After going hands-on with the somewhat unapproachable DS wrestler, I popped my elbow back into place and went head-on with WW Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 for Wii. If a game is carrying a title that drawn out, it better be packing some serious gameplay and this year’s version of the annual THQ wrestling game does indeed deliver on the content. It’s a pretty big step up from last year’s rather underwhelming game, but even more surprising, this game is no slouch on Wii—the controls, graphics and depth are all top tier, which is rare for Wii games in general and even scarcer in licensed sports titles.
The main event, and biggest addition to the Wii scene, is Road the Wrestlemania. This plot-driven story mode lets you choose from a handful of superstars and follow their character-specific story up to the world series of wrestling, Wrestlemania. The interleaving cutscenes involve a lot of character development and melodrama that is lost on a geek like me, but if you’re a fan of the superstars and a regular viewer then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this mode.
There’s also a basic career mode, where you choose from the available characters or create your own, and then work your way up the brackets to take the title at the end. In this mode, you are actively encouraged to humiliate your opponent and really lay the beat-down on them, because doing so increases your attributes depending on your play style. This feature is a double-edged sword, though; any superstar you create starts with baseline stats, so you must take each of your created characters through career mode to level them up. This can be annoying if you want to make a specialized character right off the bat, or if you want to recreate one of your favorite wrestlers who doesn’t happen to be in SvR 09.
The superstar creator itself is a competent tool that mirrors the depth of current RPG character creators, like the ones you’ll find in Oblivion or Mass effect. If you want to have a ripped Nico Bellic beat the tar out of a certain disbarred Miami attorney, it’s almost certainly possible.
You can take any of your characters into single events, and go up against the superstar of your choosing. The variety of matches her is staggering at first—everything from standard, hardcore and ladder to a royal rumble, with a lot of eclectic options in between. After trying a few of them, though, I discovered that the majority were simple variations on a theme. There are several little tweaks you can put on that theme, but nothing as crazy as you’ll find in a traditional fighting game. At least the arsenal of painful implements is expanded, so if you’ve ever wanted to dent a fire extinguisher with a guy’s face, here’s your chance.
The core gameplay and controls are, thankfully, much more intuitive than the DS stylus controls. SvR on the Wii is still waggle-tastic, with A and B combos affecting the type of grapple and not much else, and while your arms will definitely get tried after a few matches, there are a couple upswings to that. When you really pull of a move, the tactile effect of swinging the Wii remote down into a brutal slam brings that move home. Even the superstar intros let you gesture to the crowd and posture, raising a momentum percentage. I hope THQ implements Wii Motion Plus for next year’s wrestling game, because there’s potential here that needs to be tapped.
As a side note, SvR 09 finally adds online multiplayer to the package, so if you don’t mind the friend codes and lack of voice chat, give it a go. There are some canned text messages for communication which is kind of lame, but on the upside nearly all of the matches and options from the single player are available online, in addition to leaderboards. It’s not a bad effort for a first try at online.
Online or off, the graphics are genuinely impressive on the Wii. After being force-fed PS2 graphics rejects in many yearly sports games, Wii fans can look forward to an honest effort in SvR 09. The superstars as always have high quality models, and while the animations are still a little stiff, that’s to be expected without full-on motion capture. The arenas are suitably attractive, as long as you don’t look at the low-poly audience too much. Wrestling games aren’t typically known for their stunning visuals, aside from realistic-looking superstars, so the developers’ extra effort this time is much appreciated.
SvR 09 isn’t a perfect game, with its share of bugs and occasional motion control hang-ups, but it’s a huge improvement over last year’s game and a promising step toward something truly great. If you have a PS3 or 360 you’ll probably still want to get this game for those consoles, but if you only own a Wii, its port of Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is a much better game than you’re used to.