Fire Pro Wrestling: Combination Tag
A New Hope... Dragon Ball... Raiders Of The Lost Ark... All great series have a beginning. An "origin story," if you will. This, my friends, was the beginning of the greatest pro wrestling video game series ever! At least as far as I'm concerned.
Fire Pro Wrestling: Combination Tag was released for the TurboGrafx-16 in 1989 by Human. One of the main programmers was Masato Masuda who was the single creator and coder for Pro Wrestling on the NES which is probably the greatest wrestling game of the 8-bit era. Believe it or not; that classic title was programmed by a single person. Human was smart to snatch this guy away from Nintendo and put him at the head of developing their planned series of wrestling games. Did he improve on the formula he used for Pro Wrestling when creating this seminal FPW game? Well, the short answer would be "yes" considering the FPW series has been going strong for 30 years now! We'll take a more in-depth look for ourselves and find out, though.
I've never been a huge fan of the music used in Fire Pro games (on FPW: Returns for the PS2; I always turned the music off) but this opening theme song is particularly "grating" to my ears. I never play an FPW for its music, though, so I'll give it a pass. I'm sure the game itself much more than makes up for it. You can see on the main menu that there are multiple match types available which was a plus for the time. Like many Japanese video games, for whatever reason, some of the text is written in English and we can see here our choices are to either have a singles match, a tag team match, or a 5 vs 5 elimination style match, similar to a Survivor Series match. Not bad. Gives the player a few different options to entertain themselves with.
The roster here sports a whopping (for the time) 16 grappling greats to choose from! They're all pre-split into teams, though, so if you play tag team matches, you will always be facing the same teams. No mixing up of the partners here. Not sure why they made a choice like this but it's no "game breaker," so I'll move on. Some of the legends featured in the game (under fictional names) are The Road Warriors, Antonio Inoki, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, and Bad News Allen (Bad News Brown if you happen to have been a WWF fan at the time. Everywhere else in the world, he was known as Bad News Allen). As you can see, the roster doesn't disappoint. It features wrestling legends from all around the world. Come to think of it; this game even has Mil Mascaras and Dos Caras representing Mexico and the lucha libre style of pro wrestling.
Once the matches start; the graphics for this first game of the series look a little rough around the edges compared to later FPW games. The sprites aren't as crisp, it features a plain-looking wrestling mat and ring apron for the ring, the audience isn't quite as detailed as it usually is, and the character models for the wrestlers aren't quite as representative of their real-life counterparts as they later became. Still, not a bad first attempt. The game looks adequate enough but it resembles NES graphics more so than your usual TurboGrafx-16 game. One thing I do love about this game's graphics - even in this first release of the long-running series; the programmers were nice enough to include "blood effects" for the wrestlers for the bloodthirsty sickos like me who enjoy that type of thing. A nice detail that all other wrestling games of the era lacked.
Of course, this game plays like all other FPW games with weak/medium/strong strikes and grapples. You have to wear your opponent down with weaker moves before you can graduate to putting a legit beatdown on them. FPW's classic, timing-based grapple system is also in effect here. The only thing that seems to be missing is the lack of "finishers." Some wrestlers' strong grapple happens to be their finisher but it doesn't work that way with all wrestlers on the roster. Lack of finishers is an omission for sure but not unheard of at the time. Some older wrestling titles just didn't feature signature moves.
There are plenty of different moves for each wrestler to utilize, though, so that helps out a lot. Each wrestler has a few different strikes, eight grappling moves, one or two ground moves, and top rope attacks. Plenty of ways to pummel a jobber and make them rethink about why they wanted to be a pro wrestler in the first place.
All in all; this isn't a bad first attempt for the FPW development team. They pretty much got almost everything right this first go around and just subtly improved their system over the last 30 years by adding details and new layers to the game's simulation aspect. Things like having to manually control your breathing in FPW: Returns to keep your wrestler from "blowing up" in the middle of a long match. I would suggest that everyone check this game out if you get the chance just to be able to experience the first game of a classic, beloved series.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!