I don't know that I've ever willingly spent more time playing an unquestionably bad game than I have with Fire Pro Wrestling for Xbox Live Arcade. The premise is simple: your Xbox Live avatar wrestles other Xbox Live avatars. Sometimes it's your friends, sometimes it's random strangers online, or sometimes it's generic rip-offs of popular wrestlers controlled by the computer. Whatever the case, the act of actually wrestling is what sinks Fire Pro. It doesn't play well at all. And yet, the staggering volume of character-building elements available in Fire Pro implies that there's more going on here than just another terrible wrestling game. Basically, Fire Pro is kind of horrible, and yet weirdly compelling.
Yes, this is ostensibly of the same Fire Pro Wrestling family of 2D wrestling games. Except it's not. Whatever still remains of original Fire Pro developer Spike churned out a game with several key hallmarks of the Fire Pro series, but only a fraction of the fun. It's like the discarded exoskeleton of a much better wrestling game.
The living, breathing portion of Fire Pro Wrestling, namely its challenging, often vexing gameplay engine, apparently wandered off, and an awkward, generally unchallenging gameplay system has taken up residence in its place. The timing-based grappling engine is replaced with a system that seems to have WWF No Mercy fans at least somewhat in mind, what with its weak and strong grappling system, and taunt-oriented finishers. Except that whatever sense of speed and timing you might expect from, well, any modern day wrestling game is completely absent. Characters dully lumber around the ring, swiping and grabbing for one another. Strong grapples are largely useless against any opponent who knows what they're doing, since they take so long to wind up. The same goes for charge moves, which you can only pull off when your opponent is pretty much completely dead. That means that you'll often just keep wandering up to people, grappling them, doing one of two, maybe three moves, and repeat until finisher.
And yet I kept playing. Not just because I was reviewing it, but for hours longer than I needed to. For as stump-dumb as the gameplay is, there's something inexplicably likable about Fire Pro Wrestling. It probably has a lot to do with the sheer volume of upgradeable moves and stats you have at your disposal. As you play, you'll earn experience points you can use to boost your wrestler up in a bunch of different ways. You'll also unlock new moves, many of which recall the sort of zany, over-the-top cartoon nonsense of AKI's Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E., albeit with far less interesting characters.
When you have other players around to play against, it's especially good, since the sometimes cheap, yet always clueless AI players tend to get old sometime around the moment you hit level 25. Unfortunately, those people are going to need to be in the room with you. The online mode in Fire Pro is just this side of busted. Lag was prevalent throughout every match I played, and in the most heinous circumstances, control input would drop down to nearly a full second of delay behind my button presses. At that point, you're just mashing buttons and hoping something connects.
For these reasons, it's difficult to recommend Fire Pro Wrestling to just about anyone. I enjoyed it in spurts, but there's just too much wrong here to hold your attention for long. As amusing as it can be, it's really just a janky wrestling game with avatars stapled on for maximum stupidity. This is a game that either needed to be way simpler, or way more complicated, because the middle ground stinks.