The North America release of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns was November the Thirteenth. That's a little over two years after the Japanese release. Having spent about two solid weeks with the game in my possession, I think I am able to give a non bias review. I am a long time fan of this series, but I can still recognize it's faults. How does Fire pro Wrestling Returns stack up against the more popular competition? Where to start …
There are no drastic changes to the core Fire Pro game play. It's the same solid grappling system long time fans have grown accustomed to. Those who are new to Fire Pro will need to spend some time getting used to the timing. The fighting system punishes button mashers. I would advise newbies to set COM difficulty to 1 and work their way up to a harder level. This is one of those games where appreciation is only gained after learning the ins and outs.
The series' trademark features are tight game play and a huge roster. FPR boasts a total of 327 real life competitors. To avoid copyright issues, everyone has been given a name modification. Vader is named "Saber", Kenta Kobashi is "Keiji Togashi", etc. Feel free to rename everyone accordingly. You also have the option of changing the attire for default characters. You do not have to sacrifice one of your 500 edit (CAW) slots when your favorite wrestler changes gimmicks.
FPR's all-star roster features wrestlers, boxers and mixed martial artists from around the world. Puroresu legends like Giant Baba, Satoru Sayama (original Tiger Mask) and Jushin "Thunder" Lyger are selecible. As always the default roster is dominated by Puro wrestlers. Some of the fighters well known to American wrestling / UFC fans include Bret Hart, Sting, Andre the Giant, Petey Williams, Mirco Cro Cop and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
A new addition to the series is a "corner to center" attack. When your opponent is knocked down in the middle of the ring, you can hunker down in the corner to set up a spear, super kick or a few other maneuvers. This adds a bit more drama and accuracy to matches that feature characters who set up these attacks a certain way. Because of this new feature, you can create an accurate Shawn Michaels or Bill Goldberg if you were inclined to do so.
A traditional steel cage match has finally been added. Players can use weapons like barbed wire bats, or the cage it's self to inflict pain upon others. Other match types include S-1 (boxing, punches only), Gruesome (a 12 sided UFC inspired cage) and the Electrified Barbed Wire Exploding Deathmatch. While the has Hell in a Cell, The Japanese hardcore wrestlers hurl each other on electrified boards covered in skin shredding barbed wired. It's different, but fun none the less
Buzz worthy features include Edit Edit, Belt Edit, and Ring / Logo Edit. There is a GM mode called "Match Maker", but is it very limited. All you do is set up matches between fighters and get graded by the percentage of crowd reaction of the match. There are strange special events that happen during match maker do very little to expand beyond it's limits. For some inconceivable reason, created wrestlers are barred from use in Match Maker.
Presentation is nothing special. Men are serviceable, but accessing some features can be a chore at times FPR's 2D graphics remind me of arcade games like Wrestlefest. Character sprites are not hi resolution, but they are large and detailed. Spike could have easily recycled graphics from Fire Pro Wrestling Z. They instead created new sprites and reanimated some pre existing moves. Some animations seem a bit robotic, but are pretty smooth.
I'm sad to say Spike has once again mapped the pick up weapons button to the run button. Want to get a fluorescent tube from the corner while playing in an exploding barbed wire match? Make sure you are close enough to said tubes. Otherwise you'll go running into the barbed wire ropes, so end up looking like a complete fool. It does not ruin the game or anything, but such a neglect of the R2 button has me dumbfounded. Overall that is one of my biggest gripes with FPR.
I do not give numeric scores or grades in my reviews. If I were the type to do that, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns would probably receive a 91. It's the best in the series, but like any other game it has flaws. Even so called classic games that get perfect scores from other reviewers have a few faults or glitches. I recommend this game to anyone who is into pro wrestling or the UFC. You do not have to be into Puro to like FPR, the unique game play and customization options are more than enough to peak ones interest.