"WWE All-Stars" is the most fun wrestling game I've played since "No Mercy."
Last week, I spent over an hour playing an early demo of the game at THQ's preview event in New York, and when my time was finally over, all I could do is try and think of a way where I could pocket the disc without anybody noticing.
That's right, the game is commit-a-felony good.
Here are five reasons why I think "WWE All-Stars" is going to be a serious contender for Fighting Game of the Year.
1. The Roster: Oh yeah! The tower of power, too sweet to be sour, funky like a monkey, sky is the limit ... complete mental insanity! That's right, "Macho Man" Randy Savage makes his long awaited return to WWE video games in "All-Stars," complete with "Macho King" alternative attire. Savage drops his patented elbow from the top rope, and from what I played, was the most fun all-around character available in the demo thanks to his combination of acrobatics and hard-hitting attacks (not to mention the ability to get under your opponent's skin by constantly yelling in Macho Man's raspy voice and telling them to "be a man").
Other wrestlers announced so far include Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Andre The Giant, Kofi Kingston, John Cena, The Big Show, John Morrison, Sheamus, The Rock, Triple H, Bret "Hitman" Hart, and Rey Mysterio. (The Million Dollar Man and his son, Ted DiBiase have also been announced as GameStop pre-order exclusives). But that's not all as there are still plenty of announcements to be made (Superfly, Hulk Hogan, and Mr. Perfect please!). Not sure how many more will make the final cut, but the game's mix of current superstars and legends is already shaping up to be the coolest roster of any WWE game to date.
2. The Gameplay: The problem I have with the "Smackdown" series is more and more, it feels less like a game. I know it's trying to be a simulation, but everything about "All-Stars" brings me back to the good old days of arcade gaming. Maybe it's because it's made by the former Midway San Diego crew, and the lead designer is Sal DiVita, a video game legend who helped create classics like "Mortal Kombat," "NBA Jam," and "NFL Blitz."
The speed of All-Stars (especially when compared to "Smackdown") really stands out as there is no time wasted while your opponent aimlessly rolls around on the mat. The pace is both frenetic and fierce, while the moves take signature styles into account, delivering body-bending slobberknockers from all angles. Where John Cena might simply slam you in real life, in "All-Stars" the move is made to be twice as flashy as Cena might add a flip or a 360 before dropping his opponent on his head. But that's not all, as certain moves will start a juggle where you bounce your opponent off the mat, grab him as he flies back up at you, then slam him a second time to cause even more damage.
The grappling and striking is simplistic enough that anyone can pickup a controller and have fun playing, but the more you play, the more you realize the depth of controls with juggles, special slams, and finishing maneuvers, and how you're able to chain certain moves together so a guy like Randy Savage will hit you with a piledriver, then instantly flip his way to the top rope in order to finish you off with his devastating elbow.
If only it was that easy at Wrestlemania III.
But don't just think of this game as a button-mashers dream come true. There is also an extensive counter and reversal system where it takes timing, not mashing, in order to flip your way out of an atomic drop only to drop your opponent with some variation of a flipping German suplex the likes you've only imagined playing with action figures.
3. Fantasy Warfare: Who would win in a fight: Big Show or Andre? How about Rock vs. Cena or Steamboat vs. Rey Mysterio? That's the theory behind the game's single-player campaign as gamers start up a game picking to play as either the legends or current superstars, then embark on a series of battles to see which group is superior. Cool video packages showcase the talent like current Intercontinental champ Kofi Kingston talking about why a battle against former IC legend Ricky Steamboat would be a dream come true.
As for who would win between Big Show and Andre, Big Show actually talked about the fight at the event. "There's only one Andre The Giant," said Show. "Andre was a big boy. He was very talented with a great base and great balance ... I think early in my career, Andre would've handed me my lunch. Now that I'm a little more seasoned, I think it would be a nice competition and a lot of fun. I would've loved to go one-on-one with Andre."
I'm sure we'll hear even more about this battle of the big men when we flip on Fantasy Warfare mode for the first time. My money is on Andre (sorry, Show).
4. Class is in session: As you look through the roster, it's not just about the larger than life muscles, the oh yeahs, and The People's Eyebrow. It's about finding the character whose abilities match what you're looking for in a fighter. To help differentiate each wrestler in the game, they have been divided up into four distinct classes: Acrobat, Big Man, Brawler, and Grappler.
Play as a grappler like Bret Hart and you'll be able to chain move after move together, never giving your opponent a second to catch his polygonal breath. Acrobats are flying off the top rope, jumping over the top rope onto the floor below, and performing high-flying moves usually reserved for a trapeze. Brawlers like Sheamus hit you with high-impact, and can smack you out of nowhere with a move like the bicycle kick that completely knocks you for a loop. And while big men like Andre might be slow, once they get their hands on you, they are going to manhandle you, headbutt you, and literally sit on you until your character is passed out helpless on his back as the ref counts 1-2-3.
But what's cool about the class system they have in the game is that while someone like Ricky Steamboat is classified as an acrobat, that doesn't mean he's restricted to a certain set of moves. All character move lists are based on the types of maneuvers that wrestler does or did in the squared-circle, so Steamboat's arsenal combines his high-flying ability with the karate strikes that made the Dragon so dangerous. Same with Savage. Sure, he's a beast off the top rope, but he can also hit you with brawler moves to setup the high-flying Macho Madness.
5. The Look: WWE All-Stars is a virtual wellness violation waiting to happen. I'm talking muscles on top of muscles on top of muscles, but with the over-the-top nature of the game, the larger than larger than life look of the colorful characters just adds to overall experience. Throw in some cool trails while characters flip off the top rope, not to mention the visual pain you see on a wrestler's face as he is getting pounded with a corkscrew chokeslam, and you have a game that delivers a visual punch like no WWE game before it.
THQ, I smell what you're cooking, and from I've sniffed so far, it smells amazing.
WWE All-Stars hits stores March 29 for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, and PSP.