Release Date: November 11, 2008
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 on the PSP is a pretty solid offering of the home console experience from this year, and while it's not the best wrestling game out there, it's one of the better PSP releases that the series has seen thus far, outclassing my time on WWE SvR 2008, and it definitely has some highlights that are worth noting for long-time fans. However, there are still some serious graphical issues — including character hit boxes, funky animations, and an overall lack of design and appeal — along with a Road to Wrestlemania mode that gets far too repetitive for my taste.
Alas, the main draw of this entry is the Road to Wrestlemania mode, which lets you take a series of pre-selected wrestlers down the path to a main event setting in Wrestlemania. Depending on the character you choose, you'll be the highlight of a lot of live shows and tapings or one particular brand. For instance, CM Punk is an ECW guy within the game, so you'll mostly be playing at ECW venues with other ECW talent, aside from a couple of pay-per-view engagements and the final Wrestlemania event. His particular story line starts off with him being pitted against Jeff Hardy, but his main rivalry is between John Morrison and Elijah Burke, with Burke being the primary guy you're going to face off against time and again. This is my biggest issue with the plots in general: There doesn't seem to be a great variety among the cast you'll be fighting against, unless the game changes up on multiple plays, but I tested three different starts and had the same scenario over and over. I fought against Burke multiple times, but I only fought once against Hardy, twice against Tommy Dreamer, and once against Tazz. I understand the story focus in this mode and enjoy it more than the 24/7 mode in the previous WWE SvR title, but I see no reason why there couldn't have been some more variety here.
There are about 13 or 14 events that you'll participate in over the course of the Road to Wrestlemania mode, and they'll feature a variety of match types, including a Ladder match, Table match, Tag Team, Free for All, Last Man Standing, Extreme Rules and so on. The majority is still going to be singles play, which is probably for the best, as the tag team and three-man matches can be pretty frustrating due to some uneven AI from both your opponent and tag partner(s). Going for a pin or submission gets challenging not because the game is particularly hard, but because other wrestlers will run into the ring and hit you before the three count. You'll need some luck, even when you're playing tag team matches and think your partner might interrupt the other guy before he gets to you. Usually he's either slow on getting in the ring or doesn't even bother to hit the other guy, simply choosing to stand by while you get a kick to the kidneys. It's a really frustrating experience, and the reaction from your tag partner never seems realistic. I know this isn't the first time that this has been a problem in a wrestling title, but that doesn't make it excusable.
The controls work pretty well on the PSP, with all of your movement tied to the d-pad, so the analog nub is primarily used for taunts. You can do basic grapples with the Circle button, strong grapples by holding it down, and even more specific types by holding down R while pressing Circle and a d-pad direction. That last bit is too convoluted for me, and it took a little while to get used to it, but it felt OK after a while. You can do strike and grapple reversals using the top buttons, but it is too easy to just spam them and pull off the reversals most of the time. Your window of opportunity is pretty small, so it might be the best way for some players to actually reverse anything.
One thing that stood out as disappointing is the lack of in-game commentary during the matches, even though the commentators are used before and after the matches. Instead, the commentary is replaced by random wrestler-specific music, which sounds off when you're fighting as Jericho or Cena and you've got Triple H's "The Game" soundtrack pumping through the PSP speakers. It rarely fits the wrestler or match, and it serves as more of a distraction than anything else. Thankfully, just about everything in the game is voiced by the actual wrestlers, and they all do a pretty good job of playing themselves within the game, with nobody coming off as wooden or odd. There's actually a fair amount of story involved in the Road to Wrestlemania section, so you'll see quite a few cut scenes and story pieces.
Graphically, the wrestlers are modeled really well, but the rest of the visuals are pretty garish. In particular, all of the crowds you'll see are ugly as sin, with some blocky pixels making up certain crowd members, of which there are only three or four endlessly repeated variations. The rest of the crowd is rendered as a mass of color within the stands, and it looks like someone splattered some paint together. The game would have probably looked better if they hadn't even bothered to render a crowd; it's really distracting when the ring view spans out a bit and you've got "fans" that are supposedly waving to the camera. OK, waving might be an exaggeration because they're ridiculously limited in movement. Aside from the ring intro and the actual in-ring stuff, there's not much to look at in WWE SvR 2009. The pre-game setups are all from a locker room that uses stationary objects to interact with, like a PDA for messages, a small note to read for secondary objectives, and then your boots to actually start the map. The save screen depicts a jet to travel around in (although I imagine a lot of wrestlers don't really have a private jet), and that's about all there is to see. Thankfully, there are small changes between venues, and when you're doing a PPV event, you'll notice a little more flair for the opening of the match.
There are quite a few unlockables, including a side roster of WCW characters, Ric Flair, some additional wrestling personalities and different venues/locations. There's a noticeable absence of "Legend" wrestlers, but that's probably because of the Legends of Wrestlemania title that debuted earlier this year. I can't find much to complain about with the roster, and while my overall fandom of the WWE has definitely fallen to the wayside over the past few years, it's a decent enough rendition of the current roster, aside from a few changes that have occurred in the past few months. You can do roster edits, though, and there's a Create a Wrestler mode, so a few of the more enterprising players out there will be able to get a fairly accurate rendition of the current state of things in the WWE.
Altogether, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is a decent enough wrestling title on the PSP, but I think it also lacks a little polish, especially with the visuals. The Road to Wrestlemania mode is fun and certainly more entertaining than the 24/7 mode from last year, but at the same time, I found a lot of the matches and characters to be really repetitive and not the best use of the available talent for the game. If you've been a fan of the series for a while, I'm sure you'll enjoy the handheld editions and roster updates, but for those of you who have either never enjoyed the series or have lost interest in the past few years, WWE SvR 2009 isn't going to be the game to win you back.
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