Every year, THQ comes out with a new WWE Smackdown vs. RAW wrestling game. The rosters get updated, a few legends pop up out of obscurity, you create more customizable characters and the controls get a little more complex. Sure, you get to execute a wealth of wrestling moves if you have the patience, but most of the time you find yourself resorting to tedious button mashing. Simply breaking a pinfall can lead most gamers one step closer to carpal tunnel syndrome. So, THQ decided to step away from the meticulous wrestling simulation genre and bring gamers back to the chaotic, but fun world of arcade-style wrestling. WWE All Stars is all about quick rounds and fast-paced action. The online multiplayer makes it easy for gamers to link up online and jump into a quick round or two, as they work their way to wrestling glory. This is by far one of the most fun wrestling games released in the past several years, and more importantly it is a pick-up-and-play title that can be enjoyed by all gamers regardless of experience.
If you recall a few years back, THQ released WWE Legends of WrestleMania in 2009. This was an attempt to let veteran gamers play with more of the classic heroes they loved. However, it alienated younger audiences with vintage wrestlers, while relying too heavily on QuickTime actions. So, even if you knew the wrestlers, you never really felt like you were in control of them. Hey, as much as I love unlocking Hulk Hogan or Hollywood Hulk Hogan, I would much rather use any version of Hogan right out the gate.
WWE All Stars is the perfect blend of old and new wrestlers. You have newer characters like Ray Mysterio, Randy Orton and John Cena, as well as “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Rowdy Roddy Piper and the incomparable Ultimate Warrior. This is what people mean when they say “a dream come true.” It’s also a wrestlers dream come true because most wrestlers look like Rob Liefeld drew them with muscles on top of muscles. The Vitamin S is strong in this game’s roster. Only Rowdy Roddy Piper and Ray Mysterio seem to have missed the boat on muscle overload.
The controls are whittled down to basic attacks. You have four moves: Quick Strike, Strong Strike, Quick Grab and Strong Grab. The grabs vary depending on the position of the wrestlers. Also, some grabs may require you to first grab the other wrestler and then press another action button in order to finish the move. Most of the time, you’ll focus on quick strikes, before using either the strong attack or the grabs so that you don’t leave yourself open to be hit. The LB and RB also serve as strike and grab blocks. Gamers can also run, climb turnbuckles, execute Irish whips, and grab steel chairs from under the ring.
At first, you may want to resort to button mashing. However, the controls are very precise and require timing to execute. Once you learn them, you can enjoy the game without trying to break your finger bones or the controller. In that way it’s similar to a well-designed arcade fighting game, minus the wealth of moves. Although there are only a few moves, the intensity never drops thanks to your special meter. Each player has a Special Meter and a Finisher Meter. The Special Meter can be filled with up to three bars. Once a bar is filled, you can either press the A and X button or the B and Y button simultaneously to execute a special attack or the LB and RB button simultaneously to execute a counter. Once the finisher is full, you can hold down the LB and RB button to store your finisher and press both buttons again to execute it. This is a very precarious move. The first time you tap both buttons, you will start glowing yellow. It’s okay if you hit your opponent. However, if he hits you before you get into position, you will immediately lose your finisher. There are some amazing aerial finishers from Ray Mysterio, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. On the other hand Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior tend to be less flashy and more about bone-crushing power.
Most gamers will get by with playing 1-on-1 Exhibition matches. However, there are also Triple Threat, Fatal 4-Way, Steel Cage and Tornado Tag Team matches. Like most wrestling games, playing a three or four person match has its drawbacks. Usually, one player gets attacked more than the rest. Also in this game, there are a lot of bizarre fantasy attacks that could happen. For instance, if you kick somebody in mid air, you can then punch him several times in the air before he falls. It’s hilarious to see an opponent get juggled around like a rag doll for several seconds in the air. This little flaw makes it easy for several gamers to target one player. So, it’s easy to steal a win. Path of Champions and Fantasy Warfare give gamers more of a career mode to play. Path of Champions focuses on the standard SummerSlam events, while Fantasy Warfare is about pitting dream matches of old school wrestlers against their contemporary counterparts.
Much like Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs. Capcom 3, this game is best enjoyed in-group play. There is no slowdown online and gamers can find frequent matches.
WWE All Stars is an excellent game for the collection. This is one title that is great to play when you want to compete online or against a group of friends at a party. Although the body-muscle proportions are somewhat crazy, the roster of wrestlers is great and vintage players will put you right back into the golden age of wrestling – when WWE was the WWF. Mid-air character juggling aside, this is arcade fun at its finest. If you want even more enjoyment, use the WWE All Stars brawlstick from MadCatz. You’ll feel like you’re brawling right in the arcade. The only thing that’s missing is the Junkyard Dog and Hillbilly Jim.