Posted on April 27th, 2010 6 comments
Fire Pro Wrestling:
Release Date: 6/22/89
Price: 6300 yen
Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 22.57 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A well-done early game, despite its pedestrian graphics. You can choose from a roster of 16 wrestlers, each with his own set of moves. A wide variety of attacks are available.”
The final week of June 1989 was a defining moment for the still-fledgling PC Engine. Why? Because two games came out that week, one after another, that eventually grew into two of the console’s most triumphant and fondly remembered series. This is one of them. The other: Valis II, released June 23. Whether your thing is high-school girls in skimpy clothing or thirty-something sweaty men in skimpy clothing, the PCE’s got you covered — what other console can say that?
Fire Pro Wrestling is the first game ever published by Human, one of the most colorful mid-tier game companies that ever existed. Founded in May 1983 as a software subcontractor, the tiny outfit worked on a variety of Famicom titles, mostly for Bandai. Stadium Events, the most expensive NES game ever? That was Human’s work, as was most of the other Family Fun Fitness/Power Pad stuff that Nintendo themselves didn’t develop.
Human had its heyday in the early ’90s, when Fire Pro and Formation Soccer both hit their stride and became the top titles in both of their genres. The era saw the company host a lot of very young talent, much of which is still in the business today. Goichi Suda (Suda51), current head of Grasshopper Manufacture, got his start working on Fire Pro. Hifumi Kono, designer of Infinite Space on the DS, got his start making games like Human Grand Prix and Clock Tower, both SFC titles originally. Chiyomaru Shikura, president of Japanese publisher 5pb., is a Fire Pro alumnus, as are Masahiro Yonezawa and Yutaka Hirata, both affiliated with prolific DS dev SUZAK (Wario: Master of Disguise). Kenichi Narusawa, a fairly well-known porn star and producer who once played Shinji in an X-rated remake of an Evangelion doujinshi, worked at Human right up until they filed for bankruptcy protection in November 1999. It must’ve been a very lively office environment.
But before all that, there was the original PCE Fire Pro Wrestling, an unpolished game but one with all the features that made the series notable already in place. At its core, it’s an update of Nintendo’s Pro Wrestling, retaining the emphasis on timing and move combos instead of the mindless button-bashing that symbolized this genre through most of the ’80s. The exhaustive edit functionality that is Fire Pro’s modern-day trademark didn’t come until Fire Pro Wrestling 3: Legend Bout (1992), but the 16 wrestlers this game shipped with — and the fairly large move list they wielded — is a pretty remarkable stable for the time. (World Championship Wrestling on the NES was similarly impressive, but Fire Pro was released first by a few months.)
Also remarkable, and perhaps one reason Human never bothered with scoring an official license: This is the first wrestling game where you can make competitors bleed visibly with the right moves. This didn’t show up in any other title until the PlayStation era, I don’t think. For hardcore Japanese rasslin’ fans, this feature alone made Fire Pro stick out from the pack, and thousands of them across the nation spent their Saturday nights in the summer of ’89 repeatedly hammering the heads of CPU opponents into turnbuckles.
This is still a pretty primitive game by any standard — the computer AI is a complete pushover, and there’s nothing to do apart from choose some wrestlers and have them beat each other up. The seeds of a classic are here, however, and even though they didn’t grow into viny chair-wielding death plants until the Super Famicom era, one still has to appreciate the roots being formed here.
Human isn’t a household name in the US — erm, come to think of it, it was never a household name anywhere, at any point in written history — but they enjoyed a hell of a ride through the industry for a decade, and this is what kicked it off.