Review: WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010 (Sony PSP)

svr10coverWWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yukes
Genre: Wrestling
Release Date: 10/20/2009

“Oh my God! Its Smackdown vs Raw!”

These immortal words exclaimed by good old Jim Ross during the introduction of the very first Smackdown vs Raw game set the tone perfectly for what the series would become. Five years and now six games later, the concept of brand warfare is once again unleashed upon video game players across the globe.

Last year’s entry on the PSP was a pretty sizable step forward after the horrors of SVR 08. With the drastically superior storyline, vast improvements in the tag team matches, and a few other touches, it was easily the best wrestling game you could get for a hand held system.

Going from that, this year’s entry had a lot to live up to. The focus this year was on the create modes and there were some obvious problems in trying to fit all of the updates on the PSP. I’m happy to say that a good deal of the new content made it over intact, though some of it, like the updated create a wrestler, were sadly left behind.

That being said, would this year’s entry continue the upward trend, level off, or send us back into the dark age of portable grapplers?

Modes

Road to Wrestlemania is back as the primary game mode for this year. There are six different stories in all allowing you to play as Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Edge, John Cena, Triple H, Mickie James, or as a CAW. That’s right, for the first time, there’s a story specifically for a created wrestler, and perhaps more importantly, for a diva. The story involving Triple H and John Cena is the brand warfare story and you can switch between them, though ultimately the story is the same with a different ending or two. I have a couple of issues this year. For one, the stories are absurdly in favor towards Raw. Only Edge’s story takes place on Smackdown and the brand warfare story is the only place ECW even shows up. Everything else is on Raw. This doesn’t mean you’ll face the same people repeatedly across storylines, but it really makes the other brands feel inferior. For instance, ECW’s place in the game is one that made me sick. They’re treated not only as the worthless baby brother of the three brands, but also as a brand that isn’t worth anything unless they import wrestlers from another show. In this case, Big Show steps over and destroys the champion in seconds. You also have a match where you decimate the entire ECW roster. Also, most of the stories travel down all too familiar road. Edge is getting cozy with a female GM, Shawn Michaels is stuck dealing with JBL, and Mickie Jame’s story is basically Natalya doing to her what Mickie did to Trish Stratus years ago. Still, that’s not to say the stories aren’t entertaining. Randy’s and the CAW story are fantastic. Also, there are pre-scripted events, such as a manager holding a superstar’s leg down during a pin, or even the lights flickering and the Undertaker appearing out of nowhere in the ring. It adds a great sense of realism to the matches, as all of the story isn’t relegated to cut scenes that you need to wait through a loading screen to see. I preferred last year’s stories more, but these still had some serious fun and entertainment to offer.

Career Mode is back and its basically the same. You fight your way through ladders of opponent’s in order to build enough rank to challenge for a title. You keep doing this until you’ve won all the titles. The big change this year is that this is no longer the only place to level up your character. Basically, this is a great place to fight in one on one matches without having to go through the process of selecting opponents and whatnot. Other than that, its useless.

Create a Wrestler is completely unchanged from last year. This is a shame, because the console versions saw an overhaul in this department. You still have a good selection of clothing and accessories to wade though, but there is still a pretty hefty limit to how much you can have on one character. That limit isn’t very generous. You can still create a move set, entrance, and/or a finisher as well. For the finishers, they’ve added a ton of new moves, transitions, and even aerial finishers into the mix to make it a much more robust offering. There are also a surprising number of new moves in the game in general. It was a nice upgrade. The big change is in how you increase your character’s skills. Now, any time a CAW is used in a match, they gain experience. You don’t even have to be playing them for this to count either. They can be random entries in a rumble or you can even throw a bunch of them in a ladder match for the heck of it. They gain levels either way. Also, the character’s are allotted spendable points this time around instead of having skills upgraded for you. This means you can once again customize the characters to your heart’s content. You’ll just have to work for it.

svr103We all know the big new feature is the ability to create your own story. You can select a situation, location, the cast, the sounds, the words, and even place an end of show logo. I was completely blown away with how well this mode worked. There’s a bit of messing around required in order to understand how it all works, but its pretty solid. I was able to create a month long story line for my brother in which he teamed up with his favorite wrestler, humiliated me in a big match situation, and then got the girl in the end. It was a pretty nifty birthday present if I do say so myself, and it only took a few hours to get it all put together. The biggest problem with this mode is that you have to use the PSP keyboard to type. You’ll need to manually type in every letter, space, and punctuation. It takes forever. Also, in order to use caps, you’ll have to press the shoulder button in addition to the circle button. Since the shoulder button indents the page and the circle button backs you out completely, there is a ton of frustration in trying to type anything with a decent length. I’d much rather use a proper keyboard, but what else would you expect from a game on the PSP? There is a benefit to making stories on the PSP, though. For some reason, the other games have a severe cap to how often you can use a CAW. This amounts to a measly ten instances, and if you use more than one CAW for a scene, it counts as more than one instance. The PSP has no such cap. The trade off is that you can’t share your stories online in any fashion. Overall, this is a nifty mode.

