SmackDown! Vs. RAW 2008 managed to catch me in a chokehold right from the get-go and took me for a wild giant swing of a ride. For a DS game it looks and sounds mighty impressive with true-to-life character models, an array of sweet animations for every throw, slam, drop and pile driver, and an authentic commentary (sadly limited to the introductory sequences). There are tons of options with an entire career mode that tracks your chosen wrestler on the path to stardom — from humble beginnings at the bottom of the food chain to one of the biggest prize fighters in the league.
As was expected, the DS version of SVR 2008 isn’t as pretty as its brethren, but content-wise, it’s no slacker. There are standard brawls with SmackDown!, RAW or ECW rules, Royal Rumbles, One Night Stands, SummerSlams, Wrestlemania 24 and more — 18 different match types in all. There are more wrestlers than you can shake a stick at — hailing from both the SmackDown! and RAW factions — with long-time favourites such as Kane and Shawn Michaels hitting it up with some lesser-known names (to me) like Hardcore Holly and Finlay. Each wrestler has their own unique personal stats — strength, agility, technique, and so forth — all of which come into play as you work yourself up from a fledgling grappler to a real pro.
You don’t mash buttons here, nor do you twiddle control sticks — SVR 2008 is an entirely touch operated affair. The system is totally different to what you’d expect: the wrestlers perform pre-programmed routines with the action halting at certain frames to allow you to decide what course of action to take next. Usually you have three options: a light, medium or heavy attack which follows the rock-paper-scissors concept. It sounds a bit like a strategy game, doesn’t it? Well, it is to an extent — with the ability to cancel manoeuvres midway to counter appropriately as you keep an eye on your opponent’s movements. But like I said: the CPU is a cheap bastard and the whole “wrestling triangle” strategy only works when you’re playing against someone who isn’t a psychic.
But back to the controls — once you have selected your offence you then have to carry it out by tapping, sliding and rubbing in the given directions. Imagine Elite Beat Agents, but with the rhythm entirely dictated by you. If you’re too slow, your opponent will be successful in slamming your face to the floor or punching you in the crown jewels. Conversely, if you manage to lay a good enough beating for some time you’ll be able to put them into submission or pin them down to end the match (hardcore tapping required). It sounds weird (and there is a lack of actual sound during matches, too), but it’s actually quite fun once you understand how it works. Of course, I’m talking about the multiplayer experience here — if you’re intending to play solely for the single player experience, be forewarned.