"The greatest matches haven't happened until now," the game's marketing slogan enthusiastically promotes. Certainly, there's a lot of potential here, with The Rock, Andre the Giant and -- for the first time ever in a WWE game -- Randy Savage, standing amongst some of the announced characters. Perhaps more than other fighting games, this title will live and die by its roster. Right now, there are too many obvious omissions to count. In its current state, the roster is akin to a Smash Bros. without Mario.
Of course, THQ undoubtedly has a plethora of announcements to make but, like its current ensemble, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that the gameplay didn't quite live up to my expectations. The concept is terrific, and definitely the freshest take on the sport I've seen in a long time. All Stars throws away any semblance of reality, and chooses a wild combat system that features superhuman moves, and encourages juggling and air combos. Seeing the Macho Man do a spinning somersault onto Big Show as the entire background explodes into a colorful vignette? Magical. Unfortunately, these moments don't happen quite often enough.
I expected every aspect of the combat to feature the same kind of style that the trailers showcased. At the very least, I wanted everything to have a bit more impact, and a bit more speed. But when the wrestlers' signature moves aren't being utilized, the combat is entirely reminiscent of other wrestling games: somewhat plodding and methodical. Given the supposed arcade inspirations of the game, this revelation was a bit of a let-down. If this is meant to expand the reach of the WWE games to more casual gamers, All Stars just doesn't do enough.
Enthusiasts will probably still have a blast, as there are a number of appreciable changes that make it feel far different than THQ's typical Smackdown vs. RAW game. There are four fighting styles at the core of All Stars: Acrobat, Big Man, Brawler and Grappler, and each offer a very unique way of playing the game. Acrobat is my personal favorite, as it encourages the most aerial combat. You can quickly and easily climb the ropes and land jumps; you'll jump atop other wrestlers and "break dance" on their bodies. The acrobat is very light-weight, meaning he can get pushed around easily, but when utilized properly he can unleash some of the most awe-inspiring combos.
Big Man wrestlers, embodied by characters like Andre the Giant and Big Show, aren't quite as flashy, but their moves look absolutely devastating. Simple punches can send players flying backwards, making them appear even larger than life (if that's really necessary). The Grappler also offers an interesting method of play, largely due to the game's overly-generous counter system. Oddly, All Stars can sometimes feel like a game of Ultimate Ninja Storm, with players vigilant about countering -- and countering said counters.
WWE All Stars deserves praise for presenting one of the freshest, most exciting takes on the sport in recent memory. Sure, it may not push the envelope as hard as I'd like, but as it stands right now, I almost can't help being excited for it.