Beyond that, there are a ton of match types in this game to fool around with in exhibition, an ad-hoc multiplayer feature, and plenty of options to tweak in order to tailor the game to your likings. The only disappointment I have is they took out the tournament feature that has been a staple on the PSP versions for the past few years. I guess thats what happens when there’s barely a King of the Ring tournament every few years or so. Its a good setup and overall the new story editor adds a lot to what this game has to offer. It even includes a bonus story created through the editor that stars none other than Santino Marella. Nice.

Graphics

On most levels, this game has seen very few improvements in the visual department. At first, it can be hard to even notice them unless you’ve played the games for many many hours.

For starters, the animations have been increased. There are more transitions, moves, and situations than ever before. I saw superstars tweak moves in mid air to account for whether an opponent was on the ground or standing up. I saw a bunch of new counters implemented. Overall, there is a lot more variety as to what the wrestlers are doing and it adds up to being pretty impressive.

The biggest change is that the HUD has been eschewed almost entirely. No longer will you see readouts of the character’s health, name, or momentum on the top of the screen. Instead, the momentum meter is represented by a blue semi circle at the base of your character’s feet. This gives the game a more realistic look and focuses the player’s attention on the action.

There are still some problems worth mentioning. The seams between pixels are occasionally noticeable, and the clipping issues are still running rampant. I had a CAW who’s belly apparently ate the faceplate of a championship belt. It was unnerving every time. Also, some of the models don’t look all that great. The Divas all look like they’d be welcome in a circus or a horror show. Natalya’s head is nearly twice as big as any other Diva’s. That’s not to say they’re all bad. Jericho finally looks decent and some of the faces on the bigger stars are the best I’ve seen on the system.

There are some other things to mention as well. The crowd is still ugly as sin. Not to mention, some of them are sill wearing the “ruck fules” shirt that was popularized years and years ago by Stone Cold, who isn’t even in the PSP version of the game. I found that odd. A nice touch this year is that the presentation has been improved to look more like the show. This includes the WWE Live logo, the end of show logo, the animations for championship matches, etc. It makes the game feel a bit more complete in that aspect.

This isn’t one of the better looking PSP games and to be honest, the series is rapidly falling behind the times for the system, but it still manages to look pretty good for a hand held game. If not for the changes in the aesthetic, this would be a different story entirely.

Audio

The audio in this game is pretty much the same as last year. The superstars do a good job of bringing their personas across to the video game world, Lillian Garcia is absolutely horrible as an announcer, and there are a few generic rock songs interspersed with WWE entrance themes that play during menus and matches. The PSP version still has no commentary.

There has been some improvement in terms of how the audio was implemented. For instance, last year the referee’s voice would come and go during counts. This still happens, but less frequently and less severely. The also managed to get Kennedy’s voice to sync with his lips. This last part is probably moot now that he’s no longer with the company.

The big winners in the voice department are Justin Roberts and Santino Marella. Marella does his job and he does it well during the RTW mode he’s in. Justin is the only announcer who puts feeling into what he’s announcing and he sounds like he actually does on Smackdown or at a big PPV.

Overall its a good package. The faults tend to be more funny than frustrating. For instance, when the occasionally announcing of the wrong wrestler or even wrong gender. If you’re looking for a WWE game without the commentary, this should do you justice.

Gameplay

There have been some changes here.

First off, the reversal system has seen an overhaul. Instead of having separate buttons for reversing strikes and grapples, the responsibility for reversing falls squarely on the R button. This doesn’t make things too easy though. The window you have to press the button is shorter, though on the default configuration the game will alert you when to press it. It takes a good deal of practice to get the timing right. Also, you have more ways to reverse strikes. Instead of simply punching back and forth, you can try a grapple instead. Also, you can catch a leg and counter with a clothesline or a kick of your own. Its far more satisfying than last year’ offering.

