Wrestling isn’t really my thing. I know some people like watching sweaty, angry, oiled-up men grappling and rolling around on a mat for a cheering audience, but I can’t say I do. For some strange reason, I do have a warm spot in my heart for wrestling games, as long as the controls are all right and it’s a reasonable facsimile of the “sport.”
I was expecting this review to be another shovelware release that I was going to tear apart with a rusty knife. The good news is that WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009 for the DS (hereafter referred to as WWE 2009) isn’t half bad. Sure, there are some rough edges, but this game has far less egregious oversights than other games of its ilk. What can you expect from WWE 2009? What did they do right, and what can they fix for next year’s installment?
Graphics in a wrestling game shouldn’t be too difficult, but even by those standards, WWE 2009 looks good. The wrestlers look like their real counterparts, which is no small feat by DS standards. The rings look realistic. The crowds aren’t great, but they’re all right. The backstage areas, your house, and other areas of the game all look extremely sharp, with a lot of detail in all of them. I was very pleasantly surprised.
I was also surprised by the sound. I didn’t want to turn the music off as badly as I do on some games. They’ve got the introduction music for each character, and the crowd reacts appropriately to the events that happen during the game. Other areas have their own little theme, and these are surprisingly not obnoxious.
I have to say that the controls very nearly ruined my enjoyment of WWE 2009. I’m used to not having to read instructions or go through tutorials. I’ve played enough games that I know most control schemes, and can figure them out in short amounts of time. However, in WWE 2009, I had to go through every tutorial in order to learn the controls, and I still missed a lot of important points. I actually had to OPEN THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL. I know, shocking, right?
Here’s a brief synopsis: While you move your character with the D-pad, the fighting controls are handled almost exclusively with the stylus. In order to hit your opponent, you double-tap your opponent while pressing a direction on the D-pad. In order to grapple them, you draw a circle on the screen. There’s a weak grapple with you can do with a half-circle and a strong turn that you can do with two circles. I’m sure there’s a difference, but I never noticed one. When your opponent is down, you tap them along with a direction on the D-pad to strike or pin them.
Now, it’s not necessarily a bad system, but the fact that I had to go through every tutorial and open the instruction manual means that these aren’t the most intuitive controls. There’s no option to use the face buttons, which makes more sense than trying to draw all over the screen, especially when trying to grapple. I can’t tell you how many times that I drew a circle on the screen, only to have my opponent grapple me instead. I would have given a spandex jumpsuit and a giant golden belt for a button that would have initiated a grapple instead.
Here’s a thought: If you’re going to use pure stylus controls, why not go all the way? Why not have a sequence of numbers at random on the screen to touch to reverse a grapple or break one? You don’t have to make it easy, just make it a possibility. That’s all I ask.
Weird controls aside, the meat of WWE 2009 is fun. The main draw is a season mode where you pick a wrestler or make a custom wrestler, train him with little minigames, and participate in matches throughout the WWE season. There are different types of matches interspersed throughout, like tag team matches and cage matches.
Every week, you are able to work out at the gym and improve one of three areas: your head and neck, your body and arms, or your legs. They make you play minigames in order to improve, and these are mostly good. The only minigame that bothered me was the game to improve your head and neck, since it makes you use the microphone.
I’m going to tell a story about this minigame. So, I’m at my in-laws house playing WWE 2009, and they’re all watching TV. I decide to try this minigame, and before I know it I’m supposed to blow into the microphone. The entire time I’m doing this, my father-in-law, who knows nothing about video games, is watching me with an incredulous look as I’m apologizing profusely for looking like an idiot. That, developers, is why you have to stop making us use the microphone for games. We don’t like it, and it makes us look like idiots. Stop it. I’m serious.
Blowing into the microphone aside, the only other real problem is that it takes too long to build up your wrestler. You gain experience only for winning a match, not for losing. It doesn’t matter how well fought the match was, you won’t get a thing. It gets kind of annoying, especially because they will sometimes pair you up against the same opponent a couple of weeks in a row. That means that if you can’t beat them the first week, you probably won’t be able to beat them the second week, and so on.
Even with these various issues, I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the season mode. It’s kind of neat building up your wrestler, and it’s cool to play a season mode versus a lot of the names you might be familiar with. You start out the season mode by speaking with Vince McMahon, and along the way you see a lot of wrestlers standing around that you can talk to. You can earn money to buy items to improve your stats. It’s almost like a wrestling RPG, and that is something I can wholeheartedly endorse.
In this section, I usually ask myself whether or not this is a good replacement for the console version. In other words, if someone gave me WWE 2009 for the DS instead of for the 360, would I be disappointed? At first, once I struggled with the controls, I probably would. After messing with it for a while, though, it would win me over and I would be totally pleased. I keep using the words “pleasantly surprised,” and that’s because I was.