What is it?
Take on the best that New Japan Pro Wrestling has to offer as the retro-tinged grappler returns to the ring.
PS4 / Steam
Unique, old school visuals
Wide variety of match types
Story mode adds single player depth
Complex control scheme rewards skilled players
Looks like a ’90’s arcade game
Unfamiliar roster to most casual fans
Story mode is executed poorly
Complexity of control makes it a poor choice for pick up and play
The Fire Pro Wrestling series has been around in one form or another since way back in 1989 when the franchise debuted on the PC Engine. It first came to my attention with the PS2 release of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns in 2007. Although I never played it, the game got rave reviews.
As my first experience with the Fire Pro series, World is a complicated game to judge. The roster is based on the NJPW promotion and so those looking for Seth Rollins or AJ Styles will be disappointed. The hardcore amongst us though will be keen to step in the ring with some of the big non-WWE names such as Naito, Okada, Ibushi and Kenny Omega.
Despite being a life long wrestling fan, tracing my fandom from Wrestlemania 3 in 1987 right up to the present day, the last wrestling game I played in earnest was one of the PS2-era Smackdown games and by comparison, Fire Pro comes as something of a culture shock.Whereas in a WWE game a newbie came pick up the controller, press a few buttons and reasonably expect to execute a passable attempt at a suplex or slam, such tactics in Fire Pro will quickly see your shoulders getting pinned to the mat. This is a game about timing and execution. Entering a grapple is achieved by a stab at one of the buttons at just the right moment. Get your timing wrong and you cede the advantage to your opponent, who gleefully stomps your face into the mat. Get your timing right and the various combinations of buttons and stick movements allow you to pull off an impressive array of moves.It is a deep system but one that will inevitably scare off new players.
This isn’t something you can stick on with your mates on a Saturday night and have a quick go on before hitting the town. Rather it is something to be practised and mastered if you hope to achieve any measure of success, making good use of the in-game tutorial.
Name recognition issues aside, the roster is well stocked with NJPW talent whilst virtually any wrestler in history can be created in the comprehensive, and frankly daunting, character creation tools. Grappler created, the story mode lets you buff his skillset in a tilt at the NJPW title. It adds some single player interest but is delivered via a strange set of still images to progress the narrative, adding a somewhat kitschy feel to proceedings.
Graphically it certainly looks unique. In this high powered, 3D era, it looks more like a 90’s beat ’em up like Double Dragon but some detail lies just beneath the surface, evidenced by an impressive arsenal of moves and signature poses. And there are plenty of bonkers match types to try them out in, the traditional one-on-one and tag encounters spiced up with exploding barb wire death matches and the like.
Ultimately your enjoyment of Fire Pro World will be dictated by how much time you’re prepared to invest in it. Study the moves, get your timing down and work to your character’s strengths and you will likely find success. But let’s be clear, this is not a game for the casual player. Most games in this era like to offer you a helping hand to get started, like a parent guiding their child through their first attempt to balance on their bike all by themselves. Fire Pro on the other hand dumps you on the saddle, rips out the breaks, shoves you down the hill and cackles hysterically as you crash into a lamp post.
Undoubtedly there is a deep, comprehensive wrestling game lurking under those quirky old school visuals. I just didn’t enjoy it very much.