Normally, I don’t do Maximum Letdowns (or for that matter $20 GOTWs and Lost Classics) on games that haven’t been released yet, and since I don’t normally purchase bad games just to smash on them, I concentrate on older titles (along with the occasional dud I find as a download). However in this case, I think the premature bashing is more than warranted, as one of my all-time favorite gaming franchises has been ruined.

Ever since it’s origin on the Japanese PC Engine, the Fire Pro Wrestling series has been notable for its huge list of wrestlers (many of which are based on real-life personalities), huge amount of customization options (allowing players to customize everything from wrestlers, to match types, to ring logos), and its realistic (well as realistic one can get for a scripted sport) simulation-like quality. Not anymore. Thanks to Microsoft, the Fire Pro Wrestling franchise is going to become less than a shadow of its former self, and the upcoming iteration will be a complete mockery of the wrestling franchise I once loved.

2007’s Fire Pro Wrestling Returns on PS2 remains one of my all-time favorite games ever, and even with all the improvements made to the Smackdown vs Raw franchise, I still like to bring it out and hold custom tournaments and book matches with my fantasy roster. I’m the sadistic sort that holds matches featuring me and my porn star valet/girlfriend against my ex-girlfriend and her husband in an exploding barbed wire match just to see them bleed when the ring explodes, steel cage brawls pitting me against my college professor just to bash him senseless with a steel chair, and Chris Beniot and other dead wrestlers being resurrected just to get revenge on the wrestling industry.

Last fall, I read an update from the Tokyo Game Show that Microsoft had signed a deal with Spike to bring Fire Pro Wrestling to Xbox Live Arcade. For a second, my mind was overwhelmed by the possible improvements and additions that are possible on the system. Online matches for up to 8 (maybe 16) players? Online leagues and tournaments for up to 64 players? High definition sprites? An improved user interface? Improved creation modes allowing players to use custom soundtracks for their entrance themes and share their creations over Xbox Live? An improved Matchmaker mode? New match types including ladder matches? The possibilities were endless.

When I scrolled down a second later however, the other shoe dropped.

This would not be the Fire Pro Wrestling that we knew and loved. Instead, we will be getting a game where we would use our customizable Xbox Live avatars to play sickeningly cute matches where we would earn exp to increase our stats and purchase new moves and gear. We could dress our avatars up in lucha libre masks, but that’s about it. There will be no blood, minimal customization options, no weapons, no barbed wire matches, or anything else that made FPW an importer’s dream. I could go on even further, but this article is depressing enough as is. If you want to see what I’m talking about, check out one of the many videos of the game that’s on various gaming sites such as this one, and you’ll see how Spike and MS are ruining this great franchise. One quote from the aforementioned video caught my attention:

We have everything you’ve come to expect from the Fire Pro Wrestling series.

REALLY? Well then how come there are so few ways to tweak your character (because last time we could tweak everything from the moveset to the CPU logic)? Where are all the guys coincidentally happen to look like real life pro wrestlers and mma fighters? Where are the weapons? Where are my barbed wire exploding steel cage matches?

Ladies and gentlemen, the purpose of Maximum Letdown is to poke fun at sucky video games for the sake of getting a good laugh out of something from the past. Sadly, this article is motivated out of sadness, rage, and anger. For fucks sake, I’m sitting at my laptop fighting back tears as I type this, and not even Bikini Samurai Fighters, Survival Arts, or any of those christian games from Color Dreams have made me feel this way, yet FPW is at least slightly superior to them. Not since Shadowrun has a franchise been so successfully been mutilated. Listen Spike, if you want to make a avatar wrestling game for casual gamers, that’s fine, but don’t you DARE slap the Fire Pro Wrestling name on it! That’s akin to Capcom making a fighting game with stick figures and calling it Street Fighter.

Now I’m still holding out hope. Perhaps Spike will see the error of their ways, and release an Xbox Live port of a real Fire Pro Wrestling game (such as a version with the enhancements I described earlier) as a way of reviving the franchise, similar to how Hudson released a traditional Bomberman game on XBLA after the disastrous Act Zero. Or maybe a traditional 2D FPW could be a hidden feature in this game. While it doesn’t seem likely, one can always dream. Until then, I’ll gladly play FPWR on my Playstation 3 or SVR 2011 for a bit longer, or at least until Spike or maybe even Yukes gets the formula right for video pro wrestling.