By Scott Ramage / December 10th, 2018
|Title||Fire Pro Wrestling World
|Developer||Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.|
|Publisher||Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.|
|Release Date||August 28th, 2018|
|Genre||Fighting, Pro Wrestling|
|Age Rating||T for Teen|
Professional wrestling: the neverending stage combat soap opera. While the Fire Pro series has been around for nearly thirty years, only about six games made it out of the squared circles of Japan. It’s had a hardcore following for some time, but after the barely recognizable Xbox Live Arcade release bombed, Spike Chunsoft needed to go back to the drawing board and rediscover what their fans wanted. Enter Fire Pro Wrestling World, a return to the series’ roots with officially licensed content from the now expanding overseas wrestling promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling. While it hit Steam’s Early Access last year, the PlayStation 4 version dropped only a few months ago with the first batch of NJPW DLC. Did the comeback work out like Ric Flair’s in 2001, or backfire like Ric Flair’s in 2010?
For those more familiar with say, the WWE 2K series, Fire Pro games are quite a different beast. World is no exception. It focuses on simple but fine-tuned in-ring mechanics rather than the glitz and glamour of flashy entrances and arena presentation. There is no HUD to speak of. No health bars, no stamina gauges, no signature or finisher queues, nothing. There are mechanics like stamina and damage at work, but they’re primarily shown by the wrestler’s behavior, breathing heavily after doing a series of moves or favoring their arm if it’s taken too much damage. There’s also a “spirit” mechanic at work, letting wrestlers get a second wind if they’ve spent most of the match getting pummeled.
Fire Pro Wrestling World as a whole has a more arcade-like feel. I’m all for it, considering trying to make an inherently unrealistic sport realistic has never quite seemed to work, particularly when multiplayer gets involved. Even at the default speed, matches are faster paced and usually serenaded with instrumental rock (note that the in-game timer runs twice as fast as normal time). Moves are punctuated with hard thuds, smacks and slams. The wrestlers being animated sprites, as opposed to models mo-capped by people who value their heads and spines, leads to moves which look all the more painful. As someone who’s been concussed and nearly broken their nose in a couple wrestling matches, I wince at the sight of some of the move animations. Things like critical TKOs and stolen finishers include flying text and anime-esque sound effects as they occur. Even pinfalls, aside from showing a three-count, occasionally flash a “2.9” count for extremely close calls. I was rarely ever bored with a match, save for a couple Mission Mode and Fighting Road matches I’ll get into later.
Every match includes a laundry list of settings, allowing the player to adjust things like CPU skill levels, win conditions, the background music and the speed. Want to get a match over with quickly? Set it to 800 percent speed and wait a minute or so. Match types are mostly what you’d expect, though some take inspiration from Japanese promotions, wrestling or otherwise. S-1 matches are basically kickboxing matches (no grappling, stronger strikes, etc.). Gruesome fighting is World’s take on MMA, with several grapples and mounts incorporated into the game. Barbed wire deathmatches not only include the barbed wire exploding when someone hits it, but the option to have explosives go off after a certain time and severely damage everyone in the ring. Landmine deathmatches allow the player to not only use weapons legally, but throw the opponent out of the ring and onto explosives lined with barbed wire. The barbed wire makes the explosion hurt more, you see.
Attack inputs have more in common with some fighting games than most other pro wrestling games. Three buttons let the player perform small, medium or big attacks in combination with directional inputs, with light and medium together allowing for an extra move. This is the case in almost every position, whether standing still, running, grappling, standing on the turnbuckle, etc. There is no grapple button as it happens automatically when wrestlers get close to each other. Moves are performed by doing an attack as the grapple happens, with whoever times the input best getting to do their move. Small, medium and big attacks can be strikes, throws or submissions, so it takes time to get used to how each wrestler operates. Fortunately there’s a move list available in the pause menu, which also points out signature moves and finishers. It all controls well, but getting used to the hit boxes for landing punches and kicks takes a lot of getting used to.
With finishers and signature moves assigned to standard inputs, technically you can try using them as soon as the match starts. However, strategy plays an important role in the Fire Pro series, namely when it comes to using big attacks. The less beat up an opponent is, the easier it is for them to automatically counter medium and big attacks, including signature moves and finishers. Since attacking repeatedly tires a wrestler, there’s a button for breathing to help their stamina regenerate. Not doing this can leave the wrestler gasping for air and, when really winded, even unable to move for a bit. There’s also the matter of ukemi, which causes a character take hits out of grapples but also makes them more likely to get a second wind for a comeback later in the match. This is the kind of thing used to help match quality, as every match receives a 0-to-100 rating. One-sided squashes tend to get below 60 percent, so to get higher ratings you have to use ukemi to take some hits from other wrestlers.
It all sounds great, but there’s one major obstacle for people not already familiar with Fire Pro games. World does explain the basic controls and some in-ring commands, but a lot is left to the player to figure out. It’s fortunate this game came out in 2018 when fans already wrote various guides and explanations for how everything works in this and prior entries, because for World these are often necessary. Among other things, the game doesn’t explain breathing, pulling up or dragging opponents, tagging in and out, kicking out of pinfalls, or how to climb and shake the walls during cage matches. I’m not asking for button prompts or dialogue to flash onscreen for everything, but this goes a bit too far in the opposite, ‘What do I do?’ direction.
Customization, however, is pretty self-explanatory, though unexpectedly deep. This is arguably the strongest part of Fire Pro games in general as it allows the player to make wrestlers, referees, titles and rings. Wrestlers can then be organized into promotions and stables, or entered into special tournaments and round-robin brackets. Titles are the least fleshed out of the lot, having a small assortment of strap and face plate choices and a too short character limit for the name. At least they can be assigned to weight classes and match rules, meaning I can have a legitimate 8-man tag landmine deathmatch championship.
Custom wrestlers can be assigned voice clips, a fighting stance and four costumes, each with nine layers of costume parts or designs assigned to nine different body sections. Those body parts can be scaled to whatever size between 200 and zero percent. And yes, zero means invisible, so a completely invisible wrestler is a possibility. Each wrestler can then receive a series of stats and rankings, as well as a fighting style and full move set to tinker with. Each move’s compatibility is compared to a wrestler’s fighting style and rated from E to A. The worse the rating, the more stamina gets consumed doing that move (except for signatures or finishers). For example, a huge powerhouse wrestler would get an E if assigned a twisting, flipping aerial move and gas out quickly trying to do it. Part of me wondered whether this was an unnecessary limitation on what could be created. Then I remembered every time I played other wrestling games and made ironic big-guy-with-flips wrestlers and the novelty wore off after one match. In the long run, the affinity system isn’t much of a hindrance.
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