In some ways, THQ's WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW series has become the publisher's version of Madden--an annual sports release with a rabid following that seems to come out on more and more platforms each year. For the upcoming WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2008, you can add one more platform to that list: the Nintendo DS. We had a chance to try out a demo build of the dual-screen debut for the wrestling series, and though our overall reaction to the game is a bit mixed, we can say unequivocally that it's not your typical wrestling game.
The challenge with creating a wrestling game on the Nintendo DS comes in balancing the in-depth controls that wrestling fans expect from a grappling game with the need to make a game that's not only easy to play for newcomers, but also takes advantage of the DS's unique capabilities. To find that balance, the game's developer has had to make some compromises, one of which being that you won't be able to move your wrestler around the ring. Instead, you'll meet your foe in the middle of the ring and, as you land strikes and grapples on each other, you will move automatically around the ring in accordance with the move. Being knocked backward, for example, will move you closer to the ropes behind you.
From a control standpoint, the entire game uses the stylus and touch screen. As two grapplers face off, three color-coded icons--or nodes, as they're known--appear onscreen; each indicates a different strike or grapple you can pull off in that situation. When you tap a node with your stylus, you'll be given visual clues onscreen that you'll need to match with the stylus on the touch screen. For example, a light yellow node typically indicates a light strike, and a typical associated motion would be to sweep the stylus quickly up the screen in one direction. If you pull off the correct stylus motion quickly enough, you'll land the move on your opponent.
The color of the node determines what kind of move it is, as well as the position of your wrestler relative to his opponent. For example, pulling off a grapple move might put your opponent in a hold of some sort, whereby an entirely new trio of icons would become available to you to further deal punishment. The darker the node, the longer and more complicated the moves you'll need to pull off on the touch screen. In our hands-on time with the game, we found many of the onscreen instructions to be a unclear at first. We were able to find some success after some practice, however.
The game will include a text-based story mode that will feature your standard SmackDown story of in-ring struggles, backstage strife, and perhaps a few divas thrown into the mix for good measure, as well as head-to-head multiplayer that THQ producers liken to a wrestling equivalent of rock-paper-scissors. The game will include more than 80 moves you can pull off, as well as a host of WWE superstars to play as and challenge. The game is currently due for release later this year.