Guest Article by Cass of Bad Game Hall of Fame!

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Ahem. As you have no doubt noticed thanks for the bit of text above, this is a Guest Article. It was a delight, a pleasure, to work with someone who wasn't the writer I have had to deal with for the past ten years. A true relief. The excellent person in question is of course Cass of Bad Game Hall of Fame, whose excellent, in-depth dives into games with a certain reputation, such as Captain Novolin, Radarscope and Super Mario Bros. Special, are absolutely essential reading. If you're the sort of person interested in the articles that dribble out of our hatch every month or whenever it is, you will absolutely love Bad Game Hall of Fame. So visit it, maybe look at the Patreon too, have a gander at their Game & Love webring, that sort of thing. We now turn things over to Cass, and if you need me I'll be in the corner, fuming because next month I'll be stuck with the normal writer slugabed to write things. Harrumph.

... Oh, that's right. We did something for Cass too, so read all about Dirty Pair: Project Eden over on Bad Game Hall of Fame.

In the history of professional wrestling, there have been some classic catchphrases established by the men and women of our most ridiculous sport. Who can forget when Jonah Cena famously proclaimed "I'll never be seen again?" Or when Rocky Balboa asked the perennial question "Does anybody want some food? I'm cooking!" But there is perhaps no quote quite as famous or fiery as that which was delivered on the 12th of December, 1990: "Whatcha gonna do when Cutiemania runs wild on you?!" This is the question asked by Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel for the Sega Mega Drive: An all-female wrestling game featuring titular real-life wrestler Cutie Suzuki. And who am I, tagging in for Ant to grapple with this bit of Genesis gunk? Why, you can just call me "Cactus Cass."

Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel is but the second wrestling video game to feature an all-female roster, with credit for the first going to 1986's Gokuaku Doumei Dump Matsumoto for the Sega Master System [As it turns out, there was one other competitor for this accolade, Nyannyan Prowrestling for the MSX, thanks inobscurity. - Ed]. That title, centered around 80s joshi star Dump Matsumoto, would actually make its way to the States as the generically-titled Pro Wrestling; complete with a replacement roster of generic male wrestlers in the place of the female cast. For better or for worse, Japan got to keep Ringside Angel all to themselves -- perhaps due in part to how deeply-ingrained Cutie herself is within the game. That, or because the sprites for the female wrestlers simply may have proven a bit too tough to redraw this time around.

Which begs the question: Who's Cutie Suzuki, and what did she do to deserve the distinction of her own video game? Well, she's a female professional wrestler from Japan, as you may have gathered; who they'd refer to as "joshi" as a general term for female pro wrestlers. Cutie would cut her teeth in the aptly named Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (JWPW) promotion, before eventually moving on to the legendary JWP Joshi Puroresu (which we'll just refer to as "JWP" for short), where she would be involved in some equally legendary tag team matches. In what are perhaps her career highlight, she wrestled in series of awesome tag matches throughout 1993, several of which would go on to be rated a rare "five stars" (out of five) by revered wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer.

Yes, let it be known that female wrestling in Japan has kicked ass for quite some time now, and that the rest of the world still has some catching up to do. That being said, I can't really say I ever really considered Cutie Suzuki to be, like, the face of it all? She can certainly hold her own in the ring, and she's certainly got some charisma to her, but she was never really the star of any promotion she was part of. By the time her video game had come out, she had yet to even hold a title during her time in JWPW. She would eventually go on to hold the Women's Junior Title for a whopping total of three months (between October of '91 and January of '92), before the promotion ultimately closed up shop.

So, what qualified Cutie to star in a video game over the likes of Bull Nakano, Mayumi Ozaki, or the immortal Manami Toyota? Well, it sucks to have to say it, but the answer comes down to one thing: Conventional attractiveness. Yes, Cutie really does live up to her gimmick of being a conventionally pretty gal, while some of her contemporaries would unfortunately be derided by some as "too masculine" or "rough around the edges." Personally, I have been known to swoon over every last one of the wrestle ladies I just mentioned; but the sad reality is that professional wrestling is a body business, where the most generally-accepted standards of beauty are what promoters generally look for in a marketable superstar. Cutie Suzuki ticked those boxes, and would therefore be offered the primo licensing deal.

