WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 Review for Nintendo DS

WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 Review for Nintendo DS

Get in the Ring

Last year’s iteration of Smackdown vs. Raw, the first on the DS, brought some fresh ideas to the ring: it played more like a strategy game than a fighting game, with players choosing their moves from a list via touch-screen-only control. Few found it very much fun to play, but it was an innovative and workable twist.

WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 screenshot

The DS version of the 2009 entry, however, fares much worse. The controls are to blame: It plays like a standard wrestling game, except that all the moves are executed with the touch screen and D-pad only. Instead of simply pressing buttons to perform moves, as countless wrestling fans have for years without complaint, you’ll be moving your character with the D-pad and scribbling like mad with the stylus. When it works, it’s no more enjoyable than it would be with normal button presses, and it doesn’t always work.

Add in the fact that the game feels a bit slow-paced, and it is a veritable disaster. When you’re trying to perform a move or respond to an onscreen prompt to get up, the touch screen never quite registers your inputs right, and you feel helpless. Then, your opponent scores a grapple or a hit, often setting up a long, uninterruptible animation that makes you feel even more helpless. It’s the kind of thing that makes you shut off the machine in the middle of a match.

It’s disappointing, because for a game based on a fake sport, Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 has quite an involved fighting system. Simply tapping your opponent with the stylus will attack him in various ways when you do it in conjunction with D-pad presses. When you grab a hold of your enemy, you can hurl him into the ropes and, if you time it right, smack him as he bounces back. There are just countless moves to do in various situations, and there’s a nice if complicated tutorial to run you through them. Some (especially kids) might think there’s simply too much to remember, especially considering that different wrestlers have different moves. (Fighters with overcomplicated systems can sometimes tend to turn into button-mashing competitions, but it’s hard to make that charge in this case. That’s because the moves don’t work consistently, it would have been a button masher even with a simpler system.)

WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 screenshot

Conspicuously missing, however, is any way to block, parry, or avoid attacks, besides just running away. That doesn’t help with the profound sense of helplessness.

Thankfully, there are lots of ways to play. In Season mode, you choose a wrestler, and a story unfolds; you’ll enroll in the WWE, roam the halls of various buildings, work your way up by defeating other wrestlers, get in petty feuds, acquire experience and items, etc. It adds an RPG element to the mix, and while it can feel tedious at times, it’s a nice break from the constant action of wrestling matches. There’s a healthy selection of Smackdown and Raw wrestlers, including lots of big names.

WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 screenshot

There’s also exhibition mode, where you can choose your fighter, an opponent, and the type of match. Matches include “Single,” a standard one-on-one fight; “Last Man Standing,” a fight to a ten-count K.O.; “Ladder,” a competition to grab a belt that’s hung in the middle of the ring; “Steel Cape,” a race to escape from a cage; “Table,” where the first fighter to slam an opponent into the table in the ring wins; “TLC,” or “table, ladder, or chair,” a contest to capture a belt using one of those three items; and “Hardcore,” which allows you to use weapons and pin opponents outside the ring. Setting the control issues aside (if we didn’t do that, we’d end up saying every part of this game is terrible), this presents a terrific amount of variety. If one type of match annoys you, pick another. We’re fans of smacking enemies around, so our favorites were Single, Table, TLC, and Hardcore. You can also do exhibition fights against a friend (each player must have a separate cartridge).

Also, in Create-a-Superstar mode, you can build and dress your own character for use in exhibition and multiplayer modes. You can adjust your creation in every which way: build, accessories, facial features, hair, accessories, skills, moves, etc. Did we mention accessories? Because there’s a lot of them, and messing around with the options can achieve everything from a stylistic tweak to a full-on makeover. It’s like playing with dolls, except for guys, and you don’t have to spend a bunch of money on each new outfit.

WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 screenshot

The graphics on display here are top-notch, among the best the DS has seen. Each fight begins with an introduction for the wrestlers, complete with their music, and some great motion-captured visuals (featuring some ladies who wear only a little more clothing than the guys in this game do). There isn’t much life in the audience during the fights, and the wrestlers and ring aren’t all that detailed, but it’s not that noticeable in the middle of a brawl, and the animations are fluid.

The sound, for the most part, is similarly impressive, with great music and the standard smacking sounds each time a blow lands. The only time the quality drops is during Season mode; when you walk around and talk to other wrestlers, all the dialog is printed rather than voiced, making it seem a bit like a Super Nintendo RPG.

It’s frustrating to play a game that should have been good, but got bogged down by such a huge mistake in controls. We respect YUKE’s and THQ’s attempt to push the genre forward, but when it comes right down to it they miscalculated and pushed the whole thing off the rails instead. Wrestling games have been fine for years without touch screens. There was no need for this upheaval; it wasn’t broke, and the change didn’t fix it.

For next year, all the developers have to do is map the moves to the DS’s A, B, X, Y, and shoulder buttons, and maybe add some blocking. If that happens, Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 will be, if not a raging success, at least a welcome addition to the handheld’s library. As for the 2009 title, only hardcore WWE fans who don’t own any other consoles should consider it.

The introductions feature amazing mo-cap images, though the level of detail drops during the fights. 2.1 Control
The developers deserve credit for daring to use touch controls in a wrestling game, but in some dares, you end up getting run over. That’s what happened here. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Some more voiceover work would have been nice, but the sound effects are great. 2.4

Play Value
It’s just hard to play this for more than a few minutes at a time without getting frustrated with the controls.

2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Includes a large roster of WWE superstars.
  • Create-A-Superstar mode lets you customize your own wrestler.
  • Different match types include ladder, steel cage, and last man standing.

  • To top