I often wonder just how much of my interest in wrestling games is directly proportionate to how I feel about wrestling itself - surely there must be a connection. I've drifted in and out of wrestling fandom, but have always enjoyed the games most when I'm actually engaged in what's going on in the show itself.
Last week, after more years than I care to remember, The Rock finally came back to the WWE. And having drifted away from wrestling over the last three or four years, it was a moment that grabbed my attention immediately. Here is a man that oozes charisma, who works the mic like Bruce Buffer on red cordial, who knows precisely how to hold a crowd in the palm of his hand. He is, without doubt, the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.
So, when I finally got the chance to go hands on WWE All Stars last week, I somehow gave a damn having, quite honestly, been completely dismissive of wrestling games for an entire decade. Was it because I had very suddenly become engaged with wrestling again? Or was it because WWE All Stars is, in actual fact, a pretty cool game?
As always with these things, it's probably a healthy mixture of both - combined with a mega dose of nostalgia. The kind of nostalgia that comes with stacking your roster full of 80s megastars such as Macho Man Randy Savage, Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat and all the other wrestlers I used to watch as a starry eyed youngster.
But you know, even with proper perspective, it's easy to see that WWE All Stars is the best wrestling game I've played in years - not that that's saying much. First of all, it has proper, balanced mechanics, as opposed to a bloated set functions mercilessly piled on top of one another. The core of Smackdown vs Raw hasn't really changed since 1999, so playing All Stars, with its crisp collision detection and vibrant art style, seems almost other worldly - next level. I've said previously the WWE All Stars is the reboot wrestling games need and I stand by that completely.
In a sense its the spiritual successor to WWF Wrestlefest, that old arcade game that swallowed so much of my lunch money in the late 80s. It's simple, but has a surprising amount of depth, and the counter system is the perfect example of that. You can reverse almost any move - strikes, suplexes, armbars - and even those reversals can be reversed, turning a high level game of All-Stars into something akin to a Angle-Benoit chain-wrestling classic.
It strikes a tremendous balance. WWE All-Stars is not Virtua Fighter, it's not Street Fighter III: Third Strike, but it does cater to players that want more depth from their brawlers. Most of all it's stupid fun. It takes the spectacle of wrestling and makes it tangible in video game terms. Sounds simple - but it's something Smackdown vs. Raw franchise hasn't been able to do in a decade.
It's a chicken and the egg situation. I can't tell if wrestling got me interested in the video game, or All Stars got me interested in wrestling again - but I don't really care! I guess this is the age of convergence after all. WWE All-Stars is way more fun than anyone has any right to expect and, for the first time in the last five years, I'm totally going to watch Wrestlemania again.