WWE ALL-STARS / THQ / Sony PSP

As a kid in the mid-80s to early-90s, I was a fan of the WWF. Probably because it was much more targeted to kids then, with the bright and colorful presentation, and a more "family-friendly" style. They lost me in the early-mid 90s when guys like Doink the Clown and his evil twin, IRS and Double J were becoming major headliners, and then they never got me back with all that "Attitude Era" eXxxTTrrRReeMMeeEE stuff they started up.

So honestly I'm not sure what's up with wrestling these days, but the marketing and packaging of WWE All-Stars seems aimed at people like me; 80s fans who want the classic characters and colorful over-the-top goofiness, but mashed up with enough of the "modern" era to keep the sales numbers high enough to finance the coke habits of the higher-ups and investors. And while I did appreciate seeing the Ultimate Warrior come flying out to the ring and shake the ropes to his theme song, unfortunately the game is mostly marketing smoke-and-mirrors; this is a subpar "brawly" wrestler that seems to be trading solely on the novelty of its roster.

The music is still stuck in the early 2000s; the title screen greets you with the stereotypical dudebro sub-Nickelback rock of big corporate games like these, which can't be turned off (without muting the volume) or changed. Fortunately, it STFUs once you get into any of the game modes, replaced usually by a random wrestler's theme song.



Now, this is the PSP port we're talking about, so you expect it to be stripped down to some degree. Even by PS2/PSP standards, however, the character models look hideous and the backgrounds are a halfassed joke. And I have no idea what's going on with the Ultimate Roids Art Style they've chosen here. There is a CAW feature, but it's so limited it's even more restrictive than the Gamecube-PS2 era wrestling games ... it's more like N64 caliber (which suits the art level I guess.) Also, you can see where frames of animation were hacked out from the "bigger brother" version of the game all over the place; it's done very clumsily and obviously, like it was a rushjob.

The "stripped-downedness" seems to extend to the controls as well. It's strangely complicated for what's supposed to be a simplified, brawly wrestler ... I assume that's due mostly to losing a bunch of buttons going from a PS3 / Xbox pad to the PSP. You get "reminders" of key moves in context ... but only the first time that context occurs, at which point you might actually not want to use them, and then they never appear again. You can pause and pop into the menu to see a move list at any time, but should a PSP wrestling game have THAT complicated of a scheme that that even becomes necessary? Certain things are overly hinky too, like trying to pin ... sometimes the character won't even try, allowing an opponent that just ate two of your "finishers" to climb back into the match. Countering is also annoying, with less than half a second given to rotate the analog nub while pressing X.

Modes of play are also a bit limited. Aside from the requisite Exhibition, and the limited CAW that isn't even really worth your time, there's only two other options for the solo player - Path of Champions, three series of ten matches that end with a title battle against a WWE legend, and Fantasy Warfare, a series of matches of one of the "old schoolers" v.s. one of the "legends" (though they play fast and loose with this concept frequently, for example by making Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio the second overall match.) Fantasy Warfare is alright, except that you have to unlock each match by winning the previous, and it's really no different than just putting these two guys in an Exhibition match, except that you get a lengthy video package of stock footage of the two hyping the match beforehand. Path of Champions pulls the "triple threat" and "fatal four-way" thing out too much, which doesn't work here because the AI in this situation isn't very good, and you get everyone piling on one opponent yet making no attempt to pin or finish him when his health is low (yet they'll immediately cockblock YOU if you try it.)

Having not played the original, I don't know if this project was just a chintzy port, or if it was a typical THQ slapped-together crapjob from the beginning. It recalls the simplistic WWF games made by Acclaim in the N64/Playstation era like WWF War Zone ... interesting because at the time, THQ was the publisher for AKI's superior WCW-licensed games! Circle of Life, or something. Anyway, I actually kind of dig the way the game doesn't go for "realism" and makes the finishing moves all physically impossible and over-the-top with slow-mo giant leaps in the air and whatnot. And though I think the AKI lineage are easily the best wrestling games ever made, I don't demand
technical perfection from the genre; some of my favorite wrestling games ever were simple, arcadey brawlers like WWF Wrestlefest and Saturday Night Slam Masters. Here though, the formula just doesn't work, through a combination of halfassed graphics, overcomplicated gameplay that doesn't mesh well with the "brawly" style, and just generally having ambitions that are not well suited to the PSP platform (constant long load times don't help anything either.) An idea with promise, but I'd rather just emulate Wrestlefest or Superstars or something than bother with this.

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