Review: Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 (Sony PSP)

Smackdown vs. Raw 2009
Developer: Yukes
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Wrestling
Release Date: 11/09/2008

Pretty much everyone here at DHGF has a specialty when it comes to video game genres. If you want to know how good a hockey game is, you go to Bowen. If you’re looking for a good fighting game, Lucard can set you up. Just how good is Singstar Country? Mark is the man you need to see. Me? I’m not particularly good at any genre. However, when it comes to the SVR series, I know my stuff. I’ve played every game in the series passionately and logged ridiculous hours punching, kicking, slamming, and taunting opponents using the vast roster of the WWE and a few of my own crazy concoctions. For once, I’m in my element.

Last years entry to the Smackdown series got a ton of flack for recycling the same game and its poor 24/7 mode that almost no one liked. It had taken a few years, but people finally got sick of WWE games going the way of Madden. You get no innovation, yet are expected to pay full price for the addition of a bra and panties match and one or two new wrestlers?

THQ promised that 2009 would be different. They would address the series long running problems and deliver a story that didn’t suck. Have they succeeded, or will series doubters once again be proven correct?

Story/Modes

The 24/7 mode i s gone! Let all those who cringed at your character shaking hands with heated rivals backstage rejoice! In its place, we’ve been given two separate modes to dig our heels into.

First up, there’s Road to Wrestlemania. You can choose Triple H, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, John Cena, or the team of Batista and Rey Mysterio and take them through a three month long storyline leading up to and concluding at Wrestlemania. Depending on who you chose, you’ll get more serious or more comical stories. For instance, John Cena’s story sees him battling against MVP’s new faction after MVP assaults military buddy. On the flipside, the Undertaker’s road is blocked by the Boogeyman, who uses his magical staff to incapacitate Kane and brings back Taker’s urn so that he can weaken the dead man. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. All of these stories are fun to play and surprisingly well written. I had no end of joy when Undertaker turned Santino Marella into a zombie and then I got to sit outside and make the Milan Miracle punch himself out. This is about the only time being a manager was fun. A lot of work went into these sections and it really shows. Any fan of the WWE should be able to have some fun with these. There are six stories and each one will take you anywhere from two to three hours to get through. A couple even have some replay value such as Triple H having to choose between Evolution and DX. You’re properly rewarded with unlockable characters, move sets, entrances, arenas, and even some match types. Bravo THQ and Yukes. This is what we fans wanted.

The other main mode is career mode. This one is sadly a bit underwhelming. You can take a superstar and go up the ranks with the goal being to win every championship. You’ll have five wrestlers that you can go toe to toe with at the start. Based on some arbitrary statistics like excitement, you’ll be given a 1-5 star score after every match you win. In order to get a number one contender spot, you have to earn enough stars and then challenge one of these guys to specialty match. After you beat them, you unlock that match for use in any future matches you participate in. (They are already in exhibition mode, so don’t worry about having to play this in order to have a steel cage match.) Then you challenge the champion to win his title. There is no story element to these matches whatsoever. All you do is grind with whatever character you chose. The only reason to play this mode is to level up a created character. This is where the interest comes in. If you use a created character, every match you fight will increase your stats based on what moves you performed. Performing ultimate control moves will boost your strength while running around can boost your stamina. It’s true that this is the only way to increase your stats and that you really don’t have true control over how you level up. (In later stages, you might have your strength at what you want, but your speed might be a bit low. If you play a match, chances are your strength will go up as well as your speed; making you better than you intended.) Still, it can be rewarding to watch your character grow after each battle.

Now lets talk about the create modes. Of course the big new addition is the create-a-finisher mode. You’ll be able to string together about ten moves to create a unique finisher or even recreate finishers from past wrestlers. This is far from ideal, however. You can’t string any one move from any other. You can pick a man up in a fireman’s carry, but you only have dozen or so options from there. Most of the moves you can string together seem to be strikes and taunts, with surprisingly few holds and finishing moves. Still, you can create thousands of combinations and the interface is intuitive. With a bit more tweaking, it would have been great, but as it is, it is still a solid mode. You still have the create-an-entrance and create-a-superstar modes from last year. These work the same as before, with you choosing how simple or complex you want everything to be. Sadly, you can still only pick about 15 layers for your superstar, so you can’t get as detailed as you’d like. There are more editable layers in the other versions of the game, but this is one section that PSP is definitely lacking in.

