I shall layeth the smack upon you.
WWE All-Stars is a simple game, and thus deserves a simple review. Some might say that it's a quick cash-in easily outmatched by its sales-smashing WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw brother, and that it shows just how much wrestling entertainment is a joke. Surely, you could mock All-Stars for its ricockulous wrestlers who seem to be snorting whey protein powder, can lift a man twice their size a hundred feet into the air, and if by chance they are on the receiving end of a Dragonball-sized powerslam, can get back up in about four seconds. But doing so means that you're taking the game way too seriously.
[image1]Even though every wrestler on the roster has the same bulging, heavy-hitting stature, they are split into two clear factions: WWE Legends and WWE Superstars. The difference between the old-school and the new generation of wrestlers is subtle – I would say that the old-school tends to be brawny and unafraid of color whereas the current generation is darker, curt, and ripped – but it's enough to pit them against each other in one-on-one Fantasy Warfare matches. In fact, pitting two similar wrestlers together, like André the Giant vs. The Big Show or Hulk Hogan vs. John Cena, shows the connection between the past and the present in a way that no other wrestling title has done before.
Indeed, much like in Legends of Wrestling, the main draw is punching, gut-kicking, irish whipping, and piledriving an unlucky foe with your favorite wrestler of yore. Before each Fantasy Warfare match, you will be treated to a unique montage, a video retrospective, of the two wrestlers and their archetypal personas. It's an quick reminder of the impact of the wrestling greats.
Not only that, but All-Stars also tries to be nostalgic in its arcade, straightforward, almost Royal Rumble-esque approach. The moveset is limited to a strike combo, a charged strike, a weak and strong grapple, and reversals. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that with signature moves, a finisher, corner grapples, and a few grapple transitions. Still, combat is much more immediate and bombastic, especially since each wrestler has a clear health bar that once flashing red means that he's vulnerable to a pinfall and an instant K.O. from a finisher.
[image2]The trouble, though, is that takes way too long to know what you're doing. There's no tutorial. None whatsoever. Not even a practice mode. It's almost the equivalent of throwing you in the ring and hope you fare well against Randy Orton. Good luck with that. Perhaps the intention is drawn from the arcade, where you're supposed to learn as you go, but even the provided controls list is not terribly helpful. Some of the controls even overlap – the Left Trigger is used for too many moves and the difference between "RB LB" for reversals and "LB RB" for finishers is confusing at first glance.
Worse, the notifications for reversals can be misleading. The note to press RB constantly appears on the screen, when you're supposed to press LB. Apparently, most moves can be reversed, but it requires exact timing – a point which is not only difficult to practice, but can encourage players to mash the reversal button since it works most of the time.
The arcade nature also leads to repetition in the commentary, the combat, and the match types. The majority of the Fantasy Warfare matches and the three Path of Champions is single matches or variants thereof, and most matches follow the same formula: do the same strike combos and strong grapples, build the meter for signature moves, and then unleash the finisher at the end. To be sure, most wrestling titles aren't more complicated than that, but it feels even more restrictive here.
[image3]Each wrestler more or less has the same moveset, with the exception of a few aerial moves by high-flyers like Rey Mysterio and charged strikes by brawlers. Created characters must also copy their moveset completely from another character on the roster. The lack of variety in the strikes and grapples is as simplistic as it is debilitating.
That said, WWE All-Stars is a competent re-imagining of an outrageous spectacle that has been entertaining fans for more than half a century. Gladiatorial machismo is the source material of the game, as it should be; it doesn't need to be more than that. As the debut title of its kind, it's still rough around the edges, but WWE All-Stars definitely has a target audience, one that will be adequately satisfied.