Release Date: November 9, 2008
The concept of taking an idea, and porting it elsewhere, is simultaneously one of the richest boons and greatest banes of video games. Taking the 3-D action RPG and putting it into the online context of a text-based multi-user dungeon (MUD) brought us EverQuest and everything derived from it, directly or otherwise. Putting RPG elements into games has enhanced or ruined countless different games.
Perhaps one sure sign of ruination is when new ideas, which already didn't work too well and weren't needed in the first place, are copied. In this, we see how WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 for the NDS can ruin itself in a single feature and promptly make things progressively worse by not only failing to mimic the positive aspects of the series' console and PSP iterations, but also failing to even be close to the quality of last year's edition.
At its core, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is your standard WWE wrestler: Injure an opponent, wear him down, and get a pin or submission for the victory. You've seen it a million times. This iteration copies elements from some of the oldest titles and uses RPG elements while also including mini-game aspects that will be very familiar to those who played SvR 2008 on the DS. The game introduces a new control scheme that may be somewhat familiar to RPG fanatics, and it brings over the create-a-wrestler — oh, sorry, create-a-superstar — functions from the console versions. Unfortunately, it manages to get all of these wrong and produces a result that isn't worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame, which is the plot objective of SvR 2009.
The story mode, with its RPG elements, quickly wears thin with a generic style. It manages to keep the worst elements from last year — unnecessary searching and the generic characters were nothing at all like their show personalities — and add in ponderously slow walking, exercises that are only marginally better, and more unnecessary details that really slow down the gameplay between matches. The issues only make this seem far, far worse, and on top of this, you can give up on the game having any semblance of reality. To be a Hall of Fame-worthy character, you need to collect all five major singles championships in the WWE, including a brand-specific one. The result is an incredibly annoying plot that makes less sense than the Gobbledy Gooker.
I'll at least give the mini-games credit, though; used to represent exercises, you can play one of four a week, each using the DS features in a decent fashion. Dumbbell Shrugging has you trying to keep the stylus on an increasingly quickly moving box, for example. Blowing into the microphone and keeping six bars up offers increasingly challenging exercises that help you improve your characters — not that it's going to help much when you get in the ring.
Fights in WWE games are pretty similar, varying mostly on one factor: controls. For those who don't remember, SvR 2008 had you choosing moves from positions recommended on-screen, mixing basic stylus motions with high-speed rock-paper-scissors in an enjoyable combination. SvR 2009, however, replaces this with a bargain basement version of the system used in The World Ends With You. You can move your character with the d-pad, and attack or grab by making motions on the touch-screen, which won't correctly register your movements about seven-eighths of the time. The title has highly arbitrary rules for what qualifies as a drawn circle, and you receive no cues, other than incredibly stilted animations to indicate success or failure, and they don't show up until a few seconds have passed after you'd entered the input.
If you're facing a computer opponent, you can expect the slowness of the controls to apply just slightly to your foe, resulting in horrifically difficult and unfair matches. Additionally, the d-pad is sometimes used for attacks instead of moving, and the stylus is also sometimes used for motions instead of attacking. Even the in-game tutorials aren't much help.
The only icing on the cake is a very familiar create-a-character mode. With zone-by-zone editing (but unfortunately, only symmetrical models), you can create your character and find the silver lining of the generic RPG plot. When your character is actually a newbie in the game, then the season mode makes a tiny bit of sense. The array of masks and clothes won't allow for copyright infringement or making a solid-looking Randy Savage, but it's a fairly easy way to make cool-looking custom characters.
Naturally, it comes nowhere close to its console brethren, as your array of animations is limited solely to those of the 30 superstars in the game. You won't get custom introduction moves or taunts, and only one musical theme. What happened to SvR 2006's awesome remix of "Symphony of Destruction," or the other neat tunes by the WWE band? With very little additional effort, the tunes could have become really nice MIDIs for the DS version. I'm guessing that they were replaced with the grainy bits of video for pre-match taping. There are also no female characters in SvR 2009, period.
The graphics are tolerable. The wrestlers look decent, with well-designed single-frame faces, and the environments are prettily textured. There are no special effects, though, and introductions remain a pale semblance of WWE games from 1995. Better introductions were done when Duke Nukem Forever was first announced. Sadly, the sound effects are generic samples, with only announcements before matches offering up any voicing and music.
With controls that don't work, incomprehensible RPG-styled gameplay between matches, and limited character creation utilities, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 for the NDS has come from its "has potential" status from last year all the way down to "scrap it." Our notes to the developers: Ignore the touch screen; use it for a couple of easy things, like pin/submission handling. Give us something close to Jakks Pacific's efforts on the PS1 from the late '90s or the console versions of SvR 2009, and there will finally be a WWE game for the DS that's at least worth a rental. This request just requires caring about the game a little, something that apparently isn't the case with this year's effort.
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