by Alex Knapp
WWE All Stars
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 2
Being a fan of wrestling video games hasn’t been an easy thing within the past decade or so. Just like how a lack of serious competition has made the WWE complacent and content to rotate John Cena and Randy Orton around the main event for years on end rather than create new stars, mainstream wrestling games were dominated for years by the WWE SmackDown vs. Raw series, which soon resigned itself to essentially trotting out the same old shit year after year.
The other one, though, was different, a funny-looking thing entitled WWE All Stars. Gone were the realistic wrestler renditions and real-life move simulation of SmackDown vs. Raw. In their place was a series of musclebound, action figure-like caricatures of our favorite wrestlers, leaping into the air and spinning each other around in an over-the-top fashion not seen since WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game.
A few were apprehensive about this less serious, deliberately unrealistic approach to wrestling games, but a lot of others were intrigued. After years of the SmackDown vs. Raw games being recycled over and over, we finally were seeing something new, something which dared to be quirky and present something different. And when it was released, we weren’t disappointed.
Past vs. present is the theme of WWE All Stars. The roster presents some of the biggest present-day WWE superstars, such as John Cena, Randy Orton and CM Punk, side-by-side with some of its biggest legends from the past. These include longtime legend roster mainstays such as The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Bret Hart, but also contain some pleasant surprises. Hulk Hogan is included, despite the fact that he was in TNA by this time, The Ultimate Warrior is featured, and on top of that, “Macho Man” Randy Savage makes his long-awaited return to WWE gaming after years of being on the outs with Vince McMahon. While it’s bittersweet in hindsight that both of the latter two would no longer be with us just a short time afterwards, it’s nice to see an indication that some fences were slowly being mended between the WWE and two of its greatest past stars.
The gameplay provides exactly what we saw in the previews: Over-the-top, fast-paced action. Moves and actions have loads of personality, you have the chance to quickly follow up your moves with arcade-like juggling, and the laws of physics are conveniently disregarded for you to better enjoy sending your opponents flying and bouncing across the mat.
However, don’t let the goofy graphics give you any misconceptions about how to play it: The controls are legit. Grapples and strikes are simple to carry out and have both strong and weak options, and the play mechanics aren’t that different from the modern-day WWE games. You have the chance to switch up your grapple moves to keep your opponent guessing, and the reversal system involves pressing the right button at the right time to defend yourself, much like the mainstream games. Clearly, THQ correctly realized that when it came to controls, there was no need to fix what wasn’t broken, making All Stars accessible to pick up, while still offering a fresh experience.
The gaming modes run full throttle with the game’s themes: Arcade-like action, and pitting past against present. In Path of Champions mode, you embark on an arcade-style tournament for the title. You can fight your way through current superstars to face Randy Orton for the WWE Championship, take on a series of legends to challenge The Undertaker for the World Heavyweight title, or pair two of your guys up to face combinations of past and present wrestlers on your way to defeat the original DX duo of Shawn Michaels and HHH for the WWE Tag Team titles. Along the way, the champs will air videos taunting you and promising that you’ll never be able to beat them. It’s reminiscent of the old WWF arcade games, like WWF Superstars and WWF WrestleFest, where beating your opponents is supplemented by building up to the confrontation with the final boss to win the belt. The campaigns themselves are linear, but filled with personality, and encourage you to replay them in order to get many of the game’s unlockables.
Meanwhile, Fantasy Warfare mode brings the clash of wrestling generations to the forefront. A series of one-on-one matches is presented, pitting one Legend against one comparable modern WWE superstar to square off in fantasy matches, and who you choose to play as and win is up to you. You have Hulk Hogan vs. John Cena in a dream match between top headliners, The Big Show vs. Andre The Giant in a titanic clash of giants, Bret Hart vs. Edge to find out who is the superior ring technician, and more. Each match is accompanied by some surprisingly well-made video packages, introducing each wrestler, comparing and contrasting their careers and characters, illustrating a hypothetical feud with them using creative edits of old footage, and setting the stage for their match. My favorite is the one for the CM Punk vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a superior lifestyle match. The feud just writes itself, and the video runs right ahead in contrasting these two diametrically opposed characters. The matches themselves are straightforward, but a lot of effort clearly went into the presentation, helping to spice up the experience.
Some people dismissed WWE All Stars as overly cartoonish for their tastes, and that’s to be expected. Some people like these types of unrealistic arcade-type wrestling games, and others just can’t get into them. But for me, All Stars was the first time I had, had fun with a wrestling game in years. It was a fresh, unique approach that stepped outside of the comfort zone THQ had been restricting itself to. It is unfortunate that there haven’t been more games like this within the past several years, and hopefully, WWE will opt to explore this style again in the future. Sure, we all like to see realistic games that closely capture the in-ring product. But at the same time, sometimes the simple pleasures are the best, and all we need is something to excite us and give us a good time. Playing WWE All Stars always puts a smile on my face, and at the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Photo 1: en.wikipedia.org
Photo 2: theguardian.com
Photo 3: justpushstart.com
Categories: Smooth Runs