When developer Spike Chunsoft revealed plans to resurrect the long-running Fire Pro Wrestling series with the upcoming Fire Pro Wrestling World, a small but ridiculously passionate slice of the gaming community collectively lost its mind.
I was a part of the madness. The last true Fire Pro title—ignoring the Japan-exclusive social game and the awful, avatar-focused Xbox Live Arcade title—was the PlayStation 2’s Fire Pro Wrestling Returns in 2005. A decade is an incredibly long time to be deprived of that which you love.
Spike Chunsoft also announced that the wrestling simulator will be headed not only to PlayStation 4, but also to the PC, courtesy of Steam. Though Japanese publishers have a newfound commitment to the personal computer, Fire Pro’s rich console and portable legacy made that portion of Spike Chunsoft’s reveal truly surprising.
In fact, the move to PC has me thinking that Fire Pro Wrestling World has the potential to be the best game in the series. Why? Mods.
But first, a little background on why Fire Pro’s community-driven additions are so vital to the game and the surrounding scene.
There are two essential pillars in a good Fire Pro game: a roster of thinly or heavily disguised real wrestlers, and a ridiculous amount of character customization. The former has enabled Spike Chunsoft to skirt international copyright infringement claims by including pro wrestlers, such as Hulk Hogan and Antonio Inoki, without acquiring the proper federation licenses. The latter let fans give the “fake” Fire Pro grapplers their true personas and, more importantly, let players create original characters or real-world wrestlers who weren’t included in the base game. As a result, the Fire Pro community is one based on creating and sharing character data.
These tenets expanded with the release of Fire Pro Wrestling D, the series’ 2001 Sega Dreamcast offering. That entry gave Fire Pro fans a glimpse of what a Fire Pro Wrestling game could look like on an internet-connected PC, as it leveraged the console’s online capabilities to let wrasslin fans download new moves (free of charge from the developer!) and user-created character packs.
I fondly remember nabbing ECW rosters from dedicated creators who blessed the fan base with dozens of custom grapplers, as well as user-created ring logos. It was the equivalent of receiving free DLC every few days, and it was an absolutely grand experience.
The lone annoyance, however, was that the typical Dreamcast VMU data storage unit was pitifully small—a scant 128KB of flash memory. A single VMU couldn’t contain all the downloadable goodness, so I frequently swapped memory cards in and out of the Dreamcast depending on the wrestlers I wanted to use at the moment.
Thankfully, there are no such limitations today. A gaming PC has hundreds of gigabytes, if not multiple terabytes, of storage. That’s an insane amount of room for storing custom wrestler data and—bringing this full circle—mods.
Spike Chunsoft hasn’t confirmed Fire Pro Wrestling World’s Steam Workshop compatibility, but I fully expect that feature to be in place by the time the game is available for purchase in the Steam store. With Steam Workshop, the community is sure to develop wonderful new areas, rings, and mat logos to expand the Fire Pro experience. Fire Pro Wrestling World will include an image-editing tool in the PC and PlayStation 4 versions, but I envision PC players utilizing the power of their platform to give the game extra flair. Just thinking of nailing someone with a match-ending Critical! move and having Crying Jordan’s visage flash on screen with animated tears tickles me in all the right ways. And that’s just me thinking small.
I’m eager to see the potential graphics mods that the Fire Pro maniacs whip up. Though Fire Pro Wrestling World’s high-resolution 2D sprites appear quite serviceable, and adhere to the series’ simple visual tradition, I would love for a few intrepid souls to overhaul the visuals with, say, a cel-shaded aesthetic. New boots, tight, trunks, singlets, masks, and other wrestling gear would be welcome, too.
I recognize that editing and manipulating sprites is a laborious task; that’s why SNK moved to polygons for The King of Fighters XIV, after all. Still, I hope that someone will shoot that shot. If Fire Pro Wrestling World develops a M.U.G.E.N.-like author base, it’ll only be a matter of time before I can tombstone piledrive 2017 Kanye West using 2004 Kanye West. That’s the true beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy.
I long for (potentially) simpler things, too, such as custom soundtracks or maybe, just maybe, additional weapons for Deathmatch bouts. There could be some truly incredible things birthed from the love of the game.
Fire Pro Wrestling World will enter Steam Early Access something during Q2 2017. Then we’ll get a peek into what Spike Chunsoft has planned for the game, albeit in an unfinished form. Will it integrate the tools needed to make my fantasy mods a reality? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: When it comes to PC gaming, the community builds whenever a dev, or publisher, does not.