Developer: Spike / Publisher: Microsoft / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MSP ($10) / ESRB: Teen [Cartoon Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes]
I was really excited to try out Fire Pro Wrestling because its existence already raises tons of interesting questions. Will it do anything new in a series that is over 20 years old? Will it somehow combine the old Fire Pro magic with the overly cartoonish Xbox avatars? Most importantly, will I be able to deploy super mega powerslams on my friends online? Turns out none of those answers matter, because somehow Fire Pro Wrestling is a game in which you can powerslam a gray-haired old lady as Doomguy and it’s still really boring.
GAMEPLAY AND CONTROL
The best wrestling games create an intense cat-and-mouse mechanic with the fights. Ideally, there would be a risk/reward tradeoff in the moves you can use that leaves you guessing what your opponent will do. Fire Pro Wrestling doesn’t work that way at all thanks to fuzzy animation and extremely basic mechanics.
The basic wrestling game template is present here — you can throw weak and strong strikes or grapple and follow up with one of four moves by pressing one of the face buttons. If your opponent presses the same button during the grapple, they counter, essentially meaning every grab has a 25% of being randomly countered. You can also guard just before a strike which stuns your opponent for a bit and removes their ability to counter grapples. You build crowd hype by connecting with moves and taunting, and once the crowed is sufficiently hyped you can deploy a crazy finisher move that does tons of damage. That’s the extent of the mechanics, and it results in matches where opponents mindlessly swat at each other, with the first ultra-powered finisher move to land usually taking the win.
Even that foundation would be workable if the gameplay were crisp, but loose animation and janky gameplay make it impossible to execute any moves with precision. Sometimes you’ll miss a grab when you’re right next to your opponent. Other times you’ll snag them from way further away than you visually stretch your arms. Wrestlers are invincible at bizarre times during their recovery animations, causing attacks to inexplicably whiff. Rolling to recover while on the mat will often just squirt you out of the ring. Simply put, there’s no solid foundation for this game to rest upon. That’s a huge bummer, because deep mechanics is usually what the Fire Pro brand stands for.
It’s not all bad, though, and I can see little flashes of good design hiding away. For example, the ability to customize your wrestler is incredibly robust and is the one part of the game that justifies the Fire Pro name. You can deck out your avatar with hundreds of articles of clothing and fully customize his/her move set with hundreds of different moves. The moves themselves are restricted by stats, meaning that as you level your wrestler and gravitate towards speed or power, your move set will reflect your attributes. If the game itself were any fun, there would be a lot of value to this package.
While playing the game, I hoped that players online could show me some aspect of the game’s mechanics that I was simply missing. It’s possible they tried, but I probably won’t see the results of the match until next week because Fire Pro Wrestling has some of the worst netcode I’ve ever seen. There’s at least a half-second delay between any button you hit and what you see on screen, and it often goes higher than that. I found a handful of matches that were playable but I still saw some craziness like people grabbing me through a quick strike which normally interrupts that animation.
VISUALS AND SOUND
I’ve never been a fan of avatars. They don’t look good and animate even worse. Seeing an avatar bounce around with a prop on your friends list isn’t terrible, but trying to make them interact with each other and move in ways that convey motion and power is a complete non-starter. Some of the finisher moves in Fire Pro look decent, but almost everything else looks like placeholder animation that was never replaced with better assets. The music and sound effects don’t do much for the presentation either. The music is grating and repetitive, while the avatars frequently produce some kind of weird duck call kazoo sound when they’re cheering in victory. It’s bizarre and disquieting.
There’s no reason for this to be called Fire Pro Wrestling, though I guess it’s a better title than a more descriptive title like Gimmicky Avatar Wrestling Borefest. It’s a shame because I can see some good ideas in this game, and there’s a huge potential for a discount party-style wrestling game on the XBLA. Unfortunately, that potential remains unfilled. Unless you’re desperate for some mindless local multiplayer and attach an unhealthy sentiment to the Fire Pro brand, you can leave this one in the locker room.