Players: 8
Price: $14.99
Platform(s): PS2
Developer: Spike
Publisher: Agetec
ESRB: Teen
Website:Agetec: Fire Pro Wrestling Returns Official site

Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is considered one of the greatest professional wrestling video games of all time amongst a vocal group of wrestling fans. That’s right a game with 2D sprites is considered the best. This wrestling game, originally released in Japan in 2005, has never seen the light of day in the US unless you imported it and altered your PS2 system. Agetec finally took the initiative in bringing the game to North America. Wrestling fans got a taste of the Fire Pro series with Fire Pro Wrestling Advanced released on Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance a few years back.

It’s here, and this reviewer finally got his chance to play it, and playing the hell out of it for quite a while is what I’ve done. Now that I've played it, all I can say is that all the hype for this game is the real deal. Fire Pro Wrestling is the best professional wrestling game of all time. OK, well definitely the best since the THQ/AKI game WWF No Mercy for Nintendo 64.

First I want to get out of the way the flaws of the game. There are a few, but they don’t ruin the game. The controls have a bit of a learning curve. They might take some getting used to. I came at this game from the perspective of a big time of the classic AKI games that had grown disappointed with the later efforts from THQ and Yukes. So at first learning the controls is a bit daunting, but once you get the hang of it, and realize there's no grapple button, it becomes a lot more fun. Besides that, reversals can occur at random, and it seems as if there’s not always a button or action you can do to counter or control them from what it seems. The CPU features over 10 levels of difficulty to help build your skills playing the game.

The game has a belt-maker mode just like the most recent entrants in the RAW vs. Smackdown series. But unlike that series, players can’t really wear the belts to the ring or use them.

The editing, options, and menus of the game can be a bit confusing to learn at first. So the best way to handle it is to take your time and see what you can do with the customization options. All the wrestlers in this game are based on real performers, but the names were changed for legal or licensing reasons. You can edit or change all of the names, but basically to have the most accurate roster possible, you have to select and edit all the names individually. And unfortunately, the editing lines don’t always have enough letter spaces to properly spell out a wrestler’s name.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get into the tons of good about this game. Unlike traditional, older wrestling games, there’s no status or health bar anywhere on the screen. The condition or health of your character is generally reflected by their physical body language. They’ll look tired, start moving or running slower, or have to take breathers at certain points which are very nicely done. But some gamers might be more used to the older style with the meters and special bars.

The grappling is simple and easy to pull off. But here’s what is unique and different about the wrestling in this game. Button mashing will not save you. You can’t just pull off a finisher at any point in the match. OK well you can hit the buttons that will perform your finisher, but that doesn’t mean it will be executed. So what do you have to do? You have to start with your weaker moves and build to your stronger moves. And once your opponent is beaten down and exhausted enough is when you want to bust out your specials or your finishers. Just like your favorite matches in real life.

The roster is absolutely amazing. The game features 327 of history’s greatest professional wrestlers, including legends from all over the world. You can pick from all your favorites from NJPW, AJPW, Zero 1, Dragon Gate, NOAH, and even Mexican promotions like AAA and CMLL. There’s a whole group of MMA performers to choose from, as well as some female warriors.

You get a great selection of match types from standard to hardcore, exploding death matches, barb wire rope matches, cage matches, striking matches, tag team and elimination battle royals. But what’s one of the absolute coolest match types in the game? Gruesome Fighting. Gruesome Fighting pits your two combatants in a UFC style Octagon cage bout. You can set the amount of rounds and time limits you want. Sad you won’t be able to see Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra on December 29th? You can have it right now in this game. The control for the octagon cage matches work great and it’s an absolute blast to play through. Be forewarned though when you try to use the regular professional wrestlers against the MMA types in Gruesome Fighting, just like in real life, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Create-A-Wrestler editing is a surprising snap to do, and not nearly as complicated and over done as it became in Smackdown vs. RAW. And the sheer amount of people you can create is unsurpassed in any other wrestling game. Not only that but there’s create a referee, create an organization or group, and create a ring.

Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is not an easy game you just blow through. But it’s definitely a game for pure wrestling fans. And I’d recommend it just as much to MMA fans as well, because no UFC or MMA game has been quite as fun as the MMA style bouts you can create in FPR. So what if the game doesn’t have the fanciest graphics of all time? This is simply a great game that’s fun to play and captures professional wrestling amazingly instead of getting bogged down in glitzy visuals and an increasingly flawed, useless, and over-complicated gaming engine such as in the Smackdown vs. RAW series.

This game still proves that PS2 is one of the best consoles on the market. Why get rid of your PS2 or trade up to the useless, over-priced, overweight brick that is called the PS3? You got all the awesomeness right here, for $14.99 with Fire Pro Wrestling Returns.

Now that Fire Pro Wrestling Returns has finally been released stateside and quickly became a sleeper success, I hope the series will continue in Japan, and this is not the last we see of the series in the US as well. I can only imagine how much better the follow-up will be.

Hats off to Spike, and hats off to Agetec for finally making this English re-version happen and giving wrestling fans in the US a game they really deserve. And now with No Mercy 64 eminently returning through the service of Wii Ware, in the words of Jim Ross, “business has picked up.”

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