By Chuck Allen
Smackdown vs Raw 09 is the second game in THQ's long running series of wrestling games to come to the Wii. Now to be perfectly honest, I never played last year's edition; however, it was met with mainly negative views. The last Smackdown game I played was SvR 06. However, given that that edition was for a different system, it's somewhat hard to compare the game play given the Wii's different approach to the series.
To say the controls are different is a bit of an understatement for this game. Most of the action that takes place is initiated by the waving of the Wiimote. Pressing the A button while waving initiates quick grapples while holding B and waving starts the ultimate control moves where you swing or tilt the remote to control the actual moves taking place. There is a definite learning curve to this approach, especially if you have played any of the older Smackdown games before. I spent probably 35-45 minutes waving the Wiimote like a mad man trying to figure out what I was doing. Thankfully, there are on-screen indicators that pop up to help you along the way. Still, an actual tutorial or training mode would have been greatly appreciated. After playing for a while, though, you will get the timing down and the game becomes more enjoyable.
By far the worst part of the control comes in the form of running. To do any running moves, you have to be a set distance and swing the remote to initiate a running attack. This slows down the game play greatly as you can't run in situations that would be beneficial to you. For instance: "Ok I just beat the crap outta my opponent! Time to climb to the top of the ropes and use my finisher! But I think I'll just walk as I can't run in this situationâ€¦." And by then your opponent will have had more than enough time to recover. They could have simply made players hold down A and move the nunchuck joystick to run.
Moving on from this is the actual game play style. The more recent Smackdown games have shifted away from the series' acradey roots and tried a more simulation like approach. However, this game's use of the gimmick of waggle controls nonstop and the actual presentation take it back to its arcade origins. At first I hated it, but after spending some more time with the game, this approach works out really well for the Wii. It's very simplified game play at its best. The specific body part damage system has been taken out in favor of a stamina meter and a momentum meter. I really hated this early on, as well, but that's because I went in with expectations of more realistic game play. However, if you can look at it as simple arcade fun to be taken lightly like the old Wrestlefest Arcade back from the 90's then you'll be able to enjoy it more. So hardcore wrestling enthusiasts should look elsewhere as they probably won't like seeing smaller wrestlers flinging superheavyweights like Big Daddy V around with ease. The finishers are also fun in the game and make the best use of the motion controls, having you swing at a proper moment in a dramatic, slowed-down scene in order to get the most damage in.
The presentation of the game is well done. The entrances, a feature usually skipped by most players after a few viewings, actually serve a purpose now. By timing your motions, you can increase your momentum for a match in order to give yourself an edge. Admittedly, your options are limited for this and after a while it will still become repetitive. Hopefully, this will be expanded upon next year. Unfortunately, some taunts during matches do not control as smoothly as the entrances and I had a few instances of wondering if something was wrong with my controller. Another nice little touch was the use of the speaker on the Wiimote to present some of the sound. During the story mode, voicemails will play through the speaker instead. And during some other entrances and cutscenes--like Mr.Kennedy's old school styled mic introduction--the audio plays back on the speaker giving a nice echoey effect. Also a Wii-exclusive feature, after the match you can choose what to do, such as taunting, attacking your opponent after the bell, or being respectful and shaking your opponent's hand. It's a nice touch and something that has been missing from the series for a while.
The roster has the usual big names that we have seen over the years such as The Undertaker and Randy Orton. However, in a departure from previous games, there are no legend characters, which might disappoint the old school crowd. Ric Flair and a classic version of Tazz are in the game as unlockables, though, both of whom could be considered as legends in the game. As for the rest of the roster, I haven't watched the WWE regularly, so some of the wrestlers I could not tell you who they are. Seriouslyâ€¦.who the heck are Hawkins and Ryder? Still, it's nice to see a good balance of main-eventers and newcomers like in the old AQI titles for the N64.
The usual selection of match types are here: cage, tables, ladders; with an increase from the available match types on the Wii last year (I had to look it up as I've never played it). However, two specific matches are missing: he Elimination Chamber and the Inferno Match. I'm not sure why these were excluded but it would have been simple to carry them over and add interactive Wiimote controls for them. "WAGGLE NOW TO SET HIM ON FIRE!" If older incarnations of the series on the PS2 could have an Elimination Chamber then it should be possible on the Wii.
The story mode in this game is Road to Wrestlemania. This features you picking a wrestler (or wrestlers) to follow on the path to the championship. While the stories flow nicely and have cutscenes that are better than some of the more recent storylines presented on TV, you only have a choice of four wrestlers and a tag team. It would be good to see more options for character choice added to next year's game, or change the roster of who you take to the top. Honestly, how many times do we need to see HHH or John Cena winning the title yet again?
Other choices for play include a tournament mode and a general career mode where you play match after match to boost your stats for your created character. The create mode seems simplified from previous years, so players shouldn't have too much of a problem creating decent looking characters or wrestler's from the past or other promotions. The create mode does falter in two areas though. One: using certain designs will ban your created character from being used online. God forbid we offend anyone? Aren't online interactions not rated anyways? Now I can't make Captain Offensive with the F word all over his cape. Booooo! Ah, well. The other fault with this mode is that default stats for the created characters are low and the only way to raise them is to play through the career mode...for each...individual...wrestler. This is really redundant and frustrating for those who want to play as an army of created wrestlers.
Next we come to online. This mode has significant lag from your input and the action on the screen, especially in matches with more than two players. If you stick with one on one encounters, you can adjust your timing and have a smooth playing experience. In my first match, the person I was paired up against took advantage of my lag and was doing nothing but strikes to knock me out of the ring and then taunting to build his momentum. But then I adjusted to the timing and easily made the !$@$& tap.