Wrestling games (like FPS titles) have never really felt at home on portable systems. Easily the best wrestling game available on a handheld is Fire Pro Wrestling for the Gameboy Advance, but the title hasn't aged that well. Enter WWE Smackdown! vs Raw 2006. Smackdown! has been released for both the Playstation 2 and the PSP. Even though the PSP version is essentially just a port, wrestling fans are likely to lap the game up, especially considering the PSP version is arguably better than its console counterpart since the gameplay is brilliantly suited to a handheld environment.
As we mentioned, the PSP hasn't seen any downgrades in regards to features. All the arenas, features and characters from the Playstation 2 version are in this game. In fact, this is one of the most complete wrestling titles we've seen in the past few years in regards to player roster. Rather than an online mode, the PSP version features Wi-fi support, unfortunately there is no infrastructure mode, this is disappointing as it really would have been the icing on the cake in terms of features. Each player has to own a copy of the game as well, as there is no support for game share. There are plenty of options available in multiplayer though including the ability to play any of the available match types and even trade created players.
The newest feature in the game is the general manager mode. The General Manager mode puts you in control of a general manager of either brand. As the manager you'll need to draft wrestlers and book matches. Rather than just try to win the overall objective of the mode is to put on a good show and build up the profiles of your wrestlers. Whilst the General Manager mode is a different kind of option (and one that we're surprised made it into the PSP version), it's ultimately rather shallow. In fact, general manager mode really feels like an introductory mode, rather than a fully fledged single player campaign.
Since it was unvieled that the PSP had USB connectivity, there have been many ideas of how developers could take advantage of this feature. Yuke's have incorporated the ability to link this game up with the Playstation 2 version, which means it is possible to actually transfer your created wrestler over to the PSP. This is a brilliant feature and one that we hope is utilised a lot more when games appear on both the PSP and the Playstation 2.
There are also a few PSP exclusive mini games that are nothing more than novelty. There is a basic trivia game, a version of Texas Hold 'Em (where you play against players from the WWE) and a balancing game. None of the mini games are particularly enthralling; but they are just bonuses. The mini games aren't a valid reason to choose the PSP version over the Playstation 2 version though.
The on screen bars from previous games have been removed and replaced with completely new ones. The blue bar is called the momentum bar (and the clean/dirty bars are integrated in). The momentum bar is raised by winning and performing varied moves, whereas the bar goes down if you perform repetitive moves or if you're getting beaten severely. When the bar is full it is possible to execute a special move, although the special moves can be saved for later. The momentum bar helps to keep the game balanced, and removes the ability to continuously use the same moves.
The second bar is the stamina bar and isn't an addition that is as appreciated. The stamina bar drains as the match progresses, but it drains at such a rapid pace, and the only way to increase your stamina is to hold select. The stamina bar doesn't really serve much of a purpose, and definitely benefits your opponant if you're completely hammering him. The stamina bar could be worthwhile inclusion if it is a little fairer, but as it stands it is currently just very annoying.
There have been a few more tweaks to the gameplay as well. Just by pressing triangle and circle it is possible to perform a Power Irish Whip. This move is utilised the most in Royal Rumble, but half of the time we actually forgot the move was there. It's also possible now to customise your character's grapple categories as well, which gives the player more control over their created wrestler.
However, whilst there have been a lot of gameplay enhancements, the title does fall short in a few areas. The AI is still a real problem, and the AI makes some bizarre decisions at times, which takes away from the realism of the title. The referee also has a tendancy to stand in the way, which tested our patience at times. The loading is a severe disappointment as well, matches can take up to a minute to load, and when you're creating a wrestler the game seems to want to load just about everything, which makes the process longer than it should be. There isn't that much detail in the game though, so we're not really sure why the game has to load for so long. Sometimes in the middle of matches the game will pause as well whilst the UMD loads, which is severely off putting.
Graphically the game is a little downgraded. The wrestlers are still very recognisable and there are even 3D crowds. There is a little less detail in the crowds and the wrestlers though (which is to be expected). The differences aren't immediately apparant and you've really got to be looking hard to notice any real problems with the visual look of the game.
There is a lot less commentary in this version than the PS2 version, which we assume is due to UMD size restrictions. The commentary mainly only appears during the cut-scenes, but is isn't a big loss because the commentary in the Playstation 2 version wasn't actually that great to begin with. However, this does mean that the game seems a bit quiet for a wrestling game at times. The soundtrack has a lot of variation that fits the game well.
If there is anything we can say about this game it is that it is really full of content. There are plenty of modes, plus the ability to create a player and transfer them to the Playstation 2. Then there is the multiplayer support, which should certainly extend the lifespan if you've got friends with a copy of the game. The mini games aren't a good addition though and just feel like a tacked on inclusion. You're much better off just sticking to the main modes and ignoring the three mini games.
The drought has been broken. After a long wait we've finally been treated to a wrestling game that isn't an embarrasment. The PSP version still has a few issues, but overall there is nothing missing from this game that was in the Playstation 2 version (except the online play). Even if you're a die-hard fan of wrestling games then it's not recommended that you pick up both copies of the game, but if you'd prefer to engage in some wrestling on the road; then WWE Smackdown! vs Raw 2006 is a very enjoyable game.
PS2: WWE Smackdown! vs Raw 2006