No matter the wrestling video game, it seems players always want to be WWE Legends like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. This hunger has been satiated in the past with unlockable characters in the SmackDown vs. Raw series and the standalone (yet lackluster) WWE Legends of WrestleMania. Now, the big names of yesteryear are back alongside some of the current headliners in WWE All Stars.
An arcadey, over-the-top look at Sports Entertainment, WWE All Stars is fun but some annoyances keep it from being a main eventer.
There are 30 WWE characters in WWE All Stars, and they range from Legends such as Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and Mr. Perfect to current Superstars such as Triple H and Randy Orton. The fact that so many of these people have already appeared in SmackDown vs. Raw might seem like a turnoff, but WWE All Stars goes out of its way to not look or feel like the simulation franchise SVR is.
WWE All Stars is designed to grab the players who aren't up on current wrestling and just want to have some arcade fun. That said, we grabbed a player like that and put the controller in her hands. What did she think? Find out.
Here, characters are action figure versions of themselves with gigantic torsos and booming biceps. Moves are the trademarks you'd know from watching folks like the Rock and Jake "the Snake" Roberts, but they're embellished with flips, leaps into the sky, and bone-crushing impacts that would destroy mortal men. When I heard about WWE All Stars, I was told it plays as if a little kid was describing a match he watched last night. That description rings true with the final product, and it makes for a really stunning game.
The colors are bright and beautiful, seeing stars like Rey Mysterio soar dozens of feet in the air made my friends and I scream in amazement, and I'd much rather see this revved up and ready Macho Man action figure spinning through the air than the "realistic" interpretation I've seen before. WWE All Stars has a great style.
WWE All Stars also has a great concept for gameplay, but I think the control scheme trips it up. This game is supposed to be a pick up and play, arcade experience. There are strike and grapple buttons, health bars, finishing move meters and a bunch of other stuff that's simple for a player to look at and understand. That's groovy. Being able to get in and do an awesome powerbomb or charge up a punch is rewarding and how a game designed to capture an audience lured in by Rowdy Roddy Piper should play.
That's basically the WWF No Mercy N64 control scheme at face value, but then things start getting complicated. Running at the ring doesn't let you slide into the ring; there's another button for that. One shoulder button blocks strikes and another one blocks grapples, but that's not the easiest thing to explain to someone just looking to jump into the fun. Once your finisher meter is full, you tap buttons to set off a taunt that activates it, but if you're punched during the taunt you lose it, and people rarely stay down all that long, but there's a way to hold the buttons to taunt and have the guy get up into a dazed state that automatically trig--
I'm not making this up. This is supposed to be pick up and play.
It's good that there's depth to WWE All Stars' controls. There are even character classes (Brawlers, Big Men, Acrobats and Grapplers) that come with unique abilities and moves that are sure to appeal to people who want to put hours and hours into learning this game. I like the idea of that but not the execution. There's no tutorial to teach you the ins and outs of classes and chain grapples, so I never saw these nuances unless I played with one of the developers. When I'd sit down and play a friend, we were brawling to be the last man standing. When I'd play the computer, it would be super-cheap in terms of how long it stayed on the mat and never taught me how to chain together attacks so as to end up on the top rope.
There's a fine line between having a strategy and needing to have expert knowledge, and I think WWE All Stars goes a bit too far into hardcore expert town.
You'll take these moves into a few different matches and modes. The gameplay is solid across the board, but nothing is all that different -- it's just the packaging. The standout among all the WWE All Stars options is Fantasy Warfare. These are 15 Legend/Superstar matches the developers setup as a battle for a specific title -- HBK vs. Undertaker for the title of "Mr. WrestleMania," Mr. Perfect vs. the Miz for the title of "Perfectly Awesome," etc. The matches themselves are just fights you could have in exhibition, but each pairing begins with a slick, narrated video package combining promos and WWE footage of both wrestlers. The packages are small things, but they really set the matches up well and make it feel like you're doing something epic.
There are three "Path of Champions," but these are just ten matches where you take a wrestler and work your way to fighting Orton, Undertaker or DX. There's a cutscene here or there, but it's just the guy you're fighting your way to talking into the camera. Oddly, you can't play the tag team path cooperatively.
Outside of that, you're left with a simple create-a-wrestler, exhibition matches -- cage match, extreme rules match, elimination, tag match, etc. -- and then the ability to take those matches online. In my experience, online is playable but does suffer from latency issues. Having your command be delayed a second or two is a big blow to a game that is so reversal heavy.