All Japan Pro-Wrestling Featuring Virtua: The Legend Begins

Pro Wrestling Games Sega Saturn
AJPWCoverAll Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua
Sega Saturn, 1997
Developer: Scarab
Publisher: Sega

The late 90s were a great time to be a fan of pro wrestling video games.  As the red-hot ratings war between the WWF and WCW escalated,[1] the genre started receiving an unprecedented degree of attention and care from western publishers. Companies such as Acclaim[2] and THQ[3] began packing their U.S. wrestling games with true to life wrestler entrances, detailed creation suites, motion captured animation, and a degree of graphical polish previously reserved for simulations of legitimate sports. Yes, publishers were finally treating wrestling games like big ticket releases, and PSX and N64 owners were in the midst of a golden age of virtual wrasslin’.

Saturn owners, like me, however, were not so lucky. The Saturn began dying a slow death in North America right from its surprise launch in May of 1995, and by the time pro wrestling’s renaissance had begun, Sega’s 32-bit workhorse was little more than an also-ran in the console race. The big WWF and WCW titles never landed on Saturn, and unless you had access to imported games, you were stuck watching the rebirth of the pro wrestling genre from the Spanish announce table.

AJPWcharselectFortunately, I had a very generous older brother who did have access to imported games, and on Christmas morning, 1997, I unwrapped a pristine copy of the Saturn classic, All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua. I was ecstatic. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to play as Stone Cold, Scott Hall, the Rock, or any of my other favorites – but I’d finally be able to play as Stan Hansen, Kenta Kobashi, that dude that got knocked out in the Brawl For All, and countless other combatants that guys on geocities sites swore were the greatest wrestlers on the planet. Strangely, that last sentence was not sarcastic in the least.

Kenta & Ace
Every red-blooded American wanted to see these guys wrestle back in ’97.

All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua is a true Saturn classic which took a completely different approach to the pro wrestling genre than its western contemporaries. I spent countless hours playing AJPW, trying to master its deceptively complex grappling mechanics and intricate damage system, but the rigorous pressures of being a teenager in suburban Philadelphia proved to be too much for me to handle. I couldn’t balance my hectic high school schedule with my virtual pro wrestling career, and I had to put down my controller before I could achieve the game’s ultimate goal: the Triple Crown Championship.

Nice hardware.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be replaying AJPW in an effort to slay that white whale; I’m finally going capture that championship belt that eluded me all those years ago. In the process, I also hope to shed some light on what a weird and wonderful experience it was being a Saturn owner in the late 90s. Crack open a Steveweiser and dig in.

Onward to Part 1!

[1] At the peak of the “Monday Night Wars,” approximately 10 million viewers were watching wrestling per week.

[2] WWF Warzone, WWF Attitude, ECW Hardcore Revolution, ECW Anarchy Rulz

[3] The WWF Smackdown series, WCW vs. the World, WCW vs. NWO World Tour, and many others.

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