It’s been a while since we last saw Fire Pro Wrestling. The last time I had the pleasure of playing a Fire Pro game was Fire Pro Wrestling Returns on the PlayStation 2, which was launched in Europe in 2008 (bizarrely limited to Italy, Spain and Portugal). The game was actually released much earlier in Japan, way back in 2005. Everyone has decided to forget that hideous Fire Pro Wrestling game which used the Xbox 360 Avatars – that’s a good move.
Wait, you’ve never heard of Fire Pro Wrestling? Well ,here’s a brief history lesson. Fire Pro Wrestling started life in 1989 and during its history it has largely been a 2D, sprite-based wrestling game. There have been some 3D based spin-offs in the years following, but the games have largely found themselves on consoles such as the SNES and GBA. Games using 2D sprites fell out of favour with the release of the original Playstation, which led to low sales of 2D based games.
Many 2D game series never found their niche in the new world of 3D games. Games like Contra and Metal Slug have never regained their former successes, but the Fire Pro series chugged away with its own cult following ever since. For well over a decade, the Fire Pro Series has sat dormant under the weight of ever-declining WWE games. But now one of the finest ever wrestling game series has made its return as an early access title. So what’s it like?
Well, it’s important to remember that Fire Pro Wrestling World is in very early access, so there’s plenty of features that are not in the game yet. So there are a few negatives to be had, but they’re not negatives per se. Firstly the gameplay; it’s always been difficult, and it may put off those who have grown up with the relatively simple WWE games. On the flip side, it’s twice as deep and much more rewarding. A slight downside is that it hasn’t really moved on since Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, but that’s not totally a bad thing. FPWR was close to perfect, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
The gameplay will be totally familiar to those who have played a Fire Pro game before. To lock up with an opponent, simply walk toward him and the lock up will begin. Then there’s three grapples you can use: a light, medium, or heavy grapple. You’ll often have less than a second to decide what to do next, so planning ahead is your only plan of action. Jumping in too quickly or slowly will see you lose your lock up and wind up on the receiving end of a slamming. It’s difficult, but once you get into the rhythm of matches you’ll find yourself building momentum which will undoubtedly make you feel empowered. Unlike other wrestling games, Fire Pro is all about strategy, not button bashing.
The game modes are all pretty much the same as Fire Pro Wrestling Returns as well – while I’ve not played that game in years, I believe the only new addition is the ‘mission mode’. Mission mode adds tutorials which is perfect for Fire Pro Wrestling as the game doesn’t explain itself and the gameplay requires split-second precision, literally hundredths of a second is enough to fair a lock up. It’s missions give you various tasks to complete, like win via KO, or win a tag team match. However, apart from a few match types, leagues and tournament modes there’s little depth in the content thus far.
There has been several suggestions from the community of features they’d like to see in the game, and understandably people want to see things like a career or story mode, and perhaps a promotion manager mode, since the game is so damn fun to watch. Also I think the game could use a few more Americanised match types. The game is heavy on Japanese wrestling so the match types are very ‘Japanese” – if Spike Chunsoft want to expand the Fire Pro fan-base they may have to make a few concessions.
The graphics, music and overall presentation has been highly improved since its last incarnation. HD graphics, mixed with sound and music enhancements make the presentation of Fire Pro Wrestling World stand out from its predecessors. One downside is that Fire Pro’s sprites have always been made up of various body parts put together like a paper marionette; in older games this isn’t as noticeable, but it rather sticks out in the age of high definition.
It’s this design choice that makes Fire Pro so perfect though. The individual body parts allow for fully customisable characters, and while the early access roster for Fire Pro Wrestling World is a little low for Fire Pro standards, it does give you the opportunity to create or download huge amounts of Create-A-Wrestlers, if not infinite amounts. It’s thanks to this that in less than a month since its early access release, the Steam workshop sees itself filled to the gunnels with CAW’s especially highly accurate versions of real world wrestlers.
Fire Pro Wrestling World is, at this moment, an update of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (sans the fake-real wrestlers). It is, however, in the early stages of early access. Over the next year we’ll know more about Spike Chunsoft’s plans for it – do they want to overhaul their 28 year old game series and modernise the franchise? Or do they just want to merely port Fire Pro to the PC in a quick way to make a few bucks?
Only time will tell, but true wrestling fans will enjoy Fire Pro Wrestling World, whether it be mastering its at -times- frustratingly difficult grappling and timing, to downloading their favourite wrestlers from history and sticking them in a match to determining who is best once and for all. There’s a lot of fun still to be had in the Fire Pro Wrestling World.
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