Also available on: PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii
Developer: THQ San Diego
Wrestlemania is like Christmas to most wrestling fans, and it just so happens that this weekend sees the annual sports entertainment extravaganza reach its 27th year. What better way to mark this occasion than with a brand new WWE brawler from THQ? But instead of the simulated experience provided by Smackdown Vs. Raw, WWE All-Stars is a loud and proud, over-the-top fighting title, which tips its hat to the past in more ways than one. In addition to containing old-school, in-your-face action - which wouldn't look out of place in an old-school amusement arcade - it also features a roster made up of bonafide legends, aiming to pit their skills against the current crop of WWE superstars. But can a few former faces and an exaggerated move-list propel WWE All-Stars to hall of fame status? Or will it fade into obscurity like a virtual Randy 'The Ram' Robinson?
WWE All-Stars certainly appears to have a lot going for it. The roster is made up of 30 superstars, from past greats such as Randy 'Macho Man' Savage and Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, to young upstarts such as John Morrison and Kofi Kingston. The graphical style is garish to say the least and while it might not look ultra-realistic, it definitely works in the context of the game. It features lots of big, colourful sprites, each of whom has more 'muscles' than a seafood restaurant. The animations aren't as smooth and fluid as some of the more visually impressive beat-em-ups such as Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate Of Two Worlds, but the special moves, which often see a superstar jump 20 feet into the air and slam an opponent into the mat, are as flashy as any Street Fighter IV super combo.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the unexpectedly deep combat system. Light and heavy strikes and grapples are mapped to the face buttons, while the trigger buttons perform tasks such as running, picking up weapons, leaving the ring, etc. This setup initially feels a little light and shallow, but changing positions during grapples and unleashing positionally sensitive special moves soon give players something extra to think about. The type of wrestler also plays an important role in the combat. Grapplers, for example, are able to chain wrestle, which means that suplexes and submissions can be executed one after the other, while brawlers can juggle opponents with kicks and strikes before catching them with a mid-air high-impact move. Add to this a counter system which gives players the opportunity to reverse practically every move in the game - including the reversals - and you soon have a combat system oozing with options.
Unfortunately, the same level of depth hasn't been applied to the game modes. Standard exhibition matches are limited to one-on-one, triple threat, tornado tags (although no traditional tag mode oddly enough) and steel cage and hardcore matches. It seems strange that a game such as this doesn't contain any of the more viscerally spectacular match types such as Hell in the Cell and ladder matches, or even the beloved Royal Rumble or Battle Royals for that matter. Online and local multiplayer initially provides a lot of laughs - especially local multiplayer - but the lack of game modes and options soon makes the modes feel a little stale. Understandably, there isn't a career mode, although this would have at least extended the single-player experience; instead the developers have opted to include a couple of modes celebrating the diversity of the roster.
The first and most intriguing of which is the 'Fantasy Warfare' mode, which is a series of matches pitting a legend against a current WWE superstar. Each match has its own theme and poses a question such as 'Who is the greatest icon, Hulk Hogan or John Cena?' For wrestling fans it's the equivalent of who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. What makes this mode particularly special are the video packages preceding each fight. Made up of actual archive WWE footage, the dramatic videos - complete with movie trailer-esque voiceovers - make it appear as though the match is a culmination of a long-running feud, leaving players genuinely excited for the match about to follow. Unfortunately, with the exception of one or two matches, what follows is a series of standard, no frills one-on-one bouts. The mode is also exceptionally short, and most players will plough through in one sitting - although it's worth doing some matches twice in order to unlock all of the characters.
Perhaps the closest thing the game does have to a career mode is 'Path Of Champions'. Playing like a traditional arcade game, players challenge either Randy Orton, The Undertaker or DX for titles and must win a series of increasingly difficult matches before taking on the champ, which acts as a kind of boss fight. Once again, the reality is that this is just a straightforward series of exhibition matches, although it mixes the rules up a little more and features the odd exciting cage match and triple-threat bout. The conquest begins with the respective champ berating the player in a nice, specially recorded animated promo, but contains little additional personality after that, save for a promo or two towards the end. Even though it's worth playing through with every character in order to unlock costumes, moves and arenas - which will take quite some time - 'Path Of Champions' is a little dull the third or fourth time of asking.
WWE All-Stars is an enjoyable arcade brawler with a ton of characters, a surprisingly deep combat system and a suitably bright and bold visual style. The presentation is great, and engaging in fantasy feuds is highly entertaining thanks to the wonderfully dramatic production values. Unfortunately, both the single and multiplayer experiences are too short lived, due to a lack of modes and match types. It is fun while it lasts, however, and shouldn't fail to draw a smile from mullet-loving wrestling fans old enough to remember when Andre was the only giant and Hulkamania ruled the world.
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