Does this WWE arcade brawler strike from the top rope, or succumb to the Rock Bottom?
In 2009, THQ released a Yukes-developed Smackdown vs. Raw spinoff that was meant to be an over-the-top, casual take on the franchise, using historical wrestlers as the draw. That game, unfortunately, never was released on a Nintendo console. WWE All Stars, the 2011 follow-up, has found its way over to Wii. The game comes from THQ San Diego rather than Yukes, and is the studio’s second wrestling game after TNA iMPACT in 2008. WWE All Stars was produced by Sal Devita, whose previous WWE title was WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game. This new title bears a very strong resemblance to that arcade hit from the 1990s, and it should appeal to fans in more or less the same fashion.
The game plays as a "lite" version of THQ's flagship wrestling title, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, featuring both modern wrestlers such as Kofi Kingston, John Cena, and The Miz , and also WWE legends such as The Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. The crux of the gameplay relies on grapples and strikes, as most wrestling games have done for the past 15 years, with light and strong variants on each. Each wrestler has two "signature" moves and one finisher, which can be performed after filling up various meters.
There are only a handful of match types in the game, and no disqualifications, count-outs, or submissions; only pinfalls and knock-outs can end a match. The game is clearly meant to mimic arcade-style sports games, using WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game as a foundation. However, the game still plays very much the same as a recent Smackdown vs. Raw title. In some ways, the over-the-top elements feel a bit out of place because most of the game feels very traditional. In the older arcade game, things were very clearly exaggerated and character-specific power-ups were available. In WWE All Stars, however, the most over-the-top things get are the "signature moves" that feature exaggerated motions and slow-motion effects. It feels like a missed opportunity, as the over-the-top stuff is going to appeal to the demographic the game seems clearly aimed after: the lapsed wrestling fan. Folks who grew up cheering for Andre the Giant and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka have a lot more interest in this game than people who follow wrestling today. If you're not trying to appeal to the modern wrestling fan, why not go all-out with the arcade-sports element?
The presentation is quite well done in most areas. The game contains a "Fantasy Warfare" mode that matches up two superstars who mesh well but come from different eras, or only had one legendary match, and puts them into a "What If" style of match. Each match (there are 15) comes packaged with a slick 1-2 minute video package explaining to the player who these wrestlers are and why they go well together. If the WWE is good at one thing, it's putting together video packages, and they did a fantastic job here. Players will be excited to go through the different Fantasy Warfare matches just to see the various video packages; it's a great incentive.
The great presentation continues in the "Path of Champions" mode, which has you going through ten pre-set matches on the way to a championship bout against The Undertaker, Randy Orton, or D-Generation X. Each of these paths is peppered with CGI rendered scenes featuring the wrestlers’ voices cutting classic wrestling style promos as you make your way through the matches. It's very well done and is a nice way to avoid the corny backstage-driven storylines of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw.
Unfortunately, the graphics aren't quite as well delivered as the other areas of the presentation. The characters are fairly ugly. They are meant to be action-figure style models, with exaggerated muscles and a plastic sheen, but compared to the most recent Smackdown vs. Raw game, they look blocky and quite ugly. The animation is quite well done, but it's hard to get past the look of the wrestlers.
The audio presentation is up to par with other wrestling titles, but has a few weird glitches which can be distracting. During the "signature moves", the audio gets quiet and all commentary from Jerry "The King" Lawler and Jim Ross is completely cut off mid-stream. It sounds as if there was another effect that was supposed to be put in there, but it was left out at the last minute. Also, the way that ring announcer Howard Finkel pronounces your name after a win has a strange inflection, as if he is going to announce another name after yours, even if you won a singles match and not a tag team. These are nit picks, but that's what happens when a game is otherwise very good.
As with most wrestling games, playing against other people is quite a bit more fun than playing against the computer. The game supports up to four players in the exhibition mode, but neither the "Path of Champions" nor "Fantasy Warfare" matches support multiplayer. Even more disappointing, the computer is fairly easy to defeat, even on the highest of the three difficulty settings. After a few hours, most players will have the controls down second-nature, and a CPU victory will be quite rare. The game offers many control options: Wii Remote and Nunchuk, GameCube controller, or Classic Controller. All are usable, but the Wii Remote and Nunchuk configuration relies a little too heavily on shaking the former.
The game features no online features at all, unfortunately, meaning no DLC and no online matches. The standard Create-A-Wrestler mode is present, and it has a fair amount of options for you to create your own superstars. The included roster of 30 Superstars (10 of which are unlocked as you play through the various modes) is a bit underwhelming.
WWE All Stars is a fun action sports title, and should appeal to most fans who have a nostalgic fondness for wrestling. If you are a fan of the plethora of modes and superstars that WWE Smackdown vs. Raw offers, you may find yourself a bit let down by the casual take on the game in WWE All Stars, but that shouldn't stop you from giving the game a shot. If it were a basketball game, it would be a slam dunk, but in this particular case, I'd say it's a Hulk Hogan leg drop and three-count.