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Games time forgot: Arm Wrestling

2:58 PM on 11.24.2008 // Anthony Burch

Everyone remembers and loves Punch-Out!!, but what about its weirder, more physically exhausting spinoff?

Arm Wrestling is remarkable not only in that it was the arcade-only followup to Punch-Out!!, but in that it makes approximately zero goddamn sense. I mean, Punch-Out!! wasn't exactly the most realistic boxing simulator in the world, but at the very least it required the player to press buttons in such a way that it at least sort of felt like you were boxing. Granted, you were boxing in a totally over-the-top universe against characters like Soda Popinski and King Hippo, but the controls themselves made sense within the context of boxing as a sport.

Arm Wrestling has none of that crap. At no point does it even really attempt to approximate what it feels like to arm wrestle; one part joystick-masher, one part button-masher, one part weird timing minigame, Arm Wrestling is so mechanically weird, yet so visually similar to the Punch-Out!! games that it's very difficult not to be mesmerized by it.

Hit the jump for more.


You're an arm wrestler. You fight progressively more powerful, progressively more eccentric enemies until beating the fifth and final arm wrestler, at which point you win, presumably.

I couldn't get past the third opponent.




So, to begin with, you jiggle the joystick to the left as fast and as hard as you possibly can to move their arm downward and deal "damage," such as it is. Once your opponent makes a weird face of some sort, it means they're about to counterattack. Before they can do that, you've got to (and this is where the game loses any semblance of realism or logic) wiggle the joystick back and forth to daze your opponent. Once dazed, your opponent literally goes bug-eyed and looks so confused that you'd think he just found out he was adopted -- just because you moved your hand back and forth for a split second.

While the bastard is dazed, you have to hit the "attack" button as fast as possible to do more damage and score points. I have no idea what the "attack" button is meant to represent in the context of actual arm wrestling, but pressing it as fast as you can while the other bastard is dazed increases the strength of your regular joystick-mashing arm attack, so it's something you've gotta do. 

This may sound absolutely stupid, but I actually sort of enjoyed Arm Wrestling after a round or two. Maybe it was the blatantly nonsensical mechanics, or the fact that everything in the game has to be done extremely fast, over and over, or perhaps that despite its decidedly unrealistic arm wrestling controls my arm still got really, really tired by the end of the second round. Since the game all but requires you to hammer away at the joystick as fast as you possibly can, it's easy to get some serious bicep strain after a few minutes of play. Since every other arm wrestling arcade game in existence gives the player this feeling by actually having them wrestle a robotic arm, I thought it was interesting that Arm Wrestling managed to emulate this sensation simply through use of a joystick.


Why you're probably not playing it:

Unlike Punch-Out!!, no NES port was ever made of Arm Wrestling. The only real way to play it is to either NOT emulate it with Mame, or to find a working arcade cabinet like I did.

It's not a particularly great game, or worth a spectacular amount of effort to find, but it's just so odd: I'd never heard of it before I saw it sitting idly at Castles n' Coasters, and the gameplay is so nonsensical-yet-endearing that I still don't really know if I actually like the game or not. 

Still, I'm happy I played it.

You could argue that I'm giving the game too much credit, and that it's really just a mindless, clumsy excuse for making the player randomly hit a bunch of buttons and joysticks for no real reason other than the moderately satisfying feeling of physical exertion it offers. Truth be told, you'd be absolutely right. Unlike Punch-Out!!, Arm Wrestling is pretty shallow, very short, and only requires the ability to press buttons really fast and a sense of timing to counterattack enemies. It's a really satisfying game to play if you only have to spend one or two credits on it at your local arcade, but otherwise it's just a neat, weird, flawed little cultural artifact to be admired from a distance.


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