WWE All Stars BrawlStick & BrawlPad Review
With the release of WWE All Stars, THQ are attempting to capture the excitement and atmosphere of a classic arcade game and transport it to the home consoles. Featuring simplified gameplay and over-the-top, in-your-face graphics, the game certainly looks the part, but how does it feel like you are playing an arcade game? Well in order to ensure that it does, MadCatz and THQ decided to team up and manufacture both the arcade style BrawlStick and the fighting game controller, the BrawlPad.
As we mentioned at the time when the items were announced for release, these two controllers are both very much in the same vein as the Limited Edition Street Fighter IV ones that MadCatz released when that title came out. In fact, they are more or less identical, save for the images of The Rock and Triple H emblazoned across the front, instead of Ryu and Chun Li. Those pads were designed to offer fighting game fans advantages in button layout and character control that were not possible when using standard console pads. These are particularly good for pulling off combos and multiple input manoeuvres, and also provide features like turbo control. But how do they work with WWE All Stars? Do we really need two more peripherals?
WWE All Stars BrawlPad (RRP £34.99):
The BrawlPad is a more traditional control pad, somewhat resembling that of the SEGA Saturn console (see the images below). It features the four main action buttons on its face, but also transplants the uppermost shoulder buttons onto the face of the controller, so that six action buttons are now loacted there in an arcade style layout. This has long been the favoured layout for beat-em-up fans. SEGA even had to release a new control pad design for their Mega Drive upon the release of Street Fighter II on that console, simply to placate fans who were accustomed to the six button configuration on arcade machines.
That is all well and good for fighting game fans, however with wrestling games, the block and reverse buttons have been located on the shoulders of the control pad for quite some time now. Therefore when playing it seems somewhat awkward to have to move your thumb all the way to the right of the pad to use those two functions. Although this is not going to be an issue for everyone, wrestling game aficionados will take a long time to grow accustomed to this.
The other main difference from standard contollers is that it features a slightly enlarged D-Pad, which is floating, rather than integrated into the pad. This allows for greater accuracy and can also double up as an analog stick. Again, this is perfect for beat-em-ups. When tested with Street Fighter IV, it is far superior to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 D-Pads. The BrawlPad makes pulling off a Hadouken, for example, a breeze, and movement just seems more responsive in general. It unfortunately makes little difference in WWE All Stars. Add in the fact that the D-Pad and both analog sticks would normally each have their own function in the game, having to switch around control methods or set-ups to use each function is far from ideal.
VERDICT: Rounding off the package are the most aesthetic aspects; rubber edges for improved grip and a decal of popular grapplers The Rock and Triple H, sadly punctuated by the many buttons all over the pad. The pad has certainly been ergonomically designed to accommodate the extra buttons, and feels comfortable in your hands, but the advantages of this pad over the official options for each console are negligible. Those who regularly play WWE games will probably be happier with your regular setup, whereas Street Fighter big-wigs may favour the MadCatz option. The D-Pad will improve input accuracy, but then again, WWE All Stars isn’t very demanding in that respect, so a standard control method would suffice. This pad doesn’t do enough to either add to the arcade-like feel of the title or to improve the overall end user experience.
WWE All Star BrawlStick (RRP: £69.99):
Now we are really entering true arcade gaming territory. Again, the BrawlStick is a simple re-model of the Street Fighter IV gaming sticks, but this time the Limited Edition controller makes a difference to how you will play the game. Again featuring the WWE artwork from the videogame, the stick is made up of an authentic arcade style joystick and eight action buttons (including all four shoulder buttons) positioned on the front panel of the controller. Whilst this also forgoes the well established idea of reversal actions being located at the shoulders, it is a necessary step with the BrawlStick as playing in a joystick arcade set-up is a completely different experience.
It really does conjure up the feeling of playing on an arcade cabinet, and its sturdy construction will encourage you to hammer the buttons like crazy and waggling the stick like never before. It almost forces you to play the game differently and to play in a more frantic way. Whilst this is perhaps not the intended result, this does enhance the game for users. With its over-the-top style, it benefits from being played in a complimentary manner. Waggling the stick from side-to-side to escape being pinned mirrors previous wrestling arcade games almost exactly and therefore does recreate the feel of playing a true arcade game, and that seems to have been the goal THQ set out to meet all along.
The stick also includes dual-speed Turbo functionality, with LED indicators, which can be individually assigned to each button. This allows for each button to be repeatedly pressed at the speed chosen, which can result in a flurry or quickly thrown strikes. That is all well and good for a fighting game, where quick combos are the norm, but being able to quickly execute moves never really comes into WWE All Stars. What it will help with however, is kicking out of pinfall attempts and escaping submission holds. Having turbo enabled is akin to cheating when playing this game. As escaping these holds requires button-mashing, the use of turbo is a distinct advantage. So beware if playing online, your opponent might have a BrawlStick!
Aside from the stick,unfortunately the main action buttons feel somewhat unsatisfying. There isn’t enough spring to them, so when pressing the buttons you don’t get the same feel as a traditional arcade cabinet. It may be a small issue, but the feel is as important as the functionality with an expensive setup like this, and if the buttons had a little more resistance, it would be a better reproduction.
Finally, there is an integrated D-Pad and analog stick switch, which makes it possible to switch which function you are using, at any time. So if a game does require you to use the right analog stick to perform an action, the player can quickly switch the function of the joystick, then switch back when they like. Obviously this isn’t ideal, but it does mean that the option is there and nothing is missed out. To avoid them being pressed by mistake, the Start and Select/Back buttons are located on the rear of the BrawlStick, so they are hidden away and won’t be pressed by accident when hammering the buttons. The turbo switch, guide button and joystick selector can also be locked as a further safety measure, and this all helps to eliminate accidental button presses.
VERDICT: In contrast to the BrawlPad, this arcade stick immediately brought out a different experience with the game. The stick won’t always truly help players gameplay-wise, in fact using a pad may still be easier for reversals and blocks, but the stick definitely helps in the button mashing stakes. In that regard, the arcade machine feel is alive and well, as most who remember playing classic brawling games in the arcade will reminisce fondly about attacking the buttons, sometimes randomly, in the hopes of pulling out a winning move. When tested with other fighting games, the stick understandably performed altogether differently. Perfectly attuned to the needs of the combo fighter or the Street Fighter veteran needing to launch a Sonic Boom, the joystick responds in a far superior manner than a standard D-Pad, allowing for accuracy and speed. The BrawlStick doesn’t however encourage any such gameplay finesse in WWE All Stars, but it takes you back to that smoke filled, grimy holiday pier where you got your first taste of videogame Wrestling. And that is priceless.
WWE All Stars was released on March 29th in North America and is out in Europe today! Read our review to find out if you should be buying it!
Both the BrawlStick and BrawlPad limited edition controllers will be available to purchase upon the release of the game, and will be available for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.