If you're wondering what a wrestling video game looks like, let me describe a scene in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006.
You've been called upon not just to fight during one match, but to officiate it, too. At the end of the match, a curvy blonde named Tori -- wearing underpants for shorts, plus a big bra, boots and nothing else -- enters the ring with a microphone to express her scripted disapproval.
"You're all going to face off in a triple-threat match," she says, "and I'm going to put my contract on the line. I'll manage whoever wins. And whoever doesn't win had better act like a gentleman about it, or I won't talk to them ever again."
If that sounds like third-grade taunting to you, and if you enjoy it, then you might also like the screaming fans in the stands. Two are holding signs that read "My Sign Sucks" and "I'm With Stupid." I'm pretty sure both of those signs are correct.
There's something funny about the fact that video game wrestling in Smackdown looks more realistic than real wrestling does. TV wrestling is staffed by muscle-bound actors who incidentally get hurt while doing choreographed moves. By contrast, in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006, you hear their bones crunching and you see lots of ouchy stuff.
The game is one of winter 2006's most popular titles, largely because it's a decent fighting game. But it must also help sales that the characters look like real-life wrestlers, right down to fake breasts on scantily clad young women. Fighters even engage in backstage trash-talking. And there are video storylines to watch, about the death of a manager, for one thing.
Full disclosure: I've spent a lifetime avoiding wrestling shows on TV, even when some of my childhood friends were glued to wrestling on the tube. I don't understand the appeal of seeing athletic actors toss each other around on a canvas that sounds as if it's made of tin.
But I don't begrudge fans of their weird non-sport. To someone like me, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 is more entertaining than the TV version, because at least I get to participate in the nonsense. As fighting games go, it's not as addictive as Dead or Alive games, but few titles are.
The best thing about the fighting in Smackdown is how smooth your wrestler moves, and how many dozens of punches, holds and finishing moves are at your disposal to cause pain. You can even decide to fight clean or dirty. Being "dirty" allows you to throw illegal punches you know where. And you can play as dozens of fighters in scores of matches.
What I don't love is that it's impossible to get up off your back after you've been knocked down. You just sit there like a dumb-dumb while the other player jumps off the ropes and slams on top of you, kicks your leg, punches your face, and puts you in a sleeper. Lying prone during the pummeling of your life is, as you can imagine, not so much fun.
Doug Elfman is an award-winning columnist who is also the TV critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.
New To You -- Used Game Of The Week
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was one of the toughest games of 2005. It wasn't unique, since it was a basic continuation of the Splinter Cell games. In other words, you're a spy. You sneak. You strangle people.
But Chaos Theory has dropped in price in the used-game market, making it more value-worthy at $15 to $20. It's available for Xbox, PS2 and GC. It's rated M for blood, strong language and violence.