IGN Review of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010
The evolution of wrestling on DS has been one strange journey to say the least. SmackDown vs. Raw has seen three iterations at this point, and each of the games have been fundamentally different than the others. The only link between them all is the same developer – Tose, the guys that struck gold with Rocket Slime a couple years back – and impressive visuals that blow even the best N64 brawlers out of the water with ease. Each time around, however, controls are almost completely changed, and while WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is on the right track on DS, it's still tough to shake that feeling that THQ is kicking off a freshman effort with each version year-by-year. With every big change comes a fresh start, and too many fresh starts means less time for year-over-year improvements.
First of all, SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is hands-down the best wrestling experience on DS. You've got dozens of Superstars, as well as plenty of match types including one-on-one, last man standing, ladder, steel cage, tables, TLC, extreme rules, the DS-exclusive ambulance match, and backstage brawls, which are added across all versions this year. In addition, you've got a much stronger story mode to experience, but still only three create-a-wrestler slots to fill up. If you've got dreams of stacking in countless other brand wrestlers into the mix, dream on. My free spots went to filling in the gaps of fighters I wanted in the game from the WWE brand – guys like Brain Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, and Kaval.
This year's story mode is much stronger than last year, and again a testament to Tose's dev power. There's some silly writing and it's far from the cinematic experiences found on the 360/PS3/Wii versions of the game, but it's also something original for on-the-go gamers, too. If you expect to take your favorite Superstar through the main campaign, however, you're out of luck. Story mode is based on Create-A-Superstar only, and acts as the way to power-up your newbie wrestlers. What this also means, however, is that any new fighter you want to add to the roster has to be bulked up throughout this story-based affair. You can't add in a guy like Hogan – er… "Mr. America" – and have him kick ass right out of the box. Still, it's fun to create a new wrestler, run him through the story mode, and then bring him into quick play and go toe-to-toe with the likes of Cena and Orton. One major gripe about create-a-wrestler, however, is that the system is still extremely basic, built in a similar fashion to the old PSone Smackdown games. You need to basically paint on every piece of your character's outfit, and there's a lot of trial and error to get everything right. It's in dire need of an update.
Once you actually strap on the boots and step into the ring, however, it's obvious that SmackDown vs. Raw is a whole new game, with a whole new set of ups and downs. The biggest – and most appreciated – change this time around is the inclusion of full button controls. There's no stylus used during play, and such a seemingly simple change has improved the game substantially. You can now move freely, do light and heavy strikes and grapples based on a tap or hold, and the game is on its way to feeling like a much more No Mercy-inspired game of SVR. Button reaction needs to be faster – with some of the game's slower superstars it'll take forever to do heavy strikes – but the game is heading in the right direction in a big way. In general all of the gameplay feels much improved over last year's d-pad and stylus control scheme, and while virtually unchanged, the visual quality is still top notch on DS. You'll find even more moves, more animation during intros, and of course theme music and audio introductions for each superstar. It is truly starting to feel like pocket SmackDown.
That's also a tough road to go down though, and while SmackDown vs. Raw is better this year than it has been for the last two years, it still has a long way to go if it wants to be a truly amazing wrestling package on DS. There are still a lot of odd omissions in the game, such as a lack of dive-out attacks, top rope-to-outside moves, or grabs off of Irish whips. Most matches – if they aren't gimmick-based – end up boiling down to strikes, a few different grabs to wear down opponents, maybe a submission or two, and then a few running shoulder blocks or clotheslines. For as much as there is in 2010, it's hard not to notice what it's still missing. With the original DS games you only had a few options for each instance, so now that the game is fully opened up, the smoke and mirrors are shown off a bit more. It's a big step in the right direction, and THQ mentioned that they are pushing the limits of what the system can do. There are bigger DS carts out there though, so if THQ invests in a larger storage size, I'm thoroughly convinced the product could be pushed even further. The base is there, and it's fun. Now, it's a matter of doing what the SmackDown team has been basing development on for years and piling on more and more over the top of it every year.
And speaking of piling on new mechanics, the game's card system is an all-new advancement limited only to DS, and it's pretty entertaining. As you play through wireless games with a friend, story mode, or even regular matches within the game you'll be awarded random draws for cards, which can hold various attributes. Some are basic unlocks, such as superstar cards for all the talent in the game and new arenas to jump on into, but there's also a deeper system to be found as well. During each wrestler's entrance video, players can select three cards to bring with them into the fight and then tap them on the bottom screen mid-match to execute special skills. This can be anything from stealing a finisher, instantly kicking out of a three-count no matter how tired you are, as well as odd inclusions such as having a Diva jump in and distract the opponent and the dreaded tadpole splash by Hornswoggle. These cards aren't just unlocks though; instead, they act as an RPG "use item" during fights. Once it's gone, it's gone forever, so the game encourages you to collect multiples of each card, trade with friends, and use a lot of strategy when cashing one in. It's a great system, and while it adds more of an arcade feel into matches (and isn't exactly "traditional" to the SmackDown series) it does add needed depth to the experience, which is needed during this transitional year. With a stronger story mode, more match types, improved controls, and an added collectable trading card mechanic, SmackDown on DS is better than ever.
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