Early Access Review: Fire Pro Wrestling World


Training to become King of the Ring

In Steam Workshop there are, as of this writing, 3,538 characters available for Spike Chunsoft’s Fire Pro Wrestling World. It has been available on Early Access for four days.

This isn’t surprising. The Fire Pro community have always been a dedicated bunch. You have to be when your favourite games are in Japanese text, and downloading new wrestlers requires tedious use of hacks, USB sticks, FAQs, and Max Drive converters. Now, with Fire Pro making its PC debut, those long-suffering hardcore fans just have to click a button or two to have thousands of custom wrestlers ready to rumble.

This is just the tip of what makes the long-awaited Fire Pro W the holy grail to its audience.

Fire Pro Wrestling World (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Spike ChunsoftReleased: July 11, 2017 (Steam Early Access)MSRP: $19.99

Believe it or not, the Fire Pro series is nearly thirty years old, having seen titles released on the PC Engine, Super Famicom, Wonderswan, Sega Saturn, and PS2, among others. The franchise has built a dedicated following with its simplistic but deep gameplay, as well as its well-paced, exciting matches. The games themselves rarely change; if you can play the Super Famicom version, for example, you’ll have no problem with this 2017 release. If it ain’t broke, and all that.

Fire Pro favours positioning and timing over frenzied mashing. Strikes have incredibly tight hitboxes, requiring expert distancing to avoid whiffs, whereas grapples are won and lost with the perfectly-timed single press of a button (a split-second after wrestlers lock arms). The player must work through their moveset from weakest to strongest, forcing them to pace their wrestler throughout the fight. The flow of battle and your gut instincts will tell you when to make the natural progression from snapmares to BURN-ING HAMMAARRRS!

With no health HUD, stamina is gauged through your character’s movement speed and recovery animation. Players, whether winning or losing, are required to take time to “breath” to avoid blowing up like ’95 Yokozuna. Essentially, you must structure your match through pacing, timing, and an educated awareness of when your opponent is softened up for the kill, similar to the much-celebrated AKI games, such as WWF No Mercy.

Fire Pro is the closest thing to a sandbox game the genre has. You can customise wrestlers, statistics, referees, promotions, and factions. You can re-colour every aspect of the ring itself and even design logos to print on the canvas. As well as a plethora of standard match choices at your disposal, there are Battle Royals, hardcore brawls, and Big Japan-style death-matches, featuring landmines, exploding-ropes, and barbed-wire brawls. There’s even a simplified MMA mode, complete with Octag…err Dodecagon, so you can recreate C.M. Punk’s rise to glory.

The ridiculously vast Wrestler Edit mode opens up endless roster possibilities. Within weeks I fully expect almost every name wrestler, past and present, to be available to players, free of charge (I personally can’t wait to play as Ruth from GLOW.) This particular feature is what will keep FPW alive for years, with new reel lyfe wrestlers turning up for download as soon as they arrive on the scene. Also, you can have a bear’s head.

The unfortunate Roman Reigns of the game is FPW‘s cumbersome UI system, an archaic holdover from games past. A lot of slots, a lot of decisions, and a hell of a lot of menus. Shortcuts aren’t mapped to shoulder buttons, so making your way through rosters to put your dream match together can be a tedious affair. Shuffling your wrestler’s affiliations around is also a drag, requiring promotions to be created, then teams within promotions, before then adding wrestlers to teams. This was a chore then and it’s a chore now.

The sprites are large and colourful and I’ve always been fond of how well the simplistic animation sells weight and impact, but I’d like there to be an option to remove the “smoothing” filter that has been applied, giving them a somewhat blurred look. We don’t all hate pixels!

Fire Pro, which lends itself to simulation, starts off somewhat unapproachable (though it does include a so-so tutorial). Due to this learning curve, inviting friends over, chucking them a controller, and getting stuck in is a no-go. Playing without practice can be a confusing experience. FPW isn’t a party game and that reason alone may turn off some players. It certainly has in the past.

As of this writing, I have been unable to test the online features. The game either refuses to connect to a lobby or, should I find one, crashes when loading the match. I was specifically hoping to test the FPW servers, because in a game where grapple timing is frame-perfect, even slight lag could render matches unplayable.

This Early Access build is lacking some editing features, as well as alternate music tracks, arenas, and referees. As it stands, I think it’s worth its budget price for any wrestling fan looking for something a little different from the stagnating WWE2K series. New players may have to resign themselves to some struggles whilst learning the ropes, but before you know it, you’ll be botching Shooting Star Presses with the best of them.

Fire Pro Wrestling World is a great wrestling sim that requires effort and patience to be mastered. However, it does reward those who commit to the game with intense, exciting and satisfying matches, featuring some of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the pseudo-sport…

…or at least 3,538 of them.

[This Early Access review is based on a build of the game provided by the publisher.]