Last year marked the debut of THQ and Yuke's venerable WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW franchise on the PSP. Pretty much a direct port of last year's PlayStation 2 version, the game was a technical marvel, as it was able to bring comparably impressive wrestler models and an incredible roster of game modes to the tinier of Sony's systems. Similarly, WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 for the PSP is a port of this year's PlayStation 2 game. However, there is one wrinkle in the translation--specifically, the dual-analog-based control scheme that debuted on the PS2 this year. Given the PSP's lack of analog sticks, making a direct translation of this control scheme wouldn't exactly work. Instead, Yuke's has revamped that scheme a bit, keeping the various hot spots and some of the ultimate control moves but mapping it in such a way as to not rely on a second stick. The result is a slower, slightly clunkier wrestling game than what the PS2 version was able to deliver, but it still works great for the PSP's capabilities.
The new grappling system centers upon the circle button. To quick-grapple an opponent, you simply press the circle button and a direction on the D pad to pull off one of four different moves. To do a strong grapple, you hold down the circle button and press one of the directions on the D pad to put you into one of four grappled states. From here, you can simply press a direction and the button again to do a standard move or press the circle button sans a D-pad button to put your opponent into an interactive grapple. With these moves, you'll pick up your opponent in one of several different ways. For example, you might pick him up like you're about to suplex him to the mat, but instead you'll suspend him in midair and have a few different options of how to dispose of him. By walking over to the ropes and pressing up on the right stick, you'll drop him midsection-first right onto the ropes. Pressing down will perform a normal suplex. You can also drag opponents over to environmental hot spots like the ring steps, announcer tables, and the like, and use the same sort of right-stick-based attack methodology, with these areas acting as weapons. It's an extremely cool idea that's only hampered by the limited number of ultimate control moves you have access to. It makes sense that each wrestler would have access to only a few of these individual moves, but there's not very many of them overall, and there seems to be even less of them available in the PSP version than were available in the console versions. A little more variety would have gone a long way here.
The basic idea with the new grappling system on the console versions of SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 was to try and get a better sense of freedom with your moves. You still get a small sense of that with the inclusion of the interactive grapples in the PSP version, but the switch from a right analog stick to the age-old grapple-button mechanic slows things down and doesn't feel all that much different from the usual grappling system used by most wrestling games in the past. Though the right-analog system wasn't without its flaws, this version is a bit tough to go back to.
As far as other additions to the basic wrestling go, SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 additionally includes a whole new section of the ring area that is littered with weaponry and other objects to slam your opponents into. Just drag your opponent over to the right section of the crowd and throw him over the ring barrier. Once you're there, there's a multitude of objects to use to decimate your opponent. Apart from the usual tables and chairs, you'll find fire extinguishers, racks of speakers, and a huge production rig to jump off of. There's less to work with in the PSP version than there was in the console versions, and very little of what's over here operates much differently than the usual menagerie of weapons you find in a hardcore match, but having an out-of-the-ring area to brawl in is a nice touch.
While the new touches on the gameplay system range from decent to great, few of these changes are aspects of the game that really needed updating. Instead of new grappling systems and added hot spots, some updates to the wrestler AI system or improvements to the collision detection would have been nice. For what it is, the opponent AI is OK, though it's periodically incapable of dealing a final blow in some of the more weapon-heavy gimmick matches. Partner AI in tag matches is still mostly broken. Sometimes they'll come running to your rescue when you're trapped in a submission hold or about to be pinned, and sometimes they'll just stand there twiddling their thumbs. Oddly enough, opponent partners in tag matches never seem to have an issue rescuing their comrades. AI opponents in general still rely very heavily on perfectly timed reversals that happen to be significantly tougher to time on your end, and it's not terribly hard to get stuck in an unbreakable string of attacks from your opponent if you aren't deft with the reversal timing. Considering the only way to get up off the mat is to mash buttons like a lunatic, it's tough to balance that with timing your reversals. That's something else that could stand to be improved.
Collision detection is as it's been in the last few SmackDown! games. Generally, it works well, though there are a number of spots where you'll miss with strikes inexplicably, and flying attacks are always a total gamble as to where you'll land and if you'll even hit anything. It's also annoying that putting wrestlers through tables or smacking them off downed ladders isn't more dynamic. You still have to treat these weapons as hot spots more often than not, and doing moves like powerbombs or suplexes near them isn't typically enough to make them break.