To round things up, you can jump into any match type you want via exhibition mode. You can now edit your roster’s brand, championships, and even whether they are a face or a heel without having to physically play a match anymore. I had some fun with this, seeing as I changed every superstar who had been “wished well in future endeavors” and put them as free agents. You can eventually unlock the WCW brand, which would make a great story if all of these free agents joined up for some sort of new invasion angle. (Only in the game, not on the actual show!) You’ve also got wireless ad-hoc modes for multiple players with PSPs and copies of the game. Finally, the tournament modes return from previous versions. You’ll be able to set up King of the Ring or beat the clock sprint tournaments that you can save and participate in later .You can chose the matches, play any one that you want, or even just sit back and watch.

This isn’t the most content ever for a Smackdown game, seeing how the combined total of the Road to Wrestlemanias won’t cover how much time it took to play 24/7 mode both as a superstar and as a GM, but the content is exceptionally solid and the stories really are the most interesting I’ve seen for ANY wrestling game.

Graphics

For the most part, this game looks amazingly like the real product. From the pyro that goes off before each episode of Raw to the trademark moves, poses, and even facial expressions, 2009 manages to have some pretty sweet visuals for the PSP.

That being said, there are some problems that creep up. For one, the character models can feel a little pointed in design. What I mean is that elbows are very angular and seem like they could poke an eye out. Also, several of the characters just look awful. Jericho looks nothing like the real deal and characters like Jimmy Wayne Yang are given some ridiculously odd shaped necks. When he comes out to the ring, it looks like his neck flows right into his chin. It’s creepy. The audience is comprised mostly of incredibly ugly models that repeat the same animations over and over again.

Also, some of the clipping issues that have bugged players for generations are still present. The championship belts hover about an inch off of Rey Mysterio’s shoulder and I even saw the top of a belt phase into Elijah Burke’s stomach. When a tag team partner breaks up a tag, he’ll suddenly appear on the other side of the wrestlers and break up the pin with a kick. There are several moves that magically move the wrestlers to scripted spots in the ring. An opponent will magically appear in the center of a ring when you start up some sweet chin music for example.

There has been some clean up as well. I have noticed fewer than usual clipping issues in terms of moves being used. (Such as hands going through faces.) It still happens, but not as often. Also, in past iterations on the PSP, the seams of the computer models could be seen on the wresters. These would creep up as white lines between the neck and check for instance. These have pretty much been wiped out which delivers a much better viewing experience.

The graphics are pretty good for a portable title. Most of the flaws are just nitpicks that don’t detract form the actual gameplay. Still, I can’t wait until they manage to have a belt around a created wrestler’s waist without it clipping through shirt and skin alike.

Audio

For those of you tired of hearing JR and the king deliver the same tired lines over and over again on commentary, the PSP version once again omits the commentary all together. The only time you hear them is during the RTW modes. Instead, the songs from the games soundtrack play during matches. These include about a dozen or so rock tunes as usual. Series vets are already shaking their heads. Hearing those same songs over and over gets really annoying the longer you play the game. Thankfully, the soundtrack is bolstered by about another dozen or so full versions of entrance tunes for the wrestlers themselves. You won’t hear them all, but getting Jeff Hardy’s theme instead of the same non descript rock song for the fourth time in a row can be a god send.

The voice acting, when warranted, is top notch. The wrestlers are getting better and better at conveying their characters in the virtual realm. There is plenty of hokey dialogue to be read, but thankfully, Triple H and HBK put enough effort to make you really feel like you’re watching an actual DX promo.

Sadly, there are some major glitches that need to be announced. For one, Mr. Kennedy comes out and announces himself per usual, but I never once heard him do it right. It would cut off part of the speech or mis-time the audio with the graphics. It wad depressing. Also, the referee’s count, whether for a pin or for a count out, will come and go with reckless abandon. I would go to pin a guy and I would hear this; “……two….” This could mean a three count or a two count. You never know until your guy gets up. These hiccups can really take away from the game and hurt you during gameplay. I lost a match because I didn’t realize the ref was giving me a count to get my butt out of the ring during a tag match.

If not for these problems, the audio in the game would be great. Sadly they’re present and I’m obligated to bump the score down a few points because of them.

