Amaze Entertainment takes over the development of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw for the Nintendo DS and comes up with an entertaining alternative from its console big brothers. Armed with the stylus, you’ll have to battle with the best as you climb the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Initially I expected to be let down with a hack up ported DS version of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, but when I loaded the cartridge up I found a pleasant surprise. SVR2008 (Smackdown vs. Raw 2008) wasn’t a hack of the console; it was a re-formatted, innovative take on the WWE franchise. In a smart move developer Amaze Entertainment bypassed the full motion wrestling from the console version and created its own unique mix of combat. I can’t even imagine what a straight port would have looked like; I know it wouldn’t have been much better than staring at Snitsky’s zit filled back.
What Amaze tries to accomplish in the DS version of SVR2008 is a half and half take with a focus on wrestling, backstage politics and cinematics. The way Amaze tackled this ambitious project was to create a turned-based strategy styled fighting system that runs on a real-time clock. This actually reminded me of an old WWF wrestling game a friend of mine had for the PC back in the 80s. It was the same concept, only without the real-time aspect. Wrestling is a thinking mans sport, even though you can tell from its sexed up, dramatized TV image. Believing in the art of wrestling, SVR2008 will have you thinking like a chess player, ahead of the game with grapple moves as pawns, and body slams as knights.
Keeping with the DS’s current theme, the touch generation, SVR2008 is totally interactive and only uses the stylus during the gameplay. Using the stylus to wrestle sounds confusing, but it’s not when you get into the action. How the matches go down is with the two wrestlers standing each other off. If you’re quicker than you opponent then you can launch the first attack. Three icons will appear on the screen indicating three move possibilities. These options include grapple holds, strikes, Irish Whip, Rope holds, submissions, weapons and your finisher. After to pick you’re selection you’ll need to draw lines, swirl the stylus, or tap the screen according to the move set instructions that come on the screen indicated by a large red icons. To successfully perform a move you have to be quicker than you’re opponent which means quick reflexes and precise stylus hits.
These motions can sometimes be difficult to pull off and will need some practicing to lock on all the moves. Each wrestler also has their unique move set based of their real-life personality. I found the real trick is learning your players move selection so you can get your opponent in the right spot to complete move objectives and win specialty matches. Like the console version you’ll wear down you opponent’s body parts and look to slap on your finisher and go for the pin. If you’re good, then you’ll be able to link up some devastating combinations and put your opponent for the big one two three.
For the most part the matches can get pretty intense when you’re battling back and forth looking for the upper hand, but they also become repetitive quickly. Because you can’t dictate exactly what moves you want to perform you’ll have to go through a number of sub-moves before you hit the one you want and then you’re limited by the number of options included. In a first build, SVR2008 can be excused from not including a larger move sets for each wrestler, but it is the weak link. After a number of matches in a row things can get a little tiresome even when you are facing new challengers. In the future, I’d hope THQ keeps Amaze rolling ahead with its touch-based wrestling approach so they can expand on the roster, and the move sets included in the game. Adding more moves and options during a match will drive the DS version of SVR2008 to be a hot seller in competition with the other versions released.
In my career I chose Carlito out of the roster and started my RAW career chasing the WWE gold being held by Jeff Hardy (strange pre-set champion). This led me into a number of matches between brands, backstage politics and individual objects to complete while I learned how to wrestle DS style. The backstage aspect of SVR2008 has you helping other wrestlers and haggling with GMs, the normal drama you’d expect in WWE product. In the backstage area you can explore your own locker room, the food service area, the weight room where you can boost you stats in two interactive games, the Owners and GMs office, the interview room, and two extra locker rooms. In all these areas you can expect to be greeted by a few wrestlers, or snobbish diva’s, that help push the storylines forward.
In one instance I had to help a fellow heal wrestler find Triple H’s leg brace so he could get an easier win in his match, and then search out CM Punk’s Wallet in retribution of held out funds. Like the WWE, the plot lines don’t always make sense and that’s the beauty of the WWE. I found the content to be a little light with no options to branch out, but it is good enough keep me entertained before the next big match. Amaze also included a helpful subsection where you can view player objectives and story line objectives if you’re getting stuck on a current story arch.
Amazes approach might not please every gamer despite it’s innovate approach. However if you’re looking for a console adaption for a portable, the PSP version is your answer. If you want something new from your WWE license then the Nintendo DS is your vice. Smackdown vs. Raw on the Nintendo DS can also complements the console version with its strategy approach to wrestling. If you’re a hardcore wrestling fan, then you owe it to yourself to check out this bold new direction on Nintendo’s portable. The ground work has been laid out and hopefully THQ sticks with Amaze Entertainment for next years edition of Smackdown vs. Raw. I believe in the DS's potential as a contender in 2009, showing the bigger consoles that being small, and less powerful doesn’t mean you’re a looser, just ask Rey Mysterio.
Gameplay:7.5, Graphics: 8, Sound: 6, Innovation: 8, Mojo: 8. Final: 7.5 / 10