What you simply can't complain about in any of the recent SmackDown! games is the breadth of content, and 2007 is no different. Every single match type, game mode, and feature found in last year's game is on hand again, and many have been extended or adjusted to give them even more lasting value. The only new match in the game is the money in the bank match, a six-man free-for-all ladder match that, admittedly, isn't terribly fun unless you're playing against friends. But with so many other matches available, from the usual table, TLC, and hardcore matches to big-time gimmick matches like buried alive, elimination chamber, and backstage brawls that take place either in a parking lot or a bar, you're unlikely to run out of ways to pummel opponents any time soon.
The season mode has improved a bit on the basic story-driven formula found last year. There's around 40 different individual storylines in the game, each of which centers around some kind of feud or situation leading up to a Pay-Per-View battle. Which storylines you end up experiencing depend mostly on which wrestler you bring into the season mode (created wrestlers and a few of the legends can be brought in, along with the main roster), though there are a couple of specific spots in a few of the storylines where you'll get to make a specific choice and branch the story one way or the other. The storylines themselves are basically on par with what you'd find on the show, with feuds centering around title shots, Royal Rumble slots, various divas, and such. The only thing that's a bummer in this year's storylines is that the dialogue and commentary don't seem to form fit around whichever wrestler you're using quite as well. The commentators refer to you generically as a "superstar" in most cases, and the cutscenes often go out of their way to make it so you don't talk much, save for when it's most necessary. Still, there's plenty of wrestler dialogue to be found, and most of it is good. Sometimes it's real stiff, but not necessarily any more so than what you'd see on TV. And certain wrestlers, such as Mr. Kennedy, do a masterful job bringing their personas to the game.
The GM mode returns this year, as well. Making its debut last year, this mode introduced the concept of being able to book your own shows, setting up feuds, and trying to earn fans away from the rival brand. It's a purely menu-based mode, and it works similarly to some of the PC wrestling management sims floating around on the Internet, though without a ton of depth. This year's mode adds a few wrinkles to the formula, not the least of which is specific feud types and storyline writers. Along with having to hire an entire roster of superstars, you'll need to periodically hire writers. Each writer specializes in certain types of storylines. One writer might be adept at handling storylines revolving around factions, whereas another one might be good at pulling at the heartstrings of American fans via patriotic angles. Each storyline requires certain types of wrestlers, so you can't just shove anyone into an angle and have it work. The basic idea for setting up these rivalries is that matches between wrestlers in a rivalry get match-rating bonuses.
The addition of rivalry types and writers is a nice idea, but it doesn't fix the fundamental issue with the GM mode, in that you still feel totally disconnected from the experience. Though you can play through any of the matches you book for a card, doing so doesn't seem to have any more of an effect on the match rating at the end than simply simulating them. It's also impossible to book cards that are realistic in comparison to what the WWE actually books for its shows. For one, you can only have 20 wrestlers on a roster at any given time, which makes trying to create a variety of matches and feuds a touch difficult. Additionally, none of the promos you can book for a show play out visibly. They're just menu options on the card, and they give you varying types of bonuses, but that's it. The same can be said for rivalries, which seem to be there purely for bonus purposes and not much else. It might be asking a bit much at this point to be able to book full-on storylines and have them play out in some tangible capacity, but what the GM mode offers still feels a bit mundane. It's cool to be able to take control of one of the WWE brands, but what you end up doing with it ends up being repetitive and not very interesting.
All the create modes found in last year's game are back this year, and most of them work functionally the same. Create-a-wrestler, create-a-belt, and create-a-stable are mostly the same, though CAW has plenty of additional attires and customization options. Create-an-entrance has seen the biggest overhaul. You can now view previews of every single change you make to a wrestler's entrance on the fly, from basic camera angles to varying types of pyrotechnics. The load-up time for each preview is better than it was in last year's PSP game, though they're still noticeable. In general, it's a much breezier process to create a good entrance this time around. The only real flaw is entrance music. For one, the entrance music you pick just plays on loop in the background, and it doesn't restart each time you load up a new preview, which might make timing pyrotechnics and entrance moves a bit off-kilter.
