It’s hard being a wrestling fan. Part of me is extremely embarrassed to admit it publicly, I am thirty years old after all and shouldn’t I have grown out of this by now? The other part of me cannot help but deny the fascination that I have had with the wrestling industry since I was a kid. Wrestling has always been a part of my life; some of my fondest childhood memories involve watching the Survivor Series with all of my cousins back when it was held on Thanksgiving every year. Seeing as how I also share the same love and fascination with the video game industry, it is pretty much a no brainer that wrestling games appeal to me. The problem is I cannot say that there have been too many wrestling video games that I have liked in recent years. The genre was in its heyday during the Nintendo 64 era but I have found the quality of the games as a whole to be on the decline since then.
The past couple of years, the Smackdown vs. Raw games have caught my eye. THQ and Yuke’s have gone to great lengths with the past couple of games to reinvent the series in order to appeal to wrestling fans of all ages. It has been working and thanks to this year’s installment in the series, they have converted at least one gamer into being a diehard fan. Although I did get a chance to take an early look at the game earlier this month during a trip to Dalls (provided by THQ), I was barely able to scratch the surface with all that the development team has packed into this year’s game. Now that I have had the chance to explore everything that the game has to offer at my own pacing, I can say without hesitation that this is the best wrestling games to hit the market since WWE No Mercy on the Nintendo 64.
THQ has gone to great lengths to throw everything that a wrestling fan could want into Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. That isn’t to say that the game isn’t without its flaws; it certainly has some glaring issues which we will discuss throughout this review. One of the things that THQ has tried to do this year is make the game more appealing and playable, from a gameplay standpoint, to new players to the series. This has been done with a few changes to the gameplay and control mechanics of the game to mixed results. First and foremost, the development team has removed what has traditionally been referred to as the grapple modifier. In the past, players have always had the option of manually choosing whether or not to engage in a weak or strong grapple with the simple press of an extra button. Each “strength of grapple” could then be transitioned into a varying list of moves. Players do not have the ability to do that as easily in this year’s game. The strength of the standard grapple that player engages in is determined by the stamina of your opponent. Whether you like it or not, the first few minutes of your matches will be filled with arm bars and chest-slaps unless you find a means to make your opponent groggy ahead of time. This change makes sense in theory but ultimately produces a lack of gameplay variety to those who may not think things through, as I did early on. One of the ways around this is to kick your opponent with a gut kick (downfoward + strike) and then engage them in a grapple as they are bent over. This adds to the realism of the game immensely in my opinion.
Some of the other gameplay changes that help to drastically improve the experience are the new pinning and “pick up” controls. The new method used in these controls help the flow of the game immensely. One of my biggest complaints with the previous games was that it was often difficult to pin and / or lift your opponent up from a fallen position at will. I often found myself doing one when I intended to do the other, which broke up the flow and ultimately created unnecessary frustration. That isn’t the case now as both commands are now completed using a simple flick of the right analog stick. Flicking the stick upwards will lift the opponent off of the mat, regardless of their position (face up or face down), and flicking it downwards will initiate a pin maneuver (again, regardless of position). This new scheme feels very natural and has completely eliminated the mishaps that I encountered with previous Smackdown vs. Raw games. The same control mechanic has been instituted with opponents that have been placed into the corner; opponents can now be hoisted up to the top rope for punishment with a simple upward flick of the stick or turned upside down in a dreaded tree of woe with a downward one.
Another major complaint with the previous games that was held by not only myself, but many gamers, was the awkwardness of the pinning combination maneuvers. It is now up to the player to initiate a transition into a pinning combination from a given maneuver. You will no longer have to worry about the game forcing you into a pinning situation just because you utilized a certain move in your arsenal. Any and all moves that can be transitioned into a pin now feature a button prompt that allows the player(s) to choose either to complete the move normally or flow into a pin. Nothing interrupts the gameplay of a wrestling game worse than an unwarranted pin but those are now a thing of the past in this series.
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