Fire Pro Wrestling World Review
The pro wrestling game market has been monopolised by the WWE series for many years, the annual product from Yukes and 2K Sports arriving to deliver a slice of ‘sports entertainment’ for eager WWE fans. However, with Spike Chunsoft releasing Fire Pro Wrestling World this September, is there a new King of the Ring?
It would be fair to say that pro wrestling games are not everyone’s cup of tea. From a gaming point of view, they don’t fall into either the sports genre or the beat ‘em up genre but balance somewhere uncomfortably between the two. 2K Sports has done a good job of making wrestling titles more accessible to casual gamers but ultimately, the people purchasing a wrestling game are most likely to be fans of the sport.
Such fans have been given few options in which wrestling game they might like to purchase, as the biggest wrestling promotion in the world has been World Wrestling Entertainment since the early 2000s when Vince McMahon and his wrestling empire swallowed up all direct competitors.
In Japan, however, this is not the case. The Fire Pro Wrestling series has been around since 1989 and enjoyed numerous releases in the land of the rising sun. The lack of a license to showcase particular wrestling promotions and performers has hindered the potential for Fire Pro Wrestling to make significant sales overseas, yet a clever editing system and a simple but effective grappling system and solid gameplay has maintained interest over the past two decades and counting.
However, the pro wrestling landscape has changed in recent years and with it, so has the potential for gaming. Independent promotions like Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling have enjoyed huge success and gained a core group of followers who want an alternative to WWE. Spike Chunsoft, developers of the Fire Pro series, struck a deal in January this year with New Japan Pro Wrestling to feature their top stars in a new Fire Pro Wrestling game which would enjoy release in the US, UK and Europe as well as Japan.
Step forward, Fire Pro Wrestling World.First impressions are not particularly flattering. This looks like a PS2 title. Slightly blocky, 2D sprites move around the 3D ring surrounded by a crowd with basic animations and a repetitive heavy rock soundtrack on loop. There is no commentary and few voice sound effects present. Clipping from wrestlers is frequent, but not overly jarring and character models are good, but will never be on a par with the realistic, breathing, sweating 3D models most wrestling gamers will be used to from the WWE2K series. The animations of the wrestling manoeuvres are accurate, but a little simplistic. Despite this, there’s a weight and drama to them that is missing in WWE2K. The moves in Fire Pro Wrestling World feel like they connect, much as they did in N64 classic, No Mercy.
Coupled with the initially disappointing presentation of the game is the fact that it is seriously tough. A slightly tongue-in-cheek but enjoyable story mode acts as a tutorial of sorts, making the most of the New Japan stars that Spike Chunsoft have on board. Yet even with this gentle introduction most players will lose the first few matches, struggle to hit a single move and not understand why. There are no health bars, no damage indicators on screen, no spirit gauge and no cues for hitting specials or reversing. There are certainly no minigames to escape pins or submissions.
The big difference is that Fire Pro Wrestling World is not an arcade style ‘beat your opponent as quickly as you can whilst mashing buttons’ type of game. It’s much more of a wrestling simulation. In order to get the most out of this title, you need to be patient, watch for visual cues and truly understand pro wrestling and all of its nuances and intricacies. The moment when a player establishes this understanding is when the gamereally begins to show its Championship credentials.
A handy tutorial makes this transition much easier. For example, the grapple system is at once simple and very deep. To initiate a collar and elbow tie-up, the staple of any wrestling match, you simply move towards your opponent. As the wrestlers tie-up you must time your next button press perfectly in order to execute your move of choice. Fail to do so and you give the advantage to your opponent.
The depth element is apparent when, as with a real wrestling match, it is easier to hit a simple move at the beginning of a bout, whilst attempting a trickier or more damaging move is nearly impossible until you have worn your opponent down. Light, medium and heavy attacks are mapped to their own buttons on the pad, leaving triangle for running. It is an incredibly simple system, but even after several hours is it still possible to find new options and situations for opening a can of whoop ass on your opponent. The pause screen offers hints for the required button combination for each wrestler’s moveset and as each performer tends to have over fifty moves, this is a very welcome addition.
