Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel
Developer: Copya System Ltd.
Publisher: Asmik Corporation
Platform(s): Mega Drive
Release Date: December 12th 1990 (Japan exclusive)
Wrestling games are hardly an obscure affair, especially in the fourth generation of consoles. The likes of Fire Pro Wrestling and Saturday Night Slam Masters are fondly remembered as the best of the best when it comes to Japanese-developed wrestling titles, with systems like the SNES, Sega Mega Drive and PC Engine providing the perfect opportunity to offer players a more convincing wrestling experience compared to the more primitive titles seen on earlier systems. As well as being host to some retro wrestling favourites, the Mega Drive also has the claim to fame of being host of one of the earliest examples of a game based on female wrestling, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel. This particular title is considered to be part of the driving force behind introducing female protagonists into gaming, the roster made up of a variety of fictional female fighters, as well as the titular now-retired professional wrestler and one time winner of the Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (JWP) junior championship, Yumi Suzuki, who fought under the ring name Cutie Suzuki from 1986 to 1999.
Despite a fictional roster filled with colourful and eccentric anime-esque designs, Ringside Angel sticks close to realism when it comes to gameplay. Clotheslines, Boston crabs, DDTs, suplex of all varieties; the diverse arsenal you’d expect to see in any authentic wrestling match are all here, along with pins and techniques that make use of the ropes and ring-posts. With this in mind, Ringside Angel plays like less of a fighting game, taking on a more slow-paced and methodical format that forgoes the superhuman jumps and throws you’d come to expect from one-on-one fighters on the Mega Drive. It’s a game that most definitely requires practice if you plan on tackling each of the game’s five leagues, each with bizarre names such as ‘Straw Berry’, ‘White Snow’ and ‘Star Light’.
A major appealing factor of this particular title is the fact that each character is unique beyond just their appearances. Just as you’d expect from wrestlers of different builds and weight classes, each fighter has an individual correspondence between attack strength and recovery time, something crucial if you want to avoid getting pinned or caught whilst outside the ring. Of course, each fighter was a few unique moves to themselves, some of which are very character-driven and do a great job at conveying the sort of thing you’d expect to see in the kayfabes of professional wrestling, such as the pretty dirty chain attack pictured above, which, understandably when considering their rule-breaking nature, trigger a countdown on their user up until disqualification.
Of course, it’s these more flashy grapple attacks that you’ll want to use to wear down your opponent’s endurance so that you can sweep up victory. Execution of attacks is simple and accessible, limited to just two buttons on the Mega Drive’s controller (bar from some minor directional influence). Attacks performed will vary based on range, from punches, kicks and chops to grapples and throws, as well as based on movement speed and position on the ring. It has to be said that with the game’s slow pace and grapple-based fighting, the controls can often come across as unresponsive, and it’s not too hard to result to button-mashing when put in a tight position.
The selection of modes offered by Ringside Angel is basic but sufficient; you can fight against either another human player, or the CPU in both free battle and tournament modes, both of which feature varying levels of difficulty. You can also choose to watch a match between two computer-controlled opponents, if you’re into that kinda thing. With five different levels of competition with increasing difficulty, the primary single player game has a fair amount of replayability and should keep you occupied; even on the lowest difficulty setting, ‘New Face’, the AI opponents will give you a run for your money, so good timing and knowledge of your character’s arsenal of techniques is essential if you plan on taking home the championship for yourself.
One thing that can be safely said about Ringside Angel is that it excels when it comes to presentation. Admittedly some of the attack animations are quite slow and don’t look particularly remarkable, but the sprite-work is incredibly detailed in multiple instances; backgrounds are vivid and eye-catching, character portraits, both on the select screen and in-game, are full of personality and are very animated, displaying a variety of emotions based on your position in the fight. The game even features several unique commentary teams displayed in the top right hand corner (with the combination pictured above featuring seeming lookalikes of Reggie Fils-Aimé and Colonel Sanders) who provide a running dialogue on the match, albeit in Japanese. Even the menus are filled with detailed embellishments such as ‘chibi’ versions of the game’s playable roster that just help to give the whole experience a lot more character, something this game has plenty of.
Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel isn’t the greatest wrestling game in the world. It might not even be the greatest wrestling game on the Mega Drive. However, it’s got a lot of character, looks great and carries a real dated charm about it. Everything about the presentation has a real 90s feel to it, which can certainly make for an enjoyable experience on its own. The gameplay will likely require some practice before you’ll find yourself cruising to victory, but there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you plan on working your way through this title in its entirety. The fact that this is a fairly influential title on gaming history that goes widely uncredited makes it worthy of your attention, but it also stands as a prime example of how a genre, in this case wrestling games, has changed so much from console generation to generation.