Fire Pro Wrestling World
Developer: Spike Chunsoft, ZEX Corporation
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Release date: August 28, 2018 (PS4)
Price: $49.99 USD, $89.99 USD for the Deluxe Edition w/ Season Pass
Much like the world of professional wrestling, the sports entertainment’s mainstream video game offerings have been nothing short of abysmal for quite a while. They tend to focus more on hitting an annualized release schedule while nickel and diming consumers with season passes and DLC, rather than creating a compelling, fun product. Wrestling is fun to watch and should be equally fun to play, right?
Spike Chunsoft’s Fire Pro Wrestling World, the newest entry in the Japanese series that’s been around since 1989, recently released on PS4 and is (thankfully) mostly the opposite. Mostly. It’s not only fun to play, but its robust creation suite and New Japan Pro Wrestling license are sure to help pull it miles ahead of WWE 2K’s inevitably disappointing entry later this month, but its pricing model is kind of concerning.
WHAT IS ‘FIRE PRO WRESTLING WORLD’ AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Like I mentioned above, the Fire Pro series has been around for a while… just not here in the States. We’ve gotten a few entries, but Fire Pro Wrestling World is the first to land in North America since Fire Pro Wrestling Returns on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007 — hopefully, you don’t count the abysmal 2012 Xbox 360 digital nonsense either.
It’s mostly known for its liberal “borrowing” of the likenesses of many famous professional wrestlers, along with offering an insanely deep creation suite where fans can create superstars until their heart’s content. Just because Fire Pro doesn’t have the WWE license doesn’t mean its online community won’t painstakingly create their entire roster for you to download. Trust me, they’re all there — AWA, WWF, NWA, WCW, Lucha Underground, AAA, ROH, the entire indie scene — available for download. If you were a wrestling fan in the 90’s, check out this video showing a fully customized WCW Nitro wrestling ring and accompanied superstars. It’s… insane.
I typically just leave that to the hardest of the hardcore and download their creations, but I did spend a good two hours making (what I felt was) the perfect WCW-era Great Muta. My creation was downloaded a few hundred times by the community, which I count as a personal success, but I also realize that I’ve had access to the game since a few weeks before launch and may have been the only Muta online at the time. I prefer to think it’s the former! If Fire Pro Wrestling World manages to garner a following in North America on PS4, the creation suite alone will keep the fanbase alive for years to come.
Along with its famous creation suite, Fire Pro Wrestling World has acquired the New Japan Pro Wrestling license. This opportunity allowed Spike Chunsoft to legally include a playable, meaty roster of 39 NJPW superstars, like the folks in Los Ingobernables de Japon, CHAOS, Bullet Club, and Suzuki-gun, and even inserts them into the game’s visual novel-esque story mode.
As a New Japan fan, this excited me to no end and I was far from disappointed. Visually, Fire Pro clearly strays from WWE 2K’s “photorealism” in favor of a more 32-bit era flavor, but each wrestler is fantastically represented in detail, all the way down to their signature abilities and finishing moves. Iizuka’s steel glove? It’s in here. Toru Yano’s ding ding punch? That’s here too. Finishers are all faithful recreations as well, with moves like Kota Ibushi’s Kamigoye, Minoru Suzuki’s Gotch Piledriver, and Kenny Omega’s One-Winged Angel feeling just as brutal and exciting as they appear on TV.
A lot of work has gone into World, making sure it does the NJPW name justice. The aforementioned story mode is a pretty solid way to spend a handful of hours working your way up the ranks (it’s essentially matches broken up by real-life images and background information, which is a smart way to introduce newbies to the NJPW roster) and powering up your created character, but the meat of Fire Pro Wrestling World comes from its online community’s creations — wrestlers, rings, etc. There are not only standard bouts with up to 8 players, but also battle royals (no, not royales), cage matches, death matches, exploding ring matches, and the less interesting MMA-inspired types, as well as offline tournaments and leagues.
More on the online play below in the not-so-good category. It’s… depressing.
