Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat, shall we? Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, which was released for the PlayStation 2 in North America in 2007, is the last game in Spike’s Fire Pro series. Honestly, the fact that this latest endeavor is titled Fire Pro Wrestling and has Spike’s name slapped on it doesn’t even matter. Believe me when I say that this is not Fire Pro. It’s not, and I will take a steel chair, or even better, a barbwire-wrapped 2X4 and use it as a weapon on anyone who argues otherwise.
To be fair, Fire Pro Wrestling on Xbox Live Arcade does borrow a few elements from the famed 2D wrestling series, but it doesn’t manage to create the same type of magic as previous entries. You’ve got weak and strong grapples, and once you’ve got your opponent in your grasp, hitting one of the face buttons on the controller will result in a different move. If your opponent manages to hit the same button as you, the move will result in a counter on your adversary’s part. You've also got weak and strong strikes, aerial attacks, and finishers at your disposal, all of which must be employed to drain your opponent's energy gauge.
For it what it’s worth, this is a very basic though passable gameplay mechanic. The problem is that it isn’t very fun when you’re actually in that ring mixing things up. Seeing the same moves gets old quick, and there’s not much depth to keep you entertained for very long. Even today’s crop of WWE games, which may be fairly easy to get the hang of, offer a much more rewarding experience. Case in point: Last year’s WWE ’12 was a great game, and even if WWE ’13 disappoints this year, I doubt it’ll be as boring as Fire Pro Wrestling.
Despite not being as entertaining or challenging as it could’ve been, this game still has some interesting design elements that made me feel compelled to keep playing. The single-player campaign, for example, spans three circuits: Casual, Champion, and Underground. You compete in a series of matches and earn experience points along the way. Experience points can be used to toughen up your Avatar, giving him or her more strength, speed, stamina, and so on. You also unlock new moves, attire, and entrance taunts. It’s a cool concept that kept me coming back to Fire Pro Wrestling even though the game isn’t particularly good.
Single-player mode aside, you've also got local and online multiplayer. Playing with people you actually know is always more fun, but having the option to play against random folks online is still cool. Unfortunately, there’s no real ranking system to put you up against equally leveled opponents, which is a bummer. To be honest, though, even if there was, Fire Pro Wrestling still wouldn’t be entertaining for very long.
Visually, the game has a bit of charm, though that charm fades fast. It's kind of fun watching Avatars sporting lucha libre masks and flashy tights, but the novelty wears thin after the first few matches. Likewise, it can also be funny hearing the strange groans and cheers that the Avatars make while taunting.
Despite the fact that beating up a bunch of Avatars has some potential, the core mechanics in Fire Pro Wrestling never evolve into anything worthwhile. The result is a mediocre yet playable wrestling game that’s hardly worth checking out unless you’re looking to have some mindless fun with your kids. I stand by my opening statement: Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is the true last game in Spike’s long-running wrestling franchise.
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