Developer: THQ San Diego
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available Now
Growing up in the UK, wrestling was quite a rarity on TV. Yet despite its sporadic appearances, it didn’t take me long to work out that those huge, oiled, hulking, spandex-wearing grapplers were in effect acting out a tightly choreographed ring-bound spectacle. Sadly, this realisation spoiled the sport for me—just as when I realised the supposed “crack team of soldiers” that were The A Team never actually shot anyone. What kind of real soldiers were they? No wonder the army was after them; probably wanted to silence them for the embarrassment they were to the profession. Anyway, flashback over, back to wrestling. I never played the Smackdown vs. Raw game from THQ, so it was therefore with some reluctance that I finally unwrapped my copy of WWE All-Stars.
The initial thing that struck me about the game was the over-the-top use of garish graphics. A full roster of 30 wrestling stars, more buff than a famous vampire killer, are kitted out with in-your-face colored outfits. The oddest thing, though, is that this bold graphic style actually works when the action starts in the ring. Having played some of the top-end beat-em-ups, I think that All-Stars sadly isn’t as rich or smooth in the animation department in comparison. Yet the action somewhat compensates for this, and some of the special moves are just as entertaining as any Street Fighter production.
So given this is about wrestling, how does the fighting play out? To be honest, very well. The trigger buttons make players run, pick up things and enter/leave the ring. The face buttons are used to engage strikes and grapples. Sounds simplistic, but combined with character positioning in the ring, it makes for quite a surprising and engaging fighting system. Depending upon the type of wrestler you choose, the combat system gets more complex and satisfying.
There are four character classes: brawler, grappler, acrobat and big man. Each class has its own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities, making each one play very differently from the others. Brawlers, for example, can juggle opponents with kicks and strikes before catching them with a mid-air, high-impact move. Add to this a counter system that gives you the opportunity to reverse practically every move in the game—including the reversals—and you have a simple combat system crammed with options.
The list of game modes might split gamers’ opinions. Those of you who like previous wrestling games might think that All-Stars offers only a limited range of game and match modes. For gamers like me who come to this genre fresh, this might not be an issue. The match types include one-off exhibition matches, the Path of Champion story mode, Fantasy Warfare and Xbox Live. Match types include 1 vs. 1, Triple Threat, Fatal Four Way, Tornado Tag, Elimination, Cage Match and Extreme Rules. Of these, Fantasy Warfare mode sparkles for me. Seeing former and present legends getting to grips with one another in “what if” fights is highly entertaining. The lead into the Fantasy match is a piece of cinematic genius—a series of archival clips and dramatic voice-overs crank up the feeling that this match is the result of a long-running, bitter feud.
WWE All-Stars is an enjoyable experience, highlighted by the deep combat system, bold graphical style and rich character roster. However, fans of the genre could get tired quite quickly, as both the single and multiplayer experiences are short-lived. But that’s not to say that it’s not fun while it lasts. So dust off your sequinned spandex outfits and jump straight in.