If you grew up in the 1980s, you may recall a series of tiny pink wrestling figures called M.U.S.C.L.E. men. More than 200 different characters were released, but the fad faded away quietly with the onset of the 1990s, quite possibly because there wasn't an accompanying cartoon series to maintain interest in the toy line. Recently, Bandai introduced Ultimate Muscle, a new line of wrestling toys based on the original M.U.S.C.L.E. line. The marketing for Ultimate Muscle is much more pervasive than the campaign for the original series. An animated cartoon show regularly exposes children to the ongoing adventures of characters such as Kid Muscle, Terry Kenyon, and Ramen Man, and there are also accompanying video games available for the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance systems. The GBA game is titled Ultimate Muscle: The Path of the Superhero. It's a simple yet entertaining game that should appeal greatly to fans of the cartoon series.
Signature moves are the only way to KO an opponent and win the match.
The game features 24 individual characters and four different play modes. Like the TV show, the story mode centers on Kid Muscle, a reluctant hero living in the shadow of his father, the legendary King Muscle. As you defeat opponents in the story mode, you'll see various events unfold just as they have in the animated series. These moments are presented using comic-book-style cutscenes overlaid with textual dialogue drawn directly from the show. The other play modes include the typical one-on-one versus and survival options you've seen in other games, as well as a unique three-on-three team battle mode that's similar to what you'd find in SNK's popular King of Fighters fighting game series. Unfortunately, there isn't a tag team mode, nor is there a create-a-wrestler feature that allows you to put together your own characters. On the upside, however, every play mode other than the story mode includes link-cable support, allowing you to compete against a friend who also owns a copy of the game.
For the most part, Ultimate Muscle is easy to get the hang of, although it does take a brief amount of time to become accustomed to the game's timing system. When characters grapple, a vertical bar with a cursor and three different color zones appears. Weak moves can be pulled off when the cursor is in the yellow or blue portions of the bar, while strong moves, whips, and throws can be accomplished only when the cursor is in the blue portion. If you hesitate too long or input a command when the cursor is in the red section, your opponent will perform a move. As you wear down an opponent, the sizes of the blue and yellow portions of the bar increase, improving your chances of successfully performing an attack. Each character has his own set of roughly a dozen or so grapples and counters, although there aren't any turnbuckle or over-the-ropes maneuvers.