WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 (Wii) review
The SmackDown vs. Raw franchise has gone through a number of changes since its inception in 2000. Originally a Sony console exclusive, the series eventually made its way to the Xbox 360 and Wii consoles. The control scheme was revamped, new modes were thrown in, and the mechanics were tweaked. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is the latest entry in the series, and while it manages to provide a fun and entertaining experience overall, it seems that THQ has yet to clean up the bugs that plagued past games. Additionally, the Wii version of the game comes with its own set of flaws that keep it from being as good as last year’s iteration.
Previous entries of SmackDown vs. Raw on the Wii left gamers wanting a better overall experience. SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 managed to keep Wii owners satisfied by maintaining most of the gameplay from its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts. Though there was no online functionality and Story Designer only allowed for two user-created storylines, last year’s game was still a solid entry on the Wii. This year, SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 on the Wii doesn’t feel so much like a step forward, but rather a few small steps back.
If you’ve played previous entries in the series then this year’s game should feel pretty familiar. All the match types you could expect are here. Want to set your opponent on fire? Then select the Inferno Match. In the mood to face five other opponents in the brutal confines of “Satan’s Structure”? Then jump into an Elimination Chamber battle. Want to recreate your very own memories with tables, ladders, and chairs? You can do that with the TLC match. If you’ve seen a match on WWE TV, then it’s probably on SmackDown vs. Raw 2011. Well, except for the Punjabi Prison match, but no one wants that.
Road to Wrestlemania features five new plotlines. You can take Chris Jericho, Christian, John Cena, and Rey Mysterio through brand new storylines, or you can help John Morrison, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, Kofin Kingston, or a created grappler end the Undertaker’s phenomenal undefeated streak at Wrestlemania. This year’s installment gives you the freedom to roam the backstage area and participate in random battles against other wrestlers. Doing so grants experience points that can be used to make your wrestlers stronger, though this is a throwaway feature at best. Upgrading your WWE Superstar doesn’t affect gameplay much, and you can easily get through the different storylines without increasing your stats.
This year’s game once again tweaks the control scheme a bit and combines analog controls with context sensitive attacks. If you perform a grapple on a strong opponent, you’ll have him or her in a cached state. From here, you can perform a few different basic moves such as suplexes, slams, and strikes. If your opponent is groggy, though, performing a grapple will result in a stronger move such as a powerslam, Samoan drop, or powerbomb. Additionally, certain moves such as the hurracanrana and Edge-O-Matic will translate into a pin if you hit the prompted button at the right moment.
The game features a large roster of wrestlers. Top stars such as Chris Jericho, Edge, CM Punk, John Cena, and Sheamus are all included, as are other stars like Jack Swagger, the Hart Dynasty, and the legendary Undertaker. Oddly enough, a lot of wrestlers’ movesets are a bit out of whack. Edge has the same suplex assigned to four separate commands; Undertaker is missing his Hell’s Gate submission; Jack Swagger doesn’t have the ankle lock; and Big Show has this cheap-looking chokeslam as a groggy grapple instead of having it as one of his two finishers. Luckily, you can edit the movesets and update them. That’s if you can find the proper moves, of course. Jericho’s old-school Lionsault, Edge’s modified facebuster, and Undertaker’s diving clothesline are just three of the moves that have gone M.I.A.
Something that’s not missing from SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is the customization aspect. Aside from customizing matches to meet your own personal criteria, you can also create wrestlers, finishers, and storylines to your heart’s content. This year’s create-a-wrestler mode works exactly like the previous game’s, though there are a few new pieces of clothing and logos. Creating finishers is also largely unchanged, save for the fact that now you can also create special corner grapples. Lastly, Story Designer retains everything from last year’s game, and now you can even create branching paths, which is definitely a nice touch. The fact that these modes didn’t receive much of an upgrade isn’t such a bad thing considering they were already good to begin with--so even though there’s nothing incredibly new here, there’s also nothing to complain about.
The big addition to SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is the WWE Universe, which is like an amalgamation of exhibition, career, and GM modes. If you have this option toggled on, then the game will keep track of everything you do as you play four weeks worth of Raw, SmackDown, and Superstars episodes followed by a pay-per-view. If two wrestlers face each other repeatedly, they’ll become bitter rivals. If you constantly defeat top stars with the same guy, he’ll climb the ranks and be in line for a world title shot. Losing too many tag team matches? You can expect your partner to turn on you sooner or later.
Having WWE Universe switched on is pretty cool, but there are a few confusing restrictions. For starters, you can’t assign title shots. These matches are automatically generated based on wrestlers’ rankings. Additionally, you can’t have championship bouts on weekly shows; you have to wait until the pay-per-view comes around. These restrictions are strange to say the least, but WWE Universe mode still manages to provide an engaging experience despite its flaws.
In terms of visuals, SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 leaves a lot to be desired. The game doesn’t look terrible, but it’s not impressive by any means. And considering 2005’s WWE Day of Reckoning 2 for the GameCube looked better than this title, it’s obvious THQ got lazy with the visual design here. It should also be noted that the new physics from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are not a part of the Wii experience. Ropes do not react to movement in the ring that much, and the wrestlers’ muscles don’t flex or contort whenever they perform moves or taunts.
Wrestlers all have their real entrance music, which is great, but the commentary and voice acting in Road to Wrestlemania are a bit saddening. Though the voiceovers could use some work, it’s the terrible commentary that really stands out. If the referee is distracted while you have your opponent pinned, it’s possible that you’ll hear Jerry Lawler exclaim, “He’s got him down for the pin! Turn around, ref!” four times in a row. Then there are the constant errors, such as referring to the Divas as “he” or mentioning a wrestler who’s not even in the match. Considering the series' longevity, these types of bugs are unacceptable and totally ridiculous on the part of THQ.
Fun story modes, glitches, excellent creation options, terrible sound design, and an enjoyable—though nowhere near perfect—WWE Universe all combine to create one thing: a mixed bag of a wrestling game. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 isn’t a bad game, but it’s certainly not a great one. It has some major design flaws, but it provides a fun experience overall. The larger-than-life appeal of professional wrestling is translated nicely here, but it’s obvious that THQ has a lot of work to do. Here’s hoping next year’s game irons out most of the rough edges and retains the good parts to provide an improved wrestling game experience.