Nov 21, 2007
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is quite different from the average bear hug. For starters, the graphics are seriously old-school. But those shallow graphics mask an almost stupidly deep game. Japan's virtual grappling sensation offers over a dozen unique rosters comprising more than 300 wrestlers ready to gouge, suplex and lock up with the competition. Most wrestlers will be instantly recognizable to hardcore fans despite their name changes. Blood Love? Bret Hart's doppelganger. Kerry? That's Terry Funk, to you.
If the world's most robust roster isn't enticing enough, FPW Returns features editing options to create wrestlers, title belts, federations, referees and more. Players belonging to their own wrestling league can even design their own ring from scratch, from the logo and apron all the way to turnbuckle pads. Unfortunately, despite FPWR's seemingly limitless options, most menus offer no hints as to their purpose, so it will take most players some time to figure out how to bring their creations to life.
FPW Returns distinguishes itself from THQ's SmackDown by way of its deep, strategic gameplay, specifically its grappling mechanics. Rather than seize opponents via face buttons or analog sticks, FPW Returns dictates that characters overlap, which automatically instigates a tie up. "Small," "Medium," and "Big" attacks are subsequently executed depending on which face button and d-pad direction a player chooses.
Also contrary to SmackDown, grapple attacks are heavily timing-based. Once a grapple has been initiated, players must wait for just the right time in order to perform a move. If another player beats them to the literal punch, the move is countered. The precision involved in grappling is what has attracted hardcore wrestling fans to Fire Pro's take on wrestling, but is also responsible for deterring casual fans who don't want to invest in the game's learning curve.
The controls leave a bit to be desired. Movement is conducted with the d-pad, rendering navigation stiff and clunky. Also, the isometric view works well for grappling, but properly aligning running attacks such as clotheslines is awkward, and should not be attempted unless the opponent is stunned.
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is overtly geared for wrestling fanatics. That fact, coupled with its ridiculously cheap price tag, will be enough for the hardcore to give it a go, but casual wrestling fans will probably tap out.