Considering that Capcom was ruling the fighting game roost in 1993, Saturday Night Slam Masters is such a low-key production. Street Fighter 2 blended together with a wrestling game sounds like such an amazing concept, but that’s absolutely not what Saturday Night Slam Masters is.
And that’s really weird, considering that one of the grapplers, Gunloc, has a bio that suggests he is related to a famous street fighter while Chun Li appears in the audience. Yet, despite the references that imply it exists in the same universe as Street Fighter 2, Saturday Night Slam Masters is pretty much just a wrestling game. It’s not even a particularly outstanding wrestling game, but it’s still one of my favorite arcade games of all time.
Mike Haggar. Mike Haggar! MIKE HAGGAR!
The Excellence of Execution
Saturday Night Slam Master was released in 1993 in arcades, but it also got ported to the SNES, Genesis, and FM Towns Marty. I first played it on the SNES where it became one of my most prized cartridges, but now that it’s more widely available through Capcom Arcade Stadium 2, that’s where I typically get my Haggar on.
In Japan, the game is actually called Muscle Bomber, but I personally love the Saturday Night Slam Masters moniker. I love it so much. It just sounds like an old televised wrestling show, similar to WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. I love it so much that the flagship show of the fictional wrestling promotion I make over and over in every wrestling game with customization, Breakfast Time Wrestling, is Saturday Morning Slam. I almost italicized that like it’s a real thing.
Saturday Night Slam Masters centers around the worldwide Capcom Professional Wrestling Association. You choose a wrestler from a selection of 10 and then take them around the world to compete for the title belt. I don’t think that’s how wrestling titles are supposed to work, but it’s a great framework. And then, after you win the title, the game keeps on going, with you having to defend it.
There’s apparently more of a backstory. According to the Capcom Database citation-less summary, CPWA’s version of Hulk Hogan suddenly disappeared. With the vacuum of power where their champion was supposed to be, the CPWA decides to host their world tour Crash Carnival, to crown a new champion. But an evil promotion called the Blood Professional Wrestling Association decides that they want the title, and some of their wrestlers crash the Crash Carnival, which, again, I don’t think is how wrestling works. Maybe it’s kayfabe.
Then there’s the aesthetic, which has that slight grit common in the Street Fighter and Final Fight games. The CPWA is a far cry from the glossy productions put on by wrestling promotions these days. It reminds me more of the early days of televised wrestling where the wrestlers would practically wade through a sea of people to get to the ring, rather than having an almost choreographed entrance.
Mike Haggar’s entrance, for example, simply has him throwing a towel into the crowd. If only I was there to catch that towel…
Then you get to the actual wrestling, and it’s just… fine. There are punches, grapples, and Irish whips, plus plenty of button mashing. I feel that button mashing is actually key to arcade wrestling. Hammering that button and shaking the stick gives some physicality to the experience.
However, Saturday Night Slam Masters lacks any nuance beneath that. You can climb the ropes, but opponents don’t stay down long enough for you to really land a flying elbow. It’s possible to get outside the ring and use weapons, but that’s largely pointless. If you do it to temporarily escape your opponent’s thrashing, it’s unlikely the opponent will actually join you. So you’re left standing out there, holding a bucket while the ref counts.
Then there are the special moves. I only know of Mike Haggar’s, because when I have a choice to play as Mike Haggar or literally anyone else, I choose Mike Haggar. He has his spinning double-lariat from Final Fight, as well as a spinning piledrive. Except the spinning piledrive requires you to tie up with an opponent, rotate the joystick 360 degrees, and hit the punch and jump buttons together. The problem is that once you tie up, you have about 1 second to mash the punch button to overpower your opponent. Otherwise, they perform a slam against you.
I can play Zangief just fine. I’m no stranger to 360 rotations. But I have never once been able to perform Mike Haggar’s spinning piledriver. To this day, its existence is hearsay to me.
Pins are also somewhat routine. If your opponent has no life left in their gauge, they’re out the moment you pin them. The same goes for you. Fight all you want, but if your life gauge is empty, you’re not getting free.
A lot of the actual combat in Saturday Night Slam Masters just feels “good enough.” It’s not actually that much better than 1986’s Pro Wrestling on the NES or 1989’s Tecmo World Wrestling, just to name a couple. Heck, 1991’s King of the Monsters is a better wrestling game, and that game is really about kaiju.
Although, none of those have Mike Haggar, which means Saturday Night Slam Masters is the best.
I should note that there is a tag team mode, which is pretty fun. It allows you to team up with a friend or captive stranger to take on the CPWA. Really, it’s more like a tornado tag. You’re both in the ring at the same time, and the goal is to pin both opponents, which can be done one at a time.
There were two follow-ups to Saturday Night Slam Masters. The first was Muscle Bomber Duo, which was kind of like the “Turbo” version of the base game. The gameplay is more polished, and you can play as the boss characters. It actually does play quite a bit better. Getting into a tie-up actually requires you to press a button to grapple.
The actual sequel is Ring of Destruction: Muscle Bombers 2, and it’s a horrible abomination. For whatever reason, the developers turned it into a straightforward fighting game. The wrestling is now just an aesthetic choice. You don’t even have to pin at the end of the match. Even worse, it isn’t a good fighting game. It does still have Mike Haggar, though.
Unfortunately, neither of these follow-ups were in Capcom Arcade Stadium 2, which isn’t a huge loss for Ring of Destruction, but Muscle Bomber Duo is a clear improvement over the original. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see a Capcom Arcade Stadium 3, but if they’re still not included, we riot.
Get back in the ring
Even though it isn’t the best wrestling game, I still love it. It’s easy to pick up and play a few rounds, the aesthetic is perfect, and while it isn’t great, it’s good enough. Good enough, plus Mike Haggar, is immediately top-shelf.
One of my dream games is for Capcom to return to Saturday Night Slam Masters. The wrestling sub-genre in video games is in a stagnant place right now. Much of the air in the room is dominated by the WWE 2K series’ abundant flab, and fun arcade wrestlers are few and far between. A wrestling game that eschews licensed wrestlers and instead provides a fun cast with a unique aesthetic feels like it would stand out today. Especially if it features Mike Haggar.