Did you just see that JR? Rey Mysterio Jr. just pulled off the ‘6-1-9’ on Ricky “the Steamboat” Dragon! It’s OK if you have no idea what I just said, but if that’s the case you have no business reading this review.
Scenarios such as the one described above are what the over-the-top, action-packed professional wrestling game WWE All Stars from THQ is all about. For the first time in history (since Legends of Wrestling...) you can pit your favorite WWE wrestlers up against old school fighters like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
All Stars is fairly straightforward in concept. Load up a roster with current WWE favorites and sprinkle in some past heroes of wrestling in the form we all loved and remembered. You see, wrestlers are a lot like teenagers. They go through stages. Remember when Dusty Rhodes' son went through that Lady Gaga phase? Wait, maybe it’s the other way around.
Regardless, THQ has pumped some juice into the way-back machine to bring you the likes of classic “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels during his bondage meets David Lee Roth “Heartbreak Kid” phase and Bret Hart “the Canadian years.” On the other side of the coin you have recent WWE manly men like The Miz, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston and wrestler/actor John Cena.
There is no career or story mode to be found in this game. Instead there is the Path of Champions. Pick your favorite wrestler and battle your way through 10 matches leading up to one epic battle. There are three paths to choose from which lead you to either the Undertaker, D-Generation X, or Randy Orton. Along the way you’ll face a variety of 1v1, triple threat, steel cage matches and more.
You’ll be scored each match you participate in on offense, defense and technique. I guess this adds some replay value if you want to unlock achievements for getting gold stars in all your matches. The actual fighting itself can be frustrating. You have quick and strong strikes, quick and strong grapples or charged versions of both. Timing is crucial but sometimes a good old flurry or quick-strike button mashing is the only way to slowly bring down an opponent. There are blocks and counters for strikes and grapples which require you to hit the reversal button at a precise moment. These can turn the tide in your favor, or annoy the hell out of you when the AI seems to reverse everything you do.
You’ll find yourself playing a lot of matches twice. The first go around will be a struggle and you will actually end up losing. The very next match you magically roll through your opponent. It seems a little random at first, but the more you play the better acquainted you become with timing your charged and signature moves. This lessens the randomness but doesn’t remove it.
If the developers got one thing right it’d have to be nostalgia factor. The details they went to for entrance music, mannerisms and even signature fighting style makes you want to see every character in the game. The moves themselves are certainly over-the-top, showing you a glimpse of an iconic finishing move before launching the opponent 15 feet into the air. Power bombs and suplexes are performed with mid-air flips and there seems to be almost no limit to how far one can leap off the top ropes.
The other main game type in All Stars is Fantasy Warfare. Here you play out matches that could never take place but beg the question “who was better?” These matches bring together a recent WWE superstar and a legend from the past. Want to know who’d win in a fight between Andre the Giant and the Big Show? Play it out in the “greatest big man” challenge. If you win the match with the wrestler you chose, you unlock the next match type. Each of these matches has a theme like greatest aerial star, a perfectly awesome match (Mr. Perfect vs. The Miz), or Sheamus vs. the Ultimate Warrior for greatest warrior.
The controls are simple to pick up and really the only thing that takes any sort of practice is reversals and timing your signature/finishing moves. The wrestlers look absolutely ridiculous with proportions which no amount of science, muscle milk and shake weights could ever achieve. The cutscenes feature amazing voice acting. It’s almost exactly as I remembered it. I could almost believe I was in Paul Bearer’s funeral home. It may seem like a little much, but it’s really how they used to act.
On higher difficulty modes, the AI will give you a serious run for your money and send you into a faux roid-rage when nothing you do seems to work against them. Even when you think you’ve got the opponent’s number, the stars will align and they’ll pull off some frustratingly long combination of moves which fills their energy, puts you in a finishing move and knocks you out cold. Playing through Path of Champions and Fantasy Warfare on different difficulties will unlock new wrestlers, alternate costumes and move sets, all of which you can use to create your own character.
The game modes are relatively short so you won’t get the most use out of the game by yourself. Curiosity will keep you motivated to play solo for a little while, but there is nothing that compares to multiplayer wrestling between fans. Grab a buddy or two, toss back a few beers, Stone Cold style, and find out if Sgt. Slaughter smells what the Rock is cookin’. Battle other players online with your custom characters or set out on a quest to prove that your favorite star is the greatest of all time. Don’t expect to get too much out of the game if you’ve never watched/enjoyed professional wrestling. I have, and I’m not afraid to admit it.