The funny thing about the (excellent) Smackdown Vs Raw series of games is that they were often accused of not being funny enough. The more recent iterations definitely helped to put that complaint to bed – with the newly implemented Story Designer mode being consistently hilarious – but the comparable seriousness of tone, and complexity of the core gameplay (especially within the more recent releases) seemed to set them apart from an entertainment fixture that has always used its outright barminess as one of its primary selling points.
And it’s a valid quibble, but how do you out-cartoon a cartoon? If you’re THQ San Diego, the developers behind WWE All Stars, then the solution is simple; you ramp up the cartoon factor. Every aspect of the character models has been exaggerated to such a degree that they resemble each wrestler’s toy action figure more than the actual wrestlers themselves, and almost all of their special moves involve physics that are thoroughly, well, cartoonish. To cut a long story short, this is basically a complete (potted) history of the WWE as written and directed by Fisher Price.
The gameplay is resoundingly terrific. The subtle (and not so subtle) complexities of Smackdown Vs Raw have been completely stripped away, and all that you’re left with is this; strong and light melee attacks, and strong and light grapple moves. Using the various face buttons in conjunction with the latter commands results in the expected array of standard attacks, and the stripped-down nature of the gameplay will undoubtedly remind older gamers of some of the Nintendo 64’s most memorable wrestling titles. And that period is still viewed (quite rightly) as a bit of a golden age for WWF (nay, WWE) software.
This isn’t a mere retro throwback though, as you’re constantly encouraged to chain your combos together, which doesn’t involve slavishly memorising a small load of precise attack patterns – you can pretty much turn anything into a combo if you time it correctly. Some specific moves can even be chained into air-juggles, which would stand as yet another concrete indication of just how preposterous this game really is, if that wasn’t among the least loopy things about it. As with practically every move in the game though, if you see it being done in the game by an opponent, and think that it looks exceedingly cool, then you’re only ever a few brief moments away from performing it yourself.
Because there isn’t a menu guide for combos you’ll have to develop your tactics completely on the fly, but because of the sheer entertainment value involved in experimenting, you’ll probably have wanted to do this anyway. Conversely, pulling off reversals demands that you adhere to some very stiff timing constraints, and button-bashing definitely won’t help you. But after around an hour or so you’ll almost certainly be well on the way towards mastering it totally, and there is real laughter to be had when two opponents constantly nail reversals against other reversals; especially in offline multiplayer bouts.
The ludicrous vibe of the gameplay is complimented by a slick and (very) garish colour palette, and the whole thing looks as if it was designed in a sweet shop using little more than paintball innards. The roster – which features a mixture of WWE stars both old and new – is pretty darned extensive too (although personally we’re still mourning the lack of a playable British Bulldog) and the Fantasy Warfare game mode more than makes up for the lack of a traditional Career one. That option allows you to pitch any two WWE icons against each other, and the stirring, amped-up mini-movies that precede each battle never fail to get you pumped for the subsequent bout.
Most fans of WWE, past and present, became hooked on the absurd “sport” at a very young age, and WWE All Stars manages to replicate that youthful head rush of discovery that still manages to create millions of new converts every year. Amusing, polished and daft as a brush, WWE All Stars is to wrestling what NBA Jam is to basketball; a celebration of the sport to be sure, but also an interpretation that isn’t afraid to let reality get in the way of a good, old-school blast of pure dumb-ass entertainment. For WWE fans old and new, as well as neither of the above, WWE All Stars is very, very enjoyable stuff indeed.
Watch the WWE All Stars trailer here: