WWE All Stars Preview (Xbox360)

Whilst not the only partner to work on wrestling games, THQ has been one of the fore-runners in that license for as long as I can remember. That must be nice. Annual Smackdown vs. Raw games are now in the same league as FIFA, PES, and all the great annual sports titles. But these are all serious games, simulation almost, and are as complex as any strategy or RPG title and require a lot of effort. As seems to be an emerging trend at the moment, sometimes it's ok just to have a little fun.

Enter WWE All Stars. In a nut shell, it's a lighter helping of the core WWE franchise with more over the top action and exaggerated caricatures. Hmm... that wasn't bad. Maybe I should go in to PR. With a focus more on arcade-style action, All Stars almost goes back to how the Smackdown franchise used to be, although this time the simplicity is intentional. The basics are all there - different types of attacks and grabs, counters, etc... but it's all more 'staged' you could say (which is funny considering all wrestling is staged), more exaggerated. I mean powerful specials cause visible air ripples like that ring had been struck by a meteor.

Tag teams, three ways, cage matches... most of the usual suspects are here
All of the wrestlers are similarly over the top, impossibly barrelled chests and chiselled jaws give the models an almost cartoon likeness, just short of being too silly. Not only that, but they've mixed things up so that the roster is a combination of 'Legends' from WWE's past, and the current front-runners active at the moment. So expect to see the likes of Triple H, The Rock and John Cena squaring up against Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior etc... All of the wrestlers are divided into four categories, which dictates their strengths and weaknesses as well as what kind of moves they perform.

The standard Exhibition mode is there, complete with a decent selection of match types - although not some of the more weird and wonderful ones. There's also your standard story driven 'Path of Champions' mode, and even a 'Fantasy Warfare' mode that has matches between a past and present superstar who seem to have similar themes. To be honest, apart from an introductory video montage, there's little difference between these matches and an exhibition match you can set up with the same characters, but as you fight and win each one you progress through the list of these fantastical match-ups. There's also the standard 'create your own' mode too, so that you can render yourself in all your chiselled glory as well.

Gameplay wise, again it harks a little back to the hold school days of the Smackdown series, just more polished and with emphasis on combos as opposed to techniques. I'm not sure whether it was just me being rusty or what, but the AI seems really hard in this game - it kept beating me. The normal punches and strikes aren't that over the top, but there's more emphasis on grapple moves - to give you plenty of opportunity to do the counter - and the various specials are especially exaggerated. The floor of the ring has been outfitted with elastic or something as well, as if you do the right combination of moves you can dribble your opponents like a basketball.

Arcade or not, a kick to the face is a kick to the face
And if you really want to re-live that 'arcade' feel, you can buy the official peripheral that comes with it. Similar to that special arcade stick they released for Street Fighter 4, the All Stars stick has the classic sticks and buttons laid out. It takes some getting used to, especially if you haven't visited and arcade in donkeys years like me, but it adds a little flair to the proceedings. Expensive though, so maybe put it on the Christmas or birthday list or something.

There's really not a lot a to this game, but it's a welcome distraction from the yearly grind of Smackdown games. It's weird that I think of Bulletstorm as a comparison - this game isn't that fresh, but it's not going for hardcore wrestling sim, just more arcade like fun. Graphics suit the style, mechanics are solid, and overall it's a well polished game - it's not going to be ground breaking, but it'll be a crowd pleaser. WWE All Stars will be releasing for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on March 29th in North America, and April 1st (oh dear) in Europe.

Most Anticipated Feature: The Jumping 50 feet in the air and ripple-causing slams are entertaining to watch.