Once again, SmackDown! on the PSP lacks online play. It has ad hoc multiplayer that lets you compete against friends in exhibition matches and title matches (for created belts), as well as trade created superstars, but the lack of online is still a bit of a bummer. The one PSP exclusive mode for this year's game is better than the god-awful minigames included last year, though not by much. It's called Road to Wrestlemania, though in kind of a weird system, there's actually four tournament types included in this mode (only one of which is titled Road to Wrestlemania), including a basic king-of-the-ring mode, a money-in-the-bank tournament (where six matches are played to decide six entrants to the titular match), and a SmackDown! vs. RAW competition, where up to 16 superstars can compete against members of their brand (eight on each side) until the finalists for each brand compete in a one-on-one match to determine who goes on to the final match. The final match, in this case, is against any of the available title holders in the game. The Road to Wrestlemania tournament is the final option, and it works basically the same as the SmackDown! vs. RAW mode, sans brand limitations. However, it does add a stipulation of specifically fighting the champion at the end at Wrestlemania. There's one neat option for an iron-man mode, where the damage taken from each match carries over to the next, but otherwise, this is a straightforward tournament mode that's amusing enough but not enough of a bonus to make up for the lack of online wrestling.
As was the case in the console versions, SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 includes an updated roster, though not quite as updated as you might be hoping for. WWE rosters are constantly shifting, and every single year the roster is out of date well before the game ever makes it to store shelves. No year has this been more evident than with SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007. Plenty of highly pushed superstars like the Spirit Squad, Brian Kendrick, Paul London, and basically any ECW superstar not named Big Show or Rob Van Dam, are nowhere to be found in the game. In fact, the ECW brand isn't really acknowledged anywhere, nor do several of the wrestlers have their current gimmicks. Booker T is sans the King Booker gimmick, and though there's an unlockable DX entrance available, the gimmick isn't prevalent anywhere in the season mode. Also, you've got guys like Psicosis and Kid Kash in the game who haven't been on TV in quite some time, not to mention Kurt Angle, who ditched the WWE quite a while back for the rival NWA-TNA promotion. Though you can certainly create most of the omitted wrestlers, it's a hassle to do so, and you'll undoubtedly be disappointed with the overall makeup of this year's roster.
As far as visuals go, SmackDown! 2007 doesn't look too much different from SmackDown! 2006 on the PSP. The wrestler models still look extremely impressive, with most of the fantastic facial details and animations. Some of the move animations are looking a bit stiff and clunky these days, but mostly the wrestling has a great look to it and flows quite well. Crowd graphics are still an issue, with flat, cardboard-looking models that have somewhere around four pixels apiece. It's an issue that's kind of understandable, since something had to be scaled down to fit the game onto the PSP and keep the wrestlers and arenas looking nice, but man are they ugly. The frame rate mostly stays solid, except for random moments during a match where you can hear the UMD hitch up inside the system and the game freezes for close to a second. There's no rhyme or reason to when it does this, and it seems to happen way more often in multiplayer matches. It's not overly pervasive, but it happens enough to be obnoxious.
Load times are still a big issue, as well, though not quite as humongous an issue as they were last year. Prematch load times are still long and annoying, especially when you have entrances set to on; menu transitions, especially in season mode, take longer than they ought to; and creating a wrestler can still be a time-consuming process, thanks to the loading. Again, Yuke's did improve this aspect somewhat this year, but load times continue to get in the way of the game.
The audio presentation is rather uneven. There's plenty of voice acting in the season mode, and it's mostly entirely decent, but in-match commentary is absent. You get clips of the announcers during entrances for matches in the season mode, since these lines are specifically scripted to the storyline you're playing, but all the normal in-match stuff is gone. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since on consoles, that stuff is terrible. Still, the replacement of random songs from the soundtrack playing while you wrestle isn't a ton better. The soundtrack is another scattered collection of generic hard rock tunes and hip-hop tracks, though the inclusion of Ghostface Killah's "The Champ" is a welcome change of pace from the usual generic nonsense tossed into these games. In-ring effects are also feeling a bit stagnant. Crowd noise never seems to really come alive, and many of the slams and hits don't seem as impactful as they could be.
Ultimately, SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 on the PSP is a fine wrestling game in its own right, though it's hard to recommend it over either of the available console versions. You once again get the bulk of the major modes, presentational components, and new gameplay features found in the PS2 and 360 games, but with everything scaled back as much as it is, you can't call the game anything but third best among the pack. Additionally, the lack of online and the lengthy loading times limit some of the game's value and appeal as a handheld title. It's a very good package that will certainly serve any PSP owner well, but if you can find your way to one of the other available versions of SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007, you should.