Thursday, 11 January 2018

GAME REVIEW: WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It - PS2

WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It (PS2) Game Review
Released: November 2001 

Unlike most reviews of WWF Smackdown: Just Bring it for the PlayStation 2, this one won't be written from the perspective of a seasoned gamer. 

Truth be told, I'm not very good at video games, and I lack both the time and patience to really improve, so instead, this is exactly what you'd expect from a site like Retro Pro Wrestling:

A review of a (somewhat) old-school wrestling game written from the perspective of an old-school wrestling fan.   

Ready to dive in with me?

Let's do it.

First Impressions 

As everybody knows by now, Smackdown Just Bring It was the first game in the WWF Smackdown series to be featured on the PlayStation 2, and the last WWF game to be, well, a WWF game. 

Seven months after this was released, the World Wrestling Federation became WWE, and we all know the story from there. 

Like any good WWF Superstar, Just Bring It makes a memorable debut on this new console with an impressive intro video.



Set to the Smackdown TV theme from the time (the one with Jim Johnson randomly shouting gibberish), the video splices shots of stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Kurt Angle competing in the ring with shots of them standing around and looking broody and mean.

As first impressions go, it's a strong one. The portrayal of each superstar is much more detailed and refined than what you get in the actual game, but still, it's a good start.

After that, you press the start button and Michael Cole -of all people- yells out the name of the game.

It's annoying, but certainly not the most annoying thing you'll hear from Cole.

More of that later.

For now, let's look at the roster.

Roster 


Though there are some notable absences due to the time period of the game's development, there's a stacked roster here with all the big names from the time.

Along with the stars listed above, you've got everyone Test and Albert to Big Show, Billy Gunn, The Dudleys, Edge & Christian, The Hardys, Chris Benoit, and Chris Jericho.

There's also a slim selection of women, including Trish Stratus, Ivory, Lita, and Molly Holly.

For a starting roster, it's pretty deep and certainly helps keep you interested in the game long after you've completed all the initial story modes.

Speaking of Story Mode, completing the game's storylines also unlocks a number of hidden characters, including Mick Foley, Tajiri, and Rhyno - the latter two you unlock by beating them in Story mode.

Match Types

WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It (PS2) Big Show vs. Crash HollyYou can put any one of these 40+ characters through their paces in an impressive number of matches.

Along with standard singles, tag, and six-man action, you also have a Royal Rumble, Survivor Series Elimination match, and even a King of the Ring tournament.

When I tried the tournament, my custom character found himself beating Perry Saturn and Devon Dudley to face 1996 King of the Ring Winner, Triple H, in the final.

I must admit, I loved the randomness of the King of the Ring tournament.

The two qualifying matches took place at Backlash and then Wrestlemania 17, with the final randomly taking place on an episode of Sunday Night Heat.

That randomness is just one of the quirks of the game that pops up in other areas, but we'll get to those later.

Disappointingly, there's no cut scene showing you being given the crown and cape when you win the King of the Ring, so you might have as well not bother and just play three random single matches instead.

Elsewhere, you also have hardcore and Falls Count Anywhere matches, which are both pretty much the same thing but are also a lot of fun, allowing you to roam all over the arena and even outside, where you can cross the street to brawl inside WWF New York, which is all kinds of cool.

Special Matches 

Special matches are your typical gimmick matches, including
  • Cage 
  • I Quit
  • Table 
  • Ladder 
  • Special referee
  • Hell in a Cell
  • TLC
  • Iron Man
  • 3 Stages of Hell
  • Slobber Knocker.

So a pretty good selection, plus you can also unlock a Street Fight, Last Man Standing Match and one other match type as a result of completing story mode.


I didn't play all of these, but I admit I did play Hell in a Cell, and it looks dreadful.

The cage comes right up to the ring ropes, so there's no room for playing outside the ring, plus half the time the camera angle is so poor that the cage obscures what you're trying to do in the ring.

Now I know how Randy Orton felt in that Punjabi Prison match.

One cool feature though, is that you can smash your way through the cell wall and climb to the top for some Foleyesque antics.

Graphics and Appearance

Like I say, I'm not the biggest gaming fan in the world, so I'm not as taken with graphics as other WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It reviewers might be, but still, I can appreciate a good looking game when I see one, and for the most part I see one here.

Though the Smackdown and Raw arenas look a little boring after you've played this game for the thousandth time, special PPV arenas like the aforementioned Wrestlemania 17 set and the Summerslam set all look incredible, and really add to the enjoyment of the game.

So too do the entrances. Each superstar gets their own fully-animated entrance, complete with music, Titantron, and special moves to fully replicate here theatrics and spectacle that you'd see at a real WWF show.



Triple H spits his water and hits his signature poses, Biker 'Taker rides his Harley to the ring, and each wrestler enters the ring the way they do in real life.

Though not perfect by any stretch, they do look good and are a great addition to the game, though once you've seen your guy come to the ring once, the novelty does soon wear off.

