When Vince McMahon purchased WCW and ECW in 2001, the television product wasn’t the only thing he limited for wrestling fans. His massive takeover also drastically changed the video game landscape for the “sports entertainment” faithful. In the late ‘90s, fans could choose between THQ’s excellent WWF titles, EA’s WCW games, and Acclaim’s ECW attempts. For the last several years, however, Smackdown vs. Raw has been the only game in town (outside of mediocre TNA titles and the supremely disappointing Lucha Libre game from Konami). While it still operates under the banner of Vince McMahon’s juggernaut promotion, THQ is finally giving gamers a brand-new option with the promising WWE All Stars.
If we were to compare WWE games to sports titles, Smackdown vs. Raw would be NBA 2K11 and All Stars would be NBA Jam. That’s no accident, as Jam (and NFL Blitz) veteran Sal Divita is onboard as executive producer. As he did with the hardwood and the gridiron, Divita is bringing over-the-top moves, a ridiculous visual style, and a simplified but rewarding control scheme to the squared circle. It’s not just the SvR roster with new gameplay and a different look, however, as the roster features just as many legendary grapplers as current superstars.
THQ is planning on a “dream roster” consisting of superstars from your childhood and the top talent of today – including some faces that you wouldn’t expect to see. Macho Man Randy Savage has been on the outs with Vince for quite some time, and Hulk Hogan is currently employed by the struggling TNA promotion. Despite this, both legends are confirmed for All Stars.
Each superstar fits into one of four categories: Acrobat, Big Man, Brawler, or Grappler. Acrobats can perform high-flying springboard attacks and cover almost the entire ring with a top rope attack. Even better, they can access the top turnbuckle by propelling themselves off of an opponent. Playing as Rey Mysterio, I sprinted up the body of Andre the Giant, backflipped onto the turnbuckle, and proceeded to level the big man with a missile dropkick.
If you fall into the big man category, your character can charge up massive strikes that can send your opponent flying. When I played as Andre, I sent Mysterio rocketing into the ropes with a massive punch. Once he ricocheted off the ropes, I landed another blow that sent him cartoonishly flying outside of the ring.
Brawlers like Cena and The Rock are equipped with unblockable charged attacks, and grapplers like Bret Hart can string numerous grapple moves together into a combo. These two classes may not be flying around the ring like the acrobats or sending foes outside of it like the big men, but their moves are by no means subtle. Cena’s Attitude Adjustment isn’t just a modified fireman’s carry like it is on WWE programming; it’s now a superhero-like leaping slam that causes a shockwave in the mat when it connects.
Whereas the majority of wrestling games feature a momentum system for building up finishers, All Stars doesn’t rely on a rising-and-falling meter. As you perform big attacks, your finisher meter will rise without fear of it dropping back down. If your meter is half-full and you suddenly find yourself on the tail end of a severe beating, you don’t have to worry about restarting from square one.
Once you find yourself with a full finisher meter, you can activate a finisher state by pressing LB and RB together. In many wrestling games, this would be the point where your opponent would cowardly run around the ring until your finisher expired. This won’t be a worry with All-Stars, as (like NBA Jam’s “fire”) it requires your opponent to confront and “put out” your finisher state if they hope to avoid it.
Putting out a finisher state is accomplished with extreme signature moves. On top of the finisher meter, each player also has an energy meter. This fills up as you mix up your strikes and moves, and each filled segment allows you to perform an extreme signature. These trademark attacks, such as Cena’s Five-Knuckle Shuffle or The Rock’s swinging DDT, are rarely used to finish off an opponent. If you connect with one of these while an opponent is in a finisher state, it reverts them back to their default status and gives you a chance to continue the match.
Health meters have rarely been seen in wrestling games ever since Acclaim’s titles in the late ‘90s, as most modern titles rely on stamina, body damage, and other vague indicators. Divita and the team at THQ San Diego are actively going for a fighting game feel for All Stars, so they’re bringing back health meters. Smackdown vs. Raw matches can go on for extended periods of time, but All Stars differentiates itself again by featuring matches that frequently end within five minutes or so.
It isn’t too dissimilar from Mortal Kombat’s fighting system. That fighter features standard attacks (punches, kicks, sweeps), special attacks (spear, freeze, bicycle kick), and fatalities. All Stars features standard strikes, extreme signature attacks, and finishers. In tandem with the health meter, All-Stars really does resemble a fighting game instead of the sim-like Smackdown vs. Raw.
From the looks of it, WWE All Stars should do a great job of reaching its demographic. Professional wrestling fans whole-heartedly embrace over-the-top, unrealistic action, and this game delivers it in spades. Ideally, the title will even strike a chord with gamers that don’t know “Stone Cold” Steve Austin from Duke “the Dumpster” Droese. NBA Jam and NFL Blitz managed to resonate with gamers that never watched sports, and Divita and THQ San Diego plan to walk that same path with All-Stars.