Platform: 360 (Also on PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP and DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Reviewed by: Bill Jones
Gamers have become accustomed to the clockwork tune-up of the Smackdown series that, similar to every sports franchise on the planet, is an annual give and take of features and graphical upgrades. It is the kind of series that remains good, but doesn’t change enough to warrant a purchase every single year.
Smackdown vs Raw 2009 does its best to buck that trend.
Players are still left without the arena-spanning brawls and ridiculousness that defined the PlayStation 2 era, but Smackdown vs Raw 2009 succeeds in expanding in a different direction.
The newest addition is the “Road to WrestleMania” mode. It unfortunately replaces the 24/7 (formerly General Manager) mode, which had the potential to give gamers an extended single-player experience if polished. Still, ‘Mania makes for a respectable mode. Gamers choose one of six scenarios and play through those characters’ trips to “The Grandest Stage of Them All.” Five of the paths are single-player experiences, and range from Chris Jericho in a title hunt to The Undertaker’s zombie-filled storyline.
The last of the scenarios focuses on the series’ latest improvements on the tag team side of things. The team at YUKE’s has put a lot of effort into adding hot tags, blind tags and creating a more cohesive tag experience in general through better moves and ideas of teamwork. It is well done, and the ‘Mania tag path is a showcase of that, though one of the more confusing of the bunch for gamers creating multiple saves and trying to work through every branch of the path for unlockables.
The scenarios are just several hours apiece and limited to the characters chosen by the developer, but it works better than previous story modes because it allows for the unique character-specific scripts that would otherwise not be available for a full roster. And SVR 2009 rounds out the experiences with a Career mode that sees the player choose a wrestler and work up the various title ranks. There is no story, just a star system for matches that is used to unlock title fights. It is incredibly simple, but for those who like clearly defined goals to attack and want more structured play, it works.
The tenth iteration of the series also introduces the “Inferno” match, and a “Create-a-Finisher” mode. In the former, in-ring action increases the temperature of the flames surrounding the ring, and when it’s hot enough, one must drag their opponent toward the flames to win. The latter adds to the already robust “Create-a-Character” and “Create-an-Entrance” modes. The new feature is clearly in its infancy and basic, but can offer some extra fun. Gamers string together up to 10 of the 500+ animations in the game to make a finishing move. This can be the same move repeatedly, or 10 unique actions, providing for some ridiculous in-ring action.
As usual, Smackdown’s controls remain a bit complicated for newcomers to grasp, but after playing several games that have tried and failed to make good gameplay on simplified layouts, it seems that Smackdown’s scheme is exactly where it needs to be to maintain a robust style of gameplay, especially in the insane six-man battles with weapons littering the ring, ladders to climb and two announcers’ tables that need smashing. Fighting styles from previous versions are gone, but are replaced with “abilities” that can be earned by created characters and aid superstars in different ways.
Smackdown vs Raw 2009 mostly shines in a series that has a tendency to feel extremely familiar, and its failures come primarily from the fact that the televised product it is emulating is less exciting and less ridiculous than when this series started back in 2000. While YUKE’s has done an incredible job of bolstering the single-player side of things, Smackdown has always excelled as a chaotic multiplayer experience that requires more than button-mashing to win. The tag team improvements help, but the series still has room for improvement where it counts. Still, Smackdown vs Raw 2009 is one of the better entries in the series in the last few years.
For more info, www.smackdownvsraw.com