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DS  header logo

WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2009

For: DS   Also on: Mobile, PSP

Look but don't touch

Product: WWE 2009 | Developer: TOSE | Publisher: THQ | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Fighting, Sports | Players: 1-2 | Version: Europe
 
WWE 2009 DS, thumbnail 1

If you're a fan of 'sports entertainment' then the long and proud history of the WWE (the federation formally known as the WWF) is sure to contain several personal highlights. The titanic struggle between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III might have a special resonance with you, for example. Or perhaps you have fonder memories of when Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XIV to claim his first world title.

Given the pre-release hype surrounding the DS version of WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2009, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the game's launch is also worthy of being written down in the wrestling history books. After two mildly disappointing entries on the DS, THQ is adamant that this new version is truly championship material.

As you'll already know from reading our superlative critical review, the 2008 instalment of THQ's insanely popular grappling franchise left us feeling battered and bruised - but for all the wrong reasons. The core game was lamentably bereft of decent content, the career mode was lacking and the visuals were as rough as The Big Show's hairy behind.

However, the real killer was the astonishingly ill-advised interface, which relied entirely on touchscreen control. It was a brave move on behalf of developer TOSE Software but it essentially severed any sense of involvement that the player might otherwise have had with the on-screen action.

Thankfully things have been re-thought for this new release. Touchscreen control is still there, but now you can actually move your wrestler around the ring using the D-pad.

Moves such as strikes and grapples are gesture-based. For example, to perform a punch you simply have touch the screen, and to pull off a grapple you have to draw a circle with the stylus. For stronger grapples, two circles are required (in a spiral formation) without lifting your stylus from the screen.

The D-pad is also called into play here. Touching the screen and pressing a direction will result in a different striking move, while pushing up, down, left or right when you're locking horns with your opponent will produce a variety of grapple manoeuvres.

It's an interesting fusion of control disciplines and we're pleased to see a developer experimenting with what options the DS hardware can offer, but sadly it's not a satisfying substitute for the tradition 'pad and buttons' control method of old.

The practice of drawing various shapes to accomplish moves is all very well when you're effortlessly showboating against a featherweight jobber who couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag, but when the action gets really intense, hurried and exasperated stylus movements have a worrying tendency to be misinterpreted by the game. Needless to say, frustration quickly puts you in a submission hold which is almost impossible to escape from unless you have the patience of a saint.

In the rare moments when you do feel like you're in command, other niggles come to the surface. Drawing the 'strong grapple' gesture takes time, during which your character remains rooted to the spot, open to whatever punches and kicks your opponent feels inclined to chuck in your direction. After a while you'll find yourself relying on weaker grapples, which are less effective but don't take as long to execute.

There's a perturbing lack of tactical options as well. It's impossible to counter or dodge, so the game quickly degenerates into a race to see who can get his grapple in first.

The fact that the control system and core gameplay are so underwhelming is made even harder to bear by the high standard of production elsewhere. The solo portion of this game has been beefed up almost beyond measure when compared to the 2008 entry. The career mode (dubbed 'Season') is now a lot more appealing, for example.

As is the case with most sports titles these days, there's also a Character Creation mode in which you can clumsily assemble your very own 'King of the Ring' using pre-fabricated body parts and move lists. Naturally this is one facet of the game that is likely to absorb hours and hours of your free time and thinking up a reasonably outlandish moniker for your wrestler is almost a game in itself.

There's a lot more glitz and glamour to this year's game, as well. Each wrestler has his own theme tune (albeit in slightly compressed quality audio) and the pyrotechnic ring entries are so authentic you can practically smell the repugnant body odour of the mullet-sporting American fans as they whip themselves into a frenzy.

Visually, SmackDown Vs Raw 2009 is a triumph. Although the wrestlers themselves are relatively low-polygon count models, the grace with which they stalk the squared circle is astonishing. Every movement is as smooth as silk and it's obvious that the developer has expended a lot of effort on ensuring this title looks the part.

The myriad positive points offered by SmackDown Vs Raw 2009 makes the lacklustre control system even harder to swallow. It's a definite improvement over last year's entry, but it's still a long way from representing a truly enjoyable and intuitive video game.

If you can live with the idea of frantically doodling on the screen in order to execute even the most basic of moves then by all means check this out, but everyone else is advised to wait until next year, when we sincerely hope TOSE Software will see sense and drop the needless touch-driven controls for a more traditional interface.

 
WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2009
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 12 November 2008
A step in the right direction after the previous entry, but THQ really needs to shelve the touchscreen control for the inevitable 2010 version
 
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