The PSP games that have typically shined the brightest are titles designed exclusively for Sony’s portable platform. Ports of console games tend to disappoint due to missing features, diminished graphics and audio, or simply because they are obviously money grabs with no attention paid to quality.
I am pleased to report that the PSP version of WWE All Stars fares better than many other ports, including past entries in the WWE Smackdown vs Raw series. The SvR games are considered simulations (as much as one can simulate a scripted sport), complete with complex story lines, season drafts, big PvP events, and a Create-a-Superstar mode that is chock full of RPG-lite elements. The moves represented in those games are spot-on representations of what you would see if you tuned into a WWE match.
WWE All Stars is completely different. This game was designed as a pick-up-and-play experience that hearkens back to the days of WWF No Mercy on the N64, at least in terms of the over-the-top, arcade-style gameplay. The average moves are a palette of strikes, grapples, irish whips and turnbuckle jumps that don’t deviate significantly from what you see in SvR. Trigger a signature or finisher move, though, and watch the sparks fly. These high-flying, contrail-leaving escapades are a sight to behold and in no way represent reality. They’re fun and cheesy; in other words, they are exactly what we love about the WWE. Wrestlers come in four flavors: Brawler, Acrobat, Big Man, and Grappler). Each has different advantages. While Superstars are pigeonholed into one of these four categories, thanks to the variety of moves and finishers, WWE All Stars doesn’t feel like you are only playing with four different wrestlers in different skins.
Of course, gameplay alone, while important, is not enough to carry any sports game. The feature set gives these titles legs and WWE All Stars, while not as feature-rich as its simulation brethren, is no slouch. All of the modes from the console versions are here. In addition to the quick-play exhibition mode, WWE All Stars takes advantage of its roster of both legendary and current Superstars. Path of Champions pits you in ten matches, leading up to final battles with The Undertaker, Randy Orton, or DX. The highlight comes in the Fantasy Warfare mode. These matches between a Legend, like Hulk Hogan and the Rock, and a Superstar, including John Cena and Edge, are introduced with exciting video clips and top-notch voice over. It’s great to see that the videos made it from the consoles to the PSP. These epic setups make the matches fun to play, regardless of which side you choose.
Match types are a bit more limited than the SvR series with 1 vs 1, Tornado Tag, Steel Cage, Extreme Rules, and Elimination matches as the only offerings. Again, WWE All Stars is NOT a simulation game. Don’t expect to find a ref, rope breaks, ring out counts, etc. There is no stamina meter and all of the normal rules are eschewed to put the focus squarely on the action. I found Elimination matches to be the most challenging as the AI has a “screw the leader” mentality. Once you start dishing out the pain, all of the opponents gang up on you. Getting out of the ring for a few moments can provide necessary breathing room or simply serve as a suggestion to your opponents that they might just want to beat up on each other for a bit.
Once the match begins, players are treated to abbreviated introductions and fully voiced commentary from JR and The King, a first in a PSP wrestling title. Character designs resemble action figures, with enormous torsos and bulging muscles. Multiplayer is available, but only in ad hoc mode. This is unsurprising, but still disappointing, as many PSP titles have shied away from Infrastructure mode support.
WWE All Stars does come with a Create-a-Wrestler mode. Much like everything else, it isn’t a full version of what you’d find in a simulation wrestling title. Facial manipulation is streamlined and significantly scaled down from the SvR series. In SvR on the PSP, I was able to make a wrestler that looked remarkably like me (yes, I’m *that* guy). The sim games offer a plethora of options that allow you to tweak nose size, eyebrow depth, chin squareness, etc. In All Stars, you can change the head height, width, depth, and overall proportion to the rest of the body. That’s it. As far as physical appearance, there are options for wrestler height, hair style, facial hair, eyebrows, body hair, etc. Clothing options are plentiful enough, but don’t expect the hundreds of choices that SvR inundates you with. Oh, don’t try to make a Diva. The creator only allows custom male Superstars.
As for movesets, I often found it cumbersome in the sim games to set 50 different moves corresponding to every possible combination of button presses. Imagine my relief when I found out that WWE All Stars slims that down to choosing a pre-existing character to emulate for basic and fan favorite moves and a second option for finishing moves. Entrance and pose options help round out your character’s personality.
Adding design touches to your character no longer has a layer limit. Instead, you’ve got a “budget” meter on the right side of the screen. Each decal, item of clothing, scar, or makeup effect you add eats away at the budget. I had no problem staying safely within the cap.
One thing I did notice while crafting The Hebruiser 3.0 (or is this 4.0?) is that it takes a second or two to load each item. The transition isn’t clean, either. For instance, when choosing glove options, as I moved between them, my hands appeared to be mangled for a second or two. This is a minor grievance, but it occasionally made it difficult to know whether the item was that ugly or if the transition was still underway. All told, it was a savvy move to include the creator in WWE All Stars. You won’t be able to fully flesh out any missing Superstars, but it still provides a measure of customization that would have been missed were it absent.
Once I was finished and ready to throw my wrestler into the ring, I was pleasantly surprised by how short the load times were compared to what I have experienced in the PSP Smackdown games. The trade-off for a slimmed-down slate of options pays off in a big way. Loading a match is not the fastest affair but, again, it’s much improved. One annoyance that remains is that the PSP loads multiple segments at different times. Entrances are, thankfully, shorter, resulting in quicker loads. However, each one loads individually, followed by a final load for the match itself.
WWE All Stars features a healthy slate of audio effects for slaps, punches, grunts, and slams on the mat. In the console version, the signature and finishing moves are an audio delight. The crowd noise gives way to a powerful whoosh, culminating in a huge smack as the victim hits the mat. On the PSP, the effect is lost without headphones. The subtlety of the audio changes come across as a complete cut in the sound through the PSP speaker. It’s a bit better with the headphones, but even with my high-end, noise isolating in-ear buds, all of the effects sounded hollow and tinny. The finisher sound effect does, at times, sound better, which leads me chalk the times it fails up to glitchiness. I ran into another nagging bug at the end of the every match, as the sound completely cuts out except for a clicking sound. I also had a semi-frequent glitch in Elimination matches with fallen opponents stuck in the ring, unable to move. It didn’t impair my ability to finish the match, but it was annoying. None of these glitches ruin the game, but they simply shouldn’t exist.
Visually, the game looks better than I would have expected. Typically, I find PSP ports of console games hard to look at. The cartoon nature of the visuals translates well to the portable format. Sacrifices had to be made with crowd animation, but if cuts were necessary, this was the right place to pare back.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with WWE All Stars. The Roster is fantastic, even if we likely won’t be treated to any sort of downloadable additions. It’s great to see wrestlers like The Ultimate Warrior, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka back in the rotation. WWE All Stars on the PSP shouldn’t be your first choice of all the available platform options, but if you are looking for a wrestling game that is fun and plays quickly on the go, it’s a great choice.