Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 for the Nintendo DS is the first title in the series for the handheld, and is developed by Amaze Entertainment, mostly known for developing a slew of other DS titles, and is published by THQ. 

Obviously, you can’t cram all of the game from the console versions of this title into the DS, so instead of making a watered-down port, Amaze has decided to go an entirely different and DS-friendly route.  Will the game be a championship contender, or will it be nothing more than a jobber-to-the-stars?

First things first.  The overall level of detail on the wrestlers in SvR2K8 is quite impressive for the Nintendo DS.  The wrestlers are recognizable to fans of the shows, and beyond some jagginess here and there, they look pretty good.

Unforunately, the level of detail involved on the wrestlers means that the backgrounds as well as the backstage areas are somewhat lacking in detail, and look rather bare.  On the other hand, the wrestler entrances are very visually appealing, complete with pyro and what appears to be a bit of the entrance video.

Given that this is a DS title, there’s not a lot of voicing in the game.  While the entrances are fully voiced and quite impressive overall, there’s no wrestler voiceovers, with any conversation between wrestlers limited to speech bubbles above their heads.

The overall sounds are … average at best.  Grunts, smacks and groans all sound reasonably like they should be, but it just seems like the majority of the sound quality went towards the entrances and the rest of the game seems to suffer a bit.

The only music in the game appears to be the entrance music for the wrestlers, which is nice on the entrances.  However, being a wrestling game, there’s not really much of a need for additional music, so this doesn’t really hurt anything.

The folks at Amaze went a completely different way with the controls in SvR2k8, choosing to eschew the buttons entirely and go with a stylus-only control structure.  In order to wrestle, you perform taps, swipes, and circles with your stylus, akin to movements in any minigame-based DS title out there, or actually, it’s similar to the gameplay in Elite Beat Agents, albeit without the music to keep the beat. 

Everything in the title is stylus based, and while it isn’t a bad control structure, it does tend to limit what the gameplay is capable of.  Admittedly, it is quite different than any other wrestling game out there, and it stands out based on that fact alone.

When you boot up the title, you’re given the choice between Exhibition (simple single-player matches) and Season mode.  Season mode allows you to play one of twenty-one wrestlers split between Smackdown and Raw, with a couple drawn from ECW.  Your goal, of course, is to become champion (except for ECW, where the goal is simply respect). 

You have various places you can go backstage, where you can speak with other wrestlers, find out about your matches as well as hunt for various items, including time tokens, which are needed to build up your stats.  These tokens are everywhere, and involve digging through trash, opening safes, and looking under sofa cushions.  The training comes via three minigames, which actually use similar gameplay movements to the matches themselves, although these are time-based.  Finding the tokens isn’t the only way to train, as winning matches will also give you training time.

Speaking of matches, with the change in control structure for SvR2k8 comes a change in pace and styling.  Unlike every other wrestling game out there, matches begin in the center of the ring with both wrestlers staring at each other.  Wrestling is essentially a giant game of rock, paper, scissors, with light, medium and hard attacks.  Medium trumps light, hard triumphs over medium and light wins out over hard.  Thus, you pick what kind of move you want to perform via motions on the DS’s lower screen, and depending on how fast you can do the action, you or your opponent will perform your move.

There’s no player movement, so it’s not exactly a simple feat to throw an opponent through the ropes or into a corner, and there’s no move selection, so you’ll likely see the same moves over and over.  However, there is a body-part fatigue system, and the more you wear down specific areas, the easier it will be to make your opponent submit, or to unlock your finishing move.  However, the need to use the stylus to rub at the screen for each move means that the game plays out in little chunks, giving it almost a stop-motion feel to it, or a wrestling version of “Red Light, Green Light”. 

In order to truly get much enjoyment out of this title, one has to be willing to enjoy the stylus-based combat, as well as the rather meager amount of gameplay that’s involved.  While there are twenty-one characters to choose from, there’s little difference in the season mode between them, and there’s really not much replay value.  Admittedly, this is a first effort, and it’s very good for what it is, but it really feels like exactly that.

Even wrestling fans may have problems picking this one up due to the overall lack of depth, but one hopes that Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 for the DS will be a much more solid game.  This is worth a rental, but even for a fan, would probably best be left on the shelf until it’s on sale.