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PSP Review: WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2006

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Aside from a few Fire Pro entries, the portable wrestling game market has always been barren. Most games were stripped of the essentials and programmed with the complexity of Pong. With the PSP, fans finally have worthy pro wrestling on the go, and it's a complete experience.

It's easy enough to say this portable version of Smackdown has it all, and usually it's a weak phrase used to save time for the reader anyway. In this case though, it's absolutely true. All the cinematics, music clips, voice work, game modes, match types, and create-a-wrestler pieces have been included. The only piece missing is commentary during the matches themselves.

It's a stunning accomplishment for a handheld, and it's so far beyond what we've been given previously it's like jumping from the NES to the Playstation 2 in terms of features and variety. In this case, when using the feature that allows you to continue your season from the Playstation 2 version on the PSP, you don't miss anything. All the moves and storyline branches have been included.

Controls haven't been compromised in the least, and Smackdown's simplistic grapple system remains. The engine still has problems at its core, including loose collision, cheap AI, and odd glitches like getting stuck inside objects. Sadly, it's the best wrestling you can find with a WWE license attached. We'll always wish for the return of Wrestlemania 2000, but until then, Smackdown can suffice.

Attention to detail is what helps with the title's ability to capture the atmosphere of the sport. Arguing with referees after a slow count, taking off the turnbuckle pad, using the crowd barrier as a launching device, and cheating when the official isn't looking are what makes this franchise special. It extends far beyond what we usually expect from wrestling video games, and the control scheme makes it easy to figure out in the midst of a heated contest.

The GM mode was the biggest addition this year. Here, players fight it out with their rival GM from either Smackdown or RAW (dependent on the players preference of course). It's light on features, though for a first time add on, it's wonderful. You'll need to create feuds, sell related products to keep cash flowing, and try and keep wrestlers from moving over to the competitor. It's addictive, and if you don't like the wrestling portions of the game you can play without ever stepping into the ring.

Graphically one of the best games on the console, SvR suffers from only minor clipping and lowered polygon counts. With six combatants in the ring, there's no slowdown either. The repetitive and limited crowd chants seem to be a compromise.

This all comes at a price, and that's the worst loading times the PSP (or practically any console) has ever seen. This is the type of game that loads loading screens (twice usually) before a match. From the opening logos into something as basic as an exhibition match, it can take upwards of five minutes. Getting into the season mode, it can take close to that between matches if the storyline needs to progress. Even during matches, the game sometimes stutters to load referee voices or crowd audio. To say it's far from portable would be an understatement.

While loading with undoubtedly improve in following years, waiting a few minutes to see a detail-intensive wrestling title on a handheld will be worth it for fans of the sport. Smackdown vs. Raw is a nearly flawless port of what many consider to the best wrestling title to date. That alone is worth the price, nearly crippling load times or not.

WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2006 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, Simulated Gambling, Violence. This game can also be found on: Playstation 2

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.