Fire Pro Wrestling World Review: Visually dated but with plenty of impact
Fire Pro Wrestling World updates a classic series, albeit only slightly, but if you're a wrestling fan, it's an easy recommendation.
Available for PC, coming soon to PlayStation 4.
The Fire Pro Wrestling series isn't particularly well known outside of its home country of Japan, even though the series has been around since 1989. Fire Pro has been through countless consoles, although you could be forgiven for not knowing that fact.
Outside of a couple of Gameboy Advance titles, and the truly terrible Xbox Live Arcade game, there's never been an official Fire Pro release in Australia, which means we've missed out on more than 20 of the best wrestling games of all time.
To put that in context, back in 1989 when the first Fire Pro game launched, the best you could hope for was one of LJN's awful WWF games for the NES, Pro Wrestling on the Master System or Melbourne House's ageing (but not great) Rock 'N' Roll Wrestling. At least the latter game was locally produced.
The latest Fire Pro game, Fire Pro Wrestling World is now on sale through early access on Steam, although at first glance you might not think it was a "new" game at all. Fire Pro has always marked itself out through the use of sprites for your characters. Depending on your tastes, that will either give it a charmingly old-school feel, or it will simply look dated to you. There's certainly no straight up visual comparison to the current generation WWE games, but then, that's not the point.Fire Pro has its fans (myself included) because it's a ridiculously customisable game with a simple but very deep fighting game mechanic at its core that suits the simulation of professional wrestling very well indeed. While you do have basic strikes and running moves to play with, the core of the game rests around grappling, which is automatically initiated once two wrestlers come close enough to each other.
Once you lock up, the first to hit a strike button and direction will attempt their move. Moves range from light to medium to heavy grapples, and there's a risk/reward mechanic at play here, because if you try to unleash, say, a powerbomb as your opening move, you'll be reversed very quickly.
Games involve wearing your opponent down move by move, with their animation the only clue to how close you are to victory. In this aspect, little has changed in Fire Pro Wrestling World, so anyone who's played just about any game from the 16-bit era onwards would find it all immediately accessible, although it's not quite as easy to take up as the more smoothly animated current WWE games because of that strict timing mechanic.
That being said, it's also got a larger variety of moves and in-match options during a match. While the WWE games treat the animation of most moves as sacrosanct, Fire Pro never actually has.
Want to break up a high angle suplex by punching the guy at the bottom in the face? You totally can, and both wrestlers will collapse in a satisfying heap when you do. Likewise, you can quickly and easily engage in double or triple team moves just by moving into position and coordinating your timing just so. Get it wrong, and your foe will beat all of you down, though.
You're even judged by the crowd at the end of each match, so simply beating your opponent into the canvas isn't enough. You're actively encouraged to engage in a back and forth battle to heighten the tension, which leads to some truly hectic but wonderful bouts. In terms of core gameplay Spike Chunsoft have taken a "not broken, don't try to fix it" approach, simply adding a few tweaks such as the highly entertaining chop battle to the mix.
Customisation is the key to Fire Pro Wrestling World's appeal, because while it ships with a variety of generic wrestlers on its roster, the create-a-wrestler mode is astonishingly deep, covering not only visuals but also moves and AI for each created wrestler.
Previous games have had limits on the number of created wrestlers, and while the PS2's Fire Pro Returns had hundreds, developer Spike Chunsoft states that the only limit for PC gamers is the size of your hard drive.
To make things even more fun, you don't particularly have to be creative or have a lot of time on your hands, because the game's Steam Workshop allows for easy free subscriptions to other people's creations. At the time of writing, there are more than 4,000 created wrestlers to pick from, which means that just about anybody you could name has probably already been created, although predictably actual quality varies quite a lot.
This is, undeniably, copyright infringement on a grand scale and I am left wondering if the WWE's lawyers won't have a quiet word to Steam once it goes on full sale, but for now, you can add the entire WWE roster plus so many more. Want to see, for example, how a Roman Reigns vs Andre The Giant exploding landmines barbed wire match would play out? You're (at least for now) essentially free to do so.
This isn't limited to just wrestlers, either, with plenty of recreations of everyone from Batman to Mario joining the fold. If you want to create it for Fire Pro Wrestling World, you can, but it's smart to see if anyone else has beaten you to the punch before you even start. This even extends to referees. As soon as I discovered that somebody had created a referee who is also a bear, he's been my go-to referee of choice. Fair and hairy, and you can't get better than that.
Fire Pro Wrestling World isn't without its criticisms, even at its budget $US19.99 price point. At the moment, your range of match choices is rather limited, with some expected staples like ladder matches entirely absent. While it's easy to grab other online player's creations, getting an online match up and running is a chore in patience, especially as this is a game that was never going to be suited to lag in any way. In-game, the focus on the wrestling means that submissions are rather key, while other factors such as weapons have little impact.
Likewise, the in-game menus are rather sparse, and not always well explained. It took me some time to work out how to change the default player away from the computer in order to get into a match, for example. There's also an argument for some optimisation here, as despite its rather simple smoothed pixel graphics, it can chug a little in some menu screens or when loading in a new match.
Still, Fire Pro Wrestling World offers a refreshing and incredibly wide gameplay experience, and it's one that long-term fans of the series will find incredibly welcoming. If you've got even a passing interest in the squared circle and a PC that can run it, what are you waiting for?
We reviewed Fire Pro Wrestling World on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
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