This year’s iteration of Smackdown vs Raw for the DS is another example of a great idea pulled off incredibly badly. Last year’s DS entry into the series prompted stylus-only controls, making controlling your wrestler incredibly clumsy and difficult, and unfortunately, Yukes do not seem to have learned their lesson.
Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 has all the makings of pocket wrestling gold. A wealth of grapplers, an extensive season mode, gimmick matches like Ladder, TLC, Cage (finally!) and even a reasonably comprehensive create-a-wrestler mode, the staple of all decent Smackdown games to date. Couple that with a decent soundtrack and graphics that wouldn’t look out of place next to the N64’s excellent “No Mercy” and you should have the ideal portable WWE experience. Unfortunately, there is one phenomenally irritating element to the game that makes the entire content seem redundant in comparison.
Once again, Yukes have opted for a stylus based control scheme, which simply does not work in a wrestling game. Wanna kick your opponent? Tap the screen. Wanna grapple your opponent? Draw a circle on the screen. Draw a circle? What the hell is that about? Not only does it have absolutely nothing to do with grappling it is simply far too unresponsive to ever constitute actually being a “grapple”. Oh, and if you get knocked down, you have to rub the stylus over the screen to get your character up. Like you’re some sort of magic healer or something. Give me a break.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried so very, very hard to get used to the controls. I’ve played my fair share of Wii games to know that the odd gem lies behind a control scheme that is difficult to get used to at first but this is just plain wrong. The grappling controls are too inconsistent, and most of the time, you will be drawing circles on the touch screen, only to find that your wrestler either does nothing, or the computer opponent moves out of the way just as you do it. The AI is massively unforgiving and there’s no way you can even turn the difficulty down. From the word go, you will be on the floor, giving your wrestler a good “rub”. Eew. Surely the fundamentals of a good Wrestling game would feature some actual wrestling?
Trying to place all my cynicism aside, I had a crack at the Season mode, which in all honesty, angered me even more. There’s a lot to see and do, but there are a wealth of inconsistencies which would probably frustrate any other WWE fan too. You begin by choosing your wrestler, and then you get the chance to move around a large map, each area giving you a new option. You have complete control over your superstar, and you can literally walk into WWE headquarters, go up an elevator, and walk into Vince McMahon’s office.
I started my season as Shawn Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid, undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in WWE history. When walking into McMahon’s office, I was told that I’d have to do “big things” to make it in the WWE, I’d be up against some big names, and if I don’t make a name for myself then I’d be fired. Excuse me? I’m HBK, Mr Wrestlemania! Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?
The game has an incredibly basic script that expects that you will be using a create-a-wrestler, rather than a “real” superstar, and if you’re not…well, you apparently just have to put up with the fact that nothing makes sense, and that the Undertaker will introduce himself to you when you first meet him, even though you’ve had God knows how many matches with him over the years. The console versions of Smackdown always find a way to incorporate script that makes sense for seasoned veterans and newbies, even if it isn’t character specific. Why exactly couldn’t the same be done on the DS? It’s almost as if absolutely no thought has gone into it.
I also tried my hand at the create-a-superstar mode, which really isn’t bad at all. Whilst you don’t get all of the options of the console versions (you can’t make tattoos etc), you still get a lot to play around with, and can have your character wearing practically anything (there is a bear snout and ears…for all you bear lovers out there). You are given a very generous level of stat points to give your created superstar too; using all of the base points that you are given, you can actually make your created wrestler better than some of the weaker “real” superstars from the word go. Jimmy Wang Yang anyone?
You get to edit all of their moves and their entrance as well, which would be incredibly nice if editing their moves made the slightest bit of difference at all. I was quite disappointed with the create an entrance though. For the first time, I was able to give my CAS Mr Kennedy’s intro. Curious as to how the microphone gimmick would be played out, I watched the entire thing. To my horror, my character reached up, grabbed the microphone, and opened his mouth as if to speak, in true Kennedy style…with no voice coming out whatsoever. Humiliatingly enough, my character was standing centre ring, nattering away, with no voice. Just another example of the lack of thought that Yukes have put into this game. Surely they would realise that no one wants an entrance where their character mouths absolutely nothing to a cardboard crowd?
And that’s SVR 2009 in a nutshell really. A whole wealth of ideas that have had almost no thought put into them. With a complete overhaul of the control scheme, I could probably overlook the shortcomings of the season mode and give this game a nice fat 7 or 8 out of 10, because it has all the makings of a great wrestling game, like the classic smackdowns or the games from the N64, but the control scheme is so damn awful and so frustrating that it really is not worth putting yourself through. Really, why buy a game where the best feature is the fact that you can create a wrestler, when he is only going to get his butt handed to him the second you start a match because the controls don’t work and the AI is brutal? The answer is, you shouldn’t. And that’s the bottom line.
Hi-Score – Comprehensive create-a-wrestler, nice graphics, walking around in Season mode is kinda cool.
Lo-Scores – Controls stop this actually being a “game” and more like torture. Inconsistencies in season mode story.
Final Score – 4 out of 10