Wrestling games are near and dear to my heart. From the first time I played Pro Wrestling for Nintendo or WWF Wrestlefest at the arcade, I knew I would be playing wrestling games as long as my fingers could mash the buttons. I’ve played some of the greatest wrestling games (Smackdown 2, Touken Retsuden 3) and some of the worst (WCW Nitro, ECW Hardcore Revolution). The Fire Pro series I’ve had a long relationship with. It’s been love/hate mostly. I want to love it but I find myself more often than not hating the interface and struggling to play it. I’ve bought all three import games for the Turbo Graphix 16 system and the Fire Pro (6 man scramble) game that was released for Sega Saturn. However, when Agetec announced that they would be releasing it for the stateside Playstation 2, I was very interested. Maybe since I didn’t have to import it, I would finally be able to see the menus in English and figure out the difficult interface. Every wrestling fanboy would tell me that it was the greatest thing ever. But what would I think?
The first thing you might notice when looking at visuals is that Fire Pro Wrestling seems to have graphics that would come from a Super Nintendo. It’s also quite possible that Super Metroid or A Link to the Past would be prettier. This is not going to be on par with a leading game like God of War or even another rival wrestling game like the Smackdown series. Keep it simple is Fire Pro’s motto. The wrestlers are clear and many mock exactly popular wrestlers of today with clear cut likeness. The colors are good; however if you are playing this on a HD TV or like, you will experience some pixelation. Things like blood will just have that red splotch of color feel. You can make a wrestler look really close to what you are aiming for but it is still 2d with sampling of 3d animation.
Keep it simple. Once entering the options of the game, you see only two choices PCM 48 Stereo sound and Mono. To be honest, the sounds aren’t very much. Basic grappling and punching sounds are about all you get. The background music is okay at best, some of the music does echo popular superstar’s theme music. I found myself turning the volume down of any background noise to about 20%. Effects are only thing of mention here, even the voices sound a little muffled and still have that Japanese accent to it. However, if one were to close his eyes; he could at least tell a wrestling match was going on.
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is not your typical wrestling game. Most wrestling games, you can get away with button mashing. Hitting a bunch of buttons and usually coming up with a good or even great move. Experiment enough and once you figure out the finisher, you’ll be just as good as everybody else. Fire Pro is different. It’s all about timing. Strikes were easy to perform, however their range is limited and unless it is late in the match they end up hitting more air than body. To be successful in Fire Pro Wrestling, you have to learn the grappling system. When your wrestlers are close enough to each other, they will enter a grapple. Once in the grapple, you decide if you want a weak, medium or strong grapple. Then you hit your combination once and only once to see if you will be able to perform it on the other wrestler. For example, I get in the grapple and hit my square button and up on the directional pad which does a weak grapple (like a body slam). Well, that move would connect if I got in faster than my opponent and he was sufficiently weak not to counter.
That is kinda how it goes, you start out with weak grapples and when you knocked him down with a few you can start mixing it up medium or even strong grapples. However, if you attempt these too soon, they are easily countered and leave you weakened. This can be mixed in with moves off the ropes and submission moves targeting a specific body part so they get beat down enough to attempt a pin. Now is the point where you might think about a finisher. Finishers can be easily countered until the opponent is virtually immobile. Then pressing your square and x button will unleash your finisher in the correct situation. Perform a Power Slam, simply be facing your opponent. A move off the top, like a giant elbow smash would be the same combination but on the top rope. The amount of moves in the game are impressive from the simple (elbow smash) to the complicated (Shining Wizards, Tiger Drivers). If you know of a particular move or submission, chances are that it will be somewhere in this game.
This game is for the hardcore wrestling fan or gamer. With its reliance on timing and not button mashing, it becomes a difficult interface. Especially with those American fans who are used to games like Smackdown WWE Series. To be honest, it might be better have you never played a wrestling game at all before attempting this one. I had considerable difficulty as mentioned in previous Fire Pro efforts. This had to do with the difficult Japanese menu system and little clue what I was doing when it came to hitting the right buttons. But before I started Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, I decided to consult the manual (since it was now in English) and a few online guides. What I found once I spent about ninety minutes with the system is that if you learn to try to hit your move once and only once you can perform wonders. Also if you start off with your computer difficulty at about 1 or 2, you can perform moves a lot easier and learn the system. I am currently in the 4-5 range of difficulty and still able to pull off complex maneuvers. That being sad, it is a very tough game to figure out. Once you do figure out and move up the difficulty settings, it can still be a challenge for even the most avid fan of the series.
Even more so than gameplay, Replay is an area where Fire Pro Wrestling Returns truly shines. The first thing you might notice is how many wrestlers are included in the game. Over 300! This is an astonishing number when most games top out around the 40-60 mark. The other thing you’ll notice is that many of the wrestlers (especially if you are an avid watcher) are familiar. Most of the wrestlers in the game are modeled after the actual wrestlers (though mostly Japanese based) and just have a different name. However, one neat thing about this is that you can edit the wrestlers already in game with their real names. In addition, I have provided a link at the bottom where if you have a save device such as Action Replay Max, you can download a file that will do that for you and in addition include plenty of edits of American wrestlers. Edits you say? Another incredibly deep thing about Fire Pro is the edit system. Hundreds of heads and customization ideas are included to choose when making your wrestler. Furthermore, you are given 500 slots to create wrestlers giving the game 800+ wrestlers when it is all said and done.
Once you get done with the sheer amount of wrestlers this game has to offer, then you can get to the modes. There are of course single matches, tag team matches, battle royals and team battle (5 on 5) scenarios. Then once you select the type of match, you select the style. This includes things like Steel Cage Deathmatches, Electrified Barb Wire, S-1 (K-1 for those who are familiar) Rules (no grappling, just striking) and even a little what is known as Gruesome Fighting. This is simply the UFC and MMA fighting that many are used to seeing in an Octagon environment. So with these options, you create almost three games in one. In addition for those modes, there are K-1 and MMA fighters provided in the options.
When that becomes old hat to you, one can also play around with the Tournament options or the Match Make mode where you get to create PPVs and you can actually see a satisfaction rating and how good you can make your matches. There really isn’t any season mode, but with a little imagination you can make for a thrilling card (whether simulated or carried out by yourself).
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is not for everybody. I would even venture to say it is only for a very select few wrestling fans and gaming diehards. The difficult interface that focuses more on timing and less on button mashing will not be something that everybody can take to. However, if you take the time to really learn the game and discover how it truly works; you can find a very deep and satisfying experience. Every move is yours to perform and just about every wrestler you ever wanted can be yours to control (as long as you master the edit system and changing names of the already included ones). The modes are expansive as long as you learn how to navigate the menu system. Imagination and dedication are your best friends on what is one of the best wrestling games I have seen. I still have more fun with some of the games mentioned in the beginning but there is something very special here. A wrestling game with depth and character. Recommended but only for those who will really take time to explore it.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- 1up.com: “Let me just get this out the way: Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is the best wrestling game ever.”
- Gameshark.com: “Underneath a chaotic menu system is one of the deepest wrestling games you’ll find on the market today.”
- 411mania.com: A good history lesson of Fire Pro Wrestling games to this point
- Gamefaqs.com: Crucial save game files which will help you appreciate the game that much more.