Reviewed: December 6, 2008
Released: November 9, 2008
Before anybody gets mad and boxes my ears, I have to admit that I know absolutely nothing about the current world of professional wrestling – and I mean nothing. The last time I remember following anything wrestling was back in 1984 – I was in the 6th grade, wrestling was called the WWF, and it was ruled by folks like Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albano, and Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart (no relation).
But I do like me a good fighting game every now and then, so when WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 for the PSP crossed the GCM desks, I decided to give it a spin. OK, so I might not know much about wrestling, but I do know that if you are looking for a wrestling video game title than you need look no further than Yuke’s (officially, Yuke’s Media Creations). These folks have been making wrestling titles since the days of the original PlayStation, and hold the highest respect in the console gaming industry for their work in the squared circle.
The first thing that gamers will notice about WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 is the over-the-top presentation. While all this pomp and circumstance is not surprising for a professional wrestling title, it is quite impressive for a handheld title. Everything from the opening splash screens to the flashy menus, from the flamboyant entrance displays to the in-game melodrama – everything screams of high production value.
This production value does not come without a cost – these cinematics sequences are awfully taxing on the PSP’s UMD drive, leaving gamers looking at loading screens for up to minutes at a time to get through the entire set of pre-match theatrics. Rather than drain their PSP’s already short battery life, most gamers would be smart to omit the intro sequences using the skip option in the match selection screen.
The bevy of options available in WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 from the start is absolutely astounding – the game offers over a dozen wrestlers and just as many match variations right from the get-go. As gamers progress through the game, they can unlock a staggering 60 wrestlers in total (each with multiple costumes) and 19 wrestling venues.
While most wrestling fans will enjoy the ability to select from the stacks of RAW and SmackDown wrestlers – gamers not in the know (like myself) will find more enjoyment in the 14 match variations. Yes, the game features the traditional man-on-man and tag team matches, but there are also variations on survival (most pins in a set time), and a ton of gimmick matches using everything from folding chairs to fire to fell opponents.
As I found myself – fans of traditional fighting games might find wrestling titles a bit difficult to acclimate to WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009’s gameplay. Unlike your typical fighting games where gratification is nearly instantaneous, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 seems slow and plodding; requiring methodical button input, impeccable timing, and clear-cut strategy. Button mashing is not an option (for better or worse), and the tricky button calisthenics will turn off many fighting fans initially.
But give WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 an extended session, and many of those off-put gamers will find the strategic gameplay requirements to be quite rewarding, and the impeccable attention to detail put forth by the Yuke’s crew to be impressive.
Visually, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 delivers a believable wrestling experience. The previously mentioned presentation quality definitely sets the right tone, but the in-match animations and character models are remarkably realistic on the PSP’s small screen. The same cannot be said for the crowd models and animations, which at times are recycled as often as every third seat. It is a little weird to see the overlaid patterns of characters all moving in unison with their matching clones, but the excellent wrestler animations more than make up for it.
The sound quality is equally as impressive; featuring full play-by-play ring announcing that keeps up nicely with the action, and some of the coolest crowd sounds I have heard on the PSP. The music soundtrack features a handful of songs from harder rock acts like P.O.D. and Bloodsimple, and the wrestler entrances feature their trademark tunes (according to the press release). Everything sounds really impressive through the PSP speakers, but the real treat comes when plugging in headphones.
WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 does offer multiplayer gaming, but online in the form of Ad-Hoc networking – no online play, and no Gameshare. This is a real bummer, since multiplayer is where it is at for fighting games, and it is a tad difficult for a 36 year old gamer like myself to find another gamer who happens to have both a PSP and WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 without lurking around the junior high playground.
Overall, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 is a remarkable title for the PSP. While it might not win over the traditional fighting game fans with its slow paced action, the game features solid gameplay and impressive production values that would make most PSP owners proud – even if they know noting about wrestling.