greater narrative of the match and it’s toll on the performers.

Ringside Angel trades in the countenance of pain, almost to the point of infantilization (damage is measured by how sad or in pain your wrestler’s face is, and losers drop to their knees and weep profusely at the end of matches). Joshi wrestlers used to be forcibly retired at a young age, which complicates appreciating the efforts of the developers to make the characters cute and wide-eyed.

Problematic? Yes. Innovative? Also yes. The world-building — for a lack of a better term — and use of the ring environment is light-years ahead of WrestleMania for the NES, produced only a year earlier. Cutie Suzuki’s role in the game, a marketing ploy it may be, is a pioneer in female protagonists in console games.

Other women have, of course, achieved similar victories in their respective mediums, but none of them had Colonel Sanders doing play-by-play while they kicked a girl in the face.

RATING: Three and a half dropkicks out of five. Live and let cry.

2. Super Wrestle Angels (Super Famicom, 1994)

‘Super Wrestle Angels’
Source: Giant Bomb/‘Super Wrestle Angels’

Some readers may take umbrage with its inclusion; technically speaking, Super Wrestle Angels is a turn-based strategy game with vague wrestling trappings. At least until the later installments where you can play as the president of the wrestling league, basically governing the lives and careers of a stable of immortal, virginal grapplers.

I include it in this list because these titles get at the heart of why we play games that involve controlling human bodies in peak condition. Just as the popularity of Madden or NBA 2K should give us pause to reflect on the way we commodify black bodies in professional sports, games like Super Wrestle Angels should be opportunities to discuss the thin line between vicariously living through other people’s bodies and fantasies where we just own those people.

There are other discussions to be had as well, like, “Where did the artists learn to draw anatomy and can they get their money back?”

RATING: Two and a half anime bodyslams out of five. Heaven can wait.

3. Super Fire Pro Wrestling: Queen’s Special (Super Famicom, 1995)

‘Super Fire Pro Wrestling: Queen’s Special’
Source: YouTube/‘Super Fire Pro Wrestling: Queen’s Special’

The Fire Pro series is like the Animal Collective of wrestling games: intimidating to casual fans but, to the hardcore, inspiring the desperate, disquieting loyalty found in pyramid schemes. The gameplay is built around precise timing; you win a lockup by entering your move first, not hardest or the most times. It’s like bowling or darts — a simple, supposedly replicable task that grows increasingly dire.

Queen’s Special is a rarity in the series in that while Fire Pro games mostly relied on vast rosters of copyright-friendly lookalikes of current wrestlers from companies all over the world, the game features real Japanese wrestlers, like Akira Hokuto.

There are also 16 create-a-character slots with “generous wardrobe options.”

The complexities of emotive storytelling often found in joshi aren’t really served by the hyper-clinical, played-straight-as-a-razor gameplay of the Fire Pro series. It sacrifices authenticity for parity. If you’re a woman who likes joshi, playing dress-up with Bull Nakano isn’t likely to get you in the door. The audience of this game is clear.

Still, it’s undoubtedly one of the best (or, to be consistent with my logic, least sucky) wrestling games made for console. I’ve heard you can find an unofficial English translation of it on some emulator sites.

RATING: Four arm bars out of five. Arm-drag her, Queen.

4. Rumble Roses XX (PS2 & Xbox 360, 2006)

’Rumble Roses XX
Source: Rumble xx/YouTube

Rumble Roses is everything I was afraid Netflix’s Glow would turn out to be. It’s got good (if vapid and schlocky) characters who play out unique relationships with each other.

It has legitimate wrestling moves and an effective use of ring psychology (wearing your opponent down with repeated attacks at a specific point, which is basic stuff but still overlooked by so many games).

It knows when to abandon the insistence on athletic realism for the sake of cinematic flair. It knows what elements of wrestling it can’t execute well and just focuses on deliverables.

It’s heartbreaking the amount of detail and love went into a game that exists primarily to create tableaus where women are sexually humiliated.

I’m more upset about the sloppiness of the lie than I am about the lie itself. The designers didn’t even bother to render the ringside matting, the sick perverts. Damn you all to hell.

RATING: Two uncanny valley butt cracks out of five. Every rose has its regrettable cutscene.

It’s heartbreaking the amount of detail and love went into a game that exists primarily to create tableaus where women are sexually humiliated.

5. Women Wrestling Revolution Pro (Google Play, 2017)

‘Women Wrestling Revolution Pro’
Source: Fighting Arena/Google Play

This game, made by the game developer Fighting Arena, is the whipping boy for a particular genre of games I like to call “sexy mannequin fighting.” I’ve singled this one out because the circumstances of its creation and marketing sort of lay bare the insecurities and conflating of women’s wrestling games with erotica in the eye of the supposedly male consumer.

Fighting Arena’s games are basically all clones of one another, variations on a single engine with recycled graphic assets (a tattoo on a sumo wrestler in Sumo Wrestler Revolution is on the legs or belly of like every third wrestler in Women Wrestling Revolution). They look and likely play identically. The “women’s wrestling” game offers nothing unique to the series or even remotely typical of women’s wrestling.

What motivates a developer to re-skin their game with frigid RealDolls in sexy outfits and with slutty tattoos, seemingly generated at random, to shuffle around in prone positions? It’s not sexual, or even sexy. Why is this a better alternative to watching a bunch of pixelated man abs on your phone?

When I was a child, it was presented as reasonable that an evil accountant would take time away from his job with the federal government to wrestle a guy named Razor Ramon.

It is not a stretch for me to believe that to the developers and players of this game, sentient thrift store displays that move like the liquid Terminator from Terminator 2: Judgment Day offer them a sort of comfort and reassurance about their sexuality.

Being a wrestling fan prepares you for the tough questions in life.

RATING: 1 judo chop out of five. More of a #resistance than a revolution, to be honest.

More gaming news and updates

Check out the latest from Mic, like this deep dive into the cultural origins of Gamergate. Also, be sure to read this essay about what it’s like to cosplay while black, a roundup of family-friendly games to play with your kids and our interview with Adi Shankar, producer of the animated Castlevania Netflix series.