A PILE DRIVER OF LEGIT WRASSLIN’
Almost exactly 10 years ago I imported a copy of Fire Pro Wrestling Six Man Scramble for the Sega Saturn. The game was groundbreaking, and had something most American wrestling games back then lacked: Gameplay that wasn’t atrocious. In addition to that, the game had a lot of other revolutionary features, such as wrestlers who bled, an extensive create-a-wrestler mode, and the ability to have six grapplers going at it at one time. A decade later, the series is finally debuting on US consoles and while the gap has shrunk, it’s still better than any of the more mainstream titles.
Bad collision detection, spotty control and horrendous AI are so prevalent in most wrestling games that it’s practically a cliché, but in Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, the gameplay is fantastic. The game mechanics avoid the tired “Rock, paper, scissors” or button mashing setups that most other wrestling games use. Instead, almost everything is based on timing and pacing the match properly. Fire Pro Returns doesn’t have any health bars, or momentum meters, or any other kind of HUD info. If you want to know how your guy is doing, or how much energy your opponent has left, you must pay attention to the match.
These days, most wrestling games allow you to make your own wrestlers, but few get anywhere close to the depth that you get with Fire Pro Returns. You can create up to 500 wrestlers, determine their style and appearance, assign every single one of their moves (and you’re allowed to give them any move in the game), and even program their AI for times when the computer is controlling them. If you want to recreate your favorite current or former pro wrestler, you can do so with almost perfect accuracy. Or if you’d rather to make a fat version of Space Ghost who fights dirty and taunts his opponents, you can do that too.
The game’s 2D graphics will doubtlessly turn off many fans, but they are excellent. Each character and arena is looks great, and every move is well animated. They also contribute to the overall feel of the game. There’s something funny about turning off the rules and watching one wrestler stab the other in the head with a fork repeatedly while the referee asks the stabee if he wants to give up. That kind of humor probably wouldn’t translate to a game with hyper-realistic graphics.
SAME OL’ SONG AND DANCE
The only real negative about this game is that it’s not a big step up from previous installments. Seeing as very few Fire Pro games were released in the United States, this isn’t a big deal for most people. But if you’ve already played one of the earlier installments, particularly Fire Pro D, this may be a bit of a letdown. A Fire Pro game is kind of like an iPod…it’s a lot of fun, but it takes time and effort to get it “just right”. After spending countless hours customizing Fire Pro D until the game was perfect, I just didn’t have it in me to do it all over again in order to enjoy the moderate upgrades offered in Fire Pro Wrestling Returns.
Despite having gotten my fill on previous entries in the series, if you’ve never played a Fire Pro game before, you gotta check this one out.