Fire Pro Wrestling ADespite being quite successful in Japan, the Fire Pro Wrestling series has never really made it out of the country in which it earned its fame. And that is surprising considering the quality of the games that are produced in this series. Fire Pro Wrestling games are packed with wrestlers from a variety of organisations – there are over 150 in this game – and different modes from many different types of wrestling – types that the average fan probably never thought existed. The series has had games on the SNES, Dreamcast and PlayStation but are only now releasing a title in America with this GameBoy Advance version and although the gameplay is great it is still a bold move by the publishers. A bold move because of the oncoming wrestling game from the WWF, a single federation that has managed to keep this title confined in Japan.
For the draw of the official WWF licensed games means that most other wrestling games perform badly unless brandished with an official license in some way. An official license that FPW obviously doesn't have. So the wrestlers in this game (all 200 of them, after secret wrestlers have been obtained) are models that closely resemble there real life counterparts. For example, the first wrestler in the APW list (a federation that is obviously the WWF in all but name) is Steve Majors. He is nearly a carbon copy of the WWF's Stone Cold Steve Austin, possessing the stunner attack and the signature middle finger taunt. This careful copyright evade is evident throughout the game. All the wrestlers are based upon a real life pro wrestler, even though some are harder to work out than others.
Strategy is FPW middle name. The matches flow cleanly like on T.V but at the same time you need to perform calculated button presses so that you gain the upper hand. Grappling a wrestler is only a case of walking close to them – at which point the game will kick in and automatically perform a grapple – but pulling of the move you want requires perfect timing. If you press the buttons too soon you'll lose the advantage, likewise if you're too late to capitalise on the moment. Another aspect that may be unfamiliar to gamers is the breathing button. FPW puts you in charge of your wrestlers breathing ability; you need to press L when you think your fighter could use a rest. This is an essential ability too, if you try to go the whole match without breathing you'll break down under exhaustion. FPW's strategic control system makes the game a tough cookie to crack. And the game isn't instantly accessible. You'll have to spend a few days practising on the easiest difficulty to get your skill level up. But if you stick with it you will warm to the game and it is a good system, just one that you'll need to get used too.
The range of modes makes FPW a very replayable and fun game. It's game engine runs a variety of different wrestling styles with ease. For example, there are long drawn out technical matches, faster American style matches and a great shootfighting mode. All of these match types are inspired by the characters whose abilities usually dictate the pace and style of a match. But the scenery can have an instrumental effect on a match, in particular the deathmatch mode – the whole ring is encased in an electric cage, touch this cage and you'll be fried but there's more. Eventually the whole cage will blow up! These modes are all available in the exhibition option. Yet there are a number of tournaments and leagues for you to try. A strange audience mode also exists in the game. You have to fight a wrestler in a certain style – where the goal is to earn the admiration of the fans.
On top of this depth of modes and character is a fantastic create a wrestler mode. You can build your ideal fighter in this mode with virtually everything customisable, from the body build to the face type – there are over 200! It doesn't stop there though, the create a wrestler mode features a huge move database so you can select each one of your fighters moves and customise their statistics. The mode is huge and it's quite amazing how they managed to fit so much variety and depth into a handheld game. You can also edit the existing wrestlers so that you can play as favourites such as the Rock and Triple H, rather than The Salesman or Gemeni – their default names...
Bouts in FPW are viewed from an isometric perspective like that of No Mercy and previous Fire Pro games. There isn't much to put down or praise where the graphics and audio of FPW are concerned, but this isometric view allows for a clean view of the action and the arenas look realistic with the crowd and ringside area all present and correct. The character sprites are also clean and easy to see on the screen, there are no glitches in collision either, though I wouldn't expect any from a system that has been compared to the SNES. And I'm sure the GameBoy Advance can do better than this even if it's by the smallest of margins – a entrance way for example. The story is the same aurally; FPW features a lively crowd and the expected ring noise – bells, etc. But there is nothing that stands out and the themes that play during the menus and wrestler entrances are merely electronica tunes that rotate for each wrestler.
Aesthetically FPW screams for improvement, but it isn't terrible just average. This is in stark contrast to the gameplay though, which is superb. And although FPW takes a while to get into if you're new to the series. The depth of modes and accurate game engine makes this an engrossing wrestling game and an essential purchase if you're a fan of the sports or a fan of fighting in general. A title that deserves an eight and possibly a ten if you're big on wrestling, as it is hopefully a sign and a set standard of what is to come in the way of wrestling games on the Game Boy Advance.