There is a certain stigma regarding the world of professional wrestling. Fans are dedicated and loyal, viewing the sport as a form of art. People who are not fans often describe it as barbaric, over the top, and filled with unrealistic, larger-than-life characters. Someone at THQ decided to ask the question what would happen if wrestling fans embraced the views of the outside world? What if wrestling was just as crazy as the non-fans make it sound? A THQ development team led by Sal Divita decided to address that very question and even took things a step further by blurring the lines between the eras of the wrestling product. The resulting answer is WWE All Stars.
THQ’s work with the WWE product needs no introduction. The developer / publisher has owned the licensing rights to WWE games for over a decade. Most of the games that have resulted from the partnership have been aimed toward simulation style gameplay, delivering an experience as close to the real thing as possible. The formula has worked well for both parties but WWE All Stars offers them an opportunity to mix things up. This isn’t a game about simulation a realistic experience; this is about nonstop, insane action and animated, almost cartoon-like characters. Every piece of the All Stars formula has been exaggerated: the characters, the moves, the visuals... everything. THQ San Diego, led by Midway alum Sal Devita, have taken the reigns of the concept and delivered exactly what was proposed. The new title is throwback to the arcade wrestling titles of the past, such as Midway’s WWF Wrestlemania and Techno’s Wrestlefest / Superstars titles. It’s all about the fun and that is exactly how I would describe the game.
The first thing that you will notice about the title is the exaggerated visual presentation. All of the characters are presented as caricatures of their real selves. This exaggeration isn’t apparent in just their appearance, but their actions as well. Their moves take them to the top of the screen and even Andre the Giant and the Big Show can jump around from the top ropes. I really like the style but feel it suits the legends better than it does the current generation superstars. The current stars are enjoyable in this manner, but it is better suited for helping the older characters live up to my childhood memories. I know that this isn’t how he appeared on television in the ‘80’s (realistically), but this representation is how my 8-year old inner self remembers the Ultimate Warrior; the same could be said for every single legend in the game. This works wonders for the nostalgia aspect of the game. Unfortunately, the same magic isn’t felt in the current stars. They are still fun to play, but they just feel “different” and lack that same magic felt by the older stars.
I do find it odd that THQ decided to use such bland environments / arenas for the game considering how much was put into the character design. The arenas are bare and the crowd is a sea of faceless figures, literally. There was very little detail put into creating the set pieces to house the action of the game. Sure, there are a variety of arenas, but the only difference between them is the logo shown on the curtain around the ring and the stage design. I really feel that this is a missed opportunity by the team; there is so much more that could have been done to make the arenas more animated and exciting. The ring itself is very well done as the ropes and mat are animated in great detail; as players hit the mat and bounce around the screen, the ropes wobble and sway with the movement and the sounds are devastating when contact is made with either. Unfortunately, as soon as you make your way outside of those ropes, everything becomes bland and forgettable. You aren’t even allowed to move up the entrance ramp and fight anywhere near the stage; an invisible wall keeps players at ring side and just stifles the outside experience.
When it comes to actual gameplay, WWE All stars feels more like a fighting game than a wrestling one. Combat is all about chaining together a variety of strikes and quick grapples / throws into long combinations. Your opponents won’t be staying down on the mat for long and your only choice is to continuously attack them until you can either pin them or deplete their health entirely. This really changes up the “feel” of the game, making it more of a fighter than a wrestler. Players have four main attack buttons, two are for striking and two are for grabbing; each type has both a light and a strong form. It is up to players to discover which buttons lead into subsequent buttons to form chain combinations. Each of the game’s 30 characters has different strings of combinations to be found and used. These attacks and combos can even take the combat to the air as players are often bounced up to the lights where you can juggle them and inflict even more damage. Depending on the class of character that you choose, the focus will vary on being either strike oriented or grapple oriented, though all characters have access to moves in each category.
I don’t want it to sound like the game is all punches and kicks though, this is a wrestling title after all despite its presentation. You will find a wide variety of bodyslams, suplexes, and submission holds which all fit into this fast paced style. Just as with the character presentations in the game, these moves are all taken to an exaggerated level; characters aren’t just slammed to the mat but are often tossed into the air where they flip a couple of times before crashing to the mat where they bounce up like a basketball. It’s fun and exciting and leads to a wide variety of gameplay options. Of course, the best offense is a good defense and THQ has created an excellent counter / reversal system for the game which allows players to reverse nearly every single action in the game. With a simple press of either the left or right bumper, depending on the incoming attack, players can turn the tides on their opponent and use their momentum against them. Even reversals can be reversed with the right timing which makes the action unpredictable and even more exciting. This not only includes the basic hand to hand confrontations that appear in the game but also the weapon based gameplay introduced when players discover chairs, crutches and bats hidden under the ring.
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