For years Yuke's Future Media Creators, the wonderfully named Yokohama developer of the hugely popular WWE SmackDown VS Raw series, has had it easy. Without any serious competition it has been able to pump out annual updates of the franchise with glorious abandon. But now things have changed. A new competitor has entered the ring. And that competitor is TNA Impact!.
And so the gloves are off. Strangely this November, when SmackDown VS Raw 09 is unleashed upon gaming wrestling fans across the world, it won't be the first new wrestling game of the year. TNA Impact!, due out a month earlier, will have already landed a suplex.
So what's WWE's response going to be? We jumped on a plane, toiled and turned for 12 hours, coached it from Tokyo to Yokohama and entered the hallowed halls of Yuke's' HQ to find out exclusively from the horse's mouth. The temperature is rising and the pressure is most definitely on.
"This is our 10th SmackDown title," explains Hiromi Furuta, senior vice president of Yuke's. "And we're very proud of it." Have there really been that many? Wow. Furuta-san's welcoming us as tech guys establish a live video link with Bryan Williams, creative manager of the series, thousands of miles away in the US. He begins to talk us through the Wii version of the game as it's being played by a Japanese member of the Yuke's team only a few feet from where we sit. We haven't got time to ponder this uniquely modern set up - Randy Orton and Triple H appear on screen and we're about to see an interactive entrance, the best new exclusive feature the Wii version of WWESDVR09's got.
It works like this. As your superstar makes his way towards the ring a countdown appears on screen along with up to six Wii Remote/Nunchuck choices. Each choice has three interactive points where you'll need to move the Wii Remote and Nunchuck in various directions and with perfect timing. Nail it and The Undertaker, for example, will roll his eyes up into his head - one interactive point - and then remove his hat - another - revealing the shocking Phenom in all his glory.
With good timing you'll complete the interactive entrance and fill up your momentum meter in advance of the fight itself - getting your wrestler pumped before the bell rings. When the momentum metre is full it flashes - that's your cue to press the C button to trigger the On Fire state. This opens up spectacular, slow motion signature moves, like The Undertaker's Old School (Arm twist rope walk chop) into a Tombstone or Jeff Hardy's Twist of Fate into the Swanton Bomb. You'll need to be quick though. Whenever you're not pummelling your opponent his health bar will increase and your momentum will decrease. The interactivity doesn't stop there. Once you've made a mockery of your feeble opponent and won the match, you've got interactive victory scenes to mess about with too. You can fake a handshake with the referee and then clothesline him instead (always fun) or pick up tables and start causing havoc (even more fun), among other options.
We see Mr Kennedy and Chris Jericho battle it out in a ladder match, a game mode not in the previous title. Mr Kennedy's interactive entrance sees him pull a microphone down from the roof of the arena and announce himself, as he does in real life. The A button picks up the ladder as well as grapples. The ladder is used for much more than simply climbing up towards the belt. You can place it in the corner of the ring and slam your opponent onto the cold metal. And, as you'd expect, you'll be able to push the ladder over when your opponent's at the top, switching the camera to a birds eye view so you can see him crash to the floor outside the ring. Grab the belt yourself (via a mini game) and you've won. And, of course, you'll be able to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck to lift it in celebration.
Now it's on to Triple H and Jeff Hardy in a steel cage match. Triple H's interactive entrances include his now trademark water spitting. Jeff Hardy waves his arms about like a nut case. To climb the cage and escape you'll need to time movement of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck as if you were using your hands to pull yourself up. You can even slam the opened cage door repeatedly on your opponent's head, an attack not in the last game, with thrusts of the Wii Remote. Nice.