What's more fun: Taunting your opponent by pressing a button, or taunting your opponent by turning to him and telling him to suck it?
THQ had the Wii version of its perennial wrestling title on display at its hotel suite, and I got a chance to get some quality hands-on time with the demo on offer. While the 360 and PS3 versions of the title will be going all-out with full online play, HD graphics, and all the bells and whistles, the offline-only Wii version will focus on one thing, and one thing only: Pure arcade fun.
The gameplay has been simplified from previous versions of the series. Strike attacks are performed with a directional Wii remote flick. Light grapples (A Button) and heavy grapples (B Trigger) in conjunction with a Wii remote motion are very easy to pull off. There are no stamina meters to recharge after pulling off big moves, which keeps the flow of a match moving quickly. Any attack performed from a distance will automatically turn into a running attack, as there is no run button in the Wii version. A lot of people may not like this, since running around is a common tactic, but when you consider all of the other cool stuff that has been added in because of the Wii remote and nunchuk's motion controls, it may be a trade-off worth tolerating.
Most of the stronger moves in the game use the Wii remote in a way that makes perfect sense. If you perform a strong grapple into a suplex, the game will wait for you to physically lift the Wii remote up to hoist your opponent into the air. He'll stay up there until you slam the controller downwards, which will cause the corresponding action on-screen. Or maybe you'd want to spin him around a few times to dizzy him instead. Just point the remote upwards and start twirling it around and around. If you manage to tackle and straddle your foe onto the mat, you can start punching him in the face by giving him a left with the nunchuk and a right with the Wii remote.
Each grappler will have his or her own unique controller motions, too. Once you use your wrestler's favorite move, that will set up your finisher, activated by hitting A and B at the same time. I was playing as Shawn Michaels in one of my matches, and when it came time to do the foot-stomping "Strike Up the Band" finisher... nothing happened. Confused, I turned to the THQ rep for a little help; it turns out that I had to trigger the foot stomps myself by slamming the Wii remote down a few times. I could control the tempo to be as slow or as fast as I wanted, and it was awesome to be able to slam down the finishing blow myself.
But it gets better. Taunting is motion-sensitive too, and like the finishing moves, each wrestler in the final game will have one or two unique taunts that make use of the Wii remote. HBK and Triple H have the classic DX “Suck it!" taunt that many a WWE fan has emulated over the years. Well, guess what? After you hold down the C Button, you can tell your buddy how you feel about him, in person. The other taunt that THQ was willing to show off was John Cena's “You can't see me!" hand wave, which is performed with a gentle back-and-forth upwards waggle of the Wii remote. You don't need to wave it in front of your face for it to work, but the motion and the action fit too well together for you not to play along.
There is one taunt you'll definitely won't be seeing in the game; Chris Benoit's "cut throat" motion. He won't be on the game's playable roster, in any console or handheld versions, for reasons known to just about every wrestling fan in the land. This is understandable from the WWE's standpoint, but wouldn't it have been nice to play as him and remember him as he performed in the ring instead of how he ended his career?
One last thing that should be said about the game is that it looks a lot better in motion than the first screens would indicate. Though the E3 build still looked like there was a ways to go to polish it off, it was already looking like the PS2 version, which isn't that bad-looking of a version in its own right.
THQ looks like it's really excited to bring its biggest franchise to the Wii. It went as far as opening its E3 press conference with the Wii version of Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 over its high-def counterparts, bringing WWE Divas Candice Michelle and Michelle McCool along for the ride.