When Human Entertainment's seminal Fire Pro series first hit at the very beginning of the 16-bit era, it didn't just redefine how Japanese wrestling games played, it also set a standard for customization and content that completely revolutionized the genre. By the time that the series' final SFC installment was released, it had a good half dozen different modes of play, control of the rules of each match, four player capability, a roster reaching into triple digits, and a create-a-character mode that's still without peer in any genre.
With people's expectations of the genre having been raised, other developers were forced to put all kinds of different modes and settings into their games if they were to have any hope of competing. This lead to innovations such as "crowd pleasing" matches, shoot fighting, death matches, and even "throw your opponent off of a roof" matches. But as interesting as those things are, they were more an attempt to differentiate the titles from Fire Pro than to try to outdo it. This is the case for virtually all Japanese 16-bit wrestlers, which, even at their most blatantly derivative, still have gameplay/graphical/licensing differences from Human Entertainment's series, but just can't compare with its level of gameplay customization or content. The only game that really completely breaks from this trend is the SFC title Gekitou Burning Pro Wrestling.
As opposed to other wrestling games for SFC, Bullet Proof Software's Gekitou Burning Pro Wrestling makes no effort to be original - it's a Fire Pro clone through and through. The reason that it's still a noteworthy title is because its designers managed to cram more match customization and content into the game than in anything that came before it. It had the largest amount of moves and characters ever as of its release, with more than 800 different attacks and a cast that's a whopping 117 wrestlers large. Like Fire Pro, there aren't any actual licenses, but each wrestler is depicted accurately enough that you'll be able to recognize anybody that you're familiar with. There are six modes of play, an options mode, and a create-a-wrestler mode. The options mode is for selecting your ring, the difficulty level, background music, etc. The create-a-wrestler option is the only area where the game falls short. All you can do to customize your creation's appearance is to modify an existing wrestler's color palette - as if the mode where only half finished.
From the startup screen, the highest option to the left is for standard stand alone matches. Below that is a eight man tag-team elimination match, with two teams of four. You control a lone member of your team, and choose whether you or the CPU starts the match. Matches are fought 2-on-2, with wrestlers being replaced after being eliminated. Then below that is Battle Royale, where six wrestlers duke it out in the ring all at once. You can pick up to eighteen guys for this mode, with wrestlers constantly being replaced after eliminations. The highest option to the right is for league play. You select your wrestler, pick a federation for them to compete in, and then battle your way through the league. You start your fights by selecting them from a grid that displays the scheduled match ups - you can either watch or skip CPU matches. Then the second option down to the right sets up a tournament. Finally, the third option down to the right takes you through the ranks of your own custom built eight man federation.
Where it completely blows away all of its competition on the console is with the obscene extent to which you can customize each match. The best mode to try this out in is with the stand alone matches. The first option that's highlighted will set up the match rules. Beginning with the default rule set, and moving to the right from there, you've got puroresu, American, lucha libre, RINGS, UWFi, Pancrase, K-1, and a fully customizable setting. Directly below that, moving progressively down, you can set up tag team matches, turn on "second mode" (a very strange setting where you can activate, and even "play as", a second wrestler who watches from ringside, but can't actually do anything), change the winning requirements from one fall to best-two-out-of-three, set the time limit, choose the referee, and, directly above "Match Entry", view which moves are illegal.
When you have the rules set to fully customizable, you can modify a second row of settings to the right. Beginning from the highest and moving progressively down, the first modifies count outs, the second activates pins outside of the ring, the third turns off rope breaks (rope breaks = ropes are a "safe zone"), the fourth signifies whether or not the ref will begin a count for rope breaks or if they are automatic (this actually automatically changes with the rope breaks setting), the fifth deactivates your ability to climb the turnbuckles, the sixth outlaws all wrestling or judo style throws (body slams and take downs are still ok), and the seventh outlaws all submission moves.
One of the coolest things about Gekitou Burning Pro Wrestling is all of the different kinds of matches that you can fight. Puro rules are the default. American rules are like puro, except you can't climb the turnbuckles. Lucha libre rules are also like puro, except you get disqualified for a few moves (which makes for hilarious intentional loses). Even cooler, you've also got four kinds of mixed martial arts-style matches to choose from, all of which operate on weird point systems that differ from the other rule sets.
RINGS matches give each wrestler five points to begin with. You lose a point for committing a foul, being on the receiving end of a knockdown, and for every two rope breaks. UWFi matches give you fifteen points to start out with. You lose three points for taking a knockdown, and five points for committing a foul. Pancrase matches are basically like RINGS matches without point deduction for rope breaks. In all three of these kinds of matches, a select few striking moves (like head butts) are illegal, as are all non-submission moves against downed opponents. K-1 is/was a stand-up mixed martial arts competition. Both fighters begin with three points each, and are docked a point for taking a knockdown or committing a foul. There are still a few outlawed striking moves, but ALL attacks against downed opponents have been deactivated, and ALL throws, slams, and takedowns are illegal. Like in the other three MMA matches, you'll get counted out if you fail to rise after a takedown before the ref reaches 10.
The system for pulling off grappling moves is similar to the early Fire Pro titles. When two wrestlers collide they'll grab each other's hands, like Hulk Hogan and Kenta Kobashi are doing here...
... and then quickly snap into a final frame of animation...
... at which point you enter the command for your move. You have to be quicker than the other player/the CPU to execute your move, and you'll sacrifice your shot if you're early. You only have access to your low powered grappling attacks (performed with Y) at the beginning of a match, and you gain access to mid and high powered grappling moves (performed with B and A, respectively) after you've dished out some pain. You can combine each button with any direction on the D-pad for a different attack. You've got all shitloads of other cool maneuvers, as well, from back grappling, to leaps off of the turnbuckle or over the ropes, and even two-man team-up attacks in tag team matches. You can also leave the ring by pushing Y, but, oddly, you have to hold down R for it to work (also applies to leaps over the ropes).
Gekitou Burning Pro Wrestling may also be the only game ever made where you can control the referee. After you choose Match Entry from the setup screen, you'll get to this screen:
Just highlight where it says "CP" below the figure in the middle, and change it to whichever player is going to control the ref. There's a fairly generic ref, another guy who looks like Mr. Rogers in sprite art form, a ref with a shaved scalp and purple pants, and an old guy.
This is a damn cool novelty in and of itself, but it's absolutely hilarious if you've got a buddy (or two, or three) fighting in the match. You can count as fast as you like, or not count at all. So if somebody applies an illegal move then you can just leave the other wrestler there to get a face full of blood. Or if somebody goes for a pin then you can reach 2 real quick, and then totally deny them the 3 count. If the wrestlers leave the ring then you can let the fight continue on the floor forever, or you can count them both out before they have any chance in hell of getting back in. You can also stay on the other side of the ring and act like you don't even see a pin attempt...
... or avoid the fight entirely and just run around the ring like an idiot.
Or, if you like, you can spend the entire match pushing the wrestlers down.
I was hoping that you'd be able to climb the turnbuckle and send ref from above crashing down, but no such luck.
Anyhow, Gekitou Burning Pro Wrestling ranks amongst the better wrestling games that you're ever going to find, and playing as the ref is always worth a laugh or two, so it's well worth your while if you're a fan of Fire Pro-style games. If you're looking for other awesome forgotten games in this style then try Konami's brilliant Jikkyou Power Pro Wrestling '96: Max Voltage, also for SFC.