There have been some absolute triumphs when it comes to wrestling games, with the SmackDown series immediately coming to mind, with its typical qualities of a huge roster of wrestlers, authentic entrances, create-a-wrestler mode, an engaging season mode, overwhelming match types, unlockable content, and of course, the multi-player option that makes gaming with your mates SUCH fun.
But I do appreciate alternatives, such as the defunct Acclaim's Legends of Wrestling series. Although no SmackDown-beater, Legends of Wrestling was good enough for those looking for something a little different. Namely, grappling with a who's-who of wrestling legends with a different control system. But then, when THQ debuted the secret `Legends Roster' in 2003's Here Comes The Pain, fans really had something to drool over. Fantasy match-ups featuring the best of today locking horns with the greatest of yesterday.
SmackDown vs. Raw 2006 was (in my opinion) the epitome of this concept, and we've also had the respectable Legends of WrestleMania (complete with option to swap wrestlers with SmackDown vs. Raw 2010). But WWE All-Stars is the game that TRULY embodies, relishes and promotes the whole Legend vs. Superstar concept like never before.
All-Stars is a much different breed of animal from the SmackDown series. All the realism SmackDown vs. Raw is renowned for is thrown right out the window. THQ San Diego have instead focused on an arcade-style of gameplay. And the result is so exaggerated. Hulk Hogan looks more muscular than ever, and John Cena leaps fifty-feet up into the air to perform an Attitude Adjustment.
But the striking-visuals and the superhero-esque movements aren't meant to be taken seriously. In fact, I really like the whole cartoon presentation. And the fact that All-Stars sets itself apart from SmackDown in this way makes it so refreshing.
In terms of roster, THQ have really selected a great choice of WWE Legends and Superstars. There's thirty in total, half of them being Legends, the other half being today's best. You can expect the obvious likes of Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Andre the Giant, Triple H, Steve Austin, Undertaker, Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Randy Orton and Edge, along with some excellent surprises like Randy Savage, Eddie Guerrero, Sheamus and (current) WWE Champ The Miz. Obviously, there're some I would've loved to have seen (Chris Jericho, Batista, Rick Rude, Ric Flair, Kurt Angle etc) but on the whole, the character selection is very impressive indeed.
With regards to the actual gameplay, it initially took me a while to get used to. Those who've played the SmackDown vs. Raw games are in for a control shock, and this can be a problem for Wii owners, who no doubt will try to move the Remote and Nunchuk around and press buttons to perform moves (like in SvR 2009). The gameplay of the Wii version hearkens back to WWF No Mercy (the definitive wrestling game), where you can use simple button combinations to perform a variety of combos, grapples and strikes. It's a classic engine, and one that can enable such fun.
But the Remote and Nunchuk option may deter players due to the very limited movement options of the remote itself. I was able to settle into it, but the option to choose the Classic Controller is much preferred and will suit players better due to the nature of this game.
After settling down, though, you will see just how much entertainment All-Stars provides. To see Eddie Guerrero leap 100 feet into the air to deliver his frog-splash on a standing opponent is remarkable, you can punch opponents into the air then deliver combos on a hapless foe before finishing them off with a devastating power slam. You can pin people outside, there's no count-outs, no ref, no rope break, it's pretty much anything goes.
There are some delightful modes on offer, namely Fantasy Warfare. This pits Legend against Superstar in some fantastic settings, and comes complete with some brilliant promo videos (expertly pieced together from archive footage) that hype up the bouts. Sheamus vs. Ultimate Warrior, CM Punk vs. Steve Austin, Jack Swagger vs. Sgt. Slaughter are just some of the bouts that are superbly presented, and its here where you can unlock additional wrestlers.
All the more appealing is the Path of Champions mode, where you fight ten opponents to come out on top. There're three roads to embark on; Legends, Superstars and Tag Team. Now, compared to the multi-dimensional aspect of SmackDown's season mode, Path of Champions is sorely lacking in both challenge and possibilities. But you'll need to play this in order to unlock the great collection of alternative outfits for all the wrestlers, like Masked Kane and Austin's "What?" T-Shirt.
Unfortunately, All-Stars is SORELY lacking in some key areas. There's Cage, Elimination, Tornado Tag, Handicap and Extreme Rules bouts, but THAT'S IT. The Create-A-Wrestler feature is excellent, but hampered by the fact you can't create your own movesets, only select someone else's, and compare to CAW modes past, you feel cheated with the range of finishers, entrances and other options on offer. And once you've unlocked all the wrestlers, their attires, completed every Fantasy Warfare, conquered the Paths of Champions, unlocked all the arenas and CAW options...what else is there to do?
Compared to the gorgeous visuals from say the PS3 or the X-Box 360, the Wii version's graphics are noticeably inferior, and so is the sound. The grunts from wrestlers are laughable, and the crowd audio is pitiful. But there's still a nice arcade quality from this version's visuals, and the commentary (from good `ol JR and the King), ring announcing (from the legendary Howard Finkel) and music themes will bring a warm smile for Wii owners.
Great mechanics, a unique look and fun content are what make WWE All-Stars a delightful experience at the end of the day. It's no SmackDown beater, and there's a lot here that needs to be improved for next time. But if you're looking for something different, yet enjoyable, All-Stars really is worth a play.