Wrestling games have never been a hard sell. Due to the popularity of the TV show, most fans of the ?sport? get much enjoyment out of playing wrestling games to re-enact the events of the previous week. And ever since Acclaim spit out the first Create-A-Wrestler (CAW), the element of building up your own roster of wrestlers has added even more appeal to them.
The latest in this genre is WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It; the 3rd in the series of SD games that began on PSOne in 2000. As the first wrestling game on PS2, Smackdown does the genre rather well, and will make most fans of the WWF extremely happy. While it's admittedly nothing more than a prettied up version of Smackdown 2 (and possibly a step backwards), JBI is still not a bad wrestling game, whether it's playing alone or with a bunch of friends.
Just Bring It has been hyped up due to the nearly infinite amount of match types and variety ? and this part of the game delivers. With well over 50 different match types, from basic singles & tag team matches, to complex classic matches like Hell in the Cell and TLC (and believe me the TLC does NOT mean Tender Loving Care in this situation) fights. It seems the only thing missing is The Rock's favorite match, the ?Stephanie McMahon's Dirty Panties on a Pole? match.
Besides the matches, there's an array of WWF superstars to pick from ? over 30 to be more precise, with a bunch you can unlock. From Stone Cold Steve Austin (what?), Triple H, The Rock, to less popular wrestlers like Steve Blackman and Steven Richards (why he's here, I'll never know). The rosters are slightly out of date with a bunch of missing stars (RVD, Booker T, Hurricane Helms, and a few more former Alliance wrestlers), but there are still plenty of names out there to pick from. Sadly, they included as a special character, the frontman of Limp Bizkit, Fred Duh-rst. Most likely Mr. Durst, the savvy businessman that he should go back to being instead of fronting a band, made that deal so the WWF could put in the ?Rollin'? theme for the Undertaker, instead of how Kid Rock's ?American Badass? was cut from Smackdown 2.
And if none of them float your boat, there's a ridiculously deep CAW mode to tide you over. If you're good enough, you can create near perfect replicas of many stars of today and yesterday. What's better, there are a handful of movesets called ?unknowns? that really are the moves of major superstars, complete with taunts. There's movesets for the 3 Alliance members I mentioned, as well as guys like Goldberg, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Shawn Michaels. A lot of them are only made available after unlocking them during Season mode, encouraging multiple plays of that particular gameplay type. But even without it, you can create quite a number of wrestlers. Unfortunately you can't save more than 12 to a memory card (more on the memory card later), so you'll have to pick and choose whom you want around.
Also in the CAW mode, you can even edit the moves of existing wrestlers. You can change their entrance music, taunts, finishers, and all the extras. So if a wrestler starts using a different move for their finisher, you can adjust their moves to fit the current times. How soon until we get to edit a wrestler's appearance?
As for that Season mode, it's both an improvement and a regression from Smackdown 2. The actual story is quite deep with multiple pathways ? however once you get into the story, it's over. If you want to go after the WWF Championship, you'll need to win 2 matches to get a shot at the belt. Then you fight the champion at WrestleMania, and once you win the title, it's Game Over. Eh? It took me almost 3 years of Smackdown 2 matches (3 years in the game, not 3 years total, since the game is one year old and everything) to even get a crack at the WWF belt. That was too long a time indeed, but this is way too short. Sure there are other branching paths to each belt, but you can probably win them all within a couple hours or so. You can defend your belt by starting a new season with the same character, so I suppose that adds to it, but it just feels so stale compared to the deep Smackdown 2 career mode.
What keeps you playing is the unlocking of Smackdown cards, which are similar to Madden Cards. Each time you win a belt or defend your title, you'll get a few Smackdown cards that unlock certain items. Some unlock new arenas, some unlock new movesets, others unlock CAW parts, and a few unlock secret characters. However to unlock the secret characters, you have to do something special within the season mode. For instance to unlock Rhyno, you have to do certain things in Season to work up a Hardcore title match, and defeat Rhyno for the belt. Do that, and you unlock him. Some are ridiculous to unlock though (like winning 15 matches in 10 minutes in Slobberknocker mode to unlock the new Smackdown arena, or to unlock the aforementioned Duh-rst), and may take multiple tries. I guess it increases the replay value.
