During my previous two reviews of Super Nintendo wrestling games, I made mention of the Fire Pro Wrestling series, and, in doing so, implied that Fire Pro was the gold standard for 16-bit wrestlers. That is actually not correct. Rather, it is the gold standard for ALL wrestling games, and I’d weigh in that Fire Pro Returns for PlayStation 2 is the single greatest pro-graps title ever. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Yes, that’s all well and good, Dave, but what IS Fire Pro?” Well, today, I present your introduction to FPW, with Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium (!) for Super Nintendo.
Released a scant two years after Raw and SuperBrawl, SFPWXP features a roster comprised of dozens of wrestlers from promotions across Japan and the United States. Yes, you read that right, DOZENS, and they’re not just palette swaps, either. Different promotions have different focuses, some are your more traditional wrestling promotions, some highlight the high-flying lucha libre style, some showcase the hardcore, blood and guts style, and there’s even a handful of mixed martial arts practitioners to be found here, so quite literally, you can find a wrestler to suit your style.
The myriad of options doesn’t stop with the selection of wrestlers, either. Every match can be changed to a submission-only match, a 2-out-of-3 falls match, a match where you only have to pin your opponent for two seconds, much like amateur wrestling, all with variable options for how long you can stay out of the ring, or if you’re even allowed to, different time limits, CPU difficulty, and you can even pick a certain design for the ring itself and a specific referee.
Once you finally wade through the various and sundry options and make your way down to the ring (after the Japanese-style pre-match introductions), you’ll notice the actual fighting system that is the calling card for the Fire Pro franchise, and is probably unlike anything you’ve experienced in a wrestling game before. Unlike the LJN button-mashing, SuperBrawl’s…um…get close and push a button method, or even THQ’s strong/weak move system introduced later, Fire Pro features a timing-based grapple system. When you bump into an opponent, an animation of the two wrestlers locking up begins. When they finally make contact, the first person to press an attack button wins the grapple.
It gets a bit more elaborate from there, also. There are three different levels of grapple attacks; Y triggers weaker moves like snapmares and double leg takedowns, B houses medium damaged attacks like DDT’s and suplexes, and A brings out the heavy artillery like powerbombs and piledrivers. As a final level, Y and B together usually unleashes a wrestler’s finisher, like Stan Hansen’s lariat (LARIATOOOO!) or Mitsuharu Misawa’s Emerald Frosion. However, if you attempt a high impact move before your opponent is sufficiently beaten down, it will most likely get reversed automatically, so you’ll have to start with weaker moves and work your way up, meaning that the ebb and flow of matches here actually -dare I say it- resemble matches on television, instead of the “big moves with no sense of buildup, logic, or transition” style we’d seen up to this point.
It doesn’t stop there, either. You have an extensive arsenal of maneuvers, from strikes (that also work on the weak/medium/strong scale), back grapples, both strikes and submissions on downed opponents, aerial attacks from the top rope, running moves, corner attacks after you’ve whipped opponents into the corner, and even the ability to launch yourself over the ropes to blast an opponent on the outside. You can even taunt your opponents and attack them after the match. Again, you can tell the designers took great care to ensure that gamers could emulate all the stuff they’d seen in the real squared circle and apply it here.
Aside from exhibition matches, you can also have tournaments, 4-way battle royals, round-robin leagues, 5-on-5 elimination matches similar to the Raw Endurance Match from WWF Raw, and World Championship mode, which is much like your traditional “beat everyone and win the title” mode, only much, MUCH longer, and instead of getting a pat on the head and an “attaboy” for your trouble, here, you can unlock a handful of hidden legendary wrestlers, as well as bonus points for stats for your created wrestlers.
