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Yesterday saw the much anticipated (at least by me) release of THQ’s WWE All Stars video game. While I haven’t had a lot of time to spend on it so far, my initial reaction is very positive. We are deep into the WrestleMania time of year, so I know I might be tempted to give this higher marks than normal, but I think I can objectively say that this game is a lot of fun.

What sold me on WWE All Stars after a long time away from wrestling video games was the roster of characters and the angle of pitting current WWE Superstars against WWE Legends. The Legends roster is a lot of fun and includes some surprises like Jake “the Snake” Roberts. You also don’t see a lot of Randy “Macho Man” Savage (one of my all time favorites) associated with WWE these days, so his inclusion was critical to me along with the Hitman Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

As far as WWE current talent, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to play as CM Punk, and that’s kind of great. His “Go To Sleep” finish is spectacularly absurd with the game’s over-the-top arcade style. I’m not terribly compelled to play as Sheamus or Randy Orton, but I’m sure I’ll try them all. Big names like John Cena, Triple H and the Undertaker are sure to please, and a few slots on the character selection screen were locked so I’m hoping there are some fun surprises in store. My only fear is that the roster isn’t going to be as extensive as I’ll want it to be.

For all the positives this game presents, I absolutely loathe the bulky body designs of the characters. This was an immediate turn off from the moment I saw the advertising for the game. Everything is amplified here, so I think I understand the intent but it doesn’t look great. I also found that the ring entrances before matches left a lot to be desired and they don’t have the attention to detail I’m looking for. It bugs me to no end that John Morrison comes out to the ring with his trademark fur coat, but we can’t get a glittery robe on the Macho Man.

The game features options for online play along with a career mode and create-a-wrestler, which have become staples of wrestling games along with various match types. With the exaggerated gameplay style and graphics I’m looking forward to jumping 400 feet into the air off a steel cage at some point. The normal difficulty was rather challenging for me as an A.I. CM Punk went 3-0 over my human-controlled Bret Hart out of the box. These features along with various achievements/trophies to unlock are guaranteed to provide a lot of replay value.

It’s not perfect, but it brings in elements of Midway’s 1995 WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, which makes sense as both games were produced by game designer Sal Divita. This style is pleasingly combined with aspects of THQ’s earlier series of wrestling games for the Nintendo 64 that followed in the late ’90s (like WWF No Mercy). In case anything is unclear, that’s high praise as those are some of the best wrestling games I’ve ever played. I don’t think WWE All Stars is going to provide the depth of gameplay that those games did, but if this is the direction the developer is headed fans will be very happy.

If you’re interested in more, actual staged combat (as opposed to simulated staged combat) can be seen in all their glory at this year’s WrestleMania, Sunday April 3rd, 2011 beginning at 7PM only on Pay Per View.

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