Fire Pro Wrestling World (PlayStation 4) Review

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The world of wrestling is one I haven’t touched since the GameCube-era WWE games, but one I found undeniable joy in. From their flamboyant and dramatic moves, to their customisable wrestlers, and their frantic multiplayer action, these games found a firm place in my library. As time went on, they went unplayed and forgotten—a sad fate for such tales of power and grandeur. Roll on 2018, a year of highs and lows, and the year I once again delve into the genre.

First Impressions

With my last experience quite possibly over a decade ago, I was somewhat unknowing as to what I was getting myself into. Loading into the game for the first time to see a small menu populated with a seemingly infinite number of customisations and settings, I found myself simultaneously under and overwhelmed. Momentarily questioning whether this was really a game for me, I jumped into the core single player mode Fighting Road hoping for things to be explained in a way as to get me started. This was a mistake.

After what I can’t deny to be a fun and engaging introduction to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) sport, I made a rather basic character and jumped into the ring. 20 minutes. 20 minutes of mashing buttons each time the fighters grappled, of pressing every direction and combination to try to break free of holds, of pinning and praying. My wrists cried out in pain and I really thought that was it, that this game would leave me in the dark. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand how hand-holding in games is becoming more and more of an issue to some, but to give me nothing but a button layout to work with; I was in awe.

It was only when looking into its original PC release I came to realise how the game was structured. The Fighting Road mode that makes up the majority of the game’s single player content wasn’t a part of the base game, in fact releasing around the same time as the complete PS4 version I’ve been playing. With it technically being additional content, I can understand the lack of tutorial, with a PC player picking up this DLC assumed to know the ins and outs of the game. Further exploration of the menus lead me to the game’s Mission Mode, and in it, the game’s six tutorial missions, outlining standard procedure and timing for basic gameplay events such as grapples and pinning.

Continuing past the tutorials in this mode, the game puts you through challenges of increasing difficulty and complexity to really get you acquainted with how to play, and how to use the full abilities of your fighter. To be quite honest, they’re fantastic at what they’re trying to do, and acted as a great supplement to the knowledge I had elsewhere acquired. It might be a little strange for me to have included these first impressions, especially considering much of them stem from my misunderstanding of the game’s modes as a whole—but if I could so easily make this mistake, what would stop others? Quite amusingly in retrospect, the game does tell you to start with Mission Mode in its menu flavour text, but I’d have appreciated some kind of pointer to it when starting the game, instead of having to come across it after the fact.

This isn’t something to hold against the game too harshly, with you only having to learn how to play once, but I can see the frustration of a 20 minute button mashing slug fest being enough to put some off and paint a picture of the game far worse than it realistically should have been.

Into the Ring

With a firm understanding of the ins and outs, I once again jumped into the ring, and what an experience it was. The best place to start when talking about the core action is the regular exhibition match. Using what I assume to be standard pro wrestling rules, your aim is to put on a show for the audience, and end with your opponent pinned to the count of three. You have the purist experience here, and it shines a brilliant light on the options and technicality on offer.

The game’s use of 2D sprites in an isometric 3D environment at first feels awkward and poorly thought out, but the more you play, the more you use this environment to your advantage. Both landing and dodging attacks requires precision and thought, and gives you a real sense of intricacy in the footwork and movement. While the fighting can be simplified down to weak, medium, and strong attacks, as well as running and grappling, in each of these you have an expansive set of choices. You want to wear down your opponent’s stamina, but you also want to stay in control of the game, you want to retain your own stamina, but you want to take some hits to put on a show. There are options, satisfying blows, and a real sense of back and forth until one person triumphs over the over; it is engaging and some of the most fun I’ve had playing with a friend in a good while.

From this standard match, the game branches out. Still following the same rules, you have barbed wire and landmine deathmatches. While the win conditions and structure of the matches are the same, what differs in these lies outside of the ring. Instead of a simple timer starting when your opponent is thrown out, they are greeted with explosive barbed wire and landmines respectively, each dealing huge damage. It also puts an emphasis on getting your opponent out of the ring, often causing me to switch my strategy from the standard match.

