There's something undeniably special about a wrestling match. Combining colourful characters, high-flying acrobatics and riveting rivalries, it's an exciting spectacle that too often gets the shaft for being a fake sport than a real piece of theatre. At least, that's the sentiment you might share at a live event, your enthusiasm and energy mixing with that of hundreds of fans around you, young and old, cheering, booing and waving homemade signs. But from the comfort of your couch, the veneer rubs off much more easily and the hype feels less justified. Until now, most video game adaptations have met wrestling somewhere in the middle, painting the pastime with the more realistic brush of a simulation. WWE All Stars opts for the bombastic approach, bringing to your television a depiction of the sport that shines as brightly as witnessing a live show.
The roster features 30 wrestlers, many of which start out locked, split between contemporary Superstars and classic Legends. It's a step down from Smackdown vs. RAW, though the selection still feels satisfying. The fighters are divided into four classes – Acrobat, Big Man, Brawler and Grappler – each of which fights differently and feels unique to control. Beyond that, individual characters come with a smattering of exclusive moves, though none drastically stand out from the rest. There's also a fairly basic character creator that gets the job done well, even if it's not terribly robust.
The style implemented in All Stars is outright fantastic. Monstrously muscular men flip ten feet into the air and agilely soar from a turnbuckle to the opposite side of the ring, while lumbering colossi toss their opponents and juggle them above their heads. They're all easy to control, and whether you choose the Remote + Nunchuk, Classic Controller or GameCube Controller is really up to personal preference, though we found the Classic method the easiest to pick up. The gameplay overall feels smooth and fun, based mostly on timing, grappling and reversals with a touch of combo-chaining and defensive strategy, and features three difficulty settings to help suit each player's needs.
It looks great too, with vivid colours, relatively detailed textures and replay-esque slow-downs during the biggest, hardest-hitting moves. The game also features fun little touches, like authentic, stylised entrances and the way that when you change focus to another opponent, your character briefly points at them with a threatening "You're next" glare.
The modes available include Exhibition, Path of Champions and Fantasy Warfare. The first is the good old-fashioned one- to four-player fight featuring standard, tornado tag team, steel cage, extreme rules (the biggest rule broken being the inclusion of weapons) and elimination matches. "Tornado" means that all four competitors will go at it at once – the halting, turn-based original tag team battle might have felt out of place here, though it's still a bit confusing why it wasn't included.
Path of Champions features three storylines through which you can take any wrestler to the top via ten matches, the current champion taunting you with hilarious, over-the-top videos along the way. It's the closest thing here to a Career mode, and still satisfies albeit not being as in-depth or expansive. Still, something long-lasting like this would have been welcome, but All Stars does just fine with this more accessible story mode-esque feature.
Fantasy Warfare feels like the heart of this game, pitting two generally similar wrestlers of different eras against each other over 15 matches that you unlock as you progress. Beforehand you'll view lovingly-crafted video reels that show you exactly why you should be excited about these matches, how important the two competitors are and why you should care that they're finally facing off. It's enough to get anyone pumped and make the fight feel special.
The announcers do a pretty good job with the commentary, though you'll hear some remarks a bit too frequently. They can be pretty hard on you if you use the same move repeatedly as well, which can get frustrating, but in the end encourages you to explore your character all the more fully. Additionally, cries of "somebody stop this match! Where's security?!" simply never get old. The sound effects, however, are just awful, the movement and collision of human bodies sounding more like bags of gravel being tossed around the back of a truck, grunting and "oh no!"-ing with as much realism and clarity as the voicebox of an action figure.
The game is incredibly easy to pick up and play and feels fluid in execution, despite a few moves that don't transition quite so smoothly into one another, and this combined with the incredible presentation makes WWE All-Stars an accessible and very fun arcade-style fix of a fighter. It may feel a bit bare if you're looking for an extensive career mode or even a training option, but that's not the type of game that this tries to be. What it sets out to do, it accomplishes and does so quite well.
WWE All Stars executes fun, arcade-style action well, with accessible controls and exhilarating presentation. The lack of a career mode and online features will disappoint some, but it's a small dent in a very fun package. It's created with a real fondness for the fight and the spectacle, and there's such a fantastic sense of fun that you'll find yourself wondering how much tickets to the next Wrestlemania cost, and whether you're too old to sign up for the Hulk Hogan fan club. Make sure to take your vitamins and give this one a go.