It's been two years since THQ published a wrestling game on the GBA, which was WWE Road to Wrestlemania X8, to be specific. You'd assume that the company would've used that lengthy time span to make sweeping improvements to the game engine for the subsequent release. Well, WWE Survivor Series is here, and, to be blunt, it's just a rehash of the last game but with a new cast, a revamped story mode, and a few slight gameplay changes. The recognizable cast of characters is just about the only thing this so-called "new" game has going for it.
There's nothing significantly wrong with the list of included features, except for the glaring absence of a create-a-wrestler mode. People are still running message boards and devoting FAQ pages to Fire Pro Wrestling, a 4-year-old game, because it lets them create and train an entire stable of custom wrestlers. WWE Survivor Series has to get by solely on the strength of its stock roster, which, to its credit, does include 16 of the WWE's hottest stars. Play modes include story, exhibition, and multiplayer. The exhibition and multiplayer modes let you set up single, tag, cage, submission, hardcore, triple-threat, four-way, and royal rumble matches, as well as multiround tournaments, in any of seven different arenas. Four players can take part at once, so long as everyone has his or her own GBA, link cable, and copy of the game.
The story mode is the game's heart and soul. Here you pick any of the 16 available wrestlers and control him as he works his way up the ranks of one of the WWE's two wrestling factions, either SmackDown! or Raw. After a few preliminary qualifying tournaments, you'll have the opportunity to compete for the championship belts. Match types vary depending on the event, but they come in six varieties: single, tag, cage, submission, hardcore, and royal rumble. Once you win all three belts in one faction, you can cross over and try to do the same in the other. Beating the various opponents isn't too difficult, once you nail the controls, but there is a rather sneaky catch that may make it tougher to swipe those belts. To enter a tournament, you have to first impress Paul Heyman or Eric Bischoff by earning high audience and tag-partner ratings. To do that, you need to mix up your moves, let the CPU gain the upper hand from time to time, and rush in when your partner is in trouble.
Ultimately, WWE Survivor Series isn't very satisfying. That isn't necessarily because of the lack of a create-a-wrestler option or because the graphics and sound are so dated. Those are negatives, sure. Nonetheless, the biggest problem with WWE Survivor Series is that it's just so boring and straightforward to play. Every wrestler has the same basic assortment of punches, slaps, and kicks, with a unique takedown or reversal thrown in here and there. Grappling the opponent involves pressing the A button and then quickly tapping a direction on the D pad, along with either the A or B button, which isn't any different from other wrestling games on the GBA. However, and this is a key difference, timing doesn't factor whatsoever into the success or failure of a grapple. The CPU can always bust free by using up a little of its momentum meter, and human opponents can do the same just as easily by tapping A before executing a takedown. You can fling opponents toward the ropes, climb the turnbuckle, hop out of the ring, and use weapons in hardcore matches. Furthermore, every wrestler has his own unique finisher. But that's all rendered pretty meaningless, because the main goings-on inside the ring involve repeatedly using the same eight moves over and over again.
About the graphics and audio... They're tolerable...and perhaps they're even OK. The ring is viewed from a side angle, giving the game a three-dimensional appearance, although the arenas and crowd are obviously made up of 2D sprites and backgrounds. It's fun to see all the signs the spectators hold up and the gestures they make. On the other hand, it appears that developer Natsume used only a dozen or so colors to fill in the crowd and backgrounds, because the arenas look more like comic book pages than lifelike environments. The wrestlers look awesome, however. Natsume used digitized images to construct the game's sprites, and it linked enough of them together to make all their walking, grappling, takedown, and reaction animations silky smooth. Each wrestler has his own prematch intro ceremony that's vaguely similar to the real thing, albeit done up with in-game 2D graphics as opposed to using digitized stills or video clips. As for the audio, well, there are a couple of music tracks that play during matches, in addition to some sound effects for punches, kicks, and mat falls. The ref also counts to three during a pin. Frankly, though, no GBA game should sound this plain in this day and age.
This game was great a couple of years ago--when it was called WWE Road to Wrestlemania X8. Since then, however, we've come to expect more from the GBA in terms of graphics, audio, and depth-of-play design. WWE Survivor Series will hold the interest of a devoted WWE fan for a few days, but it doesn't have a wide enough assortment of wrestlers or moves to keep the attention of anyone else for very long. The absence of a create-a-wrestler option is also tragic.