I am of two minds regarding Fire Pro Wrestling World. On the one hand, it is the type of game I love, providing a customizable sandbox with near limitless ability to “play God” in the lives of the pixelated superstars before me. On the other- the frustration that always creeps in due to my lack of meaningful skill and timing to fully unlock the game's potential.
This makes it hard to really gauge in full, but perhaps that is the most shining endorsement you can give to the latest in a long running franchise. Unlike the last release on the Xbox 360, Fire Pro Wrestling World is a true successor to one of the most prolific game series in existence – in Japan at least.
This is only the 5thFire Pro Wrestling game to be released in the West, and the first to get a PC release in Early Access form. Known for its pixelated graphics, deep customization system, and timing and skill-based gameplay, Fire Pro Wrestling as a series has in its own way paved the ground for the likes of the WWE titles and other wrestling games. Many of its features are familiar to wrestling aficionados; but the long-standing legacy of the series may be lost on them in a modern age, fighting for a place in a growing niche.
Although it may not matter much at all. The game uses an isometric point of view with high-resolution 2-D sprites, mimicking 3-D movement in the squared circle. The graphical presentation is not the prettiest game on the market and does get lost in the shuffle of sprite-based indie titles out there today with it’s more bland art direction and serviceable sound design. Often the wrestlers are facsimiles of their real-life counterparts, but are fully customizable right down to their computer AI and wrestler move sets, and everything in-game is built from the ground up by the player.
There is no WWE, no New Japan, no GFW. The federation you create is your own- right down to the color of the ref’s shirt. For some who are more interested in a prepackaged simulation, this may be a turnoff. For others, it gives a chance to flex their creative muscles and build their dream roster from the ground up.
A lot of the fans have done just that. Fire Pro Wrestling World is the first title in the series to go online, and thanks to the current beta on Steam, a plethora of custom wrestlers are already available to download and add to your personal rosters. The online mode is also active, giving players a chance to prove their skills to others with the game’s deceptively simple control scheme.
Fire Pro Wrestling World is very much like other games of skill. Grappling is the main source of your fighting, and the different combinations used with grappling opponents leads to the use of different moves. In short, you have three types of grapples, a weak, a medium and a strong grapple, and pressing one of them, combined with the arrow key on the keyboard, can unleash a plethora of moves, from snapmares to suplexes. It seems simple, but timing is everything; Fire Pro Wrestling World lives or dies on the skill of the player, and at times it can be unforgiving.
The best way to describe it is like a rhythm game, of all things. Your grapples need to be timed perfectly, along with the combination of other moves such as Irish whips, corner spots, and even finisher moves. On top of this, you also have a breathing mechanic that acts as your status indicator; simply put, if you are out of breath, you need to recover to keep fighting. All of this combines in a game that does require a lot of practice to play, which for some may be a massive turn-off if they come in unprepared to the game's mechanics.
It is thankfully easy to pick up and play. Fire Pro Wrestling World contains a tutorial to show players the basics of the controls to get them started. The new “mission mode,” which is a series of matches with a predetermined win condition, is also perfect training for a lot of the games more complex elements, from performing top-rope theatrics to submission holds. The controls are fully customizable, and default to using the keyboard only – no mouse is needed to really play the game which is a nice touch. I am also personally grateful for the default control scheme being very accommodating to left-handed players, something some PC games neglect.
The other gameplay modes are your standard fare for any wrestling game, including exhibition and tag team bouts, cage matches, and even a built-in tournament mode. The neat additions would be the Japanese deathmatches; barbed-wire ropes and exploding rings galore in bloody hardcore contests that are sorely lacking in modern day wrestling’s repertoire. Many of these modes can also be played online, so few features are lost between CPU and real-life opponents other than the possible challenge between them.
The game does seem bare bones, however, despite all the added modes and tools at your disposal. The roster is thin when compared to other Fire Pro Wrestling games, and the move sets, while deep and customizable, are lacking a few extra moves here and there. This is not too egregious though, as the creative director Tomoyuki Matsumoto has stated that any content the fans want, they will consider adding to the game during the early access period.
That really is the best thing about Fire Pro Wrestling World, the unlimited potential it has. The game is still a bit rough around the edges, but no game in Early Access is ever perfect out of the gate. With plans to add more content before a final release, and catering their additions to the feedback of the fans, Fire Pro Wrestling World may be the sleeper hit of the entire series; provided you have the patience and perseverance to fight through the skill-based gameplay.
One thing is for sure, I look forward to seeing how the game develops during this beta. With the ardent fan base already backing the game with their own user-created content, Fire Pro Wrestling World is grappling with success. Hopefully, it is enough to get over.
Fire Pro Wrestling World was previewed on PC via Steam Early Access with a code provided by the developers.