The lights dim. The audience quietens to an excited hush. In stomps the first combatant, 90 per cent macho posturing and 10 per cent dewy perspiration. He looks to the crowd and waves the patented John Cena taunt - a hand fluttering in front of his face signifying that "you can't see me". Only this isn't John Cena, the 280lb current holder of the WWE Championship. It's a 100lb game developer from Japan. Welcome to WWE on Wii.
For many gamers the announcement of the Smackdown franchise's arrival on a Nintendo console couldn't come soon enough. Developer Yuke's' GameCube outings, while solid enough, always felt like a lower-tier, pre-show, warm-up act, as opposed to the real-deal WWE Superstars. So the decision to unleash their A-list content on a Nintendo console is to be applauded. However, the Wii is no ordinary Nintendo console, perhaps explaining why we found ourselves watching two Yuke's employees pulling all manner of hammy theatrics to help demonstrate the game.
Standing in the way of controls
Although carrying the Smackdown vs Raw 2008 name, the Wii version is a very different beast from its next-gen siblings. The magic words of the franchise as a whole this year are "putting control back into the player's hands". On consoles not blessed with motion sensor witchcraft, this means limiting the HUD and tightening up wrestler animation to better match control input. Snore. Isn't this meant to be wrestling, the ADD-addled child of the sporting world? Glistening macho behemoths don't care about HUDs and animation response times; they care about bellowing, gurning and unleashing facial wallops in your face.
It's a sport based on posturing, and the Wii does nothing better. Precise controls aren't set in stone, but the choice to pursue a full-blooded fist-flinging scheme, as opposed to anal analogue stick tweakings, has been made. In the early version we saw, you direct your mobile muscular mound with the analogue stick and command attacks with remote flails. A simple punch is simply a case of pushing the remote out in front of you à la Wii Sports Boxing.
As in Boxing, arm movements aren't mapped directly into the game. Moving a fist in 3D space is a little beyond the Wii, but to its credit the game reacted quickly to the demonstrator's movements, giving a good sense of flow. A variety of slaps were available, from simple jaw chocks to drawn-out backhanders to the face, although these seemed to respond to random flailing more effectively than deliberate movement.
Shaking like a leaf
Grapples - surely the unhealthiest display of man-on-man rubbing and squirming within the game - are brought about with a button press. Both players subsequently enter into a mad remote/nunchuk shake-off in an attempt to overpower their foe. Rapid shaking is the bane of most Wii titles, and while there's plenty of it here, winning the grapple and performing outlandish moves is a more than just reward for the unnecessary lactic acid build-up.
Slipping from a grapple into a choking lift presented the most malicious move of the game. Players raise the remote to heave their opponent into the air by their throat, giving them the opportunity to parade them
around the ring like a helpless 280lb baby. When you get bored, or gravity begins to take its toll on your arm's blood flow, flicking the remote down summons an almighty choke slam - the perfect theatrical finisher to a ludicrous chain of gesturing events.
Control freak out
A more obvious example of putting control back into players' hands arose during a kerfuffle next to the turnbuckles. After Triple H knocked John Cena into the corner, he leapt up on to the ropes to deliver a series of pounds straight to Cena's noggin. With the camera fixed in place to give the best view of the proceedings, the player controlling H could then choose how many beats to mete out, taunting his poor colleague with feigned hits before delivering the final brain-damage express1 with a mighty downward swipe.