Pro wrestling, the “sport” that caught us all by complete surprise, (wink, wink…), when the truth was finally revealed decade or two ago that the matches’ winners were scripted and pre-detetmined. Yet this revelation has done relatively little to diminish the popularity of this over-the-top exhibition…and why? Well, the same things that made it popular when some believed it to be “real”, still make it popular as the steroid-laden, pre-scripted exhibition it’s admittedly been confirmed as today. The larger than life wrestlers, the overly muscled physiques, the massively hyped stage show, the adrenalin fueled music, the bad over-acting, and the true amount of actual athletic skill that it does take to successfully pull off these beefcake rock operas continues to make “Pro wrestling” a popular commodity today. WWE All-Stars offers all of the above in pixel form with many of the biggest names to don tights and makeup in this latest addition to the video wrestling genre. Can WWE All Stars justify it’s own niche in an already fairly saturated video wrestling genre?
Right from the opening “bell”, WWE All-Stars attempts to cater to the things that likely draw “live” wrestling fans to begin with. The initial presentation of the wrestlers themselves, is SO over-muscled, they virtually all appear like the old, “He-Man, Masters of the Universe” dolls that we still see lampooning on modern episodes of “Robot Chicken”. Even Hulk Hogan, whose physique really doesn’t require over muscled “airbrushing” to be imposing, is done up at a level of striated muscularity that even the real Hulkster never emulated in real life. Strangely the same, very similarly shaped, overemphasized muscular stature is seemingly copied on to all wrestlers during the game’s start up phases, regardless of which wrestler is actually on display.
Throughout the start-up phases and into the game itself, the sort of soundtrack that one would expect to accompany a wrestling title is suitably provided, including many popular hard rock tracks by bands like Motorhead, the occasional hip-hop/rap music cut, and also the specialized, signature tracks that accompany many top-billed wrestlers during their entry in to the ring can be heard as well. For instance, the slow grinding beat that always used to follow the now actor Dwayne Johnson’s ring entry, ” Da-da-daaa, THE ROCK SAYS, Da-da-daa, THE ROCK SAYS….can you smell what the Rock is cookin’?” will certainly be quite familiar to any wrestling fan. The crowd and commentary are also quite apt, providing accurate ring play-by-play without being overbearing or detracting, much in the same way real wrestling commentary isn’t often more than background noise during a match.
The visual quality of WWE All-Stars is satisfactory to provide a fairly quality view of the wrestlers in such a way that you can reasonably make out the technique they use when administering a generic but specific, or even signature wrestling move, but graphically is nothing special when compared to many current titles today, definitely not what one would call realistic or spectacular. Both the hues and the lines are of the graphics are not as sharp as they could be. The animations of the individual wrestlers’ mannerisms, they way they enter the ring, perform a signature move, or attempt to entertain the crowd with an entertaining “after-pin gesture” are pretty true to the real life spectacle, a nice touch that I’m sure real wrestling fans will appreciate when they maneuver their favorite wrestler, and that character responds in a way that their real life counterpart would as well.
The actual gameplay style of WWE All-Stars is it’s strong point if the gamer is looking for a quick, “pick-up & play”-type gaming experience, no major amount This wrestling rendition isn’t fraught with annoyingly complicated, complex moves. The gamer isn’t required to put in an serious manual study in WWE All-Stars, and through a quick tutorial process in the early going, will applying strikes and grapples near immediately. In familiar fashion to many games, WWE All-Stars splits their two forms of attacks in to two categories; “normal” which is faster but does less damage, and “heavy” which is slower to land but does a greater amount of damage. As well as these four basic moves each wrestler has two signature moves that correspond appropriately to the style of the wrestler they’re assigned to. Not being a wrestling aficionado, I won’t bother trying to list the correct names, ( like D.D.T., frogsplash, a 619, etc. etc…), of the wrestling “supermoves” that can be performed, but suffice it to say, your favorite wrestler will be able to execute some of the premier moves that they’re known for.
Better yet where good gameplay is concerned, there are easily performed counter-moves the video wrestler can use to quickly turn the tables on their opponent and get out of serious trouble. It’s this easily learned, well-balanced system of moves and counter-moves that is what gives WWE All Stars it’s playability. There are four classes of wrestler type, brawler, acrobat, big man, and technician, each having their own set of strengths, weaknesses, and style of best employing their technique in the ring. There are 3 levels of difficulty, the ability to tailor-make a custom wrestler from “scratch”, and many different ways to pit the wrestlers against each others in various types of matches such as a “cage” match or an outnumbered “handicapped” match.
The single player mode is a sufficient challenge and the variety in which matches can be arranged help add to the playability of WWE All-Stars, but for Prof. Oblivion WWE All-Stars’ shining option was the two player mode. As mentioned earlier, the simple but well-balanced system of moves and counter-moves in WWE All Stars, being implemented in a two-player match, is where this title’s gameplay was at it’s best. The quick & constant mind-chess of predicting your opponents move and coming up with the correct, “table turning” counter-strike, (or counter-grapple as well to be thoroughly accurate…) was fairly engaging, especially when having my much smaller wrestler, “Rey Mysterio” commit “turn about is fair play” on my opponent’s intimidating “The Ulimate Warrior” character and send him flying over the ropes just when all appeared lost, definitely made for a respectable amount of video wrestling satisfaction. The matches can be won either by timed pin or by K.O., the former at least giving the wrestler a fighting chance at “kicking out” of the pin by frenzied button mashing.
WWE All-Stars isn’t exactly what would be described as a meticulous wrestling reproduction, far from it really, instead going for more of an arcade-style feel while the overall appearance of WWE All-Stars also leans more towards the cartoon-like way of portraying the “pseudo-sport” exhibition of modern day wrestling. The control system and options may be be a little too limited for the video wrestling purist that enjoys the protocol involved in memorizing a large repertoire of “combo-moves” and such, but for the casual gamer that values gameplay over visual splash, and enjoys a quick, pick-up game of “Irish whip & piledriver”, WWE All-Stars deserves to be given a slam. As long as the gamer goes in knowing not to expect a realistic simulation, WWE All-Stars should win over most that already favor the genre.
– Prof. Benny Oblivion