With a star for the title lined up, there's still the matter of filling out a roster with other playable grapplers and opponents. But rather than have to pay any other talent for their likenesses or deal with the messy matter of royalties, publisher Asmik Corporation instead opted to have developer Copya System design eight "original" wrestlers. I say "original" in sarcastic quotation, as it can be relatively easy to draw a line from any of the virtual characters to other real-life female wrestlers -- many of whom also happened to hail from JWPW, and who could be seen rubbing (and ramming) shoulders with Cutie on a somewhat regular basis at the time. In the interest of documentation, let's go and cover the whole in-game roster!

Cuty Suzuki: The star of the show, as it were. And yes, despite most other namings and translations seeming to spell her ring name as "Cutie," the game itself elects to write it as "Cuty" on the character select and bio screens. I suppose it doesn't really matter either way. In-game, she is depicted wearing a yellow leotard -- very much not in line with her real-life regular gimmick of wearing white and frilly ensembles, meant to portray her as a sort of angelic figure.

Megadeath Saito: Megadeath here is more likely than not based on the legendary Bull Nakano; judging from the height of her hair, her excess of eyeshadow, and her generally "scary" demeanor. It's unfortunate that no character in this game gets ring entrances, as I can totally picture her stomping down to the ring set to some knock-off Mega Drive soundchip rendition of Megadeth's "Take No Prisoners," given her awesomely ridiculous in-game name.

Helloween I. Saito: I've seen online sources cite the inspiration for Helloween as one "Jaguar Deathlock?" But I can't even find evidence of anyone in the history of the business ever wrestling under that name -- let alone a female wrestler active in the late 80s in Japan (unless they maybe mean Jaguar Yokota)? Now, there are times when a Harley Saito sported orange hair, but I don't think they'd play that close with the naming here. My best guess / closest match would be Rumi Kazama. Also, nice little German power metal reference there, devs.

Miamore Yajima: Smart money goes on Miamore drawing her design inspiration from Plum Mariko. As a largely technical wrestler, she's credited with innovating a submission hold known as the "Stretch Plum." Unfortunately, her story after the release of the game is a sad one, as she would become the first Japanese pro wrestler to die as the result of a move performed during a wrestling event (a Ligerbomb delivered by Mayumi Ozaki). She passed in 1997, at the age of 29.

Lightning Harada: This is totally Akira Hokuto, innit? Long blonde hair, dark eyeshadow, black lipstick, and the general heel demeanor. You know, that all makes sense though: If you're gonna rip off another female wrestler, Akira Hokuto is an excellent choice. I mean, she's only maybe one of the toughest, greatest wrestlers of all time, right? Please do yourself a favor and watch her match against Manami Toyota from the 1995 AJW Destiny show.

Kingdom Kato: Kingdom here is almost certainly a take on Dynamite Kansai. But hey, that's cool, because Dynamite Kansai is hella cool. I'd have to give her my vote for "Female Wrestler Most Likely to Kill You in a Real Fight" -- even topping Asuka / Kana of modern-day wrestling fame. Her video game derivative does not do justice to how absolutely ripped the woman was. Track down her October 1995 match in JWP where she snaps none other than Cutie Suzuki in half with her patented sitout crucifix powerbomb, to win the Openweight Championship.

Cindy Nakano: I've seen folk attribute the inspiration for this character to Candy Okutsu; who would later wrestle as "Tiger Dream" -- the female version of the famous Tiger Mask gimmick. One slight problem though: Candy Okutsu didn't debut in wrestling until 1992. So, all I can honestly do is guess on this one. Let's say... Hikari Fukuoka? She sported occasionally short, naturally-brown hair, and was super cute to boot.

Keilie Katuhara: Ignoring my gut impulse to shout "Luna Vachon," this is probably our Dump Matsumoto analogue. Again, I've seen folk online claiming that Keilie here is supposed to be based on, like, Devil Masami? But I can't recall Devil ever looking quite like this in the ring, with the partially-shaved head and the face paint. Alternate answer: Condor Saito, maybe? Did you know that her and Bull Nakano used to come down the ring with swastikas on their facemasks? Yikes, y'all.

Guns Oyama: Oh, thank the heavens that this is an easy one. This is Mayumi Ozaki, folks, and she kicks ass. Her unfortunate involvement in the match that cost Plum Mariko her life notwithstanding, she's one of the top-tier wrestling heels of all time, who managed to convey pure joy and giddiness in torturing her opponents with all manner of dirty moves and downright evil attacks. Oh, and she would also be involved in several of those aforementioned five star matches that Dave Meltzer is so discerning in rating.

