Saturday, December 29, 2012

Exciting Hour - My favorite arcade game

Pro wrestling has been featured in video games many times over the years. Modern wrestling games are almost photorealistic. The earliest wrestling videogames, such as Tag-Team Wrestling, were crude but playable.

The game that synchronized with my burgeoning wrestling fandom was 1985's Exciting Hour.

Insane Worrier (sic) faces YOU in Exciting Hour.
Exciting Hour turned up in a nondescript conversion cabinet at one of the two arcades in Newmarket, Ontario. Fantasy Place was the cleaner and better-maintained of the two. It was at the "new plaza" and always had three or four of the latest games. The floors were clean, the games were in good working order, and it felt safe. The other arcade was a block away under the town's first fitness centre. It was attached to one of those basement billiards halls known for being full of smoke and menace, with a huge jar of old pickled eggs on the bar. The arcade was dimly lit, full of some of the older games (think Missile Command, Tempest, Zaxxon) and machines with burned-in, faded or flickering screens. It smelled of cigarette smoke or worse.

Fantasy Place Amusements at Yonge and Davis typically had some of its games in generic faux-wood-grain cabinets featuring minimal marquee art (usually just the name), little to no artwork on the control panel and some sparse instructions on the bezel.



The North American release of the game was supposed to be Mat Mania, but I didn't see such a game for some time. All I knew was Exciting Hour, which featured the Player character against a series of villainous opponents.






Insane Warrior (also named in the game as Insane Worrier) was a Road Warrior-type strongman who'd club you in the back of the neck and toss you around in an overhead press to beat you. Karate Fighter would kick and strike you. Coco Savage (also named in the game as Coco Savege) was a Bobo Brazil type who'd take you down with lightning-fast shoulder tackles, then box your ears and giant-swing you before ending the game with a splash. If you could get through Coco Savage, the Pirania (sic) would gouge your face or hold you in the air with one hand while punching with the other.

The final opponent in the rotation was the champ, Blues Bloody. As kids, we assumed it was supposed to look like Big John Studd, but in hindsight it was obviously supposed to be Bruiser Brody. (Go ahead -- put on your most offensive fake-Japanese accent and say "Blues Bloody." BROOZUH BUH-ROHDEE.") He had furry boots, did a one-handed bodyslam. He was tough but not unbeatable.

The controls were simple but not easy: a joystick, a punch button and a kick button. You could consider them "small attack" and "big attack" buttons. Depending on whether you were standing, running, holding an opponent or had one running at you, different attacks would result from pressing the buttons in combination with a joystick direction. I can still play all the moves from memory.

Exciting Hour's selection of moves and holds and the ease of using them made it the first really playable pro wrestling game. The cartoonish graphics and delightfully detailed sprites made it a good game to watch. I also enjoyed the music and the backdrop.

But I'll admit I was not as good at videogames as any of my friends. They were all better at every video game. Another way of saying it would be that I was not good at any video games. I still had fun.

But then Zachary Euler showed me the strategy he'd learned to win at the game. If you have an emulator such as MAME and access to the Exciting Hour/Mat Mania ROM files, you can try this, too. It works.

Zach discovered that if you tried to do too many moves -- big moves or small moves -- on an opponent, the opponent would reverse a headlock on you and start attacking, and you could be in trouble. But if you crash into your opponent, the tally of moves you've done seems to be reset, even though the damage done to your opponent is still counted.

So, start out like this. Punch, punch, punch your opponent until he's down. Pick him up. Do a move - probably a small move like a bodyslam or backdrop. Pick him up again and do a big move, like a piledriver or suplex. Pick him up and quickly whip him into the ropes, then run into him. You'll both go down, but you'll get up first.

Make sure you're doing this in the corner. I did it in the upper left corner of the screen. Pick up your man and piledrive him. Whip him into the ropes and let him crash into you. Pick him up and piledrive him. Whip him in and piledrive him. You can keep doing this until you're running out of time or get bored.

Then go to the top rope and do as many as two dives. Pin or splash your opponent and you'll get the win.

When it comes to Coco Savage, practice running and doing a shoulder tackle in quick succession. That's both buttons followed by the punch button, fast. You'll have to master that to wear Coco Savage down, or else he'll beat you up badly.

That's how I spent hours and hours at Fantasy Place Amusements in Newmarket. I also played Exciting Hour at the CNE in one of their outdoor under-a-tent arcades.

Eventually the sequel, Mania Challenge, appeared at the Film Factory Theatre in Newmarket. It was a movie theatre that had a couple of video games. I think the bowling alley next door also had one at some point.

Mania Challenge shared some of the same characters and most of the same moves as Exciting Hour/Mat Mania, but you could play player vs. player as Dynamite Tommy or Hurricane Joe. You also got a few new moves to work with: a dropkick when running, a back suplex, an atomic drop, and....maybe something else.

If you loved mid-1980s wrestling, check with your local retrogaming enthusiast for more information on getting your hands on Exciting Hour, Mat Mania and Mania Challenge.

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