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Fire Pro Wrestling has officially flamed out

Fire Pro Wrestling is one of the longest-running video game series out there, although most people don’t know it.

Pandering to its most hardcore fans, FPW is for a very special set of pro wrestling die-hards. It’s for people who hunt out hard-to-find online videos of Dragon Gate, New Japan Pro Wrestling, NOAH, Ring of Honor, and Chikara as a hobby. It’s for people who read the “Dirty Dirty Sheets” with their morning coffee.

Fire Pro Wrestling used to be for the old guard of pro wrestling fans. If you fall into that group, I don’t blame you for getting upset at this new release.

Keeping the name, a few gameplay elements, and little else, the Xbox Live Arcade version of Fire Pro Wrestling is a pale, clunky downloadable title that doesn’t seem to be much more than an excuse to shill Xbox 360 Avatar content.

Instead of the custom art design that’s been in most previous series’ titles, this new FPW models wrestlers after Xbox 360 Avatars, building an entire customization engine around them. It’s a jarring shift from the franchise’s roots, although it falls perfectly in-line with other games that use the same gimmick, like 1 vs. 100, Kinect Sports, or Wreckateer.

As you make your way through FPW, you’ll have limited content to sort through: custom ring gear, selectable wrestling moves, and some stat-building elements that can be boosted by leveling up in the game. There’s no extensive roster of homages to famous pro wresting stars, so you’re left to your own devices with the Xbox 360 Avatar engine. Once again, it’s a dramatic step down from the Japanese pro wrestling-inspired options that were available in past FPW games—making the franchise association just plain odd.

Sadly, the match type selection is a joke, only offering 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and tag team bouts, plus a few four-man battle royale stipulations. There’s no “MMA rules” option, no barbed wire deathmatches, and not a single cage or weapon in sight. Even though I’m not asking for WWE ’13-level content, it would be nice if there was at least some reference to Fire Pro Wrestling‘s history.

When you start out, you’ll be a Level 1 jobber with few in-ring skills, but FPW‘s steady progression quickly gives you access to online and offline competition. However, all the match types and character options in the world don’t make up for the game’s greatest flaw—the controls. They’re loose, awkward, and frustrating to deal with, especially if you’re comparing it to past Fire Pro Wrestling titles on the Game Boy Advance or PlayStation 2.

Learning the basics isn’t hard, as you’re given a standard set of attacks: weak/strong strikes, several types of grapple moves, and a soul meter that charges your special finishing moves. To its credit, the game even does a good job of simplifying things for newcomers, going as far as including button prompts mid-combat.

But the execution leaves a lot to desired. Every time you play a match, you’ll spend more time whiffing attacks than connecting as you try to gauge the distance to your opponent, with some moves just randomly connecting. There’s an irritating reliance on button-mashing over actual tactics, and the resulting lack of balance can actually make leveling pointless in certain circumstances.

Moreover, the series’ complex grappling system has been completely flipped. Before, Fire Pro Wrestling required you to carefully initiate a grapple, hitting a follow-up attack button once—and only once—in order to execute a move. If you hammered on the controls to get the upper hand, you’d only mess up your advantage and be left wide open to a hard counter-maneuver.

In this game, that intricate system has been replaced by a time-based prompt that simply executes the move as long as the other player doesn’t hit the same button. That drastically cuts a lot of skill out of the gameplay, which has likely been done to make FPW more accessible to the casual crowd. But even the spammy controls aren’t a complete death knell—it takes some getting used to, but once you figure out loopholes in the gameplay (it’s ridiculously easy to feint the A.I. with hit-and-run tactics), you’ll make progress.

Everything falls apart in the online match types, where battle royal and elimination matches are found. I’m not sure what netcode is being used for the game, but it’s just plain awful. At worst, going online makes the game unplayable. In every match type, the online lag is so bad that it takes a full second for your controller input to register, constantly forcing you to predict where everyone will be by the time the your moves actually animate.

It’s a horrible way to play, and coupled with the control issues that the game already has, you’ll win and lose critical matches because you can’t compensate for Fire Pro Wrestling‘s incessantly choppy gameplay.

Although the game says “Fire Pro Wrestling” in the text, this isn’t anything like it. All the franchises’s past references are gone, replaced by a family-friendly, cookie-cutter party theme that barely stands on a weak, overly simplistic fighting engine. At the very least, if you’re looking for something a young child will enjoy, it’s an inexpensive purchase at 400 Microsoft Points. If you’re an older wrestling fan, don’t even bother.

SUMMARY: Fire Pro Wrestling isn’t really worth its budget price. Unless you’re buying this for a 10-year-old with John Cena and Sin Cara posters all over his or her room, just spend a little more money on a better video game.

  • THE GOOD: Decent variety of create-a-wrestler options.
  • THE BAD: Horrible controls and lame, uninteresting PG-rated content.
  • THE UGLY: If you’re a Fire Pro Wrestling fan, just seeing this game in action will make you angry.

SCORE: 4.0

Fire Pro Wrestling is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive.