When the average person thinks of wrestling, I imagine 8 out of 10 people will automatically think about the WWE. They are undoubtedly the most popular wrestling promotion on the planet and will always remain so. Even people who do not like wrestling and view it as a weird and fake sport (boo to you!), they could even tell you what the WWE produces. Now, the same can be said for wrestling games, right? Again, most people will tell you there are the WWE licensed games where these have dominated the video game wrestling world since the early 90s (apart from a couple of decent WCW games in the late 90s), but they might struggle to name another wrestling game. Well, there has been a universally loved series that has actually been going for 20-odd years! There have only been a handful of Western releases of this series, but the latest instalment has finally hit the stores. I am, of course, talking about Fire Pro Wrestling World.
Fire Pro Wrestling World has actually been out for just over a year now, releasing on Steam early access in August 2017 and then getting a full release in December. The PS4 version is pretty much exactly the same apart from one major selling point: its official partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling. If you are a casual wrestling fan, NJPW is a name you would have heard more and more due to a number of top stars, like AJ Styles and Finn Balor, coming from New Japan to join the WWE roster. New Japan is going through a huge popularity boost thanks to the incredible matches that feature constantly on their shows. Much like New Japan, however, Fire Pro Wrestling World does take some getting used to, especially if you haven’t played anything but a WWE game for the last decade.
Entering a match for the first time on Fire Pro Wrestling World can be extremely daunting. The only match indication tool you’ll find on the screen is a timer. There is no health bar, no stamina bar or anything else you may be used to. Fire Pro wants you to actually work to win a match and pay attention more to the action going on in the ring rather than simply looking at indicators. You will notice when your wrestler’s stamina is getting low as they’ll be moving slower and will generally just look dead on their feet. To recover stamina, you’ll have to hit L1, but be warned and pay attention to your opponent! If you try and recover stamina while they are still on their feet, you are susceptible to some punishment. This isn’t the only more realistic approach Fire Pro Wrestling World brings to the gameplay. You’ll find no squash matches here (where a powerful opponent will win in a short amount of time), and the matches last generally as long as an average TV match would last, around 10 minutes or so. You will have to wear down your opponent with punches, clotheslines and other simple moves before you start hitting the big moves that will do some real damage. Attempting to pull off a big move too early will just result in you getting your butt kicked by your opponent. It is a welcome change, this more realistic and strategic approach to a match in Fire Pro. Matches can be extremely tense, especially the later the match goes on with both you and your opponent getting closer towards hitting your finisher.
Actually, hitting moves in Fire Pro Wrestling World are also extremely different from what most players will be used to from playing WWE games. Instead of having a dedicated button that will grapple an opponent ready to execute a move, in Fire Pro you simply walk up to your opponent and the computer will automatically simulate collar and elbow tie-up, which is the traditional wrestling lockup. To execute a move, just before you lock up with your opponent you will need to press either Square for a light attack, X for a medium attack or Circle for a strong attack. Remember though, do not try and perform strong attacks within the first few minutes, your opponent will just wipe the floor with you! To perform a grapple move, you have to have this lockup animation. Hitting these buttons out of the grapple animation is how you perform the strike attacks in Fire Pro. Performing moves in Fire Pro will take a lot of getting used to. Press the desired grapple button too soon or too late, and you’ll just get beat up. Luckily, there is a training mode to practice on to get your timing down perfectly, but be prepared to end up losing a lot of matches early on with Fire Pro. The mechanics are simple, but the learning curve is steep, and it can be extremely unforgiving. There are plenty of veterans of the series over on YouTube and also over at Fire Pro’s Subreddit who will offer advice on how to perfect the timing in matches with some really simple cues to look out for. Once you get the hang of Fire Pro’s gameplay though, it will feel just as natural as 2K’s WWE games. It is advisable that you stick with normal 1v1 matches until you get the timing down, and generally everything else before you start trying your hand at some multiplayer matches or even some of Fire Pro Wrestling World’s more extreme match types, like a Barbed Wire Deathmatch or series the favourite Landmine Deathmatch.
Fire Pro games have always shared the struggle that Pro Evo has against FIFA: licences. Of course, now Fire Pro Wrestling World has the deal with New Japan, but would having the likes of Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada or Tetsuya Naito be enough to turn devoted 2K fans away from 2K19? Sadly, no, I don’t think so. It is difficult for me to say this as I am a massive New Japan fan, and to have officially licensed New Japan wrestlers in a video game is hugely exciting, but that won’t be enough. Thankfully, Fire Pro Wrestling World’s creation suite is as good as ever! The creation suite allows you to create any wrestler you can think of from the glory days of the WWE to the modern era, from the traditions of the NWA to the rebellion of ECW, any wrestler you can think of, you can re-create here. Also, with no commentary or ring announcements, your created wrestlers feel more like the real thing compared to the WWE 2K games where you have to have your created wrestler announced to the ring and mentioned during the match commentary.
Actually creating real-life wrestlers can be extremely time-consuming. Simple creations like, say, Hulk Hogan won’t take too long, but trying to create some a bit more detailed like, say, Kane, that might take a while. Well, the good news is for all you lazy gamers out there (like yours truly), you can simply browse the already created wrestlers other players have made and download them, much like how community creations work in the WWE games. There are some truly great wrestlers to download as well; the community on Steam went into overdrive with the number of wrestlers to download, and we are starting to see the same on the PS4 release. Downloading them is very simple, just sign up to the website with your PSN details, browse and download to your heart’s content. However, if you download via the PlayStation itself, then you will need to quit the game before the new wrestlers show up.
With the New Japan license also comes Fire Pro Wrestling World’s career mode called Fighting Road. It is as you’d expect from a wrestling game’s career, you start as a rookie and work your way up the roster to legendary status. During your journey in Fighting Road, you’ll unlock new abilities for your created wrestler, like new moves and points to improve the stats for your superstar. Fighting Road is a lot of fun, and you’ll be treated to conversations with some New Japan talent in the form of text as there are no voice-overs, but the text only conversations do work and provide some humour that New Japan is known for. There are some other new modes, but these are locked behind some paid DLC, which will be out later this year. The DLC will include Fighter Promoter, which is a bit similar to the old GM modes in the SmackDown! vs Raw games. There will also be two new Fighting Road storylines, one which is centred around New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight division and one that has yet to be announced. It is a bit disappointing that the Fighter Promoter is stuck behind DLC as the Fire Pro series has always been a fun game just to simply watch, and this, again, is the case with Fire Pro Wrestling World. Just simming a match between the computer is excellent and can lead to some truly amazing matches.
Fire Pro Wrestling World will fill wrestling fans with a warm sense of nostalgia through its presentation, and the way Fire Pro plays will remind you of the glory days of pro wrestling games, the absolute classics that were WrestleMania 2000, WCW/nWo Revenge, and the greatest wrestling game of all time, which, of course, was WCW Backstage Assault!! Just ribbing, of course, I mean WWF No Mercy.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Release Date: 28th September 2018