Taking a departure from the more straightforward in-ring competition that previous WWE games have offered, WWE All-Stars is a more arcade-like presentation, with comically-exaggerated physiques on the superstars and moves that are even more outrageously over-the-top. The result is entertaining, but perhaps appropriate considering the current WWE corporate policy is not quite “wrestling” as most would recognize it. Given my rocky experiences with those previous games, this is actually for the best.
Each superstar is divided into one of four categories (Big Man, Brawler, Grappler, or Acrobat); each category has their own strengths and weaknesses, with a couple of unique control moves available only to them, but overall each superstar handles in mostly the same way. The game supports Classic Controller and GameCube control pads in addition to Remote + Nunchuk controls; I used the Classic Controller (Pro) and had very few issues. The controls are also customizable, if you wish to further tweak them to your liking. There are over thirty superstars available, with about half of them locked away initially. You can also create your own, but the options to do so are fairly limited.
The main attraction of WWE All-Stars (and the one in which you unlock all of the hidden superstars) is the Fantasy Matchup mode, which pits a current superstar with a somewhat analogous “legend” from the company’s past to determine, for instance, who is the best big man (Andre the Giant or Big Show?), the best innovative offense (Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat or Kofi Kingston?), or the dirtiest snake (Jake “the Snake” Roberts or Randy “the Viper” Orton?); a few of these match-ups actually happened — usually ones involving more recent “legends” like The Rock, Eddy Guerrero, or Shawn Michaels — but the dozen or so remaining unique match-ups are fun “what if”s. The pre-match videos that play before each one of these matches are by far the best feature of the entire game, as the WWE’s top-notch production crew outdid themselves in assembling packages that would not be out of place on an actual pay-per-view featuring these match-ups.
The other primary solo mode is Championship, which pits your chosen superstar against a ten-match gauntlet for the right to face either the Undertaker, Randy Orton, or Degeneration X; completing this mode with any character unlocks alternate ring attire for that character (or one of the few hidden arenas if you use a created superstar). Exhibition mode is your basic catch-all versus option, allowing up to four players to chose one of about half a dozen different match types. Of course, the problem with more players (or participants in general) is the fact that there are at least four pre-match load screens per match: the introduction of the arena and stipulations, the individual introductions and (often abbreviated) entrances of each wrestler, and then the actual match itself. The load times are reasonably quick, but having to sit through so many in a row for almost no reason is a nuisance; you can skip past the intros using the + button, but there is no option to ignore them outright so you still have to suffer the loads. Commentary by JR and Jerry Lawler is fine, if monotonous at times, and Howard Finkel’s usual quality ring introductions are confusingly hampered by the complete lack of any emotion he put into the announcement for the winner of the match (which is, to my mind, more the fault of the game’s director than Mr. Finkel).
There is no online play (or downloadable content) on the Wii version. In fact, a lot of features present in the HD versions are missing from the Wii version. If you’ve seen the commercials for this game and seen all of the cool zoomed-in camera angles you might be disappointed when you realize that this version doesn’t have them. It also has some serious issues with sound quality, especially when you execute a finisher or signature move and the sound all but cuts out; it’s pretty obvious that this is where the other versions would cut to a close-up but this version is just left hanging with nothing to cut to. Apparently the Wii version is a port of the PSP/PS2 version, which is so lazy and inexcusable on so many levels at this stage in the console cycle that I’m actually grading this title slightly harsher than I would normally. The Wii has sold more units (in any market and/or worldwide) than both of its HD competitors (as of December 2010), and yet it is still being treated as a second-class console by many third-party developers in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While it would be valid to say that WWE All-Stars is the best wrestling game I’ve played in a long time, it would be more accurate to say it is merely the least horrible one, and I say this as a lifetime fan. When I’m able to look past its numerous faults, I enjoy playing WWE All-Stars. For a little while, anyway. I’m never going to be bored enough to endure Championship Mode with all thirty-plus superstars in order to unlock everything, but it’s still fun in small doses. The real problem is that I can never really ignore the fact that, as a Wii owner, I’ve been given a clearly inferior product yet again.
Pros: Fast-paced play; unique roster; fantasy match-up videos
Cons: Someone keeps thinking porting the PS2/PSP version onto the Wii is a good idea