Review: WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 (Nintendo Wii)

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yukes Future Media Creators
Genre: Wrestling
Release Date: 11/09/2008


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Degeneration X proudly presents the new heavyweight wrestling sim/fighting game from THQ for the Wiiiiiiiiiiiiii! SMACKDOWN VS RAW 2009! The latest update to the SVR series, this incarnation brings more Wiimote uses, an updated roster, more Create-a-Superstar options than prior games, and more. Are you ready? It’s time to play the game.

Story/Modes

Ever wanted to control one of the biggest names in Sports Entertainment? Here’s you chance. The Road to Wrestlemania section gives you the chance to select one of the most popular (current) WWE Superstars, and take them on a bruised and battered path to Championship Gold. You have Exhibition if you want to just fight a quick match, Create-A-Superstar for coming up with your own digital badass, Options, and more. For your own designed Superstars, you have MY WWE, which lets you compete for a series of title belts or create your own tournament. The created Superstars can’t compete in the Road to Wrestlemania, but they can go on a Championship path that has tiers based on the belt you are competing for. Beat 10 points worth of opponents to get the chance to battle for the Intercontinental Belt, for instance. The Superstars that aren’t popular enough to have their own Road to Wrestlemania can compete here as well.

The Road to Wrestlemania is where the actual “story” takes place, and it is quite a ride. Your chosen Superstar gets a highlight reel of his actual, real life performance, and a motivational speech that invariably ends with “you are in charge.” Then a series of matches ensue, with some wrestlers helping, and some hurting your chances. I picked Triple H and went to town, with a little help from Mr. Sledgehammer when needed. You can skip the story parts here if you like, but there is actual motivation to be found for your matches if you let them play out. For instance, Edge will leave you a voice mail questioning your manliness, and you can beat him in a certain way for a bonus in the next match. What do you win for the bonus? Something unlockable: this can be a wrestler, a powerful move, an arena, more clothes, and things of that nature.

Unfortunately, the Wii version of the game lacks some of the match types that can be found on the bigger consoles. Most notably, the new Inferno Match is gone, but you do get a Cage match. Tables, Ladders, and Chairs makes an appearance also, along with Hell in a Cell and the Royal Rumble. Special note about the Rumble-If you don’t choose to go in first, you will have to watch a random number of entrants before you get the chance to compete. Any number of solo match types, from plain vanilla to Hardcore, pins count anywhere, submission only, and what have you await, as do Handicap and Tag modes. In fact, a lot has been made about the tag team modes in this game. You only get to control your Superstar, and the AI takes over completely for your partner, unlike earlier games where you controlled whoever was in the ring. The AI does a pretty good job of standing up for yourself, but it tends to fight much slower than you do.

Story/Modes: Very Good

Graphics

I admit, I am impressed with the amount of detail that the Wii is putting out. The Titan Tron in the background will show actual videos during your wrestler’s entrance, and each of the over 40 characters have unique intros. The character models are very well done, with actual muscle movement visible during the fights. You can see biceps flex with each pose. Lips will stretch and move in a realistic manner as the Superstars cut promos and talk to managers. As matches go on, fighters will sweat and look more exhausted, and if you do enough damage to the head and face, they will actually bleed. The blood stays on the face though, unlike in other games where it might stain the mat. Animations are fairly solid, and combos flow from one strike to the next, with little jumps from standstill to strike. Obviously this isn’t a 360 or PS3 game so we don’t have the photorealism that the more graphically intense consoles can provide, but this translates into quick load times that were typically under 10 seconds. I call that a fair trade.

Things were going so well...

Things were going so well...

The arenas are faithfully recreated from the shows and Pay Per Views, and the crowds are very well populated. Unfortunately, they are populated with a sold out crowd of two and a half D mole-people. If you have to look at them, look at the signs they are waving, or just let your eyes un-focus. You don’t want to spend too much time looking at their deformed arms and faces. Other great parts include particle effects to highlight smoke and explosions during the intros, and Triple H even spits his water like on the show.

