I'm not a huge fan of wrestling, but I respect the artform. I respect the talented men and women who go out and perform amazing moves and stunts each week. Even the storytelling leans close to my roots as a fan of comic books, manga, and anime; high-color adventures full of heroes and villains. I've just never been a fan of the particular style of fighting. Lucha Underground and Japanese Strong Style lean into my tastes, but the long-defunct WMAC Masters is probably the closest to what I really want.
Since I've never really been a wrestling fan, I also haven't played many wrestling games. The years of WWE, WWF, and WCW titles have passed me by. I've occasionally flirted with the genre—Saturday Night Slam Masters and Def Jam: Fight for New York, for example—but most of it has left me cold. So I've never played a Fire Pro Wrestling game, a series that has a long history in Japan.
So I was surprised when I booted up Fire Pro Wrestling World and found myself having a blast.
I may not play wrestling games much, but I do love fighting games. What I found in Fire Pro Wrestling World was a game with surprising depth. It's based around fairly tight timing during grapples: use a direction and one of the three attack buttons at the right moment, and you'll pull off your wrestler's repertoire of moves. You have to start with your weaker moves, wearing down your opponent, and setting them up for your larger attacks.
It's not just a matter of softening your opponent up either. Fire Pro Wrestling World has a stamina system that's key to every match, which is telegraphed to the player purely through the character. Your wrestler will be slow to recover, huffing and puffing after performing even basic moves. Bigger and flashier moves use more stamina, so you want to save them. You can take a breath at any moment via a button press, but managing stamina is key to mastering Fire Pro Wrestling World.
There's also understanding your space. The ropes set you up for a good clothesline, but you can also toss your opponent out of the ring using them. The turnbuckle gives you a moment to punish your foe or let you climb up for a flying drop. Weapons hide outside of the ring. Some rings are closed completely, with the cage matches forcing players to crawl out as a win condition.
As I learned the depths of the basic combat system via Fire Pro Wrestling World's Mission Mode, I began to appreciate the game even more. Learning how to break out of submissions, reverse moves, taunt for crowd excitement, and more; each lesson gave me more options within the rest of the game. It's a little slow compared to some of the fighting games I play, but that same core of mastery and precise timing is readily apparent in Fire Pro Wrestling World.
What really takes the game over the top though is the Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) Edit Mode.
Whew. Even in Steam Early Access, the wide variety of male and female wrestlers you can create is astounding. Each wrestler is built out of a variety of sprites fit together. The Edit Mode allows you to get in there and choose which sprites go where, change the colors of each piece, and layer various sprites on top of each other. You can even set up to four costumes per wrestler. There are some notable holes—I couldn't find a solid pair of glasses to work with—but when you have like 200+ different heads, you're already starting from a good place.
Edit Mode goes deeper though. You can choose between the wide variety of moves in the game for every situation. Which moves are bound to which attack buttons, whether you use a Power Bomb or a Sleeper Hold depending on whether your opponent is standing or in a corner. You have to think about which moves go where, because again, stamina management is important and each move has a cost.
Deeper still! Beyond the look and moveset of your created wrestler, you can tweak the actual CPU logic: what moves will the character use and lean on when controlled by the AI? For hardcore wrestling fans and veteran Fire Pro players, this is where the money is. This allows those types of players to simulate nearly every real life wrestler from every era of the sport. (Trust me, they're already working hard on this.) Even beyond that, a CPU-only exhibition match comprised of CAWs with great CPU Logic is enjoyable without any player interaction whatsoever.
What makes Fire Pro Wrestling World's Create-A-Wrestler sing is the general infrastructure of Steam itself. Steam Workshop means players can easily upload their created wrestlers and download the creations of other players. It means there's a strong community built completely around sharing accurate, cool, or simply weird wrestlers.
As of this writing there are a total of 5,358 items on Fire Pro Wrestling World's Steam Workshop section. The ease of sharing brings Fire Pro Wrestling World to a new audience: folks like me who love interesting match-ups, but don't want to go through the pain of drafting each character and inputting a list of stats and moves. I honestly don't know how the upcoming PlayStation 4 version of the game is going to match up.
