Fire Pro Returns! Just kidding.
I have no idea why Microsoft decided to call this XBox Live Arcade professional wrestling title "Fire Pro Wrestling." Those familiar with storied Fire Pro Wrestling franchise are dedicated enough to know ahead of time that this game isn't a true Fire Pro experience, and those who have never heard of the series won't be drawn in by what would likely appear to them to be a generic, forgettable title. That said - there is some fun to be had at a very base level, but that's not enough to overcome the numerous deficiencies that turn this into a title that is hard to recommend, no matter what your familiarity is with the Fire Pro brand.
Fire Pro Wrestling is an avatar-based pro wrestling title that doesn't take itself too seriously. Hardcore violence is kept at a minimum. Characters bounce and fly around like cartoons, voice samples are limited to gibberish hoots and utterances. Finishing moves are ludicrously fantastical. Even Blazing Tornado, the more outside of reality-based 1994 arcade game from the developers of Fire Pro, didn't go as over the top as this title.
Fans of the older Fire Pro titles will find very little here to relate to in terms of gameplay. The timing-based grapple move execution of the past titles is gone, replaced with a more generic "first button to grapple/second button to execute" move format. Three different strike types are still present (quick and light, slower and medium, charge-based and heavy), and the opponent can either hold a trigger to block, or, as a risk/reward option, attempt to hit the block trigger right when the blow strikes, opening the opponent up to a counter move. It's not a horrible system in theory, but the execution leaves a little to be desired. Most of the time you'll just be sticking with your quick attack, as the other options leave you wide open for quick counter strikes, and it just isn't very exciting to hit the X button three times in a row over and over. Finishing moves are done via building up your "soul meter" through taunting during the match, then executing your finisher taunt, which sets your avatar ablaze. If you successfully grapple your opponent while on fire, the camera switches to a more dramatic angle for your finishing maneuver sequence, somewhat similar to another famous Japanese wrestling game, Giant Gram 2000.
"Janky and bouncy" is the best way I can describe in-ring action. Collision detection isn't bad, but you'll quickly lose count of how many times you throw your three strike combo into a blocking opponent, with no visible impact on either player. I have to wonder if the main thing holding this game back from being a more fun experience is the forced use of avatars, and the resulting jankiness of gameplay and animation. If Spike had been allowed to create their own 3D models, we may have seen better results. It is certainly possible to translate the Fire Pro series to 3D successfully, as the King of Colosseum series has shown.
As you make your way through the three circuits of 18 matches each (and a final title match), you'll occasionally encounter some timing-based "Bonus Rounds" that will give you a slight boost in money and experience. These don't make anything worse, but the experience and money boosts you get are usually so small I'm not sure why it matters how well you do. While progressing, you'll also encounter the occasional 2-on-1 match where you'll have to defeat two CPU opponents at the same time. Why wrestling game developers haven't figured out that these matches are never, ever fun no matter what the gameplay is like, I don't understand.
Music in all aspects of the game is generic, barely above midi-sounding fare. Graphics generally fit in with the cartoony motif, especially for the backgrounds of the "casual" circuit, which features a stage set at a backyard barbeque and another set on the beach. A couple of the championship circuit stages and underground circuit stages have a little more style put into them, but nothing overly memorable.
One positive element of past Fire Pro titles that does make a subdued appearance is the customization. While nowhere near as deep as any past Fire Pro title (or even any recent WWE game), there is a fairly in-depth amount of tweaking you can do with your avatar's moveset, appearance, and abilities. Unfortunately almost all of those moves and clothing items are locked at first, making the first hour or so of the game extremely limited and tedious, as your created wrestler has a minscule amount of options available at the outset. In particular, holding back moves from the player seems like a pretty lame artificial way to extend the life of the game. You gain new moves through experience & boosting your attributes, while you gain clothing through spending your in-game money in the shop.
For those who are into that kind of thing, the game does feature Avatar Famestar support. So if you've really gotta have those regal-looking costumes for Full House Poker or feel compelled to dress up like a sheep for A World of Keflings, this game can help you achieve those goals.
Fire Pro Wrestling is not a good Fire Pro Wrestling game. It also isn't a very good pro wrestling game. It also isn't a very good XBox Live Arcade game. Still, there are a few faint glimmers of good stuff here and there, mainly in regards to customization, that make this something that isn't a completely insulting experience.
Disclaimer: Time played - approximately 4 hours. Created character taken up to level 41. Created character resembles a Cobra Kai-themed luchador and is named "Frank Steroids."
I have tried online play a few times - it has been hit and miss as far as lag. Most of the time it has been acceptable with two players, four players is a little more problematic. Online play is not very fun so I don't plan on persuing it.
At this writing, there is already a $5 DLC pack up that adds 20 more matches and a bunch of new moves. I would highly recommend you not buy it.
Oh, and there's also an achievement you can't unlock due to a bug. No patch to fix it is coming.