By Dan Zuccarelli . December 15, 2007 . 5:17pm
I'm not what you would call a wrestling fan. In fact I initially resisted wanting to take a look at Fire Pro Wrestling Returns from Agetec, since I didn't want my "meh" attitude towards wrestling to taint an otherwise good game. To be completely honest, I've never heard of the Fire Pro series but after doing some research on the internet found out it has quite the pedigree and a huge number of titles overseas, but this was the first time it was making it to North America on the PS2. I'm always interested in titles popular overseas so I eventually relented and agreed to check out the title, and I'm glad I did. It's actually a fun little game.
While this won't make me start Tivo-ing wrestling shows (Unless they bring back G.L.O.W of course), I did have a good time playing the game. Not to say it didn't have issues.
Sadly the first impression the game makes once you start it up isn't a good one. The graphics look like they're on par with early Playstation 1 games, and even that might be giving it too much credit. In short they're terrible, especially the menu screens. Luckily the wrestlers themselves are made up of sprites so they keep a cooler retro-look to them. And while I'm of the school of gamer that believe that graphics are much less important than gameplay, the graphics here are so bad they're a bit distracting so it's worth noting.
But while the menus may look like crap, they offer enough options that it literally staggers the mind. Even trying to start a generic first match to learn the game you're given choices of 7 different modes ranging from the usual like Tag-Team and Tournament to Battle Royal. Of course that's just the start, because there's even 7 types of Exhibition fights! Some of those are out there too, with choices like Barbed Wire or Landmine Deathmatch. Needless to say, you'll spend quite a bit of time trying all the different kinds of matches they have. Once you pick the kind of fight you want it's then up to you to change any of the rules of the match like disqualifications of ring count-outs. Then comes choosing wrestler.
Browsing quickly though all the choices I counted over 200 wrestlers built into the game. From lucadors to women, it seems that just about every facet of the wrestling community is represented. I'm not up on Japanese wrestling so I don't know if any of these characters are based on real people or not, but there were so many to choose from I just ended up picking guys with cool names. Or course the options get even deeper if you create your own guy, with everything from move sets to your own personal logo!
Of course all of this is just a preamble to the game itself. If you're looking for a simple game, you're in the wrong place. The gameplay is very deep and complex. So much so that it requires a good bit of learning on the part of the player. There'll be no button mashing here, no pounding on the controller simplemindedly like you can get away with in other wrestling. So it's got a high learning curve, but after spending the time slogging through it though it all begins making sense. It's initially pretty off-putting, but this one rewards the player for tenacity.
I actually enjoyed the game a lot more than I ever would've guessed when I put the game in the machine. It's got some deep flaws (the graphics) but there's enough good to overcome and it provide a tight little gaming experience.