The lineage of wrestling video games is a long and storied one, though you could be forgiven for thinking Fire Pro Wrestling is a new contender.
From the days of WWF No Mercy and Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain to the more recent 2K releases, we’ve had numerous wrestling games of varying quality hit shelves pretty much every year since the early 2000s. What we don’t get many of, however, are non-WWE branded wrestling games. We’ve barely seen another name in the genre to really challenge the hugely successful entertainment giant in 20 years, but with the release of Fire Pro Wrestling World, it seems the WWE might finally have the competitor fans have been clambering for.
You see, while many find that 2K’s WWE releases have fallen stagnant over recent years, Fire Pro Wrestling World is something of a renaissance for wrestling video games. Alongside its charming style, it has varied customisation options, deep gameplay systems, and fun match types that make it an endlessly enjoyable toy box, custom-built for avid wrestling fans. It’s not going to be for everyone and lacks some much-needed variety, but the solid base Fire Pro Wrestling World establishes is enough to send any pro-wrestling aficionado into a nerd-induced coma.
So, what is Fire Pro Wrestling? If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the franchise is something of a beloved cult gem. Created by Spike Chunsoft in 1989, it spanned over many consoles and amassed a niche but dedicated community before falling dormant in 2012. Many thought the series dead, but the release of World sees it resurrected for modern consoles and PCs, the core identity of the series being freshened up with a 21st-century gleam.
The return of the franchise is seen in more than just the title, however. Many of the series staples return in 2018, including its signature combat system. The player must engage their opposition in a series of time-based grapples, trying to pull off either a light, medium or heavy attack before their enemy can. While that sounds simple in theory, Fire Pro Wrestling’s strategic use of the system means that matches become longer, denser and more engaging to play than anything you’d find in a 2K game.
Instead of just launching into the match and pulling off any move you want, you have to wear your opponent down, moving from light, fast strikes to show-stopping power moves and finishers. It establishes an ebb and flow that makes each match feel paced like something you’d see in a real wrestling match. The arcade nature of the combat retains the fun of older wrestling games while the deeper strategic layer keeps it an authentic simulation at the same time.
On top of this, you have a series of non-grappling strikes, weapons underneath the ring, and the ability to launch yourself from both the turnbuckle and the ropes to unleash impactful air attacks. It’s potentially the most versatile and complex gameplay of any wrestling game on the market, although, its deep nature does have its flaws.
For starters, it’s an incredibly unwelcoming system that’s difficult to get to grips with at first. Although Fire Pro Wrestling World does have a tutorial system in the form of objective-based missions, they’re too slow-paced and hard to grasp for their own good, seemingly expecting you to already know the series and be able to dive head first into gameplay. It makes for an intimidating early learning curve and with the tutorial feeling as lacklustre as it does, it can be hard to get into the game when you’re frequently getting torn to shreds by the AI.
But it’s easy to overlook the intimidating early hours when the game has such distinctive charm. When booting up Fire Pro Wrestling World the first thing you’ll notice is its unique style, the visuals looking to replicate the early 90’s wrestling games the franchise originated from. Everything from character models, arenas and attack animations feel ripped directly out of old-school wrestling titles, yet, with enough polish and detail that they never feel outdated. It presents a vastly different approach to that of 2K, but one that feels a lot more quirky and fun, directly channelling what makes Fire Pro Wrestling such a fresh alternative to other wrestling titles.
The final aspect of the Fire Pro Wrestling franchise to make the leap here is the vast customisation options, a feature that quickly becomes the game’s strongest asset. Choosing from hundreds of different customisation options, the creation suite available to you is almost overwhelmingly vast and flexible, allowing you to design almost any wrestler you could possibly imagine. From different face types, clothing options and hairstyles to creating entire move-sets and character personalities, the tools at your disposal are near limitless.
However, if you aren’t a fan of creating your own wrestlers, the amazing community of Fire Pro Wrestling is only a click away. Entering FPW online from the menu screen, you can access thousands of player-created character models or designs, allowing you to import perfectly rendered wrestlers from any promotion imaginable. Want to pit CM Punk against AJ Styles? You can. Think Kenny Omega should go one on one with John Cena? Knock yourself out. Hell, want to pit Donald Trump against Barack Obama? It’s up to you; the opportunities are endless.
But that brings me to perhaps the most glaring negative with Fire Pro Wrestling World; despite the fantastic creative suite and gameplay, there’s just not enough to do. With only a handful of match types – the majority of which are gimmicky one-and-done modes – you run through the variety in exhibition gameplay fast, while Fighting Road (the game’s career mode) feels like little more than a way to tie matches together than a fully-fledged campaign. It’s frustrating as the core of Fire Pro Wrestling World is fantastic, but without much to utilise it on, the game can feel somewhat directionless.
Despite this, it’s hard to slate Fire Pro Wrestling World when it gets so much right. The combat systems are deep, the customisation options vast and its lines between realism and fun are superbly balanced. While It’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and would benefit from a wider array of content, this resurrection of the Fire Pro license is a terrific wrestling toy box that provides a worthy alternative to 2K’s more commercial releases.
Game: Fire Pro Wrestling World
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Microsoft Windows
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Release Date: Out Now