Holy crap, the Macho Man Randy Savage is in WWE All Stars. After years of avoiding WWE products, the Macho Man is coming back as part of the game's roster that's made up of WWE Legends and current Superstars. This is huge. This is awesome.
Oh, and the game's pretty good, too.
WWE All Stars is an arcade fighter wrapped in a wrestling world, and more importantly, it doesn't feel like WWE SmackDown vs. Raw. Here, there are no rope breaks, no count outs, no submissions and the falls count anywhere in every match. Complementing that departure from reality, the characters are hulking masses that look like toys and perform moves that would make Evan Bourne blush.
That's the hook to WWE All Stars: these are matches as if they were being acted out in the mind of a 6-year-old. When Macho Man Randy Savage climbs to the top rope and leaps off for his diving elbow, he twists in the air and rises a good 10 feet before crashing down on his opponent. When John Cena delivers the Five-Knuckle Shuffle, he leaps from the mat and does this corkscrew spin before coming in for a devastating landing. The moves are exaggerated versions of everything you know.
For a fanbase as hardcore as WWE fans, that levity might sound like a turnoff. It isn't. SmackDown vs. Raw will remain the simulation title and All Stars will blaze this trail that walks the line between casual play and strategic depth. On one hand, this is a game you can jump into and play regardless of what you know about wrestling. ("There are light and heavy grapples and strikes. Go.") On the other, there's a reversal system that allows you to stay afloat no matter the beatdown as long as you get the timing right.
Now, lots of games say crap like "easy to pick up but deep," but I'm happy to tell you that it looks like THQ isn't BSing us this time When I was just getting a feel for the controls, I was still pulling off fantastical stuff -- I made Rey Mysterio run up Andre the Giant's chest, leap to the top rope, and then fire off an attack. That's amazingly awesome to watch and satisfying to do. When I had built up a finisher, it was a simple pair of button presses to pull off and see Bret the Hitman Hart grab his opponent and throw him into the Sharpshooter for the KO.
As I got the hang of that stuff, the strategy and depth of the game began to shine through. When someone's grabbing for you, you can reverse it with a button press and perform the grab on them. They can reverse it as well to get a chain going. When you knock guys down, they're going to get up pretty quickly to keep WWE All Stars frantic pace, but every other time you drop an opponent, they'll glow red letting you know that you can perform a move without the fear of them popping right back up.
Layered on that base stuff are character classes. Big Men are slow but are hard to knock down, while Acrobats can connect from the top rope pretty much anywhere in the ring and run without draining their extreme signature move bar as quickly. Each class has its own pros and cons.
This is definitely one of the best things to hear and see in WWE All Stars. Wrestling games -- especially ones aimed at a more general audience -- live and die by diversity. People want characters to feel different, look different and have different moves. WWE All Stars seems to have that. Each Superstar has their own moves and attack styles pulled from their careers. Talking to the developers about the obscure moves they found for Andre the Giant really showed me the care they put into making this game feel right.
Delving back into that fighting game feel is the fact that you can juggle opponents here. In one match, I saw Kofi Kingston whipped to the ropes, popped into the air, and then just batted around with strikes and kicks. If you're good enough, you can finish with a grapple and end it all with a sweet neckbreaker to really make the exchange a thing of beauty. When you hold down on the strikes, your character's fist will glow with power waiting to be unleashed on the opponent.
All of that is countered with a bit of twisted wrestling like entrances so short you don't even see the character get to the ring and Macho Man's extreme atomic drop where he takes the opponent up in the air before dropping him butt-first on his knee. Although you can pin in matches, a majority of my matches ended with Finishing moves exhausting a player's health bar. This leads to a KO that's followed by a scene of the wrestler actually pinning the winning opponent. The same pin scene played after Bret Hart made a guy tap with the Sharpshooter, which I found a bit odd. There's the standard alternate ring gear for each Superstar, and Jim Ross along with Jerry "The King" Lawler provide commentary while Howard "The Fink" Finkel takes care of the ring announcing.
I'm excited about WWE All Stars. It reminds me of an old WWE arcade game except is looks a lot better and seems deeper. I want to play as the Macho Man, and I want to get the reversal system down. That's not surprising, but what is a bit shocking is that the game actually makes me want to invite over my friends who fell out of wrestling and have them play as the classic Superstars they remember.