Fire Pro Wrestling Returns
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-04-17 PS2 Fighting T (Teen) Agetec / Spike

Say what you will about professional wrestling. You can call it fake, boring and even pointless, but you'll never change the appreciation I have for this form of sports entertainment. There was nothing I liked better as a kid than to sit down in front of the TV to watch WWE, and the greats like Hulk Hogan and the Macho Man Randy Savage duke it out in the ring. My love of the sport, yes I said sport, has only grown since. And while the WWE may still be the largest brand in sports entertainment today, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is set to take a chunk out of that superiority, at least in terms of the wrestling game market.

Where other wrestling games focus on graphical realism and gimmicks as ways to draw in casual players, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is instead a true wrestling fan's game, offering so much customization that it's hard to put it into words. Standard elements like exhibition matches and tag team battles are of course present here, but mixed in are various other modes including tournaments, show promotions, and even a massive create-a-character database.

For those that want to jump straight into the action, Fire Pro offers players the choice of over 300 playable wrestlers, each of whom comes equipped with their own unique style and is aligned with one of the various forces throughout the game, ranging from luchadors, dawned in brightly colored masks, and other traditional types to those that rely more heavily on a created persona, with many containing references to animals.

Female wrestlers are also an option when choosing a character, but these are no Trish Stratus or Mickie James ? more like Chyna and Beth Phoenix, for those that are familiar with the more "beefy" females I speak of.

Regardless of the mode you choose, along with picking your actual wrestlers, you'll be presented with a wide array of options, which allow for a great deal of customization in terms of match location and length, addition of certain stipulations and so on. That's not to say that these options make the game any easier, as there is definitely a large learning curve here.

Controls are your basic button combos, with movement being controlled by the D-Pad. In this is the game's biggest fumble, as the D-Pad offers less precise control than the analog stick, which makes moving your characters into the desired position quite difficult. Moves also require a fair bit of timing and luck to be successful, since the title does little to help you out. Viewed from high above one of the four corners of the ring, you are simply let lose with nothing but a timer in the corner as reference.

And while you could simply jump into a match and start mashing buttons, you will pay dearly for it, as your opponent will make quick work of you. Instead, you must take the time to learn the ropes (no pun intended), in terms of specific combos, in order to stand a chance.

Aside from your basic matches, Fire Pro offers tons in the way of extras, specifically editors, with ones for referees, title belts, and even a ring editor, which allows you to customize the look and feel of the ring during each match by creating your own personal logo to be placed on the mat. Unfortunately, the menu system is complex and hard to navigate, meaning that if you are one to randomly hit buttons, you could lose hours of work that you'd just put into creating something.

And while extras are all well and good, when offering this much content for fans to delve into, I'm sad to say that the graphics are not more appealing throughout.

While I enjoy nostalgia just as much as the next gamer, the 16-bit look of the game came as a bit of a shock. This is probably because I am so used to the WWE wrestling games I mentioned earlier, but whatever the reason, I have to say it dampens the experience a bit, with this being especially true in matches that contain weapons like barbed wire. Call me morbid if you like, but if I'm going to make a character bleed by slamming metal spikes into their face, I would like to see more than a few pixels representing their agony. But maybe that's just me.

In terms of the game's sound department, I am happy to report that the sound effects do their job especially well. When punches are thrown and combatants hit the mat, the ring actually sounds as if something large has just come into contact with it. Likewise, the fans cheer at appropriate moments, and with the addition of wrestler-specific entrance music, a bit of realism is added to the whole process. Furthermore, the soundtrack here is poppy and dramatic, just as I would expect it to be.

All in all, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, like most games, is not without its fair share of pros and cons. For hardcore wrestling fanatics, the ability to control almost every aspect of a match allows for a literally unless process of gameplay goodness. On that same token however, you have to be willing to put in the hours to hone your craft. Obviously, then, for those that desire more in the way of simplicity, all of the depth here could be quite frightening.

Being that the fun level here depends entirely on your own mindset, no one would be able to say for sure that everyone will either like or hate the game. That being the case, this is definitely one to rent first, just to make sure you won't waste your cash later.

Special thanks to John Kopp and Agetec for providing a copy of this title.