You may notice I didn't list anything like "finishing moves" or stat variations between each of the playable gals. That's because there aren't really any to speak of. All nine competitors are more or less interchangeable with one another, thanks to a system where you're made to select your two "special" moves (your 'Down + A' and 'Down + B') from a universal moveset at the beginning of every match. Save for Cutie Suzuki having exclusive rights to the "Cutie Special" maneuver, this puts everyone on more or less equal footing, as the remainder of your moveset is otherwise universal as well. If there is supposed to be some subtle variation on the baseline stats between the characters, I certainly didn't notice it.

At this point, I recommend just playing the lady you think looks the coolest, for as much good that'll do you. Of course, with that being said, I do have to inform you that all the ladies in the game are based off the same basic template: They all share the same proportions, one-piece ring attire, and the boots to match their leotards. The only variations are slight differences in their faces, a small handful of hair styles, an assortment of hair and clothing colors, and in skin tone -- where the designated "heel" characters tend to have darker complexions. Yeah, I know; you've just gotta try and stop yourself from reading too much into that last bit, or you're liable to drive yourself mad.

In an era where pro wrestling games were expected to provide little more than just a standard one-on-one match mode and possibly a tournament mode if they wanna get fancy, Ringside Angel is content to settle for that bare minimum. Here you will not find steel cages, exploding rings, or even so much as a tag team mode: Just the standard "one fall" formula where victory is determined by pinfall, submission, or count-out. Hell, there isn't so much as an options menu where you can adjust... well, anything at all, I reckon. Just about the only frills on this ride are 2-player versus multiplayer, and a "Watch" mode where you can sit back, relax, and watch the AI brawl it out.

The meat of the game here, as it were, undoubtedly lies in the "1 Player" option on the menu, where you rise through the ranks of this unnamed promotion to become the "Grand Champion." Each of the five championships for the taking represent the different levels of AI difficulty, as they also carry over into the game's exhibition mode (titled 'Battles'): You begin as a "New Face," graduate to the rank of "Strawberry," take "White Snow" by storm, and grow into a role as "Starlight," all before earning the rank of Grand Champion. I'll also note that each of these championships are individually introduced / handed to your character by a blonde lady in a bunny outfit, which I for one think is a cute little touch.

The road to each championship is presented as either an elimination bracket or scorecard tournament, where your goal should be to win every match and guarantee your ultimate victory. Losing a match in the elimination tournament will bring you directly to a continue screen, but I reckon you might be able to potentially lose a match in the score-based tournament and still manage to walk away with the belt? That being said, winning matches on even the hardest difficult becomes something of a non-issue, once you figure out one of the consistent strategies for winning and what makes the AI tick.

In addition to mixing up the brackets, the game also tries to introduce some variety between matches in the form of a pair of alternating referees, and a selection of guest commentators; including the likes of Boomer / Asmik-Kun (Asmik's mascot), Mr. Kernel (KFC's Colonel Sanders), and Mr. Schwartz (a riff on Arnold Schwarzenegger). It seems like a bit of a missed opportunity that the wrestling arena itself is always the same, but at a certain point all this variety is very much of the "artificial" kind anyhow: You're still wrestling the same match type in the same style of ring, with effectively the same characters and similar moves, over and over again until the repetition of it all sets in. And after one playthrough in the tournament mode, where you'll be made to face off against every member of the roster at least two or three times, I reckon you'll just about be knackered out.

From the bell, your opponent will most likely make their way straight towards you to grapple or brawl, and it is in your best interest to respond in kind. Punches and shin kicks serve to soften up an opponent some and can occasionally knock them on flat on their back, but these will likely not be your primary means of attack. For that, you'll likely rely on the grappling system, where you and your opponent will briefly lock up with one another before one of you is given the chance to perform a power move. These are where your suplexes, headbutts, and other more "advanced" techniques will come into play -- almost always guaranteed to knock you or your opponent to the ground and line them up for a pin attempt.

Of course, you shouldn't expect to win by flash pin or surprise roll-up right out the gate in any given match: You'll most certainly need to wear down your opponent's stamina to it's lowest point before they eventually fail to kick out or escape your submissions. In addition to a bar indicating their current status, their character portraits will also reflect their current state of fatigue, with a music cue also indicating when they are at their most vulnerable. Needless to say, getting your opponent to this state as quickly and efficiently as possible is the name of the game here, and there are a few ways to routinely do so.

