Brand new game, same old faces
Pro wrestling is somewhat ambiguous. Is it a sport? Is it entertainment? Sports entertainment? No one may know the answers to these burning questions, but one thing is for sure; the WWE brand of pro wrestling is a very prevalent force in gaming. The trend started way back on the Super Nintendo, but pro wrestling-based video games really started becoming an annual affair in the late nineties.
With the then WWF always expanding and switching up rosters, every year saw new faces, new modes, and even new brands implemented into the genre. But now the WWE seems to encompass all, and instead of new faces and playable wrestlers, the focus shifted to making games that played well, such as 2003’s Here Comes the Pain. One would hope, since WWE-licensed games were becoming more and more popular, they would also grow in quality. Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 for the Wii seems to want to achieve this goal, but comes up rather short in the end.
In most respects, Smackdown vs. Raw is your typical wrestling game. All your favorite stars of both the Smackdown and Raw franchises are there, and there’s even a few wrestling legends thrown in for good measure. New this year is the inclusion of several ECW stars, both past and present. However, you only get one ECW star right off the bat, and the few that you’re able to unlock along the way seem meager in comparison to the utter domination of wrestlers from the Smackdown and Raw franchises.
However, as I said before, the roster is not the real draw to wrestling games anymore. The focus has shifted from quantity to quality, and I have to say that in that respect Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 for the Wii is a disappointment. One of the first things that is immediately disappointing is the look of the game. The wrestlers themselves don’t look that bad, but the real problem lies in both the look of the crowd and the framerate.
The look of the crowd has never really been an issue with me, simply because I understand it’s not something that developers tend to spend a lot of time on. The way the crowd looks doesn’t generally affect the overall look of the game, and it’s something most people breeze over. But in Smackdown vs. Raw 2008, the crowd is so noticeably bad that it really does impact the game. Because the game tries to replicate the feel of the actual WWE, the crowd is close up to the ring. And you’ll notice that, while most of the characters are rendered in 3-D, the crowd is rather….2-D. And to add insult to injury, these 2-D paper dolls looked like they were pained with watercolors. None of them have any distinguishing features and the whole crowd, for lack of a good adjective, looks like a total N64 affair. And since the crowd is so prevalent in the background of the game, it honestly drags down the entire look of the game.
The other issue I have is also very noticeable, and that is the jumpy framerate. It doesn’t really happen all that much, but occasionally you’ll get a really big fluctuation in framerate that will last a few minutes and make the game virtually unplayable. It doesn’t just look annoying; the framerate gets so unstable that the images on the screen literally jump around, and it’s difficult to see what’s actually happening in the game.
As far as control is concerned, Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 does pretty well at nailing the basics, but an oversimplified control scheme based almost exclusively on motion control really hinders this one. Control essentially involves swinging the Wii-mote in different directions to perform fairly basic foot stomping and hand hitting moves. You can also perform a grapple move by holding down the A button and swinging the Wii-mote. Reversals are executed through timed movement of the Wii-mote, and special moves are performed by holding A and B and swinging the Wii-mote. And that’s about as complex as it gets. It’s really a great foundation as far as Wii controls are concerned for wrestling and other fighting-type games, but these controls just don’t provide the complex experience that this type of game needs. You’ll end up just madly swinging your Wii-mote to try to score a victory, and unfortunately, that’s not really a great experience when it comes to a game that’s all about pulling off the best wrestling moves
But for its pretty obvious flaws, Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 on the Wii does have its strengths. One such strength lies in its different modes. You have the generic Quick Play mode, which functions as more of an arcade-style game. You also have Tournament mode where you can either participate in pre-existing WWE tournaments (such as the Royal Rumble) or you can create your own tournament. But the main mode of Smackdown vs. Raw 2008, which was undoubtedly the most fun to play, was the Main Event mode. What this mode essentially entails is you pick a superstar and build their career from the ground up. You can choose their brand and even whether they are a clean or dirty fighter. This mode is pretty cool because it lets you exert a considerable amount of control over your character. You’re basically in charge of keeping them trained, healthy, and setting up new and challenging matches for them. Although it’s not the deepest experience available on a sports game,it’s entertaining enough for this title and proves to be pretty fun in the long run.
Sound in Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is also passable. The menu songs are absolutely awesome and channel the rockin’ spirit of the WWE franchise. However, the sound department falls short when it comes to the actual gameplay. Although none of the wrestlers really speak while you’re playing, there is a commentary track featuring WWE wrestling commentators JR and JBL. And while it’s great that these legends lent their voices to this title, their commentary track leaves much to be desired. It ends up being very repetitive and sometimes what they say does not match up at all with what’s going on in the ring.
Overall, I really wish I could give this game a better ranking. The idea behind this game is absolutely solid, and Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 shows that there can be legitimate uses for the Wii-mote in fighting or wrestling type games. Its diverse modes also help it become a fairly interesting and re-playable game. However, its too-simplistic controls and marred visuals really ruin any shot it had at being a great game for the Wii. But I have hope for the Smackdown vs. Raw series, and perhaps this mediocre attempt will spawn a more refined and reworked WWE experience for the Wii in the future.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.0 Graphics
Wrestlers look alright, but the crowd and framerate really ruin the visuals in this game 2.5 Control
Simplistic Wii controls are a good foundation, but don’t do the genre justice. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is great, but commentary is repetitive and annoying. 4.0
Different modes make this one very playable for quite some time.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.