WWE All Stars Review
Wrestling video games are always a strange point of contention, mostly because so many of them over the years have catered to the hardcore fans that have a pretty serious set of demands. These gamers want to create their own stories, they want every conceivable match and current-day rivalry played up, and they require an attention to detail ("Hey, this wrestler cut his hair four months before the game was released! Fix it!") that can sometimes be difficult to achieve. Smackdown vs. Raw is a great game that caters to these players pretty well, but what about those of us casual wrestling fans, the ones who watched it as kids, but grew away from it once we hit puberty?
That game is now here, and it's just as serious a fighting game as Mortal Kombat or Tekken. WWE All Stars has brought in a fantastic roster of the pro wrestlers of years past and present, split down the middle (literally, if you look at the roster) between today's superstars and the legends of yesteryear. And there's a mix here that you have never seen before in a game, especially the classic stars. Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, The Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and more are all here, and they're a blast to play. The developers have embraced these stars' beginnings in the 70s and 80s with multiple, unlockable costumes that span the ages.
Of course, some of those guys from the early 90s are even still wrestling, so while The Rock is on the Legends side, The Undertaker - who got started years before - is over on the right in the batch of current wrestlers. Come to think of it, this could go down as one of the greatest rosters to land in a video game, not by sheer number, but by just the difficulty in licensing these guys' likenesses, names, and more. (By my count, two of the men on the roster passed away years ago.) Sure, there are a few I'd love to have seen in-game that didn't make it, but they got pretty much all of the major stars of yesteryear, and that's a huge accomplishment.
WWE All Stars has a few single player modes for you to go through if you can't find anyone who will agree to sit down and play a wrestling game with you. Path of Champions has three main storylines - a solo one that leads to the Undertaker, another solo one that winds up with you taking on Randy Orton, and a third one that has you picking your guy along with an AI-controlled partner and eventually has you fighting D-Generation X (Shawn Michaels and Triple H). Beyond this mode, you've also got the Fantasy Warfare matches that pitch WWE Legends against current-day superstars in various themed brawls. Serious wrestling fans will probably find themselves interested in the footage, which attempts to use clever editing to make these matchups look like real rivalries - and sometimes it's done very effectively. Admittedly, some of these themes are kind of goofy, and most of them aren't based on an actual rivalry since in many cases the two wrestlers' careers were years apart, but there are a few that have you "change history" in a real match - like Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania a couple years ago. These are probably the best ones, but a "big men" match between Andre the Giant and the Big Show was a blast, too.
Once you get into the ring with your favorite wrestler, you'll quickly find out that WWE All Stars plays more like a fast-paced fighting game. There's no real attempt to be realistic here, which is kind of a weird word to use when in the real thing, they're trying not to hurt each other even while they're trying to look like they're hurting each other really badly. But with the larger-than-life art style that gives all of the superstars much bigger muscles and even more exaggerated physiques, it's easy to remember that this isn't serious at all. And that's good, because the first time Rey Mysterio jumps from the top rope in a super-high arc to land on you 30 feet away, you won't scoff at this game's fast-and-loose play on physics.
You'll have strikes, grapples, and counters at your disposal, and the four classes of superstars - acrobats, grapplers, brawlers, and big men - all have different strengths and tools. A brawler can put together solid striking combos, often leaving his victim dazed and sitting on his butt, ready for yet one more big smash in the face. Grapplers chain together a series of nasty, bone-crunching moves, often leaving you with very small timing windows to try and counter their attacks. Acrobats can pretty much just fly out of danger when they want, are very fast to get in and out, and they can really surprise you with how far they'll fly across the ring. (Other wrestlers can still do high-flying moves from the top rope, but they're not nearly as fast or far-reaching when they get airborne.) Finally, Big Men are hard to knock down and can pummel right through lesser attacks; they have a lot of power and seem to take significantly less damage from even the biggest strikes.
All of the four types have a shared set of special moves and such, but some wrestlers break out of the mold - each WWE superstar has his own unique set, admittedly with a few repeats between wrestlers here and there - sometimes with a move or two borrowed from another "class" when appropriate for that wrestler. It's difficult for me to tell you that all of the wrestlers are balanced, but I have found that go-to moves that juggle opponents into the air are key, as that allows you to string together a combo that does a ton of damage with little fear of a counter. And when your meters fill up, you can bust out Signature and Finisher moves that turn out to be even more ridiculous versions of the moves these guys unleashed in the ring. Seeing the Undertaker throw out a 360-degree-spinning chokeslam that gets to a good fifteen feet in the air before the victim is pretty much crushed into the mat, well, one day that might get old, but that won't be happening for quite a while.
The match variety available in All Stars runs the range of the plain 1v1 you'd expect, to Extreme Rules matches where chairs and crutches can be used at will, on to the Steel Cage variation where you've got to escape rather than pin your opponent, free-for-all Elimination matches with 3 or 4 superstars, and Tornado Tag Team where it's 2v2 and everyone's fighting at the same time. Through all of this, you'll find a relaxed rule system that allows players to fight outside the ring all they want (except for Steel Cage matches), and pinfalls count anywhere. Players can be just straight-up knocked out, too, but only if you can land a finisher on an opponent with zero health. Otherwise, pinning is key, and while you can pin an opponent if he's still got life left on his bar, it'll be easier if you get it very low first.
You can set up 2v2 matches with your buddies, or just an every-man-for-himself four player Elimination match if you want, and you can also create your own superstar (in a system similar to that in Smackdown vs. Raw) with some pretty fine detail on him - then play as that created superstar in every mode, including in online play. It's these features, combined with the fast and fun action, that give this game a longevity that should last until well after you've beaten Fantasy Warriors and Path of Champions modes.
WWE All Stars may not be the modern-day hardcore fan's dream game, but it comes pretty close to accomplishing that for casual and ex-fans, especially those who watched the Hulk and The Ultimate Warrior take each other on two decades ago. The fighting actually rivals that seen in some of today's other fighting games, and it's just a blast to get in the ring for a few matches with some old WWE rivals. Even if you haven't played a wrestling game since the SNES or arcade days - actually, especially if you haven't - then you owe it to yourself to relive that magic with this game. It's hilariously fun.