Another change comes in the form of the ultimate control moves. Rather than set aside a strong grapple or two specifically for the moves, they’re actually moves that you can assign. This ends up giving you more moves that in the past few games because you have all four directional buttons to use when you’re in a grapple. Also, the submissions have seen a change. You don’t need to rotate the stick so much to apply pressure, though you’ll need to waggle it like mad to break out. It actually seems harder to submit someone now.

svr101Momentum has been tweaked yet again as well. You still earn momentum by performing moves and taunts. Now though, you build up first to the signature move phase. Once there, you can still build up the meter by performing moves until you’ve earned a finisher, but you can also use the signature move to instantly earn a finisher. This adds a great feel to the game. You can transition from a facebuster to a pedigree with ease or set up for some sweet chin music after an elbow drop from the top rope. Its yet another change in the series that makes the game more like the actual product than ever before. The only problem I have is that you can’t store moves, so your time is limited.

The superstar abilities have been increased and altered slightly again. There are more of them than other, though some of them are a bit overpowered. There’s a move that allows you to earn three finishers in one shot and others that grant free finishers. Overall, there’s a good deal of variety to choose from, though you’ll have to unlock most of them by upping your character’s stats.

The Royal Rumble has been overhauled as well. There are superficial changes, such as the announcer declaring the rules, wrestlers taunting the crowd as they enter, and animations for when you get to the bottom four, three and two. Then there is also mechanical changes. There are more ways than ever to throw people out. You can trying eliminating them while they are on the inside of the ropes or on the apron by grappling them and mashing the corresponding face buttons as they instruct. You can play another game where you time button presses to line up in a blue area when the other guy is trying to hold onto the bottom rope. (This was the old submission system before 08) You can even play a QTE to throw them over the turnbuckle if you get them in a corner. Also, up to three people can work on eliminating one. The best change is that you can perform special finishers such as spearing opponents off of the apron or even powerbombing them right out of the ring! If you store three finishers, you can spend them all to instantly eliminate two people at once! This only works if you sneak up on someone who is trying to eliminate someone else, but still. Overall, the match is more exciting and dynamic than ever.

There are two new match types this year. The first is an inter-gender match up where the women face the women and the men face the men. Men can’t attack women without being disqualified and if one person tags, the other has to within five seconds. The match would be boring if not for the vastly improved tag controls of last year. The other new match is the Championship Scramble. In this match, two people start out in the ring and another enters every minute until there are five. Scoring a pin fall doesn’t end a match, but it does make you champion. The match ends after a preset amount of time and whoever is champion at the end wins the match. Its a fun and chaotic match to say the least. Just don’t set the time to a mere five minutes as the odd number of people in the ring make it hard to score a pin with any sense of ease.

That’s not to say all is well. The Irish whip controls felt like they had took a huge step backwards. It used to be that you could change the direction you threw someone. That is still the case, but it doesn’t always work and you’ll often throw someone in a completely different direction than you intended.

Also, the targeting is absolute rubbish. You can either chose manual or automatic targeting. Manual targeting is slow, cumbersome, and requires constant attention. You also use the select button for this so it never feels comfortable. If you leave it to the computer, you’ll almost never face who you intend. Your superstar will ignore the downed opponent and lock on to someone across the ring. You’ll hit the ref or another superstar more often than you will the person you were actually trying to hit.

Overall, the game is still pretty darn good. It feels a little less wieldy than it did last year, but the sheer number of match types and options available more than make up for it. This is still a solid portable grappler.

Replayability

As always, there is a ton of content to play through. The RTW modes are where you can unlock things and the branching storylines offer at least some replay value on their own. You can expect to sink more than a few hours on these modes alone.

If you get into the story editor and create modes, the game’s life span is greatly lengthened. While it sucks you can’t have more than two stories and that you can’t transfer the saves to your computer, it is still a good deal of fun making up your own wacky hijinks and matches.

Even still, I think they are really missing the ball with Career Mode. If that had some sort of plot, even a generic one like we used to have, than it would become vastly more useful. As it is, there’s barely any reason to play it. Winning the belts doesn’t even mean anything because it doesn’t carry over to exhibition matches. So all of that hard work you do is only going to affect Career Mode. Since you can only have one at a time, there just isn’t a point.

The multiple difficulties, sliding options for the AI, and sheer number of matches should be more than enough to keep this game in your PSP for a while. I would have rated this a bit higher if they hadn’t removed the tournament feature.

Balance

Once again, the game falls into the trap of dumb AI on lower difficulty levels. Opponents will stand around waiting for you to destroy them, won’t follow up on moves, and rarely even use their abilities. Of course, on harder difficulties, they will reverse EVERYTHING that you throw at them and abuse skills like the possum pin. It can be nearly impossible to land a pin on the likes of Rey Mysterio when he rolls you up every time you try. When you get beat by this after landing a devastating finisher for the third time, you’ll be a bit upset. Also, the more guys are on screen at once, the harder the match becomes. That’s thanks in no small part to the targeting problems.