Whilst there is still a small group of people who continue to believe wrestling is real, it is widely acknowledged now that wrestling is predetermined. Appropriately and unlike other wrestling titles, Fire Pro Wrestling World puts an emphasis on the element of wrestling being a performance. During the story mode you are given a mission where you need to demonstrate that you can ‘take a hit’, in other words, allow your character to take damage from an opponent for the entertainment of the crowd. This element of back and forth, which is at the heart of a good pro wrestling match, is vital to Fire Pro Wrestling World as at the end of the bout you are given a match rating, anywhere from 0-100% for the entertainment aspect of the match you have just produced. Demolish your opponent in five minutes and take no damage and you’re likely to see a match rating of around 50%. Stage a thirty-five minute spectacle with reversals, near falls, traded blows, devastating finishes, weapons and excitement in and around the ring and you’ll send the crowd home happy, receiving a 90% upwards match rating.
The match rating system means losing is no longer a disappointment, provided the match itself was entertaining. The emphasis is taken away from winning quickly at all costs and instead is placed firmly on finding a way to put on the most exciting match possible, building momentum until you hit that spectacular Rainmaker or One-Winged Angel and roll your opponent up for the three count.
It would be remiss not to mention the story mode in Fire Pro Wrestling World more fully. A series often commended for its depth, there had been great promise about the new story mode accompanying the game. ‘Fighting Road’ takes a player-created wrestler character from the most basic of beginnings as a New Japan Pro Wrestling hopeful through the ranks as a Young Lion to the glory of IWGP Champion. The story mode is complemented well with photos of New Japan Pro Wrestling stars who act as mentors for your character. Missions allow players to learn more about the game mechanics and successfully completing these missions gives the player points to spend on training, improving statistics and learning new moves. For the unfamiliar, the story mode is a genuinely interesting and educational insight into the world of professional wrestling in Japan, explaining training regimes, important performers, the role of the media and the camaraderie that is evident amongst Japanese wrestlers.
Spike Chunsoft realise that simulating classic bouts and creating dream matches is a big part of why wrestling fans purchase wrestling games and they have certainly catered for fans in this way. Cage matches, electrified barbed wire matches, landmine death matches, MMA matches and Battle Royals are all catered for, with over six wrestlers in the ring at one time. It’s possible to adjust almost all match parameters, from time limits, to rounds to using a TKO as a match decider. Similarly, cosmetic options are available such as arenas and referees.
For the first time, Fire Pro Wrestling World features around 40 New Japan Pro Wrestling stars, including Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Okada and stalwarts like Taka Michinoku and Super Strong Machine. There is also a roster of stars from the SWA, a fictional wrestling promotion, with some wrestlers based loosely on real performers. On top of the launch roster is the much lauded wrestler edit function. The Fire Pro series has long had a reputation of featuring famous wrestlers under different monikers as a way of bypassing licensing rights but this time there’s no thinly disguised Undertaker or Triple H character models waiting to be renamed. Instead, there’s a Fire Pro Wrestling World website where users can upload their own character creations. Despite the game having only been on release for a few days, there are already thousands of wrestlers from every promotion, every country and every era available for free download. The process is slightly awkward, but there are several YouTube videos out there that made it much easier and within thirty minutes the roster was complete with classic and current WWE, WCW and NXT stars, all with appropriate movesets and alternative outfits.
Fire Pro Wrestling World is not a game for the casual wrestling fan, or someone who has no knowledge or understanding of the unusual world of professional wrestling. It is, however, an ideal game for anyone who has a burning desire to put together a Dave Meltzer inspired ‘6 star’ style bout between Kenny Omega, Shawn Michaels, Seth Rollins and AJ Styles. Fire Pro Wrestling Worldis the closest thing a gamer will get to a wrestling simulation game, allowing fans the opportunity to tell stories in the ring, just as wrestlers do.
Whilst there are small issues with graphics and clipping of character models and limited options for music and sound effects it is possible to look past these in favour of the positives: the editing function and the creative fan base ensures the game will remain up to date and fresh; the emphasis on match ratings over winning ensures playing Fire Pro Wrestling World is always entertaining; the gameplay has depth and longevity that brings players back time and again.
For a wrestling fan, Fire Pro Wrestling World is the granddaddy of them all.
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