Fire Pro Wrestling, a series with a hardcore lineage and rabid fan base that few series can duplicate, is now on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s awful. At least by traditional Fire Pro standards.
I say this as a Fire Pro hard body. The latest incarnation is a watered-down, casual-friendly travesty that nixes skill-based combat for barely-there move sets and dumb luck. When something as godly as Fire Pro falls from the heavens, it hurts. Badly.
I’ve been a Fire Pro fan since I first saw it nearly 20 years ago. Fire Pro Wrestling entered my life sometime in 1996, but not in video game form. Human Entertainment’s Fire Pro Wrestling S: 6 Man Scramble had just hit (or was about to it) the Japanese SEGA Saturn market and O.G. Die Hard GameFan magazine ran a blurb about the title in its import section. I decided right that I had to get my mitts on that game, or any Fire Pro game, as a poured over cartoony representations of Macho Man, Hulk Hogan, HBK, and a slew of other grapplers both familiar and unfamiliar mixing it up in the squared circle. Squared circles with hardcore matches! And six-man contests! And MMA fighting! All in glorious 2D sprites. I didn’t own a Saturn — mainly due to my dusty pockets — but I kept an eye on the series because it looked marvelous.
Background information: Wrestling was a huge part of my existence until my mid-20s. I poured over magazines. I purchased Pay-Per-Views. I loved the Monday Night Wars. But my love for the squared circle never quite aligned with my love for video games. Wrestling games, especially those released in the U.S., were trash. Particularly those with official WCW or WWF licenses (the licensed game savior, WCW vs. NWO: World Tour didn’t make it over until ’97). It was quite sad, really, because every other sport had fun and engaging video game representation in the likes of Madden, Baseball Stars, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, and the NHL series. There was an overabundance of great sports titles, but sports entertainment…floundered. At least stateside. Many great wrestling titles stayed on the far side of the Pacific.
An entire console generation later I got my mitts on a Fire Pro game — Fire Pro D for the SEGA Dreamcast. The Spike-developed title added more fighters, more modes, more moves, and improved graphics. Fire Pro D was my first foray into that exciting 2D universe and I can easily say that I logged more hours with it than every other game I’ve owned. There were two reasons for that.
The first being that the game is just that good. Fire Pro D, like the other Fire Pro games that came before it, isn’t a button-mashing spectacle like the old LJN and Acclaim WWF games. It’s timing based, and as such, knowing when to press an attack button is vital. Plus, you had to slowly wear down foes by moving from light attacks to medium attacks to heavy attacks — try to bust out a heavy move the second the bell rings and you’re sure to get reversed. You unleash a punch and then a headlock. A headlock and then a body slam. A few body slams and then a few powerbombs. This gives Fire Pro a pace, a sense of escalation like a fist-and-foot nuclear arms race, that other rasslin’ games lacked. That said, all of that could go out the window with a random CRITICAL, a move that instantly KOs the opponent.
The hyper in-depth create-a-wrestler mode also contributed to my Fire Pro D marathons. The game features hundreds upon hundreds of moves, and hundreds upon hundreds of body parts and accessories, so a diligent gamer can create nearly any wrestler in history. I filled my Dreamcast VMU to the brim with the likes of the Rock and Roll Express, The JunkYard Dog, Barry Windham, and dozens of others. The CAW feature also allowed me to program my creations’ CPU logic, so I could dictate how my grapplers behaved in particular situations. Fighter X, for example, would deliver a lariat 90% of the time when an opponent came careening off the ropes. This allowed me to program fighters exactly as I saw fit — my imagination went wild with a variety of fighters whose personalities were exhibited in their move set and CPU Logic. In essence, Spike let me become programmer. I appreciated that.
Note: Fire Pro’s in-game text is almost entirely in Japanese so I had to work with printed fan translations to navigate menus. I’m talking 20+ page printouts. Fire Pro, and all other games in the series before the current one, were hardcore games for a hardcore audience that shared CAWs and Logic online. I love the hell out of the series.
Now Fire Pro Wrestling is Xbox Live avatars fighting. And Tickle Tackles.
To be fair, the disappointment steps from the name attached to the game. If Spike had marketed Fire Pro Wrestling as Super Avatar Fun Fight or nearly anything else I could’ve easily given it a huge pass as a lightweight diversion.
So, what’s a Fire Pro fan to do besides grinning and bearing it? Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t honestly support this neutered product, but Spike is a small company that makes a niche game for a niche audience. This Fire Pro casualization smells of a money grab in the worst way. I’ve joined ranks of DmC and Mega Man fans as a member of a pissed off community who feels that a development team has betrayed them.
I’d take anything at this point. Spike could put Fire Pro Wrestling Returns — a game released five years ago — online with GGPO and the community would explode with passion. Spike could support it with downloadable moves and wrestler packs — which we enjoyed with the Dreamcast release! — and we’d happily toss money at it.
Gamers are passionate about their favorite properties and don’t like to see them mucked with. A shake up is good from time to time (for example, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty), but ripping out the heart of a series and then trying to present the corpse as the object of our love is just wrong.
Spike, wake up. We want you to take our money.
Just give us a reason to open our wallets.