Fire Pro Wrestling Review: “Royal” Rumble or Wrestle “Meh”nia?

I feel bad for wrestling games; I truly do. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have any preconceived notions of the genre. In fact, I enjoy it very much. I loved playing Pro Wrestling back on the NES (Starman FTW!). WWF Raw and Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game were also two of my favorites. The reason I pity wrestling games is due to WWF No Mercy. The game is over a decade old, but it was such an amazing title that every wrestling game that followed was immediately judged against No Mercy’s ridiculously high bar. While there have been some great wrestling games since 2001, only a select few were deemed good enough to be favorably compared to the N64 classic.

Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Spike
Genre: Avatar-Based Wrestling
Release Date: September 21, 2012
ESRB Rating: Teen

The most recent entry in the wrestling genre is the long-awaited Fire Pro Wrestling. And I when I say long-awaited, I’m not kidding. The game was first announced at the Tokyo Game Show over two years ago, and subsequently disappeared. We heard next to nothing about it, save for a few minor details. Most thought that the title was vaporware, having not heard anything about it in so long. Then, like The Undertaker emerging from below the ring to drag Diesel into the pits of Hell, Fire Pro Wrestling hit the Xbox Live Marketplace out of nowhere. So now that the game has finally arrived, the question remains: was the wait worth it?

The answer, for the most part, is yes. While Fire Pro Wrestling does feature a solid character creation model with a wealth of RPG-esque depth, it seems like the same amount of effort was not put into the rest of the game. This is unfortunate, because this could have been an amazing Arcade title. As a result, what we are left with is a slightly broken, yet wholly enjoyable game.

The default wrestler is your Xbox Avatar, but you can choose a different character from the main menu. You start the game by learning the basics of wrestling in a training ring. The controls are straightforward; you have your light and heavy attacks and your grapple button. Add running and blocking to the trigger buttons and you’re set. After learning the fundamentals, you then go into the character customization settings, turning your Avatar into a superstar.

At first you are only offered a small amount of moves, from which you may customize your wrestler. As you progress through the campaign mode, win matches, and level up your Avatar, you unlock new moves. The moves you equip are not just for show; they have stats attributed to them – from power, to how much stamina they use, to crowd appeal. Furthermore, as you increase your level, you also earn attribute points which can be applied to your stats. You can increase your strength, speed, and luck, among others. Equipping each move and wisely applying attribute points are key to making your wrestler as well-balanced as possible.

In addition to customizing your character’s strengths, you can also change his or her appearance. You can use outfits that you purchased with Microsoft Points over the years, or select from an assortment of wrestling-themed clothes that the game provides. Masks, clothes, and boots can also be purchased by in-game cash you earn in campaign mode. For you completionists out there, this will keep you busy for a very long time.

The matches themselves are, for the most part, enjoyable. Like other wrestling games, you punch, kick and grapple your way to victory. Fire Pro Wrestling includes a fairly intuitive grapple mechanic. Once you grab your opponent, you can press either the X, Y, A, or B button to perform a move. Your opponent also presses one of those four buttons. If your opponent chooses the same button as you, your move is then countered. You build your special meter by performing successful grapples and taunting your opponent. Once you are “fired up,” you can perform your character’s signature move. These finishers are a blast to watch; the camera takes a cinematic approach during these moves, and highlights the (pardon the pun) “flair” of your move.

All is not perfect, however. The AI definitely could have used some improvement. Oftentimes, your opponent will stand in the ring, doing nothing until you start smacking them around a bit. Tag Team matches can also get pretty frustrating when playing in single-player mode due to the AI. After I tag my partner in, I stand on the apron and slowly regenerate health. After about three minutes, my computer-controlled partner will run over to me and tag me in, regardless of how much health we both have left. To make matters worse, the AI opponents constantly tag each other in and out to restore health. Whittling down your opponents proves to be much more difficult when you’ve got three people working against you. This does not necessarily make Fire Pro Wrestling a bad game; it’s still fun to play, but I feel it could have been better, especially considering how much time was put into it.

Similar to the controls, the match types are not as fleshed out as they could be. Available are single matches (one-vs-one), tag team (two-vs-two, tag in and out), and Texas tornado tag (two-vs-two, no tags). I would have really loved to see some more variety in match types, such as a no-holds-barred match, submission match, or the beloved ladder match. For an 800 Point ($10) Arcade game, though, having the available selection is suitable. There is also online and offline play, which fits perfectly for this type of game.

The online mode is a lot of fun, but is not without its own small issues. I played four-player Tornado Tag and noticed very noticeable lag. I would hit attack and I would literally wait about a second before my Avatar would respond. However, a few matches later I received no lag whatsoever. Like many online games, it all depends on the connection speed of the people you are playing with. I thoroughly enjoyed the online mode; playing against other people is so much more rewarding than playing against the computer-controlled opponent. Fire Pro Wrestling also features leaderboards so you can compare your win/loss ratio against your friends. And if you really love the game, you can purchase the 400 Point Legend Series DLC Pack, which includes more moves, opponents, and costumes.

Be advised: Fire Pro Wrestling is more of an arcade title than a wrestling simulation (as made evident by making it Avatar-only). This is definitely one for the casuals, but diehard wrestling fans and hardcore gamers with children will still get a kick out of it. If you are expecting engrossing storylines and deep wrestling mechanics, look elsewhere. But if you are just looking for a fun game that allows you to beat up on members of your Xbox friends list, then Fire Pro Wrestling is well worth the 800 Point investment. It may not have stolen the championship belt from No Mercy, but it’s certainly a worthy contender.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Fire Pro Wrestling was provided by Microsoft Studios for the purposes of this review.

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Mike Ryan is a Staff Writer who has been playing video games ever since the Atari 2600. He loves fighting games, survival horror, and he sure plays a mean pinball.

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