Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Release Date: November 13, 2007
World Wrestling Entertainment, oh how you've fallen. Mixed Martial Arts has sapped your fan base, and your attempt to revive ECW has received as much fan bile as it has viewership. Then there's the fact that the last time you got on the news outside of the wrestling fandom itself was that incident with Chris Benoit, or the WWE Films division being on the receiving end of critics' scorn. At least your games are still fun. Unfortunately, they're also the most formulaic, incremental-upgrade-filled pile of code outside of the Madden franchise.
Kind reader, put yourself in the shoes of THQ, the publishers for the WWE game series. One of your favorite cash cows is starting to lag behind in review scores, and you want to bring it back up to spec without risking the anger of your core fan base. Fortunately for you, a perfect opportunity has recently sailed in, with the runaway-hit status of the Nintendo DS and Wii, both systems with abnormal control systems. So you use both to test out the all-new control schemes, and hope your developers can get it right. Both versions have their successes and failures, but with the DS version, the results are among the weakest from the consistently strong series.
The basic premise of WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 featuring ECW for the NDS is the same as any other. Two (or three or four) people enter the ring. One wins by pinning another for a three count, inflicting enough pain to make the opponent tap out, or getting an opponent disqualified for breaking the rules. You play as one of these wrestlers, and you fight in one match per week for a full season, progressing through simple story lines as you go from week to week, for a total of 52 matches.
The difference, however, is in how those matches are played. In most wrestling games, you control the wrestler directly by using schemes similar to those found in most other 3D fighters, only with more emphasis on holds and counters. The DS version goes for something completely different. You don't directly control your wrestler; instead, the two characters in a match start facing each other, and then three icons show up on the touch-screen. Tap one, and then follow the on-screen instructions to perform one of three actions, which will result in another situation with three new icons to follow. This doesn't provide for a lot of variety, unfortunately —a total of approximately 80 moves (between all wrestlers) spread across about 12 situations, plus the same 12 with someone carrying a weapon. The good news, though, is that it provides for a decent facsimile of the full balance of reflex and thinking that the title's console brethren do. You're still going for the same basic game of gathering momentum and getting your opponent in position to deal some "real" damage with one of your character's finishers, or at least locking him in a submission hold or pin to finish off the match.
The control scheme in SvR 2008, with its hands-off and limited approach, still works out fairly well, in part because the game intentionally balances itself toward the easy end to make things fun. It's unfortunate, then, that the rest of the game ends up wrecking what could be a decent frame. There are two gameplay modes: Season and Exhibition. Season mode is the aforementioned 52-match storyline; there are three different storylines, depending on the source roster your wrestler is in, which does mean that there are three rosters, although ECW only gets two wrestlers. In Exhibition mode, you can play exhibition matches. That's it. There are only a few match types that end up being identical once you enter the ring — even in "hardcore" matches, you can't leave the ring, thus limiting the possible weapons that you can use once per match. There are only 21 wrestlers, representing not even the complete core cast. You can't play as the female characters or managers, as you can do in the console versions. You also can't create a wrestler or any other form of custom content on the DS version.
At least the Season mode's going to be good, right? How does clicking on every single item in eight rooms after every match sound? This annoying task will daunt you every time, as you try to collect them to complete the three training mini-games. The mini-games themselves are utterly uninteresting and become rote exercises in building up a character. Your other story interactions will either involve some conversations with your generically badass self with other generically badass wrestlers, or the females will insult you.
Perhaps the weakest link in the DS version is its multiplayer component, which only supports multi-card play and straight matches. Instead of feeling like an actual competition, this degenerates into a race to land more moves than your opponent does. In addition, the "rock-paper-scissors" balance that seems to exist will very easily prove nonexistent in multiplayer, forcing anyone who wants to compete into a single, simplistic play style, regardless of which wrestler one plays as or one's actual skill level.
Presentation-wise, SvR 2008 comes across as very weak in spite of some solid efforts. The graphics remind favorably of the appearance of the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 era of games, using cardboard-cutout fans and simple-but-effective, texture-heavy models of the wrestlers to look about as good as the DS can manage without slowdown — including a praiseworthy focus on getting the faces right. The sound and voices, however, are simply pathetic. I count exactly one, very low-quality, piece of music in the entire game, with the exception of the easily skipped, very low-quality renditions of the wrestlers' entrance themes. The grunts that substitute for voice clips are reminiscent of the weakest elements of the PS1 era.
A fun control concept only works when the rest of the game works, too. Unfortunately, WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 featuring ECW for the NDS demonstrates this all too effectively, resulting in the weakest iteration of the series in quite a while. The concept, however, remains sound. Add more variety of situations, more and better modes of play, and implement the Create-a-Wrestler mode, and the end results could be very solid a year or two down the line. For now, it's at least worth borrowing from a friend or renting it just to try out the novelty of the new control scheme, but it's not really worth a purchase.
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