Gameplay

What I love about the SVR series is that no matter what the situation, you have options. From a standing position, you can use the circle button in combination with the directional buttons to execute a quick grapple, hit the square button to strike, use the l button to run and then chose the circle or square for a grapple or strike, use the R button in conjuncture with the grapple command to perform either strong grapples or ultimate control grapples, or even use the analog nub to taunt. If your opponent is on the ground you have over a dozen strikes and/or grapples depending on if they’re face down or face up. You can perform moves on the ropes, turnbuckles, guard rails, ladders, tables, ring apron, and even the ring post! I have never seen any series utilize the available buttons on a controller the way Smackdown vs. Raw does. The controls are incredibly responsive and the only time you won’t do what you’re trying is when you mis-time a reversal or don’t aim up the move properly.

The biggest addition to gameplay is the increased focus on tag team wrestling. They did a stand up job. It used to be that whoever was not tagged in had very little to do with what happened in the match. Now, you can build up a hot tag meter by performing a taunt that gets the crowd buzzed for a tag. Once you build up the meter and the hot tag is performed, you can run in and clear house like they do on TV. Using this correctly can win you the match, just like on the real show. That’s far from it. You can grab the ref to distract them. You can grab your opponent to let your partner beat up on him. You can walk along the full length of the apron to get a better shot. You can blind tag (where you tag yourself in without your partner’s consent). You can even pull down the rope so that a running or whipped opponent will go tumbling onto the ground. It’s possible for actual teamwork! Not to mention, the AI is smarter than ever. They will rush in to break up a pin or even try to prevent a breakup without you even telling them to. For example, I performed a pedigree with Triple H. HBK came right in and nailed the enemy’s tag partner, allowing me to get the victory. Not having to tell him how to do this was a sigh of relief nearly twenty years of WWE gaming in the making.

The new match type for this year is the Inferno match. It’s a bit odd, given that the WWE has only had four in their entire history. The object of the match is to perform high impact moves in order to raise the temperature of the flames to 500 degrees. Then you have to drag your opponent over to the flames and watch a funny animation of them running around not unlike how MVP did when he lost to Kane in an actual Inferno match back at Armageddon 2006. Sadly, these matches rarely take more than a minute or so to complete and aren’t very fun to play.

There are still some issues that need to be dealt with, at least for the PSP version. There’s no way to manually change targets during a match. The game tries to automatically select a target based on who’s closest, but I can’t count the number of times I accidentally hit a partner or somebody other than the person I was trying to hit. If you get a group of people together in the ring, it can cause absolute chaos. Just look at the Money in the Bank ladder match. Bodies are flying everywhere with no rhyme or reason. Speaking of which, it still takes forever to remove a belt or briefcase once you climb the ladder. I’ve suplexed an enemy from the top of a ladder onto the floor outside of the ring and still had him mange to get up and prevent me from taking the belt. That’s ridiculous. You’ve also got to deal with a new camera angle when you leave the ring. It will pull into a corner view to give you a close up of the action. This works great during a one on one match, but if you have a partner, or a third opponent, you’ll lose sight of what’s going on in the ring. Someone could be getting pinned or reaching for the belt and you’d never know it. I like the thought guys, but this hurts the game a lot.

The damage system from past iterations is back. When you hit a move, it deals damage to your opponent’s limbs, torso, or head. This is still far to easy to manipulate as there are a great deal more moves that hurt the head and body then the limbs. You can target a limb and win the match quickly if you spam the same few moves over and over again. The game tries to counter this by having your momentum meter deplete for repeating moves, but this only works if you use the same move in succession more than twice in a row. Also, a taunt or aerial move will quickly replace any damage made by repetition of moves. The stamina feature returns, but you can turn that on or off at your leisure if you don’t want the added realism.

Rather than keep the wrestling styles such as power, aerial, roughneck and showman from last years edition, 09 decides to bring even more diversity to each wrestler. Now, each wrestler has up to six special abilities from a list of twenty one they can utilize. These include possum pins, being able to rebound off the ropes for aerial tactics, recover from red limb damage, stealing taunts, stealing finisher, kip up like Shawn Michaels, and even being able to break out of pins easier. This gives each wrestler their own feel as there are dozens of combinations to try out. Knowing what abilities your wrestler has is essential to using them to their fullest potential. Thankfully, just like the stats and finisher situations, this information can be brought up on the roster select screen.