That brings us to the camera. A good camera can make a decent game great. A bad camera system can make a great game unplayable. SVR2K9 features a horrible camera that has clearly received too many Stone Cold Stunners. What you see during most of the in-ring action is a shot from the knees to the shoulders, obscuring heads and feet for 75% of the matches. If the grapplers are far enough apart, it will pull back, but if they are in grabbing range-and hey, it’s a wrestling game, so how often do you think that will be-then you get a poor view. It gets even worse if you try to take the action outside the ring. Instead of focusing on where you are, or where you and your opponent are, the camera pulls back to try to show everything from the same angle. So if you are trying to fight on the other side of the ring, you won’t see anything. This is pretty much unforgivable in a wrestling game. The Graphics score carries only by the detail on every other front.

Graphics: Decent

Sound
There are a few great things to be found here. First off, as I mentioned, every wrestler’s actual intro music has been maintained. The crowd will cheer and boo, and the impacts of your meaty fists into your Job-Squad opponent will be clear. Also, if someone leaves you a voicemail or cuts an in-ring promo, you will hear it through the Wiimote’s speaker, not your televisions. High-impact moves are suitably louder than strikes and quick grapples, and all of the weapon sounds make the right impression.

Many of the Superstars recorded their own dialogue, and that is showcased in between matches. Ric Flair is on hand to give a hearty Wooo! every now and then, while The Undertaker growls his way through. Also, each match features commentary by Good Ol’ JR and Jerry The King Lawler. This is a love it/hate it feature. For me, I got sick of it after a few matches. It just isn’t contextual enough. Two moves into one fight, JR started talking about how “These superstars have given it their all, they might not have enough gas in the tank.” Really? I’ve hit him twice, and you’re wondering if we’re puffing air that bad? Nope, too soon. Also, if you are stomping on a helpless fool, you’ll get the same quote about “boots being put to (X)” over and over again. Another complaint about the boots-one of the loudest, most constant sounds, is the walking sound. They could have really turned down that effect. I don’t need to hear a thud every time I take a step.

Sound: Above Average.

Control/Gameplay
A game like this lives and dies in the controls. And once again, we see Wiimote control tacked on more for the novelty factor. Here’s the quick rundown-you move your wrestler with the directional stick on the nunchuck. You swing the Wiimote to strike. You hold A and swing to do a quick grapple maneuver, and you hold B and swing to do a hard grapple. Moving the Directional Stick in a certain direction will change the maneuver that this corresponds to. Up on the stick and B is a bodyslam, while down on the stick and B might be a pile driver. B itself handles your reversals. And Z will be used to pin. You build up momentum as you fight, and filling the gauge lets you unleash signature moves and ultimately your devastating Finisher.

At first, I was happy. Swinging the Wiimote to swing a punch? Neat! But twenty minutes into a never-ending fight? I’m not playing Wii Fit here, people. To be fair, you get over that as you get into the game, and I found myself standing and raising the Wiimote before swinging it down from time to time. Also, the only way to perform a running attack like a spear or a rising knee is to be far enough away from your opponent and swing the Wiimote. You should automatically perform the running strike, but half the time I found myself stopping short and staring at the guy from two feet away.

In order to do an Irish Whip, you have to swing the Nunchuck control, and that takes some getting used to after every other WWE game has had a “grab and then whip” scheme. And I performed the same quick grab move over and over again, even though I had customized my fighter with 5 or so. What happens is that in a match, you’re swinging and grabbing so quickly that you don’t have time to perform the smooth, controlled motions needed to add some variety.

Hit detection is sometimes spotty also. Let’s say you’re JBL, and you’ve just suplexed Mr. Kennedy. And if you’ve played Resident Evil 4, just try to keep from saying “Meeester Kennedy” in your head. Anyway, you want to kick this guy while he’s down. So you walk over to him and swing the Wiimote. Unless you are right up on him, you will miss. It’s also hard to get a submission or ground-hold going consistently.

As bad as that is, it’s nothing compared to the slow, plodding experience of just walking around the ring. The directional stick is just not up to snuff. You seem to float around the ring, not even able to step over a downed body without walking around it. And leaving the ring or climbing the turnbuckle? You better have some free time. It took me upwards of five seconds pressing into the ropes or into the corner before my Superstar would realize that I wanted him up or out. This makes the high risk moves off the top rope hard to do, and it makes stepping out for a breather (or a chair) difficult.

