From it’s name, you probably already know if you want to buy Fire Pro Wrestling World or not. The niche 2D wrestling series, which started way back in 1989, is back for another instalment, and for the most part it’s unchanged, as a game in touch with its roots should be. It probably won’t attract many new fans, but you get the feeling that it doesn’t really want to either.
At first, Fire Pro Wrestling World can be pretty unforgiving. Other than a timer, there’s pretty much no HUD, meaning that everything from your wrestler’s stamina to their health has to be judged by visual cues. Holding L1 makes your wrestler breathe, replenishing their stamina, and while it can seem a little frustrating, the lack of hand-holding is something that you’ll come to appreciate the more you play the game.
There aren’t specific buttons for specific moves such as grapples or submission moves, or even signatures and finishers: moves and the button combinations you use to activate them vary from wrestler to wrestler and are vaguely compiled under light, medium, and heavy attacks on the controller. In this regard, FPWW is much more akin to a fighting game than a mainstream wrestling one.
Those used to the free 3D movement of current wrestling games are in for a shock, too. True to its retro nature, traversing the squared circle in FPWW feels a little clunky, especially when attempting to move diagonally. There’ll be a lot of times, especially in your first few hours with the game, that you’ll constantly misjudge your opponent’s position thanks to the game’s isometric perspective, missing your attacks before being laid out. Running, activated by tapping circle, is very finicky, since you can’t run diagonally unless your opponent is in the corner – and even then it’s still hard to do.
Tutorials are unhelpfully hidden away in the game’s dry menus, but it’s here that you’ll learn the strategic gameplay of FPWW best. Walking up to your opponent intiaties a grapple, and the first person to hit a button as soon as you make contact wins and performs their move. Milliseconds too early or too late and you fail, making yourself open to attack. Again, it seems harsh at the start, but through repetition and practice you get used to the timing, and FPWW becomes much more fun.
For every moment where a submission move lasts for a full minute and you’re simply staring at the screen in bored anticipation, there are moments when you hit a critical move, the screen lights up, and realise how exciting FPWW can be. The controls are pretty finicky at times, but it comes with the retro turf.
Once you’ve got the basics mastered, the game opens up into the crazy extremes that the series has become known for. MMA-style matches are great, sure, but how about a bout in a ring filled with landmines? All sorts of combinations are possible, and combined with local multiplayer – or online, a series first – some great times can be had. Objective matches, in which you have to fulfill certain conditions in certain scenarios, are a particular highlight.
The lack of licensing for many wrestling brands – except for New Japan Pro Wrestling – may be disappointing for buffs, but the selection of wrestlers is so eclectic that you won’t even care. What’s more, the game’s wrestler customisation is so deep that it borders on the ridiculous, confronting you with a wall of sliders. Want to make your wrestler a massive floating head? It might not be easy to control, but you bet we did it anyway.
If the customisation is a bit too deep for you, the ability to download community creations means that you’ll never have to touch the menus. Although they’re not available to download until launch day, from what we’ve seen on the already-released PC version, players have converted everyone from Garfield to Jeremy Corbyn into wrestlers.
As much as you can have fun seeing Waluigi and Randy Savage go toe-to-toe in ring surrounded by barbed wire, the main attraction in FPWW is the 'Fighting Road' story mode, in which you rise from NJPW tryout to champion of the division. It’s pretty much your average wrestling story mode fare, rising up the ranks and training your wrestler in order to increase your stats, although the visual novel-style narrative isn’t particularly interesting or fun to sit through. Still, it’s another fun way to play through the game, and the many, many hours that the mode contains makes FPWW a good-value pick for its asking price.
Though it's not very accessible and lacks a bit of polish, the amount of pure heart that has gone into Fire Pro Wrestling World means that it's a fun retro wrestling game once you get used to it. The endless customisation options and deep story mode provide great value, while the game's oddball nature is pretty charming. Like The Rock, Fire Pro Wrestling World is somehow still going after all these years. Unlike The Rock, its legacy hasn't been tarnished by an appearance in the Baywatch reboot.