Just when you thought that WWE Aftershock for the N-Gage had shown you just how far down wrestling gaming can go on mobile phones, along comes WWE Raw, a disaster of handheld proportions. Raw is sort of like a severely condensed version of that old NES game WWF Wrestlemania, where wrestlers would wander up, down, and around a 2D plane made to look like a wrestling ring, blindly kicking and punching at one another, and occasionally doing some kind of body slam. OK, in all fairness, this game is running on modest technology, but even that excuse goes flying out the window the moment you get your hands on the controls and realize how completely inept and near broken the combat itself is.
On paper, Raw seems like it has the right ideas. The roster is somewhat out of date, but it does include 14 superstars and divas, including the likes of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista, Kane, and Chris Jericho. Of course, the only reason you'd know that would be because the character-selection screen specifically displays their names. When you're in the game, the character sprites are so teensy and squished that the only way you can tell the difference between guys is by the colors of their tights. There's only one specific match type in Raw (single matches, that is), but there are a couple of different modes, including quick play, career, and create-a-wrestler. The create-a-wrestler mode is completely worthless, however, due to the aforementioned squished sprites. The only differentiating factors you can really mess with are the length and color of the tights, and skin color. The mode lets you change heads, but the smallness of the sprites makes it impossible to see the difference in any of them.
But, whatever, having modes is only a meaningful distinction if the underlying gameplay works to any effect, and it most definitely does not in WWE Raw. You move your wrestler around the ring with the phone's 2, 4, 6, and 8 buttons, but the responsiveness of the movement controls is lacking, at best. There are times when you'll be trying to move backward, but either because the game just isn't registering the button presses properly, or because you're caught in some sort of never-ending loop of getting punched by your opponent, you won't be able to go anywhere.
Attack buttons aren't much more responsive. You've got punches and kicks you can use in button-mashing combinations, but their effectiveness is highly suspect. If you can magically get an opponent to drop his guard or not walk one centimeter off to the left, up or down (which is too far for you to reach, apparently), you might be able to stun him or her long enough to do a grapple. Once you're in a grapple, you have to hammer on the 5 button to build up a meter, while your opponent does the same. If you beat your opponent, you'll do some kind of heinous-looking slam move. Incidentally, this is just about the only real "wrestling" move you're capable of doing in the game.
Because of the awful controls, every single match basically degenerates into a weird cat-and-mouse game where you and your opponent sort of wander around the ring, trying to find that sweet spot where you're just out of his reach, but you can magically hit him. Usually, all you need to do is either hold down the block button forever (which is just as exciting as it sounds), or move slightly below or above your opponent on the ring plane, where you'll find a spot where his hits don't even register, but yours do. Maybe your opponent will eventually figure out what you're doing and move slightly in one direction or another, and maybe he won't. It's anybody's guess.
There are a couple of other moves you can pull off, like running clotheslines and diving elbow drops, but they're basically worthless, too. Trying to make your wrestler actually run is mostly a fool's errand. You have to double-tap either the 4 or 6 button, but it takes about eight or nine tries to actually get your player to run. Then when you run in and attack, the opponent barely seems to register the hit. Ground attacks would only be useful if you could actually knock your opponent down, which you can't do until near the end of the match. By that point, you'll be so desperate for the match and your suffering to just end, that going for the pin every time is an altogether better solution.
The severely ugly wrestler sprites have already been mentioned, but that isn't even the worst of the game's presentational follies. The animation is stilted and horrible. All the wrestlers move like they have a steel rod for a spine, and the moves all look pretty much like crap. Yes, mobile games are rarely havens for spectacular animations, but the vast majority of mobile action games are able to work wonders compared to the pathetically lazy movements these wrestlers have, especially on a system like the Sony Ericsson S710a. As for the audio, there's an intensely lousy MIDI song that plays over menus, and you get a few lousy punching and grunting sound effects during matches, and that's about it.
WWE Raw is about as lackluster as any sort of action-oriented game on a mobile phone could get. The action (if you can even call it that) is so infuriatingly dull and half-baked that it's simply impossible to envision anyone making it through more than a full match's worth of this unpleasantness, let alone the full volley of matches needed to complete the career mode (which is really just a series of matches against all the other wrestlers on the roster, with no bells or whistles to speak of). WWE Raw most definitely should be avoided by even the most rabid of wrestling fans.