In terms of gameplay, Fire Pro Wrestling World delivers an old-school feel without all of the stick-waggling mini-game bullshit of a 2K game. Grapples take place when two characters are close together and moves are performed by pressing a combination of face buttons and directional inputs. Of the face buttons, three are for attacking and performing moves while inside of a grapple, being light, medium, and heavy moves, and one for simply running and throwing your opponent into the ropes for an Irish Whip. So, for instance, pressing the square button may deliver a kick outside of a grapple, but inside it’ll perform a snap suplex instead. Pressing up and square will issue a different move, and so on and so forth. As a general rule, you can’t perform medium grapple attacks until the opponent is softened up with weaker ones, and the same applies to heavy grapples; else you’re going to be met with a series of reversals
It’s easy to explain, which makes it a super fun game to just pick up and play if you happen to have friends over who also happen to be into the wild, sometimes equally depressing and disappointing world of professional wrestling.
It’s a deep game on its own, though, and thankfully there’s an excellent tutorial that explains the in’s and out’s. Unlike WWE 2K, Fire Pro doesn’t display health bars and there are no finisher meters, so if you’re unfamiliar with how the series operates on a base level, you’ll definitely want to spend an hour in the various tutorials and get a feel for things before diving into the story mode or battling it out against a friend.
WHERE DOES IT GO WRONG?
The most noteworthy complaint I have is the barren online community. Online play is far more restricted than the offline offerings, with only singles, tag team, and battle royal matches for up to four players. You can still set up online cage, barbed wire, landmine, and MMA matches, but there are no options for multiplayer tournaments or anything, which is a bummer. What’s also a bummer is that if you want to play privately with your friends you can only set up a custom room for up to two players — so only singles matches are available, leaving tag team and battle royal as couch-only options.
I’m not sure if this even really matters, though, because as of October 3rd (the day this review published) I’m not having any luck whatsoever finding a single person online to play with through the game’s matchmaking system.
To make matters worse, I created my own public room when I started writing my review this evening and not a single person joined in. Nobody.
I did have far more luck closer to the game’s launch back in August when it wasn’t just us press folk messing around for review purposes, but here we are just a month or so after launch and the online player-base is deader than the Undertaker’s character. There is an online mode that lets players pick their own created wrestler and have the CPU fight it out, which always seems to be available (it’s more fun than it sounds and serves as the perfect way to test your created wrestler’s chosen artificial intelligence modifiers), but nobody seems to want to play against other people.
And while the A.I. modifications are certainly deep, it’s also a whole lotta weird. I met a person online who was testing the A.I. for his two created superstars and we both noticed that after pitting the same two wrestlers against each other without changing their A.I. modifiers, they would have the exact same match — move for move. There’s no way to tinker with your created wrestler while hanging out in the lobby either, so if we wanted to make adjustments (my Great Muta had a severe stamina problem) we’d have to back out to the main menu, go through the standard edit procedure, and then jump back into the online mode to find each other.
So yeah. If online play is a selling point and you don’t have any local friends to play with, you may want to consider another alternative.
Outside of the recently deceased online player-base and minimal loading time issues at the start of the game, the only other (potentially) negative aspect of Fire Pro Wrestling World is its cost of entry. As a fan of Fire Pro and New Japan Pro Wrestling, I can get down with paying the $49.99 MSRP here in the States, especially when we haven’t gotten a proper wrestling game in a long, long time, but for WWE fans looking for a fun alternative? It’s a hard sell — especially with a $39.99 season pass in tow. I mean, I get that it’s New Japan Pro Wrestling and Spike Chunsoft (and likely NJPW themselves) want to sell the game as a premium product, not a graphically inferior indie alternative, but with a (currently) dead (or dying) player-base online, it’s kind of difficult to recommend to someone who isn’t in the target market.
SO, IS IT WORTH CHECKING OUT?
If you’re a fan of professional wrestling, particularly NJPW, then yes. Fire Pro Wrestling World is a more than competent wrestling game that’s a far more enjoyable, robust, logistically deep, and creative offering than anything with WWE’s name attached to it. But if you’re just disappointed that WWE 2K continues to be awful, have no attachment to the Japanese side of puroresu or don’t have any friends to play with online, this is definitely going to be a hard sell.
If you’re in the latter camp, you can always wait for a sale, but if you’re the former then there’s absolutely no reason to ignore Fire Pro Wrestling World. It’s not only shaping up to be one of my favorite games of 2018 (despite the online being RIP) but one of the most fun wrestling games I’ve ever played.
*a digital PS4 copy of Fire Pro Wrestling World was provided for the purpose of this review by Spike Chunsoft.