Contrary to the previous two, cage deathmatches put a large cage around the ring, and task you with breaking out as a unique win condition. You can also switch this to a more normal three count, or your opponent being unable to continue fighting if you want the confines of the cage without the match changing too drastically in objective. Beyond this, you have the match types that really start to alter the gameplay. You have gruesome fighting, and SWA rules. Both of these use a mixed martial arts (MMA) ruleset of rounds, knockdowns, and TKO wins, but are setup slightly differently. SWA rules try to blend MMA with wrestling, the fight happening in a normal ring and each round lasting ten minutes and victory being possible by pinning. Gruesome fighting however takes place in the 12-sided dodecagon cage. With five rounds of three minutes as standard, and the only victory coming from your opponent being unable to continue, it truly earns its gruesome title.

The final match type, S-1 rules, presents a playstyle closer to boxing. Limiting you to just striking attacks, you fight in rounds of three minutes with victory by TKO and knockout available. While each of these modes are varied and incredibly fun in and of themselves, the level to which they can be customised stands out. Win conditions, round length, round amount, weapon types; if you don’t like a mode, you can make a mode you like. This flexibility extends far beyond settings for matches, and into the majority of the game.

Custom Everything

Edit Mode takes the third spot on the main menu, and there’s a good reason for that. You can create your own wrestlers, you can create your own referees, teams, even a hot pink and neon green ring should you so desire. There is so much on offer to the point of it easily overwhelming you if you want to make everything your own from the offset. Among my favourite things about the customisations is the ability to take your favourite fighter from the game and edit them to your liking. Bobby Bobby has taken my heart in this game, and being able to make him look like a tomato is something I never thought I’d have. And yet here I am, fighting with Tommy Tommy. With more than 700 parts to be layered in any which way you want, your wrestling squad is limited only by your creativity.

If you’re so inclined, you can also share and download creations via FPW Net. While I can appreciate the inclusion of this, its implementation is somewhat awkward. Instead of it being integrated into the game’s menus, for some reason it sees you go through the PS4 browser to subscribe to the items you want. It’s fine. I’ve never been fond of the PS4 browser, but it gives plenty of options to filter and sort through the ocean of user-submitted content. I wish they could have made something a little more intuitive, but it does the job well enough.

Want to be the Very Best?

As the game’s core single player content, Fighting Road tasks you with creating your own character, and building them from match to match to become the best in your own way. There’s a lot I can praise here. Between giving the game a sense of progression, fun dialogue, and a genuinely recognisable cast of characters for fans of Japanese wrestling thanks to a collaboration with NJPW, this mode goes from strength to strength. A highlight for me is the introduction of each new character, telling you who they are, what they’ve done, and why you should care, all with photos of them in action. It almost comes across as an advert for NJPW at times, but in as good a way as can possibly be. It had me looking up these fighters as they appeared, giving this mode a layer of depth that would be impossible without this collaboration.

Leading on from this, it surprised me how much I enjoyed seeing the characters throughout the story. Though I can’t quite put it into words, there was something gripping about seeing and interacting with photos of the fighters, in oppose to drawn counterparts or something similar. From their expressions to their attire, everything felt natural, well-written, and as a whole just incredibly fun. Leading my character Ippo Makunouchi from wrestling amateur to champion was a joy, and one I’d be happy to repeat. Putting a focus on strength and endurance with this character, I could see myself coming back to try a different style of fighter, or even try playing without investing any training points at all for an additional challenge. Aside from the lack of signposting for how to play the game before starting as mentioned earlier, I really struggle to find fault. I can certainly understand why players of the PC version would spend £14.99 on this as additional content.

I came into this game with no expectations beyond wanting a good time, and a good time I did get. Though a somewhat rocky start, largely due to my own ineptitude, Fire Pro Wrestling World is a game I can recommend wholeheartedly. Whether played with friends or alone, there is content aplenty to keep you gripped and grappled for hours at a time.

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