Oh, and speaking of chairs, and weapons in general? You get two swings with a light object like a chair or a sledgehammer before you drop them. What? Two? Granted, if someone with Triple H’s build needs more than one swing with a sledge to put someone out, there’s a problem (see Balance, below!), but if I want to wail on somebody, I have to keep dropping it and picking it back up.

Not everything is bad here. In fact, there are some truly cool things to do with the Wiimote. The entrances are all dynamically controlled with the Wiimote, and good performance means bonus momentum to start. How’s that work? Say you want to do a cross chop. You will bring your arms up and away from each other, and then down and across. Congrats! You’ve performed the Degeneration X cross chop, and probably horrified your parents if they are watching. The movements are not one-to-one translated, and only take place at certain times during your entrance, but you will find yourself standing up and raising your fists if you get into it.

Also, most of the grappling moves have some similar timing element. Say you’re doing a suspended suplex. You pick up your victim, and the on screen hint shows a green arrow pointing up over the Wiimote. You flick your controller up, and it turns yellow. Then it flashes “ready” for a few seconds, before commanding you to “Swing!” and a green arrow pointing down. Hit those movements at the right times, and you will slam harder, suplex better, and powerbomb with more authority.

The Wii motion controls go beyond simply waggling the Wiimote to slap someone. Let’s say you are going to powerbomb some Jabroni. You execute the fierce grapple, and then the motion control options pop in below your name. Flicking the Wiimote up lifts the victim and places them on your shoulders. Flicking it back down will slam them to the mat. Or, you can twist the Wiimote to turn it into a spinningpower bomb for more damage. The same type of the happens with a Chokeslam. Up and down means a plan vanilla chokeslam. Rotation turns that into a throat toss.

One thing I was really dissapointed in was the ways you can get your opposition out of the ring. Backing them into the ropes with a combo works, and then you strike again to send them over. But almost no grabs dump them over the top rope. And there’s no way to stand on the apron, grab someone in the ring, and suplex them out. In fact, convincing the Superstars to take the fight outside is next to impossible, even in the hardcore matches. The AI wants to stay in the ring, even though there is a wealth of stuff you can weaponize out there to make it a more exciting match.

One final out-of-the-ring issue. The default modes have the stupendously unfair rule that if you hit someone with a weapon inside or outside the ring, you get disqualified. Now, chair-to-the-face in the ring I get. It’s a blatant violation of the rules. But outside the ring is where there are supposed to be no rules. That’s why it is dangerous. That’s why it is a No Man’s Land. Anything I do on the cement is supposed to be legal, as long as I do it within the 10 count that the ref is going it issue. But no, I found this out the hard way as I took a long match outside and tried to take a shortcut to Hammerville. Nope, the only shortcut I got was straight back to the start of the match. Boo! (Oh my god I just went on a rant about rules in Professional Wrestling.)

Impact in 3...2...1...

Impact in 3...2...1...


Control: Good

Replayability
Each of the Road to Wrestlemania stories has its own story. So if you want to know how the Undertaker’s plays out, you have to play through. And you get points to buff up your created Superstar as you win matches. Taking him from a 98 pound weakling to a 300 pound monster is gratifying. You will get hooked on the Career mode for your Superstar. And of course, there are a host of unlockable characters, outfits, and arenas. But really, the multi-play is where you’ll be doing your replaying.

This is a game that is fun enough and simple enough that you can get four people, give them each a Wiimote, and step back and watch the mayhem happen. While you can play it online, I wouldn’t advise it. Nintendo doesn’t have the ease of communication that is required for trash talking, but it does have their “casual gaming is fun for all” approach. I handed a controller to my wife, and she won the first two rounds. So if you are having a WWE party, or there’s 8 guys and four Wiimotes in the fraternity house, slot this in and pass out the controls. You’ll be glad you did, especially as people get into it and start really exaggerating the controller motions. Just be sure that all the drinks are in a safe, sturdy location, or there will be spills. Getting some friends around and handing out the cans of ass whoop is how this is meant to be played.

