To be frank, we're astonished. It's not that this year's iteration of the WWE Smackdown series on Wii is actually really good, although that certainly surprised us too considering last year's woeful effort. It's not even that Yuke's has finally found a decent use for the motion controls that it seems determined to shoehorn into the Wii versions of its wrestling titles. No, we're astonished because after literally years of reviewing wrestling games and complaining about their shortcomings, it seems that not only has somebody listened to the collective feedback but also fixed practically everything in one fell swoop.
The more we played WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 09, the more little things we noticed that were always on our wish list but never materialised last time. The champions actually come out with their belts and get announced as champions, even if it's a title change that you made happen.
There's a seriously extensive roster editor, that allows you to chop and change brands, titles and even face/heel traits among wrestlers to match real life events. There's an on-screen gauge that tells you how close your wrestler is to recovering after a knockdown, rather than the game just telling you to 'Press Any Button Repeatedly'. They might be minor elements, but the fact that they exist in such a solid form this time around speaks volumes about how hard Yuke's has tried.
The King Of Kings
And then, of course, there's the game itself. Unlike last year's game, it's got a beefy roster of wrestlers and, more importantly, almost every match type going (bar the lack of an Elimination Chamber, that is). It's got extensive creation modes - wrestler, move set and interactive entrances - that offer oodles of messing around time, although sadly the Create A Finisher mode seen in other console versions isn't here. And it's got not one, but two single-player modes: an enjoyable career mode that forgoes the usual scripted plots for wrestler progression and belt winning, and a very decent Road To Wrestlemania mode that features six different TV-based, wrestler-themed storylines to play through. Needless to say, we're rather impressed.
Perhaps not as impressed, however, as we are with the new context-sensitive motion controls. Yes, you still have to waggle the Remote to strike or grapple (depending on the buttons held), but now that you get to choose the moves you do by responding to the on-screen prompts during grapples, there's actually a point to all that Remote waving. The interactive entrances to help build crowd momentum work really well too.
Granted, the motion controls aren't entirely perfect. Some motions don't respond particularly well and sometimes it'll
do moves other than what you were aiming for but considering that's as much the fault of the Wii Remote than the developer (*cough* Samba De Amigo *cough*) and how solid the rest of the game is, it's hard not to be impressed. Smackdown Vs Raw 09, the best wrestling game for years? As much as we hate to admit it, we have to agree.