More than any other sport or form of entertainment, WWE has a major problem in the form of lapsed fans. The company's tone has constantly shifted over the last thirty years: from serious wrestling, to superhero-inspired gimmickry, then to adult-themed story-lines, and finally to family-friendly characters, exchanging a portion of its fan-base for new followers each time.
While the company's focus has often changed, it has always had engaging superstars that were equally skilled in capturing fans' attention and performing amazing physical feats. WWE All Stars is the company's best attempt in years to bridge the gap between its fractured fan bases, plucking the best of its past and present and presenting them in their prime for fans of all stripes to enjoy.
The character roster is divided between two sides: the top superstars of today's WWE and legends from the past three decades. Indeed, the WWE has done an amazing job assembling the best of its alumni, managing to incorporate athletes that are working for other organizations (Hulk Hogan), some who formerly disavowed the company (The Ultimate Warrior, Bret "Hitman" Hart), and one particular personality that hasn't been seen in a WWE game in almost 20 years (Randy "Macho Man" Savage). All 30 of the fighters on WWE All Stars' roster are represented in larger-than-life fashion, with ridiculously distended physiques and features.
The trimmed-down selection of Superstars is a canny way for fans to become acclimated to the new generation of WWE talent, and the game's combat style has also been streamlined to appeal to gamers who haven't seen the inside of a wrestling ring in quite some time. Like AKI's fondly-remembered Nintendo 64 wrestling games, the combat in WWE All Stars is based on a strong/weak system for its striking and grappling, with reversals available to turn the tide at any time and finishing moves that become usable after dealing out enough damage.
These moves are just as outlandish as the character design, with special moves often sending both characters soaring through the sky, twisting and flipping for actions that normally take the fighters less than five feet off the ground. While it seems crazy, the insane moves don't get tiresome; in fact, they often make a fairly pedestrian attack like an arm-drag feel like the equivalent of a fireball in Street Fighter.
To make the game even more user-friendly, there are no count-outs or tags to negotiate during team bouts, and pins can be made anywhere without much hassle - you can actually knock out a weakened opponent with a finisher and your character will perform one automatically. While the intuitive combat makes WWE All Stars much easier to get into than most modern day wrestling games, it comes with a high price: there's a severe lack of match types in the game, with weapons-based and steel cage matches serving as the only major variants besides the amount of combatants in a match.
The modes that remain in WWE All Stars will entertain, but their longevity is suspect. The Path of Champions plays out much like the standard arcade modes you'll find in the likes of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat: you run a gauntlet of 10 different matches before fighting for the title against a set Legend, Superstar, or tag team. While each of the three paths are entertaining the first time through there's little reason to play any again, lest you yearn for alternate outfits or additional achievements.
Much like the other new mode, Fantasy Warfare is great fun the first time, as you get to watch well-produced video packages that tie together a legend and a superstar in clever and interesting ways. Once you've played them all you might make a second run to unlock all of the hidden characters, but there's little impetus to return after that.
The combat, characters, and modes in WWE All Stars are all immaculately crafted, resulting in a game that will grab fair-weather and hardcore fans fast. Unfortunately, the lack of modes and match types detracts from the replay value of the single- and multiplayer elements, so fans of both fighting and wrestling games should think twice before committing to WWE All Stars.
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