Replayability: Great

Balance

In a lot of Wrestling games in the past, the AI had problems. It was like dealing with a manic-depressive superhero, in fact. Most rounds would be won without you taking a hit, until you reach the point that the game is tired of your attitude and decides you need a good, old fashioned beatdown. At that point, you’re struggling to even get a punch off. Fortunately, SVR2K9 doesn’t have that issue. Or at least, it’s taking its medication. The AI ramps up gradually, going from a series of squash matches to progressively more difficult bouts. There is still some frustration to be had though, as the game requires the use of a finisher nine times out of ten. I took my puny little brawler up against the Undertaker in a hardcore, falls count anywhere fight. I figured I wouldn’t have to worry about the gap in stats so much since I could grab any of a number of weapons from below the ring. The match started, and I dove for the hardware. ‘Taker stood there in the middle of the ring and taunted me, showing a disappointing lack of aggression, but it gave me time to get a chair, a sledgehammer, a fire extinguisher, and my personal favorite-the 2×4 wrapped with Pam Anderson. I mean, wrapped in barbed wire. I tossed that all in, went back to the mat, and started dropping hits on the Undertaker.

Chairs were dented across his face. The fire extinguisher came down on his legs more times than I can count. I broke the sledgehammer against his (apprently) steel hard abs. And I destroyed his face with the 2×4. And none of this let me pin him. I wasn’t even getting two counts. So I taunted up, hit him with my Finisher, and walked out the victor. Then I tried an experiment. I set the same match up, down the line. This time, I stayed in the ring, dropped a few elbows, gave ‘Taker a few kicks, and popped off a Finisher. Pin. Wha? A jumping DDT is more devastating than any five aisles at Home Depot?

Alright, you can have the rest of the cake.

Alright, you can have the rest of the cake.


Also, the difficulty upgrade comes more in the form of “difficult to pin” instead of “tough fight.” As the game progressed, my opponents became more and more resilient, but still weren’t able to mount much of an offense of their own. Strangely, this works to your benefit. Since you are rated on how entertaining you are, and that typically translates into how many moves you do and how many near-pins you pull off, you get rated a LOT higher for a longer match. It’s a decision that makes sense in this context, as a paying fan wouldn’t want to see Shawn Michaels enter the ring, slap someone twice, drop them with a superkick, and walk out. But in the videogame setting, where we are used to getting bonus points for clearing a fight as fast as possible, this takes some getting used to.

Balance: Decent

Originality
As I’ve mentioned, there are some really good things in here. Most of them surround the use of the Wiimote for gestures and sounds. The stories really do impress though. Ultimately, it is a Wrestling game, and although it does some things poorly, it does enough to be this year’s version. SVR2K9 drips with presentation values. At the end of every match on the Road to Wrestlemania, the screen flashes a little TV logo, just like the end of a broadcast. During character creation, you can choose from a multitude of locations to hail from and 16 pages of names that the announcers will refer to you by. Between matches, you will get notes and voicemails from other Superstars that are played out of the Wiimote mic. There is an intense effort given to make you feel like you are playing out a season of Raw.

Another amazing thing is the updated Roster functionality. If someone joins a tag team, leaves the show, or wins a title, you can download that to the game after it happens. At the time of this writing, that wasn’t implemented, but if you want to keep playing this for the next year, the updated content should keep it fresh. After each of your career fights, you get a series of medals to indicate how you did. Sadly, there’s no way to really see what you are earning. I got a Gold Medal in Squash Match. Now, because I know that a squash match is a one sided match, or I could use deductive reasoning (it was over in less than two minutes and I was barely hit), but there should really be a listing of those awards.

Originality: Great

Addictiveness
This is a very, very personal category. If you’re a huge WWE fan then this game will absorb you. If you just want to beat people up, then not so much. Most of the addictiveness is going to come from the Create a Superstar modes. Not only is there a ridiculous amount of pre-set features, but you can customize the colors for almost every single accessory. Want green gloves, a day-glow orange mesh shirt, and bright green pants? Go for it, Aquaman. If you want one glove red and another green, do it. Sliders for all of the body features, like eyes, nose, skin, height, weight, etc are in here also. You can come pretty close to getting your exact likeness in there, or anyone else, for that matter. This is your chance to violate all the copyrights you want, or be as fashion-insensitive as humanly possible. Want to have a stable of Superstars right out of The Venture Brothers? You can do it.

