It's A Slobberknocker!
And that starts with the glaringly anomalous character design. From legends such as Stone Cold, The Rock, Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior through to the superstars of today like John Cena, The Miz and Randy Orton, each hulking brute is treated as such. Their torsos and biceps stretch to a massive scale, with ripped muscles pulsating across every inch of their ludicrous frame. Each wrestler shares more in common with their exaggerated action figure counterparts than any real human being. But this farcical style perfectly fits the preposterous action on offer once they manage to pull themselves into the ring.
WWE All Stars is more like a traditional fighting game than anything else – perhaps evidenced by the odd release of a branded Mad Catz fighting stick. You have a variety of moves at your disposal with the face buttons handling light and heavy strikes and grapples, with different transitions and context-sensitive moves coming into play as well. It’s a simple formula to adhere to, and each wrestler has their own unique move set with all of the signature moves and finishers you would expect. So far, so formulaic. What separates All Stars from any other wrestling game are the ways these moves manifest and combine together. A regular German suplex or DDT becomes a fantastically brutal move as the superb animation displays All Stars brand of hyperbolic cartoon violence. Each new move is more outlandish that the last, often resulting in an unfortunate soul being thrown fifty feet through the air before crashing back down to the ring, reverberating shockwaves across the mat. This is even a wrestling game that features juggles and combos, allowing you to chain these strikes and grapples together in an increasingly over-the-top fashion.
Signatures moves and finishers only augment the mayhem, transforming The Rock Bottom from a simple slam to a ferocious whirlwind of cinematic excitement. The colour bleeds from the screen, leaving just the superstars lit up, while the action slows at precise moments before unleashing the critical blow. It’s a culmination of every ridiculous move before it, finishing with the most absurd of them all. And it’s all performed with the simple press of two buttons; therein laying All Stars success - to provide the unconventional mayhem with the accessibility for anyone to do it.
However, it does have its flaws. There’s a reversal system in place, allowing for any move to be countered and spun into a defensive attack. But it’s often overly difficult to execute, with no real explanation why. There are no tutorials available and no feedback to signal what you’re doing wrong so it becomes a frustrating guessing game of trying to decipher how the system works. Sometimes you’ll hit it correctly, while the same timing another time will do nothing. The control scheme only convolutes matters further, telling you to hit both the right bumper, left bumper and both together despite the screen prompt clearly signalling for the right bumper only. It’s not a game-breaker since All Stars is so focused on offence it doesn’t matter too much, but it’s an effective move that the AI will often execute, leaving you feeling disadvantaged with the lack of guidance.
Of course, if you’re playing with friends it’s not going to matter too much since All Stars is a fantastic game to pick up and play if you want to have some multiplayer fun for a few hours. Match types are fairly limited when compared to the bevy of options available in Smackdown vs RAW but you have most of the favourites, including Steel Cage matches and Extreme Rules, among others. And these are all available once you go online as well, in either player matches or ranked. Unfortunately, however, there are some issues with the online interface, most notably finding matches. You can jump straight into a quick match, create your own or search the available lobbies, but it doesn’t tell you if these are still open or not and on a couple of occasions it would continually search with no end in sight, resulting in complete system restarts. The leaderboards are also fairly bare, offering up the top 100 players in the world and your friends list but failing to display how you stake up against them yourself – despite the description touting the contrary.
Once you engage in the act of wrestling things improve, offering the same no-holds barred gameplay present in the single player, albeit tougher or easier depending on the opponent. There are some instances of latency - some slowing the frame rate down to unplayable single digits - but this seems to be a problem with the host’s connection rather than the game’s online infrastructure. The only glaring issue facing All Stars online suite is its longevity. Sadly, the community seems pretty lacklustre already with very few games available at any one time. Whether it improves or not remains to be seen but it should be taken into consideration.
Especially since the single player portion is also light on features. The closest to any sort of story mode is Path of Champions: Three ladder tournaments that take you through nine fights before a match against either the Undertaker, Randy Orton or the tag team of D-Generation X. The cutscenes that set up the premise for all three are great, utilising voice work and animations from each superstar – including a hilarious appearance from one Paul Bearer – but once you enter the ring it boils down to ten exhibition fights that could be done anywhere.
The only other substantial game mode is Fantasy Warfare that pits the roster of legends against the roster of current superstars, spread out across ten distinct fights. These are setup as a ‘greatest of all-time’ in various fields of the WWE. So you’ll have matchups like Greatest Big Man, pitting Andre the Giant against the Big Show, or Greatest High Flyer that matches up Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. The majority of these make sense, offering the perfect fantasy matchups. But others seem rudimentary, like Coldest Snake, which puts Jake “The Snake” Roberts up against Randy Orton purely because the latter’s nickname is The Viper. Each fight is backed up by some brilliant fan service, though. WWE Films have laid their hands on each bout’s introductory film, showcasing a plethora of memorable highlights from each wrestler and tying it into the specific match. These are really excellent, though it’s hard to say the same for the legendary commentary duo of Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross. There’s just a lack of enthusiasm on their part, and the commentary is really basic, offering very little in the way of specific or entertaining discussion, despite the names in the ring.
And that is just one of many flaws that dampen the WWE All Stars experience. Its brevity is the main cause for concern with a limited number of modes and a faltering online community, but it’s not quite enough to detract from the amount of fun garnered from its brand of outlandish wrestling action. It might not have the perfect combat system, but the classic roster of new and old stars provides for some exhilarating matchups, and the increasingly brutal moves and their simplicity to execute make for a highly accessible and supremely enjoyable fighting game. Even if you’ve lost interest in Vince McMahon’s empire, WWE All Stars is hard not to recommend, despite its shortcomings.