Fire Pro Wrestling World has been out on Steam for two days. Already, it has a roster that includes all the greats, from Shinsuke Nakamura to Andre The Giant to the consensus best wrestler of all time, A Bear.
For the past couple of days, Fire Pro Wrestling World, the latest entry in a decades-old retro-style wrestling series, has been surging up Steam's top-10 best sellers list. At first glance, it's hard to understand why. It's a pro wrestling game that looks like it was made in 1995, and it lacks the name appeal of WWE or even smaller, beloved organisations such as New Japan. It's also missing a robust story mode, and it's in Early Access, so it's generally a bit rough around the edges.
Despite all of that, I couldn't stop grinning like a doofus when I played it for a couple of hours last night. There are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, the game's Steam Workshop is a veritable buffet of beefcakes — and also bears, Resident Evil villains, Persona 5 characters and Goku. It isn't just a bunch of skins slapped atop the same few wrestlers, either. The game includes a detailed "logic" system that allows you tweak everything from showmanship to the percentage chance that a wrestler will use specific moves depending on different situations. It's absolutely nuts.
Here's a match I played last night. I am, of course, the hero and protagonist, A Bear (the black one — not the pink one, or the referee). My opponents include Mario, Luigi, Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, and my own inability to get Eiffel 65's PlayStation song out of my head.
In these five minutes alone, some incredible stuff happens. I like the part where Goku suddenly walks out of the ring and stands in a corner, only to return and get pinned by me, A Bear, who sits on his face. My victory celebration, wherein I discover my bear is incapable of climbing the turnbuckle, is also something special.
Fire Pro Wrestling World is a crockpot of worlds-collide comedy, but it plays well, too. Wrestling is timing-based, so when you tie up with an opponent, you've gotta time your button press just right. That makes grappling feel satisfying, something that only increases as your opponent gets worn down. Your moveset — still controlled with the same simple selection of button presses — changes to become flashier, digging into your wrestler's bag of signature moves. It's a clever way of reflecting the way pro wrestling matches often unfold, with each wrestler continually upping the ante in defiance of their own exhaustion.
Oh, and exhaustion is a game mechanic as well. See, Fire Pro Wrestling World devotes an entire button to breathing. Over time, your wrestler becomes visibly tired, and you've gotta take a step back and breath for a moment to alleviate that. Maybe you do this after dumping an opponent on their head, or maybe you're so winded that all you can do is try to catch your breath and hope your opponent is too dead-tired to capitalise on your temporary vulnerability. It's a cool system that adds a lot of tension to matches and, again, mirrors the moment-to-moment drama of actual pro wrestling.
The game takes me back to when I was a kid, playing with wrestling action figures. I'd toss a couple of Dragon Ball Z characters in a tiny ring along with Goldberg, Stone Cold and The Rock and make up some elaborate plot line to justify it all. Fire Pro Wrestling World is basically that as a video game, all the way down to the part where you have to imagine the storyline yourself, because the game sure as hell isn't gonna do it for you. I'm doubtful of its lasting appeal to folks who aren't diehard fans of wrestling (or of screwing around with a bizarro grab bag of characters in a wrestling setting), but I'm enjoying it right now. It's a sandbox of "what if so-and-so fought so-and-so" possibility, and just like in real life, bears usually win.