The wrestling game genre is a tough one to decide what direction should be taken. Years and years and game after game has produced excellent games and series that are still playable today, but also several iterations of unbearably stale drivel. With only one wrestling promotion consistently putting out games nowadays, the latter has definitely outnumbered the former.
But out of the nothingness springs WWE All-Stars, coming out just a few scant days from now. With it, my greatest hopes for the future of wrestling games lie. Indeed, I find it puzzling the way much of the Smackdown! vs. RAW series has attempted to make a wrestling game a "simulation", when making a wrestling game a simulation should deal with much more showmanship, taking of bumps, and possibly even long rants about being "the cream" and "Yavapi Indian straps".
No, give me the arcadey, semi-deep fighting mechanics that WWE All-Stars is using as its main selling points over another bland SVR any day. At least that's the theory that I put to the test as I fired up the demo of WWE All-Stars. How does it hold up after a few matches in the squared circle?
All-Stars is focused around competitive one on one contests between jacked up versions of WWE superstars both old and new. Each character falls into four basic classes with their own variations used to differentiate themselves from the rest of the roster. Two attack buttons and two grapple buttons are used to create some truly innovative combos akin to that of a fighting game like Tekken or Mortal Kombat. Dealing punishment and reversing attacks builds one of two meters that power your character's signature and finishing moves that, when set up properly, eventually lead you to a pinfall or KO (which seem the two ways to win a basic match).
The demo itself only has one of the modes and match types on display, and two characters to choose from. After picking 1 vs. 1, you're taken to a character select screen where you can choose between the powerful brawler, The Ultimate Warrior, or the agile high-flyer, Rey Mysterio.
While having these two be the match-up for the demo might seem random from a conventional standpoint, it makes perfect sense in context of the game. Rey Mysterio shows off the potential of the high flyer class in the game, with the ability to bounce all over the ring and launch grapple attacks from half a mile away. He plays fast, with weaker strikes being made up for with an unpredictability. On the other end is the Warrior, who plays much more deliberately. With a little experimentation, his basic punches can be chained into some pretty impressive juggles into grapples.
And its this kind of discussion that really drew me to All-Stars. It's a game that combines the wrestling experimentation of games like No Mercy with the competitive drive to WANT that experimentation. Want to pound your enemy into the mat, bounce him up into a powerbomb and juggle into a DDT? You sure as hell can do it if you set it up properly, but the fighting game competitor in you is going to want to look for situations where it's SMART to set that up. It's this stuff that makes me excited to see if All-Stars is actually balanced enough to catch on in the community. Although I question the seemingly randomness of things like the counter system, and think that signature moves and the like do just a BIT too much damage for being fairly difficult to avoid, it doesn't diminish the fun when you're rolling over your opponent using the game's unique systems.
And that's the fine line that All-Stars has a chance to walk. Fans who want that level of pick-up and play from the N64 days can dig this game, but there's an extra level of depth that the fighting crowd can get into as well. Whether it's fully embraced by either will be determined by the quality of the final game, but after experiencing the demo, my hopes are higher than ever.
And hell, even if it ends up sucking, at least I can beat the shit out of Jack Swagger with Randy Savage.