Perhaps the most interesting of the different versions of Smackdown, the 2008 version is available on the DS for the first time. But get this, it doesn't use any buttons. It is played entirely with the stylus and the touch screen. The DS version is essentially a stripped down version of the console edition, no character creation, and it only offers one-on-one matches.
Apart from just playing a quick match, the season mode is your only option for single player play. After you pick your wrestler, you start off at the bottom of the totem pole in your career but of course knowing yourself to be the best wrestler on earth, demand your shot at the title. Your goals are to earn the respect of some wrestlers to gain them as future allies, and of course beat down anyone else who stands between you and your championship belt.
To play through this mode, you are presented with eight virtual rooms: two dressing rooms, a cafeteria, a media room, your own personal storage room, two manager's offices, and a training area. You play the game by visiting each of these rooms and talking to the various wrestlers. These conversations develop the storyline as you make both friends and enemies and even trigger the future matches you will have to undertake. Thankfully, you're not just floating from room to room talking to other wrestlers; objects like crowbars, sledge hammers, and stop signs as well as 'time tokens' for the workout area can be found in the various couches, boxes, and lockers, so every room has to be thoroughly explored between each match.
Supplementing the actual fights, the training room offers three workout mini games that can be accessed when at least fifteen minutes of training time have been found or won. Whether jumping rope, hitting the bag, or just lifting weights, each game is played with different stylus moves and ultimately results in your character gaining better stats and better, more powerful moves.
The unfortunate thing about the season mode is frankly that, after only a few virtual weeks, hunting for workout time tokens and getting berated by every wrestler you talk to gets a little old.
As mentioned earlier, the controls for the game are driven entirely via the touch screen. Instead of free roaming around the ring, all combat is situation based. Floating buttons labeled one, two, and three hover over the wrestler and are activated by tapping and then following the directions on screen. They can be as simple as dragging the stylus back across your wrestler to punch, or as complex as dragging down and then making circles to initiate a ground choke. The attacks are also slower and more powerful given the number selected; three is the most devastating but slow, while one is quick but doesn't inflict as much damage. There are also buttons for pin, interference, and 'get foreign object' present at the top corner of the screen when the situation in the ring could call for such options. Unfortunately, 'interesting' is all this control system is. It feels more like an old role playing game: choose attack, pick target, repeat. This makes the sense of urgency you get with other fighting games just not there. The stylus controls remain a good idea but not a good control system.
While this system may be innovative, the actual AI for the game certainly is not. Once you play a couple of matches and get to know the patterns you have to make with the stylus, you will seldom get hit, let alone beaten by the actual computer. It is this slowness or lack of aggression by the game's AI that gives it a turn based feel and really forfeits the game's staying power.
Graphically, the DS version of Smackdown looks pretty good, delivering character models that are easily recognizable as the actual superstars, and smooth animation for the actual moves and acrobatics you perform. Certainly not photographic quality, but excellent considering this is the handheld version of the game. In the DS edition, there isn't any actual commentary or voice acting, however the different entrances for the wrestlers are present before each match and you'll hear the crowd chant as the match gets going.
It is true that most conversions to a handheld system sacrifice significant game content from their original versions. In the case of Smackdown on the DS this is very much true. The stylus based fighting system is certainly a new approach and although there are very few actual game modes, the game itself looks and plays decently. Hopefully, a more aggressive AI, and a less monotonous season mode will be added in next years versionl then, Smackdown VS RAW 2008 will only truly be enjoyed by the more hardcore wrestling fan, and even then mainly for the turn based novelty.