$19.99 doesn’t buy you much these days in the videogame world, unless you are looking for a budget title to kill sometime with. Trust me, $19.99 for a title like Fire Pro feels like you cheated the developer out of money. Finally, after almost 20 years publisher Agetec brings over Fire Pro Wrestling to North America for a home console and not just a handheld. Fire Pro’s origins date back to the TurboGrafx 16 in Japan, then releasing on the SNES, SEGA Saturn, SEGA Dreamcast, Playstation, Playstation 2, and GBA. No more do we need to have a 100 page translation FAQ off the net or having to pay anywhere from $70-$80 to import Fire Pro. I have waiting for an English translated version of Fire Pro since the first time that I played the SEGA Saturn version with the use of the ST Key.

Fire Pro is not going to be for everyone, and more for hardcore wrestling fans than your casual fan. While I recommend this to people looking for something new besides just the old SDvR series, you must know going in that the gameplay has a little bit of a learning curve up front. That learning curve is something that could turn new users away, so I recommend starting off with Com 1 or 2 to just get a hang of the controls. Once you learn the control system, no other wrestling game comes close unless it’s the AKI or NJPW engines.

A little history lesson! For those of us that have been playing this series for years and even those going back to the original, the look and feel has stayed the same. While some might complain and others will turn away due to the lack of 3D modeling, they don’t realize what a hidden gem of a game that is under the hood. For those that have imported this series, you will feel like you are right at home with this release. FPW is all in 2D, and yes, the FPW series did venture to 3D with the Iron Slam ’96 release but didn’t fair well due to many issues. This brought SPIKE at the time to bring the series back to 2D and concentrate on what they have done best, offering a fully customizable wrestling game that no other could touch. No other wrestling game has offered the amount of customization that FPW offers and that is why many love this series, your rosters never get out dated since you can customize the default roster + create your own wrestlers totaling the roster count to 500+ superstars. As I mentioned above that SPIKE ventured into 3D once, well they did it a second time with a series called King of Coliseum Red and Green, which borrowed the gameplay of FPW and a portion of the customization. King of Coliseum proved to be much more successful than Iron Slam, but their bread and butter is the FPW series.

I want to get the graphics out of the way, since to some this could be the deal breaker but they will be missing a whole lot from this $20 package. FPWR uses a 2D sprite system for the graphics, while it doesn’t look bad at all imo, I think that with this title being released for the PS2 the sprite count could have been bumped up to give that high res look. If this series continues on, which we know it will, bumping up the sprite count would be a smart idea especially if they want to try and crack the 360/Wii/PS3 markets. Plus FPWR doesn’t look so pleasant on a 50” DLP 1080P set. If I have a major complaint, it would have to do with the crowd, and at this point the cardboard cutouts are just atrocious. I have no qualms with the 2D sprites, but the crowd does need a face lift since it just sticks out like a sore thumb.

The menus are pretty bland looking and have a larger font, but the important thing here is that we have everything in the English language finally. No more of the printing off these darn 70-100 page FAQ’s for translations. I think that much of the work went to translating the game into English which is a daunting task with all of the menus, customization parts, etc. Plus there are entrances which don’t look too bad at all, I really like that these have made it into the series overtime with pyro effects.

FPWR might falter to some in the graphics dept, but can the gameplay save this from the naysayers? I would say damn straight, this is some of the best gameplay for a wrestling game on the face of this planet. While the gameplay might look simple when reading through the manual, wait till you jump right in, this has one of the deepest gameplay elements that I have ever seen in these types of games. If you are a button masher, either forget about mashing the buttons or just walk away because that type of style of play won’t allow you to get a single move in. At first the grappling system can frustrate the hell out of someone playing this for the first time, but once you have it down pat, you will be pulling off some of the best looking moves in a wrestling game. The grapple system is timing based, so as your locking up with your opponent (tip: also listen for a little noise when locking up, this is your que to make button selections), you press a direction on the D-pad with one of the face buttons (X, [], O, ^). Once both wrestlers’ hands touch, at this point you need to initiate your button press.

I do want to mention that the way FPW series is setup; you can’t just use your finisher at the 2 minute mark and expect to win with ease. FPW series is like watching wrestling on TV, you have to first use your strikes and light grapples to wear down your opponent. At this point once their worn down, you can start working on your heavy grapples and moves that can actually do more damage. No one is claiming that you can’t attempt to hit some of your heavy attacks early in the match, but you may pay the price. Also, this is the one wrestling game that actually gets the weight detection down pat. If you try to power bomb your opponent early in the match, expect it to get reversed since their not worn down at all. If you think by taking Rey Mysterio and you are going to try and body slam Andre the Giant, good luck, its not possible. This is something that current wrestling games still can’t get right, but FPW has this working like it should.

The pacing for matches is just incredible. I’ve had matches last anywhere from 15-20 minutes and I didn’t even notice the time go by so fast that I was so engaged with everything going on in the ring. Animations, while some could be a bit choppy at times, are top notch and you will see moves performed that you would not have thought even existed. I highly recommend the Fire Pro series for those looking to play and enjoy a wrestling game with hundreds upon hundreds of wrestlers at their disposal with such a huge roster.

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