Your best bet is to perform moves off the tops of the turnbuckles onto your opponent, which require them to be momentarily downed so that you can stick the landing on them. If performed correctly, your lady will do a great big splash on her target, taking off an absolutely massive chunk of their stamina. For some bonus damage, jumping from the turnbuckle onto an opponent outside the ring - laying on the presumably concrete floor - will devastate them to such an extent that you'll basically already have the match won. If you wanna just climb back into the ring at that point and wait for the ref to count to twenty, you'll often score a quick and easy victory by count-out.

Alternatively, the most effective ground-based moves in the game are the selection of stretches and submission holds: Your torture racks, surfboard stretches, sharpshooters and what have you. It seems that if you mash buttons while applying these moves, you'll extend their duration, and the amount of damage they ultimately do. If you've got the patience for it, you can even chain together some of these moves by applying them to already-downed opponents, sticking them in a seemingly endless loop of painful submissions. If you're cruel enough to apply one of these maneuvers to an opponent in their critical state, there's a chance they'll simply tap out and take no more punishment from you.

The other method you might find yourself relying on is forcing a count-out -- perhaps the riskiest method thus far, but also potentially the quickest. If you decide to roll out of the ring, chances are your opponent will follow you in kind; putting you both in a zone where attacks all seem to do slightly more damage, and where irish whipping an opponent (grabbing them and sending them running in a direction of your choosing) means running them into a steel barricade. If you play your cards right in this section of the arena, you can knock your opponent to the ground with just a few seconds to get back into the ring, and take the opportunity to roll back in before they can, thereby clinching a "cheap" victory. Of course, there's always the chance that your opponent can reverse a move and knock you to the ground with too little time to beat the count, so tread carefully.

If you really wanna play the game "the way it was meant to be played" though, you can probably imagine it's meant to consist mostly of in-ring action, with moves exchanged back and forth between two competitors keeping pace with one another. The problem is, this just isn't very much fun in Ringside Angel, and matches have a habit of extending to tedious lengths if you don't take some sort of initiative in ending them. Stamina can recharge over time, and the momentum of a match can swap favor in an instant: You can win on an opponent for five minutes straight, until they suddenly manage to reverse one of your power moves, and then proceed to get the heat on you for the next five minutes while they regenerate back to full health.

Of course it's important to be able to mount a comeback from the edge of defeat in a wrestling game: Many of the best matches in the business are built on the premise of a wrestler looking beaten to the brink of death, before turning the tide and nabbing a seemingly impossible victory. And so, any wrestling game worth its salt has to allow for reversals of fortune and extended exchanges between competitors. The problem with Ringside Angel is, your moveset going into any match feels incredibly limited, and so longer matches end up feeling like running in circles. Of course, this is a problem that afflicted most other early wrestling games as well... and is a large part of the reason why most early wrestling games tend to suck.

The frustration here is in the fact that Ringside Angel seems like it could've broken the streak of bad wrestling games. By breaking standard convention with its all-female roster, you almost expect it to throw some other sorts of curveballs as well and change up the formula even further. The closest the game ever gets to this is a genuinely surprising moment at the end of the tournament mode; where during your initial celebration as the new Grand Champion, a surprise opponent will make a last minute run-in and force you into an unforeseen final battle for the right to the title. This would predate and predict the trend of "swerves" in other wrestling game story modes by some number of years.

Aside from that bit of flavor - and maybe the element of the colorful cast of commentators - the rest of the game is sadly bog-standard as can be. The control is expectedly stiff for a wrestling game of the era, with the only perceivable "fluidity" coming from the elements of move reversals and bouncing off the ring ropes. Movement is slow and plodding, with a sprint function often causing you to overshoot or otherwise miss your mark if you're using it to try and line up something like a lariat. With the added element of some up and down movement on the surface, where you're made to line up your vertical planes like in a beat 'em up, it's also possible to whiff punches and kicks completely, and allow your opponent to side-step into a position where they can get an advantage on you.

Aside from that, there are some other additional bits of clunkiness in store for players that might detract from the experience: Having to press the 'C' button on the character select screen in order to bring up the wrestlers' names and briefs is a frankly unnecessary step, as that information should honestly be displayed on-screen by default. Referees constantly positioning themselves directly behind you can lead to some cluttered visuals. The contextual inputs (such as applying a submission to an opponent already on the ground) can require some frustratingly specific positioning to work, and lead to you stumbling around trying to find the precise sweet spot for too long to actually execute on it.