You also get to customize your Superstar’s move set, and ring entrance. You have to hit a button to see a demo though, and that is a pain. If I hadn’t had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of these moves, I wouldn’t have been able to tell a Fireman’s Carry from a Gut buster Suplex without waiting for the animation to go through. On other games in the series, your demonstration keeps going whenever you select something. The sheer amount of options is also flat out daunting, and you run the risk of not caring too much if you are in a hurry. Same with the Entrance creator. I played around in it, but I just wasn’t enthralled enough to spend hours agonizing over whether I wanted to have Abyss flex one arm, both arms, or neither.

There’s one other thing that you really should know about the Create A Superstar mode. Whether this was done by THQ or Nintendo I don’t know, but there is a restriction on what you can take online. I had my created brawler pretty much done, and decided to give him an Angel Wing tattoo on his back. As soon as I did this, a warning message popped up: “If you continue with this choice, you will not be able to take this Superstar online.” I can see the reasons why a restriction on appearances could be warranted from what is still the most family friendly console, but considering the game’s objective is to knock someone else unconscious so you can pin them, I find that highly questionable.

Addictiveness: Great

Appeal
Well, let’s see. Are you a WWE fan? Check. Do you have a Wii? Check. Then yes, this is the game for you. This really isn’t going to be on the must buy lists for people that don’t fit in those categories. Now, perhaps with the restrictions I mentioned earlier, and the fact that the graphics are less realistic than the “Big Boy” consoles, this might be more appealing for a parent to purchase for a child. The game has made me curious about what is going on in the WWE these days, and I haven’t cared about that in years. If you are a WWE fan, you need this game. If you aren’t really a wrestling aficionado and want a fighting game, you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re on the fence, go ahead and get the game anyway-you’re going to get hooked after a couple matches.

Appeal: Very Good

Miscellaneous
Personal story time-I’m a lifelong wrestling fan, with waxing and waning interest. My Grandmother still thinks that the whole thing is 100% real. My Monday nights in the mid-90’s, when Monday Night Raw went head to head with Monday Nitro were booked. When Stone Cold Steve Austin came out wearing that smoking skull t-shirt, I sent the WWF (back when they were the WWF!) a check for 20$ and shipping and handling for that shirt. This was before internet shopping was big. I just figured that it would be enough. It was, and two weeks later, I was the first one in my high-school to have that shirt. I still have a Triple H basketball jersey in my closet. I picked up every wrestling game I could get my hands on for the better part of a decade. The best ever was, and still is, WWE No Mercy. That game had it all. Deep customization without being excessive. Fast, intuitive, responsive control. Tag Team moves. In fact, maybe the first ever game to really feature tag finishers, like the Dudley Drop. A Royal Rumble mode that you could play for hours at a time if you were good enough. And if you took the WWE setting out of the game, you had a wonderfully tactical fighting game. I built one guy and tuned 90% of his moves so they would target the legs, and gave him nothing but leg hold submissions for grapples. He couldn’t be beat. I am still waiting for someone to dust off that N64 cartridge, slap a coat of paint on it, and re-release it. (Okay, and fix a few bugs that just might wipe your saves, but hey) Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009 is a game that wants to be No Mercy. It just isn’t there yet. But it will tide you over until that day. For all of the flaws that it has, you find yourself playing “just one more match” over and over again.

Miscellanous: Very Good

Story: Very Good
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Poor
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009 is a lightweight in the field of Wrestling games, but it can stand toe to toe with the heavyweights if you can overlook some flaws. THQ took a few high-risk maneuvers, but most of them pay off. Just be ready to ice down your arm muscles after swinging the Wiimote through some Iron Man matches. Some of the design choices really put the game in a chokehold, but the fun factor lets it kick free. The character creation options will stun you, and the amount of detail in the existing WWE Superstars shows that this game has a fine pedigree. Just don’t get too wrapped up if you lose a few rounds-some of the fights can be real backbreakers.

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