WWE All Stars
There’s no game that I have enjoyed in 2011 (so far) more than WWE All Stars. With every match, I found myself recounting to my surprisingly supportive girlfriend storylines from my childhood, explaining the difference between face and heel characters, and screaming out catch phrases whenever I saw a wrestler that I adored. I watched with giddiness as supersized versions of the stars that I loved (looking exactly the way I remembered them from my youth) slammed each other around in the ring, each sharing more in common with the action figures that littered my bedroom floor than their real-life counterparts. With a roster that includes past legends and current stars, the game is obviously designed to appeal to both current and former fans, and in this it succeeds flawlessly.
The game has issues, some of them more glaring than others, but fortunately none of them get in the way of this enjoyable brawler. WWE All Stars offers a couple of different game modes to get players engaged. I was most absorbed by the Fantasy Warfare mode, which pits legends against current superstars. Players are treated to videos at the opening of each match that highlight why the fighters are legends (or legends in the making). These videos are the ultimate fan service, showing off clips from memorable matches throughout the fighters’ careers as a narrator details their contributions to the sport. I was disappointed with some of the treatments, but most are excellent. Stone Cold Steve Austin’s montage didn’t include a lot of his greatest moments, but watching old Wrestlemania footage of The Undertaker and seeing Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ mullet was more than enough to make up for this.
This isn’t a technical fighter by any stretch of the imagination. WWE All Stars has more in common with a beat-em-up than the latest Smackdown vs. Raw release, which makes the game very accessible. The face buttons provide two different options for attacking and grappling, and through the use of the right analog stick, players can modify the attacks. Players also use a combination of timing and shoulder buttons to block or reverse incoming attacks, but for the most part, they aren’t necessary. WWE All Stars, at least for me, is all about over-the-top offense. After slamming an opponent down, the ring shudders and shockwaves travel in every direction. Finishing blows, easily executed with just two button presses, are presented in slow motion, with the camera swooping around dynamically to show off their punishing brutality. “The Rock Bottom” is just a conventional slam when you watch it on TV, but WWE All Stars presents it as a devastating, brutal blow that would kill any mere mortal. This is wrestling the way a child envisions it.
The other main mode offered is the Path of Champions. Here, players are challenged to complete a series of matches, with each series culminating in a match against The Undertaker, Randy Orton or members of D-Generation X, depending on which path you choose. Cutscenes are used between matches to goad the player along, but really the mode is simply a series of exhibition matches culminating in what essentially boils down to a boss fight. It’s as fun as the rest of the game, and you earn some trophies for your efforts, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t more to it. The cutscenes aren’t compelling enough to really justify pushing the player through a bunch of matches they aren’t interested in, especially when you can just as easily create an exhibition match and face off against any of these champions without the added work.
Both modes offer a couple of hours of play, but after that, there’s not a whole lot of meat to the game. Once you’re done, the only other time sink is the exhibition mode, which is sparse. Though you can participate in straight-up matches, tornado tag events, steel cage matches and extreme rules matches, where there are no disqualifications, there’s not much else offered. There’s no Royal Rumble, or Wrestlemania. The arenas themselves are nearly empty as well. There isn’t even a commentating table to slam your opponent’s head off of!
And speaking of commentary, though both Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler lend their voices, I was disappointed that they didn’t offer color commentary. It would have been great to hear them discussing great moments in my chosen fighter’s career as I worked through a match, instead of just a few comments on my performance. I would have rather had this than the out of place Create a Superstar mode, which seems like a strange inclusion in a game celebrating existing superstars. And while weapons can be found under the ring, I found the controls for searching for them to be frustrating since one of the buttons you have to press is the same one that pulls your character back into the ring. I don’t know how many times I tried to pull out a chair and instead hopped back into the ring. I finally just gave up trying all together.
Where the game works best is multiplayer. While the AI opponents may not be the brightest, the pick-up-and-play style means your friends will quickly become absorbed in it. Everyone loves picking their favorite fighters, or better, stumbling across someone that they forgot about and seeing their finishing moves come to life. The game supports four players locally and also includes an online mode. A number of other reviews that I’ve read have cited stuttering in the online mode, but in the few matches that I’ve played I have had no issues. My only real complaint with the multiplayer mode is that, when searching through the list of ranked matches, if the match you select is no longer available, the player is sent back to the main multiplayer menu. This forces you to go through two more menus again to get back to the list of available matches. It’s a small annoyance, but considering there aren’t a whole lot of people online and the list of matches doesn’t seem to refresh very often, you’ll encounter this over and over again.
WWE All Stars is best at capturing the flamboyance and nostalgia that fans of professional wrestling have long embraced. Playing as your favorite pros, with easy controls and over-the-top style, is an absolute joy, even if the game is a little sparse on modes and has questionable longevity. It’s the kind of game you want to have for when your friends come over and you want something simple that you can all mash on for a while. This is easily one of the most purely entertaining titles on the shelf right now and the level of fan service here is something that WWE diehards and casual fans from any generation will appreciate. With 30 current and former superstars available, there were bound to be some omissions (where’s Mick Foley!), but there are definitely enough stars on tap to please just about every fan. It might not be perfect, but WWE All Stars is one of the most enjoyable grapplers I’ve ever played.