All that said, Ringside Angel isn't entirely without merit. Much respect to the premise of an all-female wrestling title, where everything is still treated as professional sport rather than trashy "Attitude Era" softcore smut. Generally speaking, the game's presentation is the source of most of its highlights: With unique art assets designed for different elements of the UI, the novelty of running match commentary, instant replays on finishes, and a generally nice-looking anime-esque aesthetic that runs through most of the game. Just about the only assets that don't conform to this style are a pair of digitized photos of Cutie Suzuki, which adorn the title screen and the ending of the credits sequence.

If the concept of a joshi wrestling game appeals to you, but the likes of Rumble Roses are a bit too sleazy for your tastes, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel is certainly worth a shot I suppose? It almost certainly won't provide you with any lasting replayability, and you'll probably struggle to rope a friend into playing with competitively with you, but it's at least packaged in such a fashion that it won't outright embarrass you to show the game off. The next several years of female representation in wrestling games would largely go right ahead and buck this trend, so I suppose there's something to be said about respecting this game for its comparative "classiness," as it were? In any case, you can certainly do worse, if not a whole lot better as well.

In the esimation of our esteemed guest Cactus Cass, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel is awarded...

In a sentence, Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel is...
As forgettable as a dark match on an early-2000s backyard show.

I reckon it's that time, folks!

For reasons seemingly unknown, there exists a nine-and-a-half-minute video of Cutie Suzuki playing some unspecified video game -- most likely Ringside Angel, if I had to guess? With the video lacking any sort of production slate or titlecards though, it's difficult to ascertain any sort of context for this footage. But the best guess I can muster is that this was recorded as B-roll footage for the purposes of putting together promotional material for the Ringside Angel game, with the marketing team deciding that having some footage of the game's star actually playing and enjoying her own game might prove useful. With that guess being put out there, you'd think that she'd be playing the game with a Sega Mega Drive controller in hand, rather than the prototype-testing rig she's clearly being presented with.

In sitting through the nearly ten minutes of awkward, noiseless footage (any in-camera or other room audio is replaced by some sort of stock muzak), you can't help but get the impression that poor Cutie is sort of stressed out by the game, and that she doesn't really want to be there. Now, I'm not assuming that she doesn't care about or enjoy video games: Maybe she had just come in the morning after an exhausting match, or the room was sweltering hot, or any other combination of factors that would lead to her not being in the best of moods. Or maybe it's simply a matter of the complete lack of audible commentary coming from her making this video feel way creepier than it was intended to be; making the whole tape feel like some sort of weird hidden camera voyeur video?

At a certain point, a random dude shows up to presumably play a match in the game against Cutie. And judging entirely from uninformed observation, it looks as if the guy is basically there to stand his character still for Cutie and to let her win: He barely seems to be pressing buttons, while Cutie can be seen mashing away and rapidly tapping. Again, I'm not here to claim that "Cutie Suzuki is bad at video games," because hell if I know and who even cares. But if there's one thing I must contend at the end of having watched this footage, it's this: Absolutely none of this footage seems usable in any form or fashion.

Kudos to the Lariato Gaming YouTube channel for uploading this bizarre footage!

[Hello. It's Ed the Editor, popping in for a second for a little extra thing 'cause I'm the only member of staff around to do it.]

[A neat little extra comes with Cutie Suzuki no Ringside Angel- a lenticular cover.]

[It's a single piece of card that fits over the normal cover. One image shows Cutie in her leotard, the other in more casual clothes.]

[Oh, there's also this image on the back of the manual, marked as 'Very Important' by our writer, so we had to put it on here.]

[Yes, that is Cutie Suzuki hugging a gigantic Boomer / Asmik-Kun plushie.]

Thanks again to Ant for asking me to write this goofy little article about this goofy little game, and for generally being cool as heck! Sorry to say that even when it comes to something as "simple" as a more straightforward game review, I still find a way to talk too much, huh. But hey, if you happened to enjoy this bit of overly-long drivel about a bit of digital wrestling, maybe check out another article I wrote on the infamous WCW Backstage Assault? It's got a picture of my wrestlesona beaning Vince Russo in the head with a garbage can, so you know it can't be all bad!

Cutie 3:16 says I just kicked your ass back to the index!