In the span of a few short years, between 1998ish and 2001 or so, I learned about emulation, Fire Pro Wrestling, and read Mick Foley’s book – “Have a Nice Day” in a relatively short period of time. They all changed my life. Emulation taught me the ins and outs and dangers of the internet. Fire Pro Wrestling ROMs taught me file structure and how to manipulate a computer to do my bidding via custom save states. Mick Foley’s book, well…it made me want to be a writer.
Which is to say without my shameless love of all things professional wrestling, who knows what I’d be these days. Perhaps an actuary.
Fire Pro was a wonderful alternative to popular wrestling games of the day – while No Mercy and Wrestlemania 2000 were incredible, Fire Pro offered a little more pizazz in the gameplay department, incredible customization, and a sense of real drama. Gameplay was king. There was also an elusive nature to it – being a Japan-only title, it featured all sorts wrestlers other games could not. Jushin Liger, Chris Benoit, Hulk Hogan, all these wrestlers were in the game – or at least in the custom rom I downloaded.
Flash forward a few years and Fire Pro Wrestling D exists on my Dreamcast via a CD-R I bought from the internet for my birthday. A few years after that, I’m buying Fire Pro Wrestling on a Gameboy Advance SP, and a few years after that a second-hand PS2 to play Fire Pro Returns in 2007.
11 years later, here I am, again playing a game as foundational to my memory as just about anything else.
And…I can’t help but feel I’ve grown out of it.
But lets back up. Fire Pro Wrestling World is a timing-based fighting game at its core. You grapple, initiate a move, and whoever hits the ‘move’ button first, wins. There’s more to it than that, of course. You have weak, medium, and strong grapples to select from. Doing a strong grapple too soon will get you countered, for example. The match will ebb and flow and there’s top rope, submission, and diving maneuvers all to be had, with fun 2D animation and some shockingly exciting maneuvers to pull off from all sorts of places. No button mashing in sight.
There’s also an assortment of gimmicks – cage matches, landmine matches, barbed wire matches, MMA matches, and so on. All with various specialties and nuances – alas most of it is sort of adorable and lacking in visceral thrills due to the game’s 2D aesthetic. There aren’t a lot of “holy shit” hardcore moments.
But there are quite a few in the bell-to-bell action of a standard match. Reversals, last-second kick outs, big moves followed by wrestlers lying on the mat, exhausted. Fundamentally solid is a good word for it.
Compared to the distracting and gross and unchallenging homunculus the gameplay of WWE 2K has become, the ability to have a solid and challenging match in a pro wrestling game, on a console, in 2018, against the computer, is a gosh darn revelation…If that’s what you’re looking for.
And it mostly was – I don’t have a lot of friends into gaming, let alone wrestling gaming, so this was always going to be a solo endeavor.
Or was it? For the first time ever, Fire Pro promotes an online mode! And in my time with the game, the online has been…less than great, laggy and weird, and multi-man matches would screech to a halt when the host dropped after being pinned or outclassed. The addition of online play to the series is one of the biggest draws this time around – so hopefully it gets ironed out, otherwise, the game can be a sort of…lonely experience.
See, here’s the Catch-22: The Fire Pro Wrestling formula is solid. So solid that it remains unchanged in nearly two decades. For some – especially newbies, it’s certainly enough to simply play this game on a console – a sandbox of creation and competition at your finger-tips. For those seeking something resembling a structured challenge, well…you may just find yourself down for the count.
As good a game of pure wrestling Fire Pro is, without direction or goals – it’s sort of hard to love it. The major appeal of the previous games; the sort of fantasy sports aspect of pitting WWE guys against WCW guys, or legends of America versus Legends of Japan, is gone here. The fantasy rosters of famous dudes with fake names have been replaced with real NJPW wrestlers (and a blonde Kenny Omega?), and an assortment of other folks I’ve never heard of. Also: No Jericho. What gives!
The game needs to bring the goods in its single-player modes else feel incomplete. On offer is a single-player Championship mode where you create a wrestler and rise up the ranks under the tutelage of various NJPW stars, and a promised promoter mode. A mode which would harken back to the Smackdown vs. Raw’s GM mode or its current WWE Universe Mode (though hopefully with more challenge)- or MDickie’s Booking Revolution.
The promoter mode is what I was hyped for. It’s why I bothered Spike Chunsoft nearly six months ago. It’s…nowhere to be found. Releasing as DLC at some point in the future.
Thus, there’s only the single player championship mode. Which I played for about 3 hours, had a 1% percent completion, shut the game off…and found there was no auto-save. So I started again. And it’s pretty good if this sort of thing is what you’re after. Imagine a visual novel that replaces pornographic images with solid wrestling matches, some iffy translation, and a grindfest of progression.
What’s unique here is the presentation, first-person narrative, and the hilarious expressions wrestlers in this mode will make. It’s distinctly Japanese and clearly made with love…even if the translation is a little less than great. If a linear series of matches with a whole lot of text appeals to you, then here you go – there are choices to be made, but the jury is out on how severely they impact your story.
Additionally, there are some weird goals to pass certain matches – like obtain a match rating over a certain percentage, or engage in certain complex moves while in a grapple I couldn’t figure out how to do. Problematic is there isn’t a ton of info on how to get a match rating up – other than the obvious – and it’s hidden from you. Meanwhile, in a game like Booking Revolution on iOS – the star rating is the entire point, and it intuitively rises based on kick-outs, reversals, crazy-ass spots, and hardcore beatdowns – at the risk of your wrestlers’ health. Fire Pro Wrestling sadly feels…dated in this regard.
I’m Sorry, I Love You
The fact I’m not over-the-moon about Fire Pro Wrestling World is the most disappointing thing since my son. I was hyped for online, hyped for a promoter mode, hyped for a chance to revisit a beloved franchise I never thought I’d set hands on again. Alas, the promoter mode is MIA, the single player career is fine but also brutal if you forget to save (and loooong), and overall it seems the title needs its online and its community to truly thrive, and on PS4 at least, that element isn’t quite built out enough (yet) to truly inspire awe.
In a few months or even years, perhaps Fire Pro Wrestling World will iron out its kinks, and appeal to those hardcore Fire Pro Wrestling fans in all of us. Who scoured the internet for ROMs and SMC files to have incredible fantasy matches between our favorite sports entertainers.
Alas, like the NJPW that features in the game’s DLC, as technically competent as the wrestling may be, the fact is the game seems to be speaking a language different from what folks probably desire in this newest iteration.
That said, if you’ve never played a Fire Pro Wrestling game, or are a big fan and are fine a lack of major features – by all means have at it. The wrestling gameplay is great, the customization is miles deep, and the love put into the career mode shines through – even if the technical backend will give headaches. It’s a small miracle we got another Fire Pro game at all, and it’s intensely disappointing I’m not in love with it as I’d like to be.
I mean…who likes playing dress up alone?
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, Playstation 4(Reviewed) Publisher: Spike Chunsoft ; Developer: ZEX; Players: 1-4 (couch co-op, online) ; Released: August 28th ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $29.99 – $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of Fire Pro Wrestling World provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.