To show off how amazing the Edit Mode is, here are some of the weirdest and coolest characters on the Steam workshop. I'm going to skip the simulations of real-life wrestlers, because to be honest, I have no way of judging the accuracy of those creations. What I do know is game, comic, and movie characters. Links to the Steam Workshop pages are on the character names.
This isn't the most subscribed version of the Merc With a Mouth (that's this one) on the Steam Workshop, but for my money, this is the best one. The logic on this one actually feels more like Deadpool would react in a match. It also comes with three outfits: classic, X-Men, and X-Force variants. You can also pick up Deadpool as a referee!
From the Guardians of the Galaxy comes a pretty snazzy version of Gamora, the "deadliest woman in the whole galaxy." Gamora has three costumes: her last comic look and both movie outfits. The assassin also features a full moveset and complete CPU logic.
The man who broke the bat gets his own CAW. There are a few Banes on the Workshop, many of which are based on the Dark Knight Rises film version. This is the classic Bane. He's got one look, because you only need one look. What this version does have is full logic, meaning you can drop him in and let him break the back of your favorite wrestlers.
The Mushroom Kingdom's Number One Stunner is here! He's taking a break from preparing for an Odyssey to teach some fools a lesson in the ring. Mario comes with 4 costumes, a full moveset, and a complete AI. If you need the pair for a tag team, you can also pickup Luigi.
Street Fighter's wandering warrior gets his own Fire Pro Create-A-Wrestler. Crosato's version comes with four costumes: his classic Street Fighter look, the Street Fighter Alpha white headband, a snazzy blue outfit, and even Hot Ryu from Street Fighter V. Full moveset and full CPU logic come along for the ride.
Crosato has a full collection of Street Fighter characters available on the Workshop, including a great Zangief, Ken, Sakura, and Dan Hibiki.
Look at the imposing master of Muay Thai. If you're going to download Ryu, then you need Sagat, eh? Ryu's rival comes complete with full logic and a better version of his wicked chest scar than some of the other versions of the character on the Workshop.
PEPSIMAN! He's missing the distinctive Pepsi red on his chest, but this version of the character sticks close to his appearance in Fighting Vipers for Sega Saturn. You get four costumes, but the CPU Logic is a little on the rough side.
Nier: Automata's protagonist is done fighting robots and breaking hearts in a post-apocalyptic world. It's time for her to take those fighting chops into the ring! YoRHa No.2 Type B comes complete with a full movelist and logic. No alternate costumes, alas, but she still fights for 9S.
From Virtua Fighter comes Wolf Hawkfield. The Virtua Fighter series may be gone for the time being, but you can get your fix in Fire Pro! The Canadian wrestler is here to show off his moves in a new environment. Moves are taken from the Virtua Fighter series and Wolk features full CPU logic.
He can't grow big, but Ultraman enters the ring! I unfortunately have no clue whether Ultraman has full logic because his creator is Japanese. I can't read Japanese. I'm sorry. He looks good though!
One of the few Kamen Rider heroes currently on the Workshop, Kuuga features four distinct looks: Rising Mighty, Amazing Mighty, Ultimate, and Amazing Ultimate. He also has full CPU logic, so he can show other wrestlers what no fear and no pain look like.
The greatest artist ever known is ready show off his artistry in the ring! Does he have a moveset and logic? Who knows? He's magical either way.
This fictional character from the original Mike Tyson's Punch-Out makes his return in the video game ring! Leaning hard on the MMA style of Fire Pro, this wrestler features a full moveset and logic, ready to punish Little Mac.
There are many bears on Fire Pro Wrestling World's Steam Workshop, but only one of them is the original A Bear. This is a bear. A bear who wrestles. Some believe this bear is meant to represent Daniel Bryan's greatest foe, but I think not. This bear stands alone.
It's a cute monkey in a referee's outfit. I don't know what you want from me.