Pro Wrestling for the NES was developed by a team called TRY, who would split off from Nintendo shortly after that release and become Human Entertainment. Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag was their first crack at repurposing that old Pro Wrestling engine, expanding it to an isometric view with more moves and a bigger roster of then-modern superstars.

This title really does feel like a direct evolution of Pro Wrestling. The sprite style is closer to the original NES game than to the later semi-realistic style the series would develop on the SNES. Characters all have that one quick, stiff little punch and a longer-range boot that takes slightly longer to unfurl. Aside from aesthetic enhancements, more characters (16 playable plus two hidden bosses) and what was the largest roster of moves in a wrestling game at the time (eight grapples per character plus each has two or three special moves, as well as the ability to run and suicide-dive out of the ring), the only real difference from Pro Wrestling's gameplay is the emphasis on perfectly timed grapples.

Unfortunately, the grapple and submission system sinks the game by making it unplayably hard for the single player. I understand that the whole Fire Pro series is about timing your grapple button press perfectly rather than mashing it like in most other games, and that's fine. But with no manual available, and no in-game direction or tutorial of any sort, understanding the grapple timing is just way too opaque and it seems far too finicky. The computer is relentless from the first match, it's like an SNK fighting game, and losing 80-90% of your grapples is just too much of a handicap to overcome.

And from everything I've read, you actually ARE supposed to mash to get out of submissions ... but the computer tends to refuse to let you out of them for ridiculously long periods of time. You can mash out fairly quickly early in the match, but once the CPU has hit you with just a couple grapples or submissions, suddenly it can lock you in for 15-20 seconds at a time and just destroy the hell out of you. The second or third submission it slaps on often ends the match because there's just nothing you can do to get out of it.

There was no character creation at this point, either. Naturally, the roster consists of Japanese superstars who were prominent in the late 80s, with a few Americans who worked over there (like the Legion of Doom) thrown in. I don't think the game had any kind of license, however, so it's bootleg lookalikes with different names.

There's a lot to like about the game. It looks great for a Turbografx title, and the engine would be fun and satisfying if the learning curve wasn't so brutal. It's probably a worthy pickup if you have a second player around consistently. Fortunately, the series went on to capitalize on the potential shown here. Though the fan community passionately translates these games, no one has bothered with this one, and after playing it I can see why. I'm guessing it's better for two players competing against each other, but playing the computer is just an exercise in developing hand cramps and ruining your controller.
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