GAME REVIEW: WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 for Nintendo DS

This is the first in a series of reviews of the different versions of WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008. This is the review of the Nintendo DS version.

THQ’s trademark wrestling franchise comes to the Nintendo DS for the very first time with WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008. Is it destined to be a celebrated Hall of Famer or a lowly Jobber? Read on and find out

THQ is back with their latest WWE game, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008. The series is making it’s debut on several platforms this year. One of these is the Nintendo DS. Like the Wii version of the game, the DS version features a slightly different play experience than the more advanced XBox 360 and Playstation 3 versions. The handheld versions have been tailored to provide the best experience possible, taking into account the hardware’s limitations. So, even with these limitations, the question is: does this game offer a satisfying playing experience? Sadly, the answer is no, not really. What is does offer are acceptable visuals, minimal sound and the most frustrating handheld controls I have attempting to master this year.

AS might be expected, the DS version of the game features fewer Superstars and match types than it’s “big brothers.” The available match types are: Regular, Hardcore, Iron Man, Last Man Standing, Submission and 3 Stages of Hell. There are 21 Superstars in the game, slit between WWE’s 3 brands: RAW, SmackDown and ECW. The Superstars in the game are: RAW (Carlito, John Cena, Jeff Hardy, Mr. Kennedy, King Booker, Bobby Lashley, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Snitsky and Triple H), SmackDown (Batista, Edge, Finlay, Ric Flair, Gregory Helms, Hardcore Holly (EXCLUSIVE to the DS version), Kane, Rey Mysterio and the Undertaker, and ECW (Johnny Nitro and CM Punk). That’s right. The ECW “presence” in this title is confined to just two Superstars.

There are two main modes to choose from: Exhibition or Season. Exhibition can be played by a single player or by multiple players, each with a copy of the game. Season mode is single player only. In Exhibition mode you set up a single match, choosing the match type, superstar and arena for the match. In Season mode, you attempt to lead your chosen Superstar up the ranks in the WWE, with the ultimate goal of becoming WWE Champion.

Graphically, given the limitations of the DS, the game actually looks really good. Character models are detailed enough to distinguish individual Superstars. Arenas are faithfully recreated, though, for some reason, no matter what arena you choose, the ring ropes are always red. The backstage areas, explorable during Season mode, are basic, but full of object you can interact with. Entrances are shorter and feature fewer effects, but do include the Entrance video and music of you Superstar. Move animation are well done and fairly smooth and the game moves and a steady frame rate with no noticeable lag. Honestly, the graphics are one of the best parts of the game.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the controls. THQ decided to take advantage of the DS’s innovative touch screen in designing the game’s controls. I am a huge fan of innovation in general and the DS, in particular. There a ton of games that have successfully used the DS’s touch screen to create great gameplay experiences, such as Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Unfortunately, this is NOT one of them. THQ has opted for a touch screen only control scheme. This has created one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had. The idea is sound, the execution is horrendous. To put it in perspective, if you are looking for a game that will make you throw your DS against the wall, rejoice, your game has arrived. The problem with using a touch screen only in this game stems from the fact that your allowed response time is very small and, as a result, inhuman reflexes are required to complete the requisite series of taps and drags that performs the various moves and holds for your Superstars. The game works off of a “rock, paper,scissors” type interface with moves rated 1,2 or 3. 2 beats 1, 3 beats 2 and so on. The higher the number, the more damage the move does, but the more complicated the sequence of touch screen inputs required. I consider myself fairly adept at games, but I lost 8 matches in a row while playing this game. That was the point that I lost all hope for getting anyway in the season mode at. I was really pretty upset at the whole situation, cause I really like the SmackDown series. I can only hope for a better entry next year.

I hate being so negative, but I have to be honest. So, here is the bitter bottom line. If someone asked me to describe this game in one word, it would be frustrating. If someone asked me to describe this game in one word of wrestling terminology, it would be jobber.

WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 for the Nintendo DS scores a 2 out of 5.