Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special
Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
Shocking..... controversial.... thought provoking..... These are not phrases that you normally hear associated with a wrestling video game. For the most part, all wrestling games are pretty straight forward. When you let Goichi Suda (a/k/a Suda51) take the control of your project, though, things may get a little strange.
In the West, Suda51 is best known for his cult classic PS2 / Gamecube game Killer7 or the popular No More Heroes series on the Wii console. In Japan however, he became infamous many years ago because of this particular game.
SFPW Special was written and directed by Suda51 and released by Human Entertainment on December 22, 1994 for the Super Famicom in Japan. The Fire Pro Wrestling series is long running and features many, many games. This one is the eleventh in the series. Only a couple of Fire Pro Wrestling games got an English translation along with a Western release but in Japan the series is very popular.
All FPW games are very solid. They are always consistent in quality and in my opinion, they are the pinnacle of what pro wrestling games can be. Let's see where this game ranks within the series.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND: The game starts with a nice little intro of an unnamed wrestler walking to the ring as the credits roll. The credits and some of the menu text is written in English. This always interests me. I like the fact that some of the game is in English but it always makes me wonder.....can most Japanese gamers read English? I mean, if you released a game in North America with half of the text in Japanese people would complain because most gamers couldn't understand or read it.
This game, like a lot of Japanese wrestling games and most of the games in the FPW series, features a roster of "fictional" pro wrestlers that are HEAVILY based on real life grapplers. Basically all of the wrestlers look and play like their real life counterparts but have fictional names to prevent lawsuits, ect. For example, Hulk Hogan is known as "Axe Duggan" in-game. Some of the fictional names get a little on the comical side. One glaring example is that apparently the Ric Flair character in the game is known as Dick Slender. I might be childish but that always gives me a little chuckle. It's also sort of a call back to Pro Wrestling for the NES where the Flair character was called King Slender.
All of the wrestler models look pretty good. Even though the wrestler select menu features all of the names written in kanji, English speaking wrestling fans should be able to recognize a lot of the grapplers on sight alone. This game has an extensive roster for the time. Many wrestlers from around the world are featured. Even legends like Lou Thesz are available. There are even different ring canvas designs that you can choose from; one or more for each federation represented in the game.
The sound is good but there's not much of it besides the background music....just an occasional "break!" said by the referee upon rope breaks. The game also features a ringside announce team that are silent but feature amusing little "thought bubble" reactions during the bouts.
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay here is really good (just like all Fire Pro games). These games always use a strong, medium, and weak attack strategy. Basically when you start the match, you have to utilize your weaker/simpler strikes and grapples until you begin to wear down your opponent. Then you can advance to your stronger attacks. If your opponent starts to make a comeback, then you have to start all over with the weak attacks to begin to wear your opponent down again. This, along with the fact that there is no "health bar" in Fire Pro games makes the matches more realistic. You have to feel how the match is going and use strategy instead of just watching your "health bar".
This game features more modes of play than most available at the time. There is the standard single match, known in the game as a "one night match", a "league challenge" which is basically a round robin tournament setup, a standard tournament and a "story mode" which was very rare at the time. That's also where the controversy comes in but we'll get to that in a minute. There's even a mode called "Gruesome Fight" that is a UFC shoot style match in an octagon cage that you can unlock after you beat the story mode.
The roster gets unlocked a little at a time by playing through the story. Luckily, whomever owned my cartridge before me had already unlocked the complete roster and the Gruesome Fight option because I can tell you, I couldn't do it! The FPW series has a notorious learning curve when you first start playing them. They're all difficult, but this game in particular -- especially the wrestlers in the story mode -- are extremely hard. I've tried the story mode countless times and I can't get past the first match. It starts by you having to wrestle Hulk Hogan and he beats me......every....single....time. I'm a FPW veteran at this point and it's still impossible for me. I've come close but have never gotten that elusive three count.
This is far and away the hardest wrestling game I have personally ever played. It doesn't make the game "bad" per se, (believe me, we're not treading anywhere near MUSCLE quality or lack thereof here), but it does make it not forgiving in the least to new players which isn't a good thing.
CONTROVERSY: This is where things get interesting. As I mentioned, this game features a story mode that may be one of the first story modes ever created for a wrestling game. A lot of games prior to this had a "championship chase" mode where you would start at the bottom and work your way up to a world title but there were no frills so to speak. Just matches. If you win, you advance. That simple.
For this game, however, Suda51 had a different plan. He wrote a whole story along with cut scenes to add drama to the chase for the belt. Too much drama, perhaps. For whatever reason, he decided the story should be very, very dark. It starts off fairly normal as you are a rookie breaking into the business working your way up the rankings. Along the way though, tragedy repeatedly strikes. Your coach gets murdered by an unnamed assailant! Somehow you accidently kill one of your closest friends in the ring during a match! Along the way, you end up falling in love with Akira Madea's sister. Then at last you make it to fighting the World Champion Ric Flair, excuse me, Dick Slender, for his title but before the final match, your girlfriend leaves you. Also, Mr. Slender just straight up murders your tag team partner in the ring and also informs you that he was the one who murdered your coach earlier on! Crazy stuff.
If you win the last match and get your hands on the World Title then everything was worth it.....right? Well, maybe not. Three days later (after hours of contemplating everything), you decide that it was not worth it. Your coach and friends are dead. Your girl left you. You're alone in the world.....so you decide to take your own life. The story ends with an exterior shot of your house and fancy car as a single gunshot echoes through the air......it's all over.
Serious stuff for a game at the time but sadly, it's not that farfetched in terms of how some careers end in the business. Even if the tragic ending of the game is entirely believable it still really shocked gamers when they first experienced it.
VERDICT: This isn't a bad game in the traditional sense. It looks good, has a great roster of wrestlers and MMA fighters available to play with, and is a fun game if you're halfway decent at playing it.
That's where the main problem in this game lies, though; the fact that it's almost unbeatable unless you're an expert Fire Pro Wrestling player. The games in the series prior to this seem to have a little more forgiving difficulty factor and the most recent games in the series have an adjustable difficulty factor so you can start off learning the mechanics without getting too frustrated. It would be better to introduce yourself to the series with any of the games besides this one in my opinion. The only two things that make this game stand out are the oddly dark story mode and the fact that you can play in a UFC style match with any wrestler (which was a first at the time, I'm sure).
It's an interesting conversation piece but not the best game in this legenday series by a long shot. I'd give it 0 stars which in my +/- rating system would be a neutral rating.....not particularly good or bad.
Until next time.... keep mashing those buttons!