They’ve changed the way you store finishers in the game. Now, if you can’t use your finisher before your momentum meter resets, you can tap both l and r simultaneously to store the move. However, you won’t be able to use a finisher with the stored move. Rather, you’ll perform signature moves that deal a lot of damage and have their own unique situations you need to meet to be able to perform them. For example, Triple H will use the AA Spinebuster and the Undertaker will use the chokeslam.

My biggest pet peeve in the game is that you still have to mash buttons like a madman in order to get back up after getting hit by a big move. They tired to fix this by putting the load squarely on the triangle button and allowing you to hold l and r in order to block any move that comes after you, but you most likely won’t have enough time.

There are a few little things I’d like to mention here as well. For starters, you can actually walk up the stairs as opposed to climbing up the apron or sliding under the bottom rope. It wasn’t necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch. Also, you can block yourself form crashing into an exposed turnbuckle with a well timed press of the reversal button. I used to use the exposed turnbuckle tactic to rapidly and cheaply damage an opponent’s torso. This having been removed, the computer has much more of a chance against me. I also saw an aerial move get countered by the AI catching me in mid air. I’ve never noticed this in any other wrestling game, and it added a ton of realism to the event. These events are rare in occurrence, but add a lot to the overall game experience.

All told, if you’re looking for the next technical wrestling game such as Fire Pro, you’re going to be disappointed. This is a simulation of real WWE matches and not only is a great representation of real professional wrestling, but it also a ton of fun to play. Chances are, if you can see it on TV, you can do it here.

Replayability

Given the sheer number of match types available from the start, you can sink hours into SVR and not even realize it. Plus, putting the game on Legend difficulty and trying to do things like win the Royal Rumble from the number one spot or win an Elimination Chamber match using a cruiserweight against the likes of Kane and the Undertaker are not only a ton of fun, but challenging as well.

The Road to Wrestlemania mode offers some replay value, although not much. It’s true the story is hilarious and full of a lot of nice touches, but you probably wouldn’t want to run through the motions of playing all the matches. Still, there are some items you have to play through these modes twice to unlock and completionists will probably play through multiple times to get everything.

Creating and building up superstars is usually a huge part of the replay value of any wrestling game, but thanks to the fact that you can’t assign stats, this can become a tedious chore. You’ll have to play through career mode to build up stars and gain abilities for every character that you created. I hear this is getting patched up in the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, but I have heard no such claims regarding any of the other versions. (Even though the PSP can hook up to the same network as the PS3)

If you’ve got a friend with a PSP, this game offers a ton of replay value. Playing against another human who can counter and plan is always fun. One of my fondest memories with WWE games was teaming up with my brother in a Royal Rumble match. We’d clear everyone out and the duke it out to see who would win the match. Either that, or I’d toss him out when he’d least expect it.

Balance

Sadly, not much was done to correct the poor AI in the PSP version of the game. Playing on normal difficulty, I never lost a match. Hell, I never took limb damage! I could run through opponents like a hot knife through butter. Putting the game on hard meant that the AI would reverse more often and not stand around like an idiot as much. Even still, I could tear through and opponent one on one with ease. Throw in more wrestlers, and the challenge was increased, but that was mostly due to the poor targeting that made me hit the referee instead of Big Daddy V.

If you put the game on Legend, you’ll have a bit of a challenge. The computer will reverse EVERYTHING and you’ve got to be just as good in order to land a hit. The computer will also take advantage of you when you’re in a prone position, so it is vital you get up as soon as possible. I hear a lot of complaints that reversing is all the game does to make the game harder. Well for one, doesn’t that make sense? If the computer reverses, they get to hit a move and you don’t. That’s kind of how real pro wrestling works. One guy takes control until the other gets a big reversal in.

Each superstar has their own stats, and there is a clear discrepancy between characters. In a fighting game, this causes huge balance issues, but here it is expected. It SHOULD be hard for the likes of Curt Hawkins to beat John Cena in a steel cage match. Still, in the hands of a skilled player, any wrestler can beat any other. You can’t imagine the satisfaction of beating The Great Khali with Mickie James. It’s tough, but doable with patience and knowledge of the games intricacies.

Originality

Anyone expecting major changes in the SVR formula will be disappointed yet again. Yukes is sticking with the plan of tweaking the game instead of a straight up overhaul. This may disappoint a lot of people, but I think it is the way to go. With each game, I’m seeing the formula getting more and more perfected. The goal is to simulate the style of the WWE, and we’re almost completely there.

