Format reviewed: SNES
Publisher: Human Entertainment
Developer: Human Entertainment
Submitted by: Steve Halfpenny
Disclaimer – This review begins with an angry rant. I apologise in advance but I had to get this off my chest.
Let's get a few things clear. Fire Pro Wrestling is the originator of the wrestling sim as we know it today. Though even I admit that in the arcades, WrestleFest was the biz. Never heard of it? Don't worry. It's remained in Japan for the most part bar a few exceptions. What's so great about it? Here's a recreation of a conversation I could have had in the mid nineties.
“The Fire Pro Wrestling series are easily the best wrestling games out there. No other wrestling sim can boast hundreds of characters, all based on real wrestlers from actual promotions all over the world with their correct move sets, the ability to create your own wrestler, multiple match types, speciality matches, tonnes of options and most importantly, strategic gameplay that isn't (always) based on bashing buttons!” – Me and my terrible antisocial elitist attitude
“Yeah but it's not WWF is it?!” – A self professed know it all but doesn't really know anything WWF fan boy who has no idea what I'm babbling on about whilst he desperately clinches onto his copy of a WWF Royal Rumble for the Megadrive. Probably.
Yep. Most of the features I base my case on for have appeared and continue to appear in Western wrestling games, but it all started with Fire Pro. Check the dates. And who cares about a licence anyway? You can pick the Undertaker and Hulk Hogan, y'know! Isn't that all you people care about?! No?
Okay, rant over. Here's my review.
I became seriously obsessed with professional wrestling around the time that the WWF's popularity was on a slippery slope. Reason? It wasn't strictly wrestling on Sky TV that kept me entertained; I was lucky enough to discover alternative wrestling through tape traders. These were the real hardcore who managed to bag a copy of a wrestling show or match from another country, copy it eight squillion times from NTSC to PAL VHS and back again (so that the quality was worse than Channel 5 in Wales) and then sell or trade said tapes to some shmuck like yours truly. Snowy effects and bad audio? Check. Ah, the days before DVDs and youtube.
But entertaining these tapes still were and I quickly became familiar with great wrestling that is not associated with a multimillion dollar company based in North America (“There's no such thing!” says the WWF fan boy). What followed was a love with imported Japanese wrestling games on my modified SNES and soon I discovered Super Fire Pro Wrestling 2 and 3. On the surface, these games seemed terrible when they were in fact really deep, especially in comparison with the licensed WWF titles where options were limited and gameplay was, again only in comparison, quite primitive.
I've chosen the forth entry in the Super Famicom series for entry here because it was the first to feature half decent graphics (earlier titles in this franchise are unplayable today mostly down to lousy animation). It also had the best single player career mode ever, one that I don't think even the Fire Pro people have bettered.
You start from the very beginning; a kid with hopes and dreams of becoming the next World Heavyweight Champion (don't we all dream of this?). And so, whether you understand Japanese text or not, the cut scenes help you understand what's going on… most of the time. You wrestle your first bouts in sheds (that's what it looks like!), work your way through the independent scene, wrestling in small buildings, fighting in the world of MMA (this was light years before UFC took off in America and Human correctly predicted that wrestling would become influenced by it) and then finally, you make it to the big time. Along the way you'll develop your own personality, buy some new tights (oh, the campness of wrestling) and develop your skills, accessing new moves and abilities. This keeps the game fresh. Eventually you'll take on the world champion himself in one final showdown (hey, it's Ric Flair!) before the twist at the end… which I won't spoil even though you won't understand it without the assistance of a translator; I didn't until I discovered the internet. Incidentally, this infamous story mode was written by one Goichi Suda, the same bloke who went on to work on the likes of Killer7 and No More Heroes.
You could probably write a book explaining all of the other features in SFPWS with a few additional pages praising multiplayer battle royales (it's like Bomberman but wrestling!) but I'll summarise by saying that between me and my other wrestling chums of the time, we probably played this more than any other SNES game back in the mid 90s. That's how good it was. The Fire Pro Wrestling games continued to feature more editing tools to the point where it was practically open sourced but “Special” is where it got good. So to murder a catchphrase, you can take your Smackdowns, No Mercys and WCW / nWo Revenges and shove them up your candy… you know what. You don't know what? Well, you probably have to be a hardcore fan of the silly sport to appreciate it in the first place.