WWE All Stars Review
World Wrestling Entertainment isn’t known for its subtlety. I mean, we’re talking about a form of entertainment in which female wrestler Mae Young gave birth to a rubber hand. Sometimes the backstage antics outshine the action on the mat, and while few would argue that the drama in the ring is real, many can appreciate its brand of athleticism. From the glory days of the late 1980s to the present, World Wrestling Entertainment brought the sport into public consciousness and introduced the world to some pretty big stars. Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and many more have enjoyed massive careers in and out of the ring.
With such a credible cast of Superstars and Legends, one can appreciate the "what if" nature of WWE All Stars. Finally answering the question of whether Hogan could beat Cena and pitting Andre the Giant versus the Big Show, THQ San Diego satisfies die-hard wrestling fans. For those of us on the periphery, laughing at the campy fun of the wrestling shenanigans, or for those who just like to play wrestling games, THQ San Diego aims to reinvent the genre. Big names aside, WWE All Stars is a fast and furious wrestling game, more like a fighting game than any other WWE title before it.
Unlike sister franchise WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw (the 2012 edition is coming later this year), WWE All Stars avoids the simulation-grappling spearheaded by Yuke’s and takes an entirely new direction. The controls are initially quite simple, consisting of weak and heavy strikes and weak and heavy grabs. The left trigger is the go-to button for climbing in and out of the ring, hopping atop turnbuckles, or pinning opponents. The right trigger starts off a run and can lead to Irish whips. It’s an instantly playable set-up, far from complex and perfect for returning and new players alike.
However, like the best fighting games on the market, this initially simple set-up belies something much more complex. Tapping on the bumpers lets players counter strikes and grabs, and while an icon will pop up underneath a wrestler's health bar when he performs a counter or reversal, it’s often too late. Players new to the game will mash these bumpers, causing them to lose their effectiveness, but practiced players will learn the timing for each move when performed by each wrestler. Counters and reversals are probably the most important mechanic of WWE All Stars, and what initially seems like a simple mechanic is actually quite complex.
That’s not even touching upon the combo system, charged grabs and strikes, stuns, spacing, meter management for special and finishing moves, and even juggling. Players will have to keep an eye on three meters: one for health, the Energy Meter for signature moves and running, and the Finisher Meter for executing flashy, iconic moves that can end a match in a KO. WWE All Stars is a faster, arcade take on wrestling. This is a game that keeps players wanting more. Squirrelly physics aside (Andre the Giant could never be swatted into the air like a balloon), WWE All Stars lays a very good foundation for future wrestling games of this type.
Most players will become very familiar with the simple one vs. one match. With the zoomed-in perspective and the lack of other players as a distraction, this game is WWE All Stars at its best, most tactical, and probably most fun. Elimination matches, with either three or four players, can be very chaotic as players try to knock others out one at a time, especially when two or more players gang up on one opponent. I’m not really a fan of this technique, and the matches can feel unfair, especially since pins are almost impossible to perform with that many players on screen. Extreme rules allow for unlimited use of weapons, while collecting a weapon in standard matches can result in disqualification. This multiplayer match is probably the most enjoyable, as the high damage from weapons and broad sweeps better deal with enemies that tend to gang up.
Fatal 4 Way and Triple Threat are similar, with the sole winner being the first man to make a pin or KO. Handicap is a match defined by two-against-one—for expert players only. Tornado Tag Team is the only tag-team mode, with all four fighters playing at once, and Steel Cage is a cage match in which players fight each other and compete to be the first to exit the stage. Unfortunately, Steel Cage has a few bugs, allowing players to escape the cage and wrestle outside the arena and gluing computer-controlled opponents to bits of scenery (an easy win). Oddly enough, these glitches were only encountered in the cage match.
Unfortunately, these are the only types of matches in the game. Any other wrestling game would make these modifiers of standard matches, not full modes themselves. The result is a series of derivatives of the basic 1v1 and 2v2 matches, etc. This problem by itself isn't too much of an issue (except that I want a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs mode), but paired with the Path of Champions and Fantasy Warfare modes, the offerings do feel a little weak. The lack of specialty matches is a major oversight, as well, especially when they are practically teased at.
