Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?
Not right away since, if you’re a WWE fan you might be bamboozled by the unfamiliar array of wrestlers on offer. Or, it may be that you’re an aficionado of far-east wrestling and so will be overjoyed to discover that Fire Pro Wrestling World takes its fighters from New Japan Pro-Wrestling and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
But for me, Fire Pro Wrestling World didn’t come into its own until I’d downloaded a roster of WWE wrestlers from the game’s handy online service. The biggest joy of Fire Pro Wrestling World is how easy it is to create and share your own wrestlers. Want to see Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu beat seven bells out of Hulk Hogan? You’re in luck! Well, at least for now; I have a sneaking suspicion that the actual WWE may, at some point, take issue their wrestlers cropping up on the service.
It takes a while to get accustomed to Fire Pro Wrestling World’s visual style. The game uses 2D sprites rather than actual 3D models. Likewise, the animation is far from smooth so if you’ve transitioned from any recent WWE game you’re in for a bit of a shock. But the style grows on you to the point where you’ll happily accept a pile-driver having maybe only five frames of animation.
The game’s (optional) tutorial is horrifyingly intimidating; a computer controlled character slamming you into the mat again and again because you’ve not countered at exactly the right moment. But it does teach you that timing is key if you want to succeed in this sprite-based slam fest. You’ll gradually come to grips with the need to watch your opponent, and while the main game is more forgiving, button mashing will still get you nowhere.
Consequently, unlike many WWE games, victory in Fire Pro Wrestling World feels well deserved. Coupled with the lack of energy bars, and the fact that pausing for breath is a key gameplay element, Fire Pro Wrestling World feels more like the “sport” of wrestling than most other titles. The more you lean into the game and the more time you spend with it, the more it draws you and and the more of a joy it becomes to play.
Of the game’s multitude of options, I spent most of my time fiddling around in single matches. The optional career mode is welcome but it felt a little dry, especially since I’m not overly familiar with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. But the multitude of other match modes, including a boxing style striking-only mode, entertained me for hours and soon made me forgive the game’s lack of a Hell in a Cell match.
There are one or two other quirks, too, though nothing that sinks the game. Picking up weapons such as chairs off the floor can be fiddly; unless you’re in the right spot, your wrestler will break into a run. And the fact that the wrestlers are more or less the same size is mildly disappointing but I suspect it’s due to the limits of the engine.
Lacking the budget and visibility of the more mainstream WWE titles, there’s a risk that Fire Pro Wrestling World will get overlooked, at least here in the west. But give it a chance and you’ll discover an addictive, accomplished wrestle-fest that will have you grappling for hours at a time. So if you want a game that actually feels like wrestling rather than joystick waggling, Fire Pro Wresting World is for you.