As far as I can tell, this is the first wrestling game to ever get a tag team match right. After nearly twenty years of playing wrestling games, I was nearly giddy with excitement when I saw all that they had done. Part of me wishes they had made this kind of commitment when we had the holy trinity of the Hardys, Dudleys, and Edge and Christian, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The create-a-finisher mode may sound new, but I’ve seen in past installments of the original Smackdown series. Still, it’s nice that they have included it for the first time in years.

If you didn’t like 2008, you’re probably not going to see enough changes to warrant a purchase this year. If you stopped at 2007, you should pick this game up just to play around with all of the nuances and see the improvements.

Addictiveness

This is pain for me to try and judge. I’m played so many of these games before that I almost never feel the kind of addiction I get in newer games. Even still, I raced through the story modes as fast as possible because I honestly couldn’t wait to see what they came up with for each wrestler.

WWE fans will no doubt be able to sink hours at a time into the game just finding all of the little changes in the game. If you really get into it, building up your character’s stats can be addicting as well. This really depends on how much time and effort you put into making your wrestler though. I made one in a rush and couldn’t care at all about him. I made a second character and all I want to do is make him strong enough to take on the best the game can offer.

If you’ve played these games a ton before, you do risk getting bored thanks to the core formula staying the same. Still, the game is fun and anyone should be able to get their money’s worth.

Appeal Factor

Normally, I go into a rant about how no one buys PSP games and that whatever game I’m reviewing won’t make a dime because of this. However, WWE games on the PSP have done pretty well for themselves. If I’m not mistaken, the last installment sold upwards of 800,000 copies. That total is practically unheard of for w a PSP game.

WWE popularity seems to be on the rise in the video game world. Since the SVR series has spread to all consoles, the games have been selling more than ever. I’m pretty sure the WWE tag is responsible for at least a third, if not more, of THQ’s video games sales.

Longtime WWE fans will love the sheer amount of things you can do in the ring and wrestling game fans should enjoy the great stories. Every wrestling fan should pick up a copy of SVR for whatever system they have.

Miscellaneous

Perhaps this most impressive change to the whole game was the drastic reduction in load times. PSP gurus know that the WWE brand has featured some of the worst loading times in video game history. You could spend minutes waiting before you got into a match. This is no longer the case. The load times were cut by about two thirds and the game moves much more briskly than before. Turn off the entrances and you can expect to be wrestling in less than thirty seconds after character selection. Some of you may think this is slow, but this is a godsend to WWE fans who need their fix on the go.

The roster is about sixty wrestlers deep. The legends, with the exception of Tazz and Ric Flair, have been removed in favor of a deeper roster of current stars. This is most likely due to THQ publishing Legends of Wrestlemania in the spring. (CAN’T WAIT) The good news is that a lot of wrestlers that wouldn’t normally make the cut got into the game. It’s great to see Jimmy Wayne Yang for instance. However, Jamie Noble still didn’t get in, despite last year having a pretty decent feud with Chuck Palumbo. What doe that little redneck have to do to get in a game? I know some downloadable content is going to be available for the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, but I still haven’t heard plans for the PSP game.

One thing I would really love to see them try is to make this game available for online play. If fast paced games like Wipeout Pulse can do it, why not SVR? I don’t have a higher end console, so people like me are still missing out on laying the smackdown world wide via the web. Maybe next year.

Personally, I think this is one of the best wrestling games ever made. It is definitely better than the last two outings, especially on the PSP. This game gives me great hope for the future. All of the little tweaks and addition are really staring to pay off.

The Scores

Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Great

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is the best wrestling game on the PSP and the best wrestling game to come out period since 2006. The only fans I can’t see enjoying this are the people who live to create dozens of superstars and need the ability to assign stats. For the majority of us, this is the best simulation of WWE that has ever graced the video game market. If you’ve got some PSP and need to satisfy a wrestling fix, this is game for you. Thanks to shorter load times and a vast roster, you’ll get a ton of value for your purchase.

(Oh, and if you’re wondering why most of the pictures with this review are of Kane beating the snot out of Rey Mysterio, the reason is two fold. A. I am a diehard Kaneanite. B. I hate Rey Mysterio and his whiny little voice. He’s a creepy little bastard to say the least. Watching Kane kick him out of the air a couple of months ago was one of my favorite things EVER.)

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