When the Sony PSP was announced, it really was only a matter of time before THQ decided to port their ever popular WWE Smackdown series to the system. It may have taken a little longer than expected, but the game is finally here and compares very favorably to its PS2 cousin. There are a number of problems with it, but overall Smackdown vs RAW 2006 will give WWE fans the portable game they have wanted for such a long time.
In terms of storyline, the game very much mimics the PS2 version with a choose your own adventure style setting. Depending on whether you win matches determines how the storyline plays out so it is possible to see multiple storylines when playing through. In terms of the overall structure, it begins with you going on a world tour with the WWE legends before making the title at the WWE championships in either Smackdown or RAW. Very cliche but it's pretty much what I expected out of the game.
The gameplay is fairly well known as well with the side perspective being used and camera zooming in and out depending on where the action is taking place. There have been a few major changes for the 2006 edition of the game however, and these are carried over from the PS2 version. The first is stamina. As you play, your character becomes tired and needs to rest to be able to fight on. This can affect reaction time and also affects how a character performs during test of strength moves. Dominating an opponent can keep their stamina low and give an edge to the player not seen in WWE games before.
The roster is quite impressive and mimics that of the PS2 build. There are a number of new wrestlers such as Michelle McCool and for the fans that have been following the sport for a long time, a number of famous legends such as Jimmy Hart, Hulk Hogan and British Bulldog are included, and can be unlocked in the exhibition mode. The modes have been cut down somewhat but you will find all the famous PPV's such as the Royal Rumble on offer.
Other than this, the main changes are the general manager mode where you take control of either Smackdown or RAW as the GM and have to organize matches within a certain budget and get the TV ratings up. It works very much like a soccer management game where you choose the players and basically watch or simulate the matches and of course there is the option to play one off exhibition matches. Once again this is the only time that the female wrestlers can be used as they again have been ignored for the storyline single player section.
An exclusive feature to the PSP edition is small arcade games such as Texas Hold Em poker have been included. These act as a small distraction to the main game but also help with one of the games biggest problems in turns of its portability and that is the load time is so bad, it almost single handedly stops you playing this game on short journeys or when traveling. Another problem is that the game does not let you use the analogue stick for some reason. This was a bad decision on Yukes part as the DPAD just does not offer the control required to play the game well. As well as this the response time of the controls can leave a little to be desired and it is almost impossible to pull off reversals and when you do so, it seems more of a fluke than skill being applied.
One of the big features of the PSP version is the interaction with the PS2 version. If you own both versions, you can download your progress in each game and continue on the move. This is the first game that has truly managed to do it right and finally delivers on the promise Sony made when the PSP was first announced. You can upload your character data, current progress in the storyline and other things. The other big feature is the fully featured create a wrestler mode and you can upload these to the PS2 build as well. Wireless multiplayer is also available and is exclusive to the PSP version.
Visually the game is quite impressive. It contains all the cut scenes you have come to expect from Yukes games and the detail is of an impressive level considering it is a handheld version. The characters are a little less detailed than the PS2 version but that's to be expected. The one disappointment is the huge slowdown which occurs when finishing moves are being performed. In one way it appears the developers intended this, but in another way it doesn't. No commentary is provided which is a shame but the voice acting is done in a very authentic manner.
Smackdown vs RAW is everything you would expect on a PSP game for wrestling but does have a few issues that need to be ironed out next time around. Wireless multiplayer is good and the interaction between PS2 and PSP is a good idea but the biggest problem, the loading time, is one that can't be ignored and is so bad some people may choose to switch off rather than wait. Fun, but not for short travels.