Prior to the rise of the Smackdown Vs. Raw series, the best video games featuring Vince McMahon's squared circle juggernaut were primarily based in arcades. From the offerings by Technos Japan to the more over the top game from the folks at Midway to the oft-forgotten, yet very impressive Sega/THQ offering, WWE arcade games have lacked the depth of their home console counterparts, but made up for them with impressive gameplay. THQ's latest WWE game returns to the roots of those classic arcade games while answering one important question: "What would happen if the greatest superstars of the past were able to match up against the top stars of today?" The answer is an over the top, fast past, thrill ride that might be one or two minor flaws away from being a serious top tier fighting game.
One difference that fans of WWE's traditional wrestling games will notice is the art style. All Stars has a look reminiscent of 2009's lackluster Legends of Wrestlemania, but that is pretty much where the similarities with that debacle end. Each character in the game sports an overly muscled physique much like the old rubber LJN WWF action figures we grew up playing with. The animations are highly exaggerated as well, with moves like dropkicks launching opponents into the air while slingshotting the wrestler who performed the move in the general direction of a turnbuckle. and when it's time for a wrestler to perform a finishing maneuver, everything around them changes colors, and the resulting move is the most violently exaggerated thing seen in a wrestling game since the special moves seen in EA Big's Def Jam Vendetta.
One of WWE All Stars' tag lines calls the game's roster "the greatest ever assembled, and outside of a Fire Pro Wrestling custom roster, I'm hard pressed to argue. The legends side reads like a who's who list of Hall Of Famers or soon to be inductees, while the Superstars side sports a list of superstars that have headlined Pay Per Views, held championships, and are beloved the world over. To make things feel balanced, the wrestlers are broken into four classes: Big Man, Brawler, Grappler, and Acrobat. Each class has strengths and weaknesses, for example: wrestlers that fall into the Big Man category can typically take more punishment than those that fall into the Acrobat class, but acrobats are exponentially faster. Brawler can string can use charged strikes to juggle opponents, while Grapplers can chain together multiple holds and deal a great bit of damage.It typically pays to play to your characters strengths sense that leads to their signature and finisher bars filling faster. Much like Street Fighter 4, each wrestler in WWE All Stars can build a three level "signature move" meter while a second meter, reserved for "finishing moves" builds a little slower, but the resulting move deals enough damage to keep an opponent down for the three count or knock them out all together. That another element of the arcadey coolness of WWE All Stars.
As far as the gameplay modes, there is the Path of Champions mode, which is the standard arcade style ladder made famous by Mortal Kombat. (writer's note: a big chunk of the development team for All Stars worked for Midway during their arcade heyday). Next there is the Fantasy Warfare mode, which pits legends against active superstars. each match has a specific theme, so unless they add DLC characters to the mix, don't expect more than the 15 matches in this mode from the start. What's the benefit of playing through the various Path of Champions ladders or Fantasy Warfare mode, why the joys of unlocking characters, venues, alternate costumes, and the very well produced video packages that precede the matches in Fantasy Warfare mode.
Now for the the things I didn't like about the game. My main gripe is the computer catchup that seems to occur during some single player matches. Some computer opponents will take a tremendous beating throughout a match only to launch into a mainly unblockable combo that will instantly whittle your character's health to near nothing. Another gripe is a problem I've encountered after years of playing SNK fighting games: Many computer controlled opponents tend to turtle (constantly block) during matches, and since their is no such thing as "chip damage" in this game, this can slow down matches, and in this type of game, slow matches can prove disastrous. I noticed that the create a character mode, while present, was a bit thin on editing options, but in a game of this manner, there is only so much to expect, so the light pickings on the create a wrestler mode are not a big issue. The most glaring issue I had with WWE All Stars is an issue I've had with THQ's WWE product for years now. The loading times can be a bit long to say this is 2011 and loading times are something that most gamers barely remember nowadays. All of these issues are forgivable though, and a skilled player can overcome issues with turtling and computer catchup with relative ease.
All in all, THQ has done what most gamers have wanted since they dropped quarters into Midway's Wrestlemania game in the mid 90s and threw ghosts at their opponents with The Undertaker. if a sequel is made to this one, a bigger out of the box roster and a few more match types might make WWE All Stars become a must play fighting game.