Before we get into how the game plays (which is of course, most important), the required memory card space is atrocious. 4 MB of an 8 MB card? Why? I could put Smackdown 2's save file on 3 blocks, which is 1/5th of a PSOne memory card. Yet this one takes half a card? It doesn't make a whole lotta sense to me. I could probably put about 20 games or so in that 4 MB slot. Nothing you can do about it however, except hope that's fixed for the next WWF game.
Now, onto that gameplay a little deeper. Basically, if you've played Smackdown 1 or 2, then you know how this game works. It runs on the exact same engine, only beefed up a bit for the PS2. There's tons of moves, each requiring a little bit of movements, instead of pressing a hundred buttons to do a bodyslam. Only a few things have changed along the way, and they do toughen up the game a lot. First off, picking up a wrestler off the mat facing you will result in a tie-up, instead of the opponent sitting there dazed and at your mercy. This makes a majority of the finishing moves that much tougher to execute, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. It just makes you work harder to beat the computer, or whomever you're fighting. Also, the pace of the game has been slowed?not by much, but enough to notice. Playing Smackdown 2 is a much faster experience than Just Bring It, which again is good or bad depending on your perspective. I really prefer the faster pace of the first 2 Smackdowns, but it doesn't hurt the game too much.
What does hurt the gameplay and was not changed were the controls. Just Bring It lacks analog support. Why? 99.9999999999% of PS2 games use analog, and many by default (DMC comes to mind). Instead, this game gets the stiff, aggravating d-pad to execute moves, and it's quite clumsy to use. Analog control is basically the only way games are played nowadays, but here we are playing Smackdown 2 with the lame d-pad. The controls are responsive, yes, but getting used to not using analog isn't really much fun. There best be an analog mode in the next WWF game.
Despite that, JBI is still a fun game to play. Pulling off tons of moves is simple, and putting finishers on opponents is a button press away once you've built up the Smackdown meter. No putting in complex commands to pull the moves off, instead you work your way to being able to pull it off. So executing Stone Cold Stunners, Rock Bottoms, Last Rides, and such are simple, and since the button is the same for all wrestlers, you don't need to memorize the command, just the situation the move needs to be done in (opponent on back, dazed, etc). This is truly what makes Smackdown enjoyable, despite all the problems with it. If you enjoyed the first 2 Smackdowns, you'll enjoy this one simply because it's basically the same game.
Visually, Smackdown looks just like a prettied up version of Smackdown 2. The engine is exactly the same, just now it runs at 60 FPS at all times. The wrestlers do look good, but they walk and react similar to prior Smackdowns. The crowd is quite ugly however, with flat bodies and such. They look really out of place amongst the better-looking stuff.
All the major arena types are here and they all look different ? from the huge WrestleMania set to the more enclosed Raw set. And when you come out on different shows (Raw, Smackdown, Heat, etc), the presentation is exactly like you'd see it on TV.
The entrances are also really improved from before ? instead of seeing a wrestler just walk down an invisible ramp while their video plays behind them, you see the video playing on a monitor while you're walking (or in the Undertaker's case, riding a motorcycle) down to the ring. It looks quite realistic and is a nice touch to the WWF feeling.
Finally, there's a really huge array of backstage areas to fight, and all look well done. Some things, like objects in the background look flat and way out of place, but they aren't that noticeable. Overall, Smackdown is a nice looking game, but not one I'd put amongst the best. They do need to work a new engine instead of recycling, however.
The sounds are both good, and absolutely horrible. The good would be the WWF entrance themes. All of them are in, including ones that aren't assigned to a wrestler (like the D-Generation X theme), and all sound great, since they're the exact real things.
However, the newest inclusion, the play by play, is?umm?crap, son. Michael Cole (the ultimate loser), and Tazz (should be wrestling) ?call? the action. Actually it's more like act like 2 complete idiots at ringside. The pair repeat the same damn annoying phrases every match, and sometimes 2 statements in a row are the same. What? When you're fighting a match and you hear Tazz ask who's fighting whom while looking at the ring, things aren't good. It's not just terrible; it's turn it off and never listen to it again terrible. Most of us wanted PBP in the next WWF game, but not the kind that makes me want to go back and play some WCW wrestling games to hear theirs. Sadly, it's better than Smackdown's.
Just Bring It is missing (again), wrestler voices. There are none, at all. No quips from The Rock, no Triple H ?I am the Gameaaah? comments, nothing. Not even grunts and groans from getting beat on. The only voice you hear during the match is the referee counting to three.