Back in the nineties, wrestling games on console were king. From the early players like WWF Wrestlemania on the NES, all the way through to WCW Nitro on the PlayStation, we were treated to a slew of great grappling games that allowed us to have a little part of the spectacle of the ballet that is professional wrestling. One game in particular that always stuck in my mind was WWF Wrestlefest, an arcade game, that eventually made its way to the emulation scene years later. I spent many hours playing this game, longing for those lush visuals I would see every time I pumped some money into the arcade machine. But the big games from the two big franchises of the sports entertainment world didn’t compare in playability to Tecmo World Wrestling. A truly marvellous game, that felt like a real wrestling simulator. A technical masterpiece of the art. There wasn’t one licenced character on the roster, but that didn’t matter, the rest came with imagination.
Over the years I’ve still played wrestling games with some frequency. They’re one of the better fighting games out there, a true challenge, that when you play someone good, you’ll have a great and memorable match. I haven’t bought the last two iterations of WWE 2K because besides roster changes, they’ve become a bit of a rinse and repeat affair. It was over last Christmas that my gaming partner (and podcast partner-in-crime), Mike, and I sat down to play some WWE 2K16, but were aghast to find the servers had been taken offline so we couldn’t play. A decision had to be made. Do we buy WWE 2K18, or something else to play together. Then I remembered Mike telling me about a game a while ago that was in Early Access called Fire Pro Wrestling World. Seeing that the game had just come out and was relatively cheap, I decided to buy it.
Without question this is the most playable wrestling game I have played since Tecmo World Wrestling. It doesn’t contain a single licenced character in it (until the NJPW stuff drops), but what it does contain is a highly editable creator, and the other important thing – Steam Workshop support. I can pull in any wrestler from any era. You want to do a Hogan v Austin both at the peak of their powers? Yeah, you got it. You want them to fight in a NJPW ring? Sure, no problem. You can either make them yourself or download them straight from the workshop. I opt for the latter as there are greater people out there with more of an interest in getting the details just right than I ever have time to.
That’s the second point I must give credit to as to why this game is so great. The fans have picked the ball up and ran with it when it comes to this game. The level of detail people have gone to to not only mimic a wrestler’s look, but their movesets, signature moves, and taunts, it’s all so well done that to all contributors that have put the time into these creations they should be commended. The nuances we are treated to in the game are unreal. The keep to winning is all about timing, which gives us some great back and forth matches. With most match types available, this would appeal to any real hardcore fan of the sport. The playability is such a rewarding experience. The difficulty in the game, whilst harsh, does mean we are treated to matches that tell a story. Sometimes it’s about taking down a giant. Other times we can almost feel a seething rivalry forming as you battle for supremacy. The possibilities with this game are endless. Truly endless, and for the cheap price that it was, that’s not such a bad thing.
The graphics remind me of the wrestling games I would have played in the nineties, just with a lot more detail to them. Whilst the movements aren’t fluid, this is a 2D game after all, they are precise and accurate in what the developer was aiming for. The game may not have all the bells and whistles of its 2K cousin, but it does win hands down in the playability factor. There is no other competitor with this game in the wrestling game world for just how beautiful it is to play.
I’ve relived classic matches from my youth. I’ve played out fantasy matches that never happened. I’ve sworn at Mike numerous times online because he’s just that little bit faster than me. It’s a wrestling game that can go very deep once you’re into it, or if you’re surface-playing, you can just pick it up and have a good couple of matches and put it down again.
My only criticism is there is no way to do the various match types online. No online rumble. No online title matches. But in defence, neither do 2K offer most of these features.
What a game. A true testament that you don’t need amazing graphics and lifelike simulation to make something so damn good.