That’s not a typo, by the way. SFPWXP features a wrestler editor that can only be described as mind-boggling. You start out with the basics, name, appearance, stats, and so forth, and then you can fill out their moveset from a laundry list of moves, each helpfully illustrated with a still shot at the top of the screen, and you’re even shown how each move fits into your character’s fighting style, so if, say, you’re building a high-flying luchadore, you can see that a flying head scissors matches well with his aerial ability, and why, for example, jamming a fork into your opponent’s forehead (which is an option) won’t work as well. But the biggest feature you’ll find on the wrestler editor is the CPU Logic screen, which allows you to customize your wrestler’s mindset if he’s controlled by the computer in literally every conceivable way, from how often he prefers to go for top rope moves to how much he’ll taunt his opponent. This, coupled with the fact that you have over ONE HUNDRED SLOTS for created wrestlers, means you have potentially limitless possibilities for creating your own promotion or recreating your own favorites from past and present. Want to create Rob Van Dam so you can relive the legendary RVD-Sabu feud from ECW? You can do it, and even better, you can create an RVD that actually WRESTLES like the man (minus the whole accidentally kicking guys in the face for real bit).
Graphically, SFPWXP is quite solid. Wrestlers look decidedly closer to thei real life counterparts then either Raw or SuperBrawl, and the game has different scales of size, so Ultimo Dragon is quite a bit smaller than The Undertaker, for example. The action is presented in a 2D isometric style that became a signature for the series, so much so that even the aforementioned Fire Pro Returns still utilized that style despite being made in 2007. Character sprites are decently sized and their animations are way less choppy than Raw or SuperBrawl. There is a bit of slowdown in tag team or battle royal matches, though, although you have the option to turn shadows off, which helps a bit.
One place where SFPWXP truly shines is when it comes to the little things that make the presentation. The referee frantically races around the ring to stay out of the way of the action, then rushes back in close to count a pinfall or check on a wrestler in a submission situation, even holding up two fingers and giving a “he JUST got the shoulder up” gesture after a very close near fall, while the crowd goes bananas. Facial expressions are present, from guys gritting their teeth as they crank back on a hold to their victim’s labored agony as they try to escape. Heel wrestlers even give an “I didn’t do anything!” move to the ref after dirty tricks like chokes or the fork stab, and Sabu’s classic point to the sky taunt is here in its majesty. I can’t stress enough how dumbfounded I was playing this game for the first few times and seeing not just how much stuff was packed into the game, but how much the developers got spot-on correct, and I have to believe that more than a few of the guys who worked on this were die-hard wrestling fans who really put their hearts into the effort.
Of course, this game doesn’t just fart rainbows and puppies, there are some problems. There’s a bit of a learning curve present with the grappling system, and certain other moves, like the running attacks, require you to push the button at a very exact point to make contact, otherwise you’ll just fall on your face. Also, any moves initiated near the ropes will assuredly end with one or both guys falling out of the ring afterwards, which can lead to some frustration when you’re stuck against the ropes and just keep falling out after every move, not to mention it just looks plain foolish. Also, despite the different styles of wrestlers in the game, there aren’t really a lot of matches that cater to them; there’s no crazy barbed-wire-rope-exploding-table matches for the FMW guys, although crazy shit like that did frequently happen in Japanese wrestling at the time, and there’s no MMA rules matches for the guys like Ken Shamrock and Rickson Gracie. It should also be noted that Japanese wrestling as a whole is presented much, much more as a sport than a spectacle like it is in America, so some fans may find the lack of flash a bit bland, but that’s more an issue of personal taste.
Overall, Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium is a game that any wrestling fan, or fan of wrestling games, owes themselves to try. Compared to what else was floating around the 16-bit universe at the time, it stands head and shoulders above the competition, and its core mechanics and ability to customize basically everything means it acquits itself nicely even against more modern titles. If you like what you’ve heard from me, I IMPLORE you to track this one down, and maybe even seek out some of the later Fire Pro titles, because they only get better from here.
Crazy deep roster that can be augmented with an almost obscenely deep character edit mode, bajillions of options, and wrestling action that, holy crap, actually looks like wrestling.
Bit of a learning curve with the combat system, not the flashiest of presentation, and you’re gonna have to find an English translation to get anywhere. Dude, stop falling out of the ring already.