IGN Review of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns
It's not hard to see the draw of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. A crazy mix of simple 2D models and brain-crushing weapons, Returns offers the chance to create referees, characters and titles; set up tournaments; promote shows; host tag matches; design your own wrestling rings; and the list goes on.
This game is detailed and perfect for that obsessive wrestling fanatic in your life, but that isn't enough to make it a game for every wrestling fan.
Returns is the latest installment of the Fire Pro Wrestling franchise that debuted in 1989 but has been unable to get a foothold in the states. As other games have focused on entrances and commentary, Fire Pro has stuck to giving players the opportunity to fine tune their experience while sticking with an established, almost 16-bit visual style. This game has created a ravenous fan base by trying to be the best wrestling simulator it can.
Now, for the causal WWE fan reading this, that's not saying Returns is a simulation of sports entertainment. When you start a Match Maker career -- here, you take over as a promoter and plan 12 shows that'll bring in fans and money -- you're not going to setup feuds over stolen dogs or cut promos about castration. You need to put your top performers on the mat to keep a shirt on your back.
See, Fire Pro is about simulating the style of wrestling found in Japan -- hardcore fights, technical prowess and crazy moves are key. Returns furthers that idea by opening your play session up to 18 rosters and 325 athletes so that you can find the one for you. There are luchadores, brawlers and an AWG roster filled with knockoffs of your favorite Americans -- Giant Rozhmov is a dead ringer for Andre the Giant, Raven Gush is Kevin Nash, etc. -- so that you can be your heroes and Returns won't get sued.
That sim feeling is carried over to the types of matches you can wrestle in as well. Again, this isn't WWE. There aren't going to be goofy gimmicks such as a pink slip on a pole or a stretcher match. This is Japanese wrestling. You can take your guys and gals into a typical match or spice things up with Cage Deathmatches, Barbed Wire Deathmatches (AKA electrified barbed wire ropes exploding deathmatches), SWA Rules Matches where there are no DQs and no leaving the ring, a striking-only fight known as an S-1 Rules Match, an MMA competition called Gruesome Fighting, and everyone's favorite Landmine Deathmatch -- set a timer before the match, and when zero hour is reached during the fight, everything goes boom.
Add in weapons such as barbed wire baseball bats, florescent light bulbs and steel chairs; a series of create modes that allow you to build rings from scratch -- apron types, turnbuckle covers, etc. -- and you have a game the right fan could get lost in for years.
But it's not all fireworks and florescent bulbs in Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. Yes, the game is incredibly deep and the hundreds of wrestlers are awesome, but the control scheme is a huge fumble. The face buttons control your weak/strong attacks and ability to run, but there's no grapple button command. To tie-up, you'll need to move into your opponent. When this happens, you need to wait for a "slapping" sound and enter a command. The first wrestler to get a command in pulls off the move.
Now, I don't like that grapple system, but that's just a personal preference. It works and makes pulling off moves an art, which I can respect. It's the rest of the scheme that gets me. To begin with, you're using the d-pad to move. This means running in the correct direction and moving around the ring in general can be a bitch. How many times did I try to run as Terry Funk's doppelganger only to have "Kerry" slam himself into a set of barb-wire ropes? The lackadaisical system also makes it hard to position yourself in the correct spot to pull off moves, so you often find your attacks whiffing and screwing everything up -- I think I might have landed one dropkick to date and a running strike has yet to work.
Now, as much as I've lauded Fire Pro Wresting Returns for being extremely deep, that massive amount of content makes for one of the most complicated and convoluted menu systems I've ever dealt with. Early in the preview process, I thought my navigation troubles were mainly the fault of the game not being fully translated, but even with this review build, I accidentally started matches, quit to the main menu and lost custom creations more times than I care to remember.
And the controls only get worse when creating a logo.
When I set out to make the soon-to-be famous IGN ring, I was floored to find that I could go in and create our trademark logo. You literally start with a blank slate and can create whatever you can dream up -- as long as you have the hours to burn.
See, when I started up the creation mode, I was greeted with six separate tool bars and no instructions. I spent my Monday morning trying to figure out how to manage my layers, change colors that are individually linked to a 64-square grid and how to back out of tools without deleting everything I just spent 15 minutes on. It became concentrated doses of trial and error followed by moments of unbridled joy or soul-crushing depression.
When I look at Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, I worry about replay -- and I know that sounds ridiculous based on all the creation stuff we just went through. See, there's no real career mode to speak of. Yeah, you can create a league with anywhere from four to 64 players, but as you face off against competitors the stats are just kept on a boring scorecard. You're just working toward a high score. This game is going to appeal to such a small sect of hardcore fans, that it would seem like a no-brainer to include some kind of online functionality so that they could meet up across the world and share in the joy that only an uber-deep, niche wrestling title can provide.
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