Wii Sports proved to gamers everywhere that the Wii's innovative control scheme was much more than a simple gimmick. The limited availability of Nintendo's system a year and a half after its launch is a testament to this fact. However, not every game on the little white box is able to overcome the stigma of having a control scheme that feels gimmicky, which ends up ruining the entire experience. WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 is one such game.
Published by THQ, Smackdown vs. RAW is this year's iteration in the annual series of wrestling games, and marks the first to land on Nintendo's newest console. The main distinction of the Wii version from those on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is, of course, the unique control scheme.
Did I say unique? I meant terrible.
The game promises that you can "Use the Nunchuk and Wii Remote to act out slams, strikes, taunts and finishers as they take place on the screen". This basically translates to shake the Wiimote as much as you can until you win. To punch, you shake the Wiimote. To counter, you shake the Wiimote. And to grapple, you hold a button, and then shake the freaking Wiimote. After awhile, it feels like you are playing a WarioWare microgame nightmare that will just never end. Not only is this control scheme just a lazy way of replacing a few buttons, but I'd rather press buttons then fling my wrist around until I get carpal tunnel syndrome. Since all you are doing every match is flailing your hand around like an idiot, the game gets extremely repetitive very, very quickly.
Smackdown vs. RAW for the Wii also tries to appeal to the casual crowd. There is only one meter - the health bar. This takes away from the overall experience however, as there is no sense of "fatigue" in the game. I fought several matches where I beat down an opponent to a red health bar. He was still able to counter nearly all of my moves, even though he had barely even hurt me first. The counter system, which seems completely random, is achieved by shaking the Wiimote and pressing a button just before you are hit. Your opponent's counters, however, seem to happen whenever they want them too. Overall, the fighting system in Smackdown vs. Raw is frustrating, dull, and completely un-enjoyable.
It's a real shame that the combat system is so bad too, since that is basically the only thing you will be doing in Smackdown vs. RAW. The single player campaign is basically devoid of a storyline. You simply pick your superstar, fight two or three wrestlers over and over until you reach the next level of popularity, and then do it all over again with a different set of brawlers. Challenges are issued to you via text messages from other wrestlers, who manage to say the exact same thing every time they want a fight. In between matches, you can get a massage (otherwise your wrestler won't be at full health the next match) and train your fighter, which is of course done automatically. This mode is as boring and repetitive as the control scheme. Heck, even wrestling games like No Mercy back on the N64 had better single player campaigns than this game.
In addition to the single player mode, there are only a few other game types, such as hardcore matches (with chairs being the only weapons), triple threat, tag team, and tournament modes. There is up to 4 player multiplayer, but I'm sure you and three friends would have more fun actually hitting each other with the Wiimotes than just waving them around as your wrestlers duke it out on screen. There is no online play, but even if there was, I'm sure that no one would play it.
Smackdown vs. RAWdoes do a few things right, but they have nothing to do with the core gameplay, which makes their redeeming qualities few and far in between. The player models, for example, look great on the Wii. Each wrestler is rendered quite nicely, with realistic facial expressions and movements, and all look strikingly similar to their real life counterparts. The same can't be said about the crowd, however, which look like they came straight out of a Nintendo 64 game. No matter how good the wrestlers look, the realism of the moment can't help be dampened when they walk past people that look like they are made of cardboard.
The soundtrack for Smackdown vs. RAWis also put together nicely. The menu music features mainstream bands such as Puddle of Mudd and Sevendust. The entrances for each of the wrestlers are also well done, with every real life detail from the music to each superstar's trademark entrance translated flawlessly. However, the greatest soundtrack on the planet couldn't save you from the audio of the ring - specifically, the commentary. Actual WWE commentators Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross do lend their voices to Smackdown vs. RAW, however, their random babble is so terrible that you'll switch your iPod on before you can say "pinfall". It will only take a couple matches before they start repeating themselves, and it only goes downhill from there. Thankfully, you can turn off the commentary in the options menu, but the cheers of the crowd and random grunts aren't much better.
Smackdown vs. RAW has been a fairly successful series over the years, spawning sequels that defined fun, entertaining wrestling action. The first entry onto a Nintendo platform, however, is nothing short of disastrous. If the terrible controls don't turn you off (and believe me, they will) then the repetitive single player, lack of game modes, and abominable commentary will. If you are truly desperate for some wrestling action, then I suggest purchasing Smackdown vs. Raw for another system, or simply waiting for some old school wrestling on the virtual console. This one's a definite pass.