The changes in the abilities this year (i.e. more of them.) have also caused some balancing issues. People like HBK, Kane, and The Undertaker have the ability to kip up. Not only does this allow them to get up from a game ending move, they also get a full momentum meter. Some superstars also have the ability to get a free finisher by performing a special taunt, as well as used the “fired up” ability to get three finishers at once! If you’re using someone like Cena or HHH, who are already some of the best in the game, you can use these abilities to land three pedigrees or the like in a row right at the beginning of the match! In the hands of even the weakest player, this becomes way overpowered I tried this out. I kipped up using HBK and landed some sweet chin music. Then I used the special taunt to get another finisher right away. Then I used the “fired up” ability and landed three more finishers. My opponent had no chance in hell.

That being said, it makes sense that Jesse isn’t going to have a chance against the likes of the Great Kahli or that JTG will get punked out by Randy Orton. You can still win in these situations but it is going to require a good amount of skill to pull it off.

Originality

I’m pretty certain there are some wrestling game’s lying around that allow you to create a story, though none of them have been as mainstream as this, nor do they feature a big named license like the WWE. Overall the mode is very unique among games of its ilk. I hope this is a feature that stays for future installments and merely gets new content and tweaks as it goes.

That being said, there hasn’t been any significant change to the WWE game formula in years. They simply get better and more advanced as they go. Those looking for an overhaul will be sorely disappointed.

Addictiveness

I mentioned last year that I was at a point in my WWE video game playing life that it is hard to tell if I’m addicted to the game or not. I’ve put in so many hundreds of hours over the years that I just don’t get compelled the same way I did earlier this year for the UFC game.

svr102Even still, I found that the stories were good enough that I wanted to finish them not simply for the sake of getting it done. That hasn’t always been the case for the series and I’m glad they’ve scored in this department two years in a row. Also, I find that the tweaks to how your created fighters are leveled up to be quite enjoyable to fool around with.

The create a story is perhaps the most addicting feature to come to the series in years. Once you have an idea in your head for how you want things to go, there’s no stopping you from having your twisted fantasies played out with the entire WWE cast. I mean, come on, it even has the refs, announcers, and the dang doctor!

Appeal Factor

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. The WWE games do surprisingly well on the PSP. This is especially true simply because there is no competition on the hand held market. The DS games are a joke and no other organization or company has tried to capitalize. Its a monopoly to be sure, but it still has some appeal.

The story designer is a bit of a conundrum for the PSP version. On one hand, you have no limits as to how many times you can use a CAW. On the other hand, you can’t share stories online and trying to type with the in game keyboard is a labor of pure frustration. If you get into it, you’ll be well rewarded.

Overall, this game has made some nice changes, but unless you’re wanting to fiddle around with the new feature, you’ll be fine with last year’s game.

Miscellaneous

I’m not sure, but it feels like the loading times got worse again. Don’t get me wrong. They’re still far better than they were before last year, but I still feel as if they’ve stretched out a bit.

I’m still a bit pissed off that some of the features of the higher end versions didn’t make it to the PSP. In particular, the limits on the CAW creation are archaic and severely detract from what could otherwise be a spectacular mode. I shouldn’t have to chose between adding elbow pads or a goatee. I shouldn’t have to forgo the logo on the shirt because I wouldn’t have enough room for shoes. The whole thing is rather ridiculous at this point.

I’m also really and truly bummed by the inability to share stories online. They didn’t need to give this online support per se, but the least they could have done is make the created stories into a separate save file so fans could upload them online and share them with other players. It would have made the game so much better.

Overall though, this is a solid game for the PSP. It doesn’t really do enough to be considered better than last year’s offering, but those looking for a wrestling game on the go should definitely check it out.

The Scores

Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Poor
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackSmackdown vs Raw 2010 for the PSP is kind of a lateral move for the series. On one hand, there are some nifty tweaks and a great story editor to play around with that potentially add some playing time to the overall experience. On the other hand, there are a host of problems that have been with the series since its inception that are still present in this edition. I’ve never been one of those people who clamor for an overhaul of the series, but I think that there isn’t much left it can do with its current engine. I shall be very interested to see if they can still find enough content to add to make next year’s offering enticing. If you’re looking for a good wrestling game, this will fit the bill, but don’t expect to be blown away.

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