As you've probably gathered from my post about my Rock Band 2 band, I've got a soft spot for wrestling. Mostly, that gets manifested in watching old pay-per-views and relating stories to other old school wrestling fans. But, from time to time, it also manifests itself in other media. I saw that awful movie Ready 2 Rumble. I've looked around for MIDI files of old wrestling entrance themes. And I like a lot of wrestling video games.
Recently, I realized that it's been a long time since I played one that I really liked. I believe the last one was Wrestlemania 2000 for the Nintendo 64, which, interestingly enough, came out around the year 2000. It was just the right balance of complex and simple. You could create your own wrestlers, and many moves and outfits of former and other-brand (WCW) wrestlers. The gameplay was fun, and this'll sound foolish, but they had the Royal Rumble, and that's more fun than any other match in any wrestling game. Hell, with the old Super Nintendo games (WWF Royal Rumble and WWF Raw), it was the only match we ever played.
Fast forward to 2008, and it's been a while since I got around to playing any wrestling games. So I went into a local Gamestop and said, "I've got an Xbox 360. What wrestling games are out there?" They directed me to the Smackdown vs. Raw franchise, tossing in their compulsory recommendation to pre-order the upcoming game new. But they definitely recommended the older ones as well (I think Gamestop actually make a much greater profit on used games anyways), and I elected to get the 2007 iteration.
The game is solid. The controls are not intuitive, but the game offers a quick rundown of the buttons during the load screen before regular matches. Additionally, when you're in some kind of specialty match (steel cage, ladder, etc), the loading screen tells you what special buttons are used in that match (how to climb the cage, how to move the ladder, etc). With the relative complexity of the controls, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get comfortable playing.
The season mode is alright, though it's got its share of weaknesses. You tend to feel a little detached from the action, because commentators and other wrestlers only refer to you as "the superstar" or "the champ" or "the contender." I understand that it's part of the limitations that come along with allowing you to select any superstar (including created superstars); I just think it'd be better served by having a more immersive experience, even if it means you can only select a few superstars. (By the way, the upcoming Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 release is following that exact format. It limits you to a few wrestlers, but has a much more personal season experience).
There's another unique feature called GM Mode which I really enjoy, but I'm going to get into that in a future post. It's got enough to it that I don't want to shrink it down to a paragraph.
The create-a-wrestler feature was initially daunting, but after putting some time in to learn the in's and out's, I'm much happier with it than I originally thought. The ways you can adjust the shape of your created wrestler are a little over the top, but when you're trying to get a guy to look exactly like the Honky Tonk Man, it comes in handy.
Overall, I'm not disappointed with the game. It's got enough features and game modes to keep it pretty fresh. And for a guy like me who has an unhealthy interest in unlocking achievements in Xbox 360 games, there are plenty of challenges to take on. It's a fun game, although I don't expect that it'll be as big a part of my social life as WWF Raw was.
By the way, if anyone wants to get together for another Raw party, all I need is a couple more Super Nintendo controllers.
(This post was started in August; I lost direction for a while, and obviously we've got some new information, a la the actual gameplay, ...
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