Path of Champions is the story mode of WWE All Stars. Players are presented with three campaigns of ten matches each. Each one has a simple storyline, with the Undertaker representing the Legends and SummerSlam, Randy Orton repping the Superstars of contemporary wrestlers in WrestleMania, and the tag-team campaign of D-Generation X. While the cinematics between every third match are appreciated, not much differs between each campaign, and the static series of matches quickly becomes old. Once you beat the three campaigns, Path of Champions provides little to do outside of achievement/trophy hunting, and the poor variety of matches becomes instantly apparent.
Fantasy Warfare is probably the best mode in the game, with the older Legendaries facing off against the current Superstars. If you ever wanted to know who would win in a match between Hogan and Cena, this mode is for you. Some of the match-ups are a little strange (like Mr. Perfect vs. The Miz or Sgt. Slaughter vs. Jack Swagger) or unprecedented (Eddie Guerrero fought Rey Mysterio before Guerrero's death), but with the real-world clips and WWE commentary, Fantasy Warfare is where WWE All Stars shines the most. The matches are played up with proper enthusiasm, especially compared with the middling Path of Champions, and most of the unlockables are found here. Unfortunately, with only 15 match-ups, this mode is also short. Once completed, there is very little incentive to return.
However, players will be able to create their own all-star match-ups with the downright fantastic roster. Not the first WWE game to focus on legacy wrestlers (Legends of Wrestling takes that honor), WWE All Stars distinguishes itself by treading a fine line between the kid-friendly camp of the late eighties/early nineties Golden Age and the edgy, anti-hero focus of the Attitude Era. Classic Legends like Hogan, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Roddy Piper, The Rock, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and many others take on current Superstars like Cena, Triple H, John Morrison, CM Punk and Drew McIntyre. The roster is solid at 30 stars, and with 12 more planned for DLC, fans will find plenty to like. Characters are divided into four classes (Big Man, Acrobat, Grappler, and Brawler), and each class has different damage outputs, abilities, skills, and special moves.
WWE All Stars is not without some major misses. The entire McMahon clan is nowhere to be seen, and neither are Ric Flair and, most surprisingly, the Divas. Their removal is mostly understandable, as WWE All Stars is clearly a love letter to the “sport” but a very defined portion of the program. With no overt sex, no dead wrestlers, and no blood, WWE All Stars is a colorful (probably the best-looking wrestling game to date) and idealized version of WWE.
Finally, like any good wrestling game, a substantial create-a-character is included. Wrestlers are easy to make and infinitely customizable thanks to sliders, which adjust everything from cheek depth to muscle size. The outfits and props fit the game well, and characters sync up with the slightly stylized and over-sized look of the star wrestlers. Created characters can be used in any mode except for Fantasy Warfare. That’s all fine and good, but there’s very little incentive to use them. The fighting styles are exclusive to the Legends and Superstars, so customization is strictly a visual element. Without a fleshed-out campaign with item unlockables and a reason to play, forgetting that the customization exists is much too easy.
Multiplayer works just fine, although I’ve always found wrestling to be a game played together in front of the screen. THQ does a fine job with both the single-player and multiplayer options, although the game often has trouble keeping a consistent lobby (meaning I had to be invited every time). Once the game loads, though, matches operate smoothly.
A fresh branch of World Wrestling Entertainment video games, THQ has done a fantastic job of cherry-picking the best elements of wrestling with some of the most recognizable characters and stars in a visually fantastic package. Unfortunately, it's a good foundation with some major holes. The lack of select wrestlers, missing match variety, anemic campaigns and pointless create-a-character undermine a very good wrestling game/fighting game fusion. Thankfully, the core gameplay mechanics are solid and enjoyable, a fresh arcade take on wrestling with plenty of room to bring in more features. I’m already looking forward to a sequel that can fill the gaps of what is a fundamentally great game.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]