WWE All Stars Review
I should start off this review by stating that I'm not much of a fan of wrestling games. Or rather, I haven't been a fan since the genre moved away from producing fun action-oriented brawlers and started turning out games that were more focused on being a simulation of the, ahem, sport. Because of this when I first heard of WWE All-Stars it barely generated a blip on my anticipated games radar, but that began to change when I learned that it was going to be a game that focused on the fun aspects of wrestling, a game that was far more of a pick-up-and-play arcade-style game than a serious sim. Could it be possible that I'd actually enjoy a wrestling game for the first time since, well, the NES or N64 days? It turns out that the answer is 'yes', and while WWE All Stars does have its shortcomings it certainly provided me with the most fun I've had with a wrestling game in quite some time
A match in WWE All Stars looks more like a match staged by a kid with a couple of action figures than a real, cough, wrestling match. The wrestlers themselves look more like their blister packed, officially licensed selves than their actual selves, with triangular-shaped upper bodies and enormous folds of bulging muscle. And the things that they can do to each other, well, this is about the only place you'll see Big Show tossed about eight feet into the air before being slammed into the mat. WWE All Stars also tries to capture the simplicity of that backyard play as well, going for a "pick-up and play" style of gameplay that is designed to let players who've never played a wrestling game before to jump right into the action. On the first point the game succeeds quite well the gravity-defying, groan-inducing moves make the game almost as much fun to watch as to play. On the second, well, the game succeeds at this at one level but there's more to the control scheme here than at first meets the eye.
On the surface the controls are pretty straight-forward the four face buttons map to strong and weak strikes and grapples and a couple of button-mashers can go up against each other and have a good time. But if you're going to go up against computer-controlled wrestlers or a wrestling game veteran (or you plan on venturing online for an Xbox Live match), you'd better familiarize yourself with the game's full control scheme which has plenty of control overloading. The right bumper blocks strikes (if your timing is right) and the left blocks grapples, but right and left bumper together are used to unleash a finishing move when going for a KO, and the right is again used for reversals (again if your timing is right). The triggers are used for pins, climbing the ropes, getting out of and back into the ring, grabbing chairs and it's the same for many of the other buttons. And there are four classes of wrestlers to contend with acrobat, big man, brawler, and grappler and you need a different strategy for each one. For a pick-up-and-play game there's a lot to pick up on before you can play, or play well at least. When you first play the game little pop-up text boxes appear in the corner of the screen to toss out all of the controls for new players, but a tutorial would have helped a lot more in easing players into the game.
That being said, once you put some time into the game and take a lot of lumps in the process you'll begin to appreciate the game's fight system and how it manages to keep the game feeling like an arcade fighter although it's a bit more than that. Counters can be countered which can in turn be countered again. Moves can be modified with the left stick. Strikes and grapples can be charged at three progressively more powerful levels, and each wrestler has a finishing move that can be charged up and when unleashed at the right moment deliver a KO. Although it took some work to get this all down, once I did I had a lot of fun with this fight system and, remember, I'm not generally a fan of the genre. I have one nagging gripe with it though, and that's that the timing for the counters/reversals is very tight and the on-screen graphic that pops up to inform you that a counter is possible in reality informs you that you've just missed your chance. I should also probably add that the button-mashing speed required to get yourself out of a pin attempt is nearly inhuman.