Professional wrestling is a curious attraction, to say the least. Starting out as a bunch of North American carnival sideshows and vaudeville attractions in the nineteenth century, its curious mix of athleticism and choreography earned it countless audiences and increasing worldwide popularity. Its roots continued to grow when Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt created the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, later the World Wrestling Federation and today as World Wrestling Entertainment. It also spread throughout the Western hemisphere (to Mexico in particular) with "lucha libre," (free fighting) which emphasizes the importance of masks and even more gravity-defying acrobatics compared to North American pro wrestling. Essentially being a live demonstration of martial arts, it's no surprise that pro wrestling caught on overseas, particularly in Japan which appreciated the fusion of spectacle and fighting. Japanese pro wrestling grew into something decidedly more eclectic than big meatslabs tossing each other around, but brought in high-flying moves akin to lucha libre and included even more insane tactics like spraying colored "poison" mist and using flash paper to imitate launching fire. Pro wrestling usually gets a lot of flak for being "fake," but even if most fight outcomes are fixed before they even begin, it still takes a lot of talent and strength to put on convincing matches without any performers being maimed too seriously.
Excuse the brief history lesson, but pro wrestling has a large stake in pop culture alongside video games. To be sure, pro wrestling isn't for everyone, particularly with fictional storylines that can (and often do) turn out mind-numbingly stupid. Still, with America and Japan's continued interest in "sports entertainment," it only makes sense that both countries have developed a lot of wrestling games. One of the most famous NES titles of all time is the simply-named Pro Wrestling, whose entertaining characters, simple fighting system, and bad English (A WINNER IS YOU) make it a staple of eighties console gaming. While the most famous of its time, Pro Wrestling was not the first of its kind and was beaten to the punch by Technos Japan, creator of the Kunio and Double Dragon series. Technos made the first ever widespread wrestling title with The Big Bang Wrestling! (a.k.a. Tag Team Wrestling) in 1983. While a commendable effort, it honestly kinda sucked and is only known today for inspiring the name and design of Strong Bad from Homestar Runner. Technos would make a much more awesome effort two years later with Mat Mania and put pro wrestling as a game genre on the map, but a year before that, Sanritsu (the same developer of the quite good Bank Panic), under Sega's tutelage, gave us Appoooh.
...Appoooh. What the hell is an "Appoooh?" The best guess out there is that it's an onomatopoeia for somebody being slammed to the mat. A dumb name to be sure, but at least it's not easily forgettable. Anyway, Appoooh features eight ersatz wrestlers, half of whom are modeled on famous Japanese wrestlers and the other half of which are American WWF superstars. G. Babu is Shohei "Giant" Baba, a former baseball pitcher who entered wrestling in the sixties and quickly gained fame due to his size and strength, going on to co-found the All Japan Pro Wrestling promotion. A. Inoke is Antonio Inoki, arguably Japan's most famous pro wrestler and founder of the New Japan Pro Wrestling federation (identifiable by his prominent chin) and also mixed martial artist who may best be known in America for his fight with Muhammad Ali. Tigerman is based on Tiger Mask, a masked identity passed down to several wrestlers inspired by a manga of the same name (and is also the same basis for Tekken's King and Armor King). U. Uma is Umanosuke Ueda, whose distinctive bleached blonde look and unorthodox brawling style cast him as something of a rebel. H. Hogen practically needs no indication that he is Hulk Hogan, perhaps the most world famous wrestler during the WWF's eighties heyday and the source of the "Hulkamania" craze. S. Hanson is Stan Hansen, who somehow became more famous in Japan in America for his insane cowboy gimmick (though his matching hat is unfortunately not seen in this game). A. Giants is André "the Giant" Roussimoff, whose acromegaly made him one of the largest and most popular wrestlers in all of existence and gained accolades from non-wrestling fans for his portrayal of Fezzik in The Princess Bride. Finally, A. Buchie is Larry Shreve, better known as "Abdullah the Butcher," an incredibly violent wrestler who often cut his own head to generate blood for show, though his famous scalp scars are not depicted by his virtual counterpart.
So this game kinda has star power, but how exactly does it play? Pretty stiff, to be honest, but at least it fares slightly better than Tag Team Wrestling. There are three attack buttons, each of which only generates attacks when used in conjunction with the joystick. One button seems to deal primarily with grapple attacks, while the other two can also be used for strikes. Winning matches works like it does in every other wrestler, where you smack and slam your adversary to whittle down their stamina. When knocked down, comical dizzy marks appear which are either white, yellow, or red depending on how badly they're beaten. If they remain red for long enough, you can pin them and hope it gets to a three-count. While each match is your basic one-fall, you have to win two out of three matches to prevail. It's as basic and straightforward as a wrestling game can get, but it plays stiffly and controls are pretty unresponsive. Worse yet, the artificial intelligence is absolutely unforgiving and has far less difficulty recovering his stamina compared to you. Among these negatives, perhaps Appoooh's gravest omission is the lack of head-to-head two-player wrasslin'.
Granted, neither wrestling nor fighting games were developed enough at this point, and it wasn't until the same year that Data East gave us Karate Champ VS, which inspired every fighter and wrestler from then on to allow two competitors to challenge each other. Still, Appoooh would have been more enjoyable if it allowed two players to goof around, as its gameplay isn't incredibly fun and feels obsoleted by Mat Mania, NES Pro Wrestling, and other better developed wrestlefests. However, it was at least a step forward in virtual wrestling's evolution by slightly improving the gameplay over Tag Team Wrestling and having semi-licensed likenesses of actual performers. It also gets points for having absolutely comical models, like A. Inoke's permanent smile and elongated chin, and A. Giants' massive bulk which quickly compresses whenever he has an enemy in a hold. There's a good deal of inconsistency and odd tricks with the sprites, but it does make the game seem really ridiculous in retrospect, like punching somebody hard enough for their entire upper half to nearly slide off their legs. If you want to play an actual wrestling game, look elsewhere, but if you're looking to see where wrestling games today got their start (and just want to see the screwy character animations), then Appoooh is recommended for any devotees of both eighties arcade gaming and professional wrestling.