Disclaimer: As of writing, the online features of the game have not yet been made available. Expect an update in the next week to find out how well the online modes work.
I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling for well over 20 years now, and I’ve played my fair share of wrestling games. These include the likes of WWF WrestleMania Challenge, WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, WCW vs NWO, WWF No Mercy and more. If there’s a wrestling game out there, chances are that I’ve played it to death. That is, except the Fire Pro Wrestling series. Somehow, I’ve managed to completely miss this franchise that has been so critically acclaimed throughout its history. The majority of the series was released in Japan only, which never helped, so consider me absolutely surprised when I learned that Fire Pro Wrestling World was not only making its way to Western countries on the PlayStation 4, but also includes licensed wrestlers from New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
For any fan of pro wrestling in general, it should be pretty obvious that New Japan has exponentially grown in popularity over the past decade. This has been helped with the company’s video streaming rights being made available overseas, as well as a number of North American-based wrestlers working for the company. Kenny Omega, the Bullet Club and a number of others have helped New Japan grow into a worldwide phenomenon.
Thankfully, Fire Pro doesn’t disappoint. As pro wrestling is more of a theatrical art form than a sport, the game does well to replicate the drama and story-telling that the genre provides. While you will still be trying to win every match, the way to get there is through using a variety of strategies and overcoming obstacles to get the one-two-three.
Fire Pro includes a large variety of match-ups, from a standard vanilla one-on-one match to MMA fighting to steel-cage matches and much more. Each of the match types work because of the timing-based mechanic. Grappling your opponent and delivering moves requires precision timing. Once two wrestlers enter a collar and elbow tie up, the first person to hit a button is the one who will execute a move. There is a level of risk to this, because if you press the button before they tie-up, you lose the right to lay one onto your opponent, and soon enough you’ll find yourself on the canvas.
Different moves involve different strategies as well. Tapping the circle button performs a move that makes your opponent groggy, leaving them open to a top-rope attack. The thing is, this type of move can only be performed when your foe has been weakened enough. Try it at the beginning of a match, and you’ll find your move reversed, and your opponent will gain the advantage. That being said, some aspects of gameplay don’t work how you would want them to. Striking with punches, chops and kicks can be difficult to do. Even at times where I thought my opponent was within range of my attack, I found myself throwing a swift boot to thin-air and leaving myself open to the AI that definitely knew where to position themselves for a strike.
Due to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling license, Fire Pro comes with a story mode dubbed Fighting Road. Like most wrestling story modes, you start out as a youngster in New Japan with limited moves, and begin to prove your mettle to your trainers by entering matches and performing set criteria. As times goes on, your wrestler moves up the ranks to become New Japan’s biggest act. The story is told through static cut-scenes similar to that of a visual novel. Characters are portrayed as photos of the actual New Japan crew, with the story being delivered through text at the bottom of the screen. It’s nothing as intensive as the cutscenes from the WWE 2K series, but it gets the job done.
One of the main draws of the Fire Pro series over the years has been its wrestler creation mode. Because character models are 2D in nature, it has allowed the developers to create so many different options in regard to hair, faces, costumes, and patterns. You’d be hard pressed to find a wrestler out there today that couldn’t be replicated accurately. The mode does take some getting used to, as you need to add the top and bottom parts of a wrestler’s tights if you are going for long tights for instance, and it took me a while to figure out how to put the boots over the top of the tights as opposed to under them. After some trial-and-error, I was able to create a number of wrestlers that I was happy with. The creation suite is so huge, there’s no reason that someone couldn’t add everyone from the WWE, UFC, Ring of Honor, and TNA if they so desired.
Fire Pro’s aesthetic will be jarring at first to anyone that is used to the highly detailed WWE2K series. The game uses an isometric view with 2D sprites for characters. Each of the characters limbs, clothes, hair, and such are represented with a different sprite so that they can move individually from one another. As a result, the animations look smooth, and the wrestlers can perform almost any move known to man, even if their faces aren’t detailed at all. The visuals do a good enough job, and frankly, the game just wouldn’t work with 3D character models. The music is so-so, but I found myself turning it off anyway, as music isn’t used during real-life matches.
Fire Pro Wrestling World lives up to the expectations I had going in. It’s a fantastic title that replicates the artistry of pro wrestling very well. The gameplay, aside from striking, is intuitive and easy enough to grasp, and the creation mode is one of the most detailed I’ve seen in a wrestling game. Couple all of this with the New Japan Pro-Wrestling license and the accompanying story mode, and you’ll find that Fire Pro Wresting World is well-worth your time.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Spike Chunsoft.