Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?
There were some great matches at this year's WrestleMania, but easily the biggest cheers were for a referee and the guy who introduced the event. The WWE's current crop of poster-children all get the fans screaming - whether it's the like-him-or-loath-him superman antics of John Cena or bad-guy-who-everyone-likes Randy Orton - but it turns out that we all care far more about seeing our old heroes.
Stone Cold Steve Austin drove out to ringside on a quad bike and refereed a match, and The Rock gave us 10 minutes on the mic and a couple of pre-recorded skits. The crowd went wild.
Rest in peace?
WWE All Stars is timed to coincide with WrestleMania, but the fact it is made up of old and new wrestlers at just the time when WWE is coaxing its retired legends out of the mothballs for some pay-per-view tin-rattling is probably a coincidence.
Although that does mean the game's unique selling point - the idea of setting up never-before-possible bouts between legends like The Rock and contemporary stars like The Miz - now finds its impact slightly reduced by the prospect of those bouts actually occurring in real life anyway.
On the plus side, the fighting in All Stars is every bit as accessible as a WrestleMania headlined by all the guys you've actually heard of. There are two buttons for striking opponents and two for grappling, and once you have hold of an opponent it's dead easy to segue into a nice-looking suplex, scoop slam or series of knees to the head.
No chance in hell
As you build up momentum trading blows, you gradually fill up a pair of meters at the top of the screen. The first is in segments, which once full allow you to pull off a signature move - a more elaborate attack with a fancy slow-motion animation wreathed in blue flame. In Kofi Kingston's case, for example, it's Trouble in Paradise - a flying kick that sees him twirling through the air like a dervish.
The second is for finishers. Each character has a multi-stage health bar with various layers to peel back like an onion, and if you fill up your finisher bar to coincide with an opponent reaching a low ebb in health, then you can grab both shoulder bumper buttons to raise your hands aloft and signal the end, then repeat the action near an opponent to dive into a finisher.
For Bret Hart it's the Sharpshooter, where he wraps his opponent's legs around his right knee, flips them over and sits down on their back, causing unimaginable fictional pain until they tap out for a submission. John Cena does Attitude Adjustment and Rey Mysterio rocks out the 619.
And if you're not down with that...
You don't have to recognise any of these moves or particularly get off on the frills and spills of "sports entertainment" to have a laugh with WWE All Stars - it's sufficiently accessible and comical to observe that you are guaranteed to understand how it works and enjoy things regardless.
If you do happen to be a fan though, there's a real thrill to watching these wrestling caricatures pull off exaggerated versions of all the moves you've been screaming out for over the years. Real fans will also love being able to bring some of their heroes actually back from the dead - pitting Eddie Guerrero against Rey Mysterio almost brought a tear to my eye.
All Stars lets itself down a little in two areas though. The first is its over-reliance on reversals - activated with precise timing by the shoulder bumper buttons - which come to dominate exchanges between seasoned players. There is a degree of skill required to get the most out of All Stars, but once you reach a certain level of experience then most bouts are decided by reversal timing and it feels a bit cheap.
The other problem is a paucity of gameplay modes - the two single-player offerings are fun but over too quickly, and online you're limited to ranked or player matches. Not much of a stage for such a legendary line-up.
And that's the bottom line - because Stone Cold says so
Like many fighting games, WWE All Stars is at its best played head to head in the same room with a like-minded friend. Dedicated beat-'em-up specialists will want to stick to Super Street Fighter IV, but WWE fans and those who just like to throw their friends around without going too deep will find a lot to like in All Stars.
It's a shame there isn't slightly more to it, but as with its real-life inspiration, the lure of the classic combatants and the prospect of them doing battle with the heroes of today proves to be a powerful and compelling combination.
- Great stylised graphics.
- Easy to get into.
- Classic wrestlers like The Rock and Eddie Guerrero.
- Over-reliant on reversal moves.
- Not enough single-player modes.
- Online options very limited.