Most of the actual wrestlers look as good as you could hope for from a PS2 game released in 2001.

Again, that doesn't mean they're perfect, but they are good for the time period and all the wrestlers do clearly look like their real-life counterparts, albeit with much less detailed facial features, square shoulders and the occasional flat nose.

I say all the wrestlers look like their real-life counterparts, but that doesn't include the women, who for the most part look terrible.

I know game developers aren't exactly known for being hugely popular with the female of the species, but you'd think they'd seen enough women in their lives to know that they don't look anything like how they're depicted here.

Ivory, for example, looks like a fat, crudely-drawn Stephanie McMahon.

In fact, I'm sure that if I just showed you a picture of her in this game, you'd swear that's it was.

Trish Stratus, meanwhile, looks even worse.

One of the most naturally beautiful women to ever grace a wrestling ring is depicted here as a beefy, flat-faced shemale with biceps almost as big as her enormous boobs.

What's worse, is that the developers didn't even bother to give Trish proper wrestling attire. Instead, she competes in a leather mini-skirt and knee-high boots.

Look,

I know this was the tail-end of the Attitude Era, a time light-years away from the 'Women's Revolution' of the last few years when women were still seen far more as eye candy than legitimate competitors, but would it have killed someone to give Trish perhaps some tights and a singlet?

Though it may not be a Del breaker, this does limit your enjoyment somewhat - it's hard to take the game seriously when you've got a woman in a miniskirt and huge-heeled boots throwing around dropkicks and suplexes.

Gameplay 

The key to success with Smackdown: Just Bring It is timing:

You need to know the right moment to strike and just the right moment to attempt a grapple move. Get it right, and you inflict damage, get it wrong and you end up lunging for thin air, leaving yourself vulnerable so that your opponent can attack you.


The good news, is that once you get the hang of the timing, you quickly develop a way of playing that enables you to smash through all your opponents with relative ease.

I say relative, because there are still a few gripes with the gameplay itself.

The first is that the bar meters across the top of the screen when you're playing are there mainly to count how close you are to landing a finishing move, so there's no clear indication as to how close you are to actually beating your opponent.

Instead, you just have to take your chances every now and again until you score a pin or submission at random.

Speaking of random, the things that will leave you groggy/stunned are likewise just as random. I could kick you in the face and you'd just hit me back as if it were nothing, but should I duck your clothesline attempt you'll be rendered unable to move for a good few moments.

I know, don't tell me, it's weird.

Damn you, Earl

My other big problem with the actual gameplay is Earl Hebner.

Yes, you read that right, Earl Hebner.

One cool thing about the referee in this game is that he will interact with you in tag team matches to try and stop you interfering and coming into the ring illegally.

During singles matches, however, he just gets in the way, literally.

I've lost count of the number of times I've charged at an opponent only for gormless Earl to get in the way, throwing my focus off so that my opponent can attack.

Likewise, if he gets too close, he gets caught up in the action and you end up attacking him. That would be fine, except whilst you're trying to turn your attention away from the ref, your opponent is kicking your ass and all you can do to retaliate is beat up on Earl.

Those grumbles aside, there is a lot to enjoy about playing Smackdown: Just Bring It.

The sheer volume of moves is impressive and makes for great fun in seeing them executed, whilst the fast-paced, arcade-style means that -whilst there may be dull moments elsewhere in the game- there certainly aren't any whilst you're in a match.

I also happen to love the reversals feature, which you trigger by pressing the square button to block and counter an opponent's attack.

Though it doesn't always work quite right, sometimes you can set off a sequence of three or four reversals all linked together that is beautiful to watch, like seeing your favourite technical wrestlers put on a five-star chain-wrestling clinic.

Finishers are another good feature, though I did find some impossible to land because I could never get into the right position.

Story Mode 

Other reviews have criticised the Story Mode element of this game, and I can totally understand why.


First of all, it's incredibly short, with each wrestler having more or less the same story, which is this:

Vince McMahon offers you a tag team title shot.

If you accept it, you fight the champions, win the titles, and that's the end of the story.

If you deny it, you then interrupt another superstar as he is challenging the Champion.

You can either then challenge that guy to a match, or pretend you were just messing, in which case Commissioner William Regal (or Vince if you're playing as Regal) calls you into his office and randomly gives you a European title shot.

Take it, you fight for, and win, the title. Deny it, and you then face Tajiri and subsequently unlock him as a character.

Meanwhile, if you choose to challenge the first guy, that sets you on a course where you can win one of three titles, Hardcore (unlocks Rhyno as a character), Intercontinental, or World.

That's it.

All stories contain at most, three matches, occasionally four, so the whole story is over in about half an hour.

WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It (PS2) Michael Cole & Steve Austin
Sure, there are some differences, such as Kurt Angle responding to a challenge by arriving on his famous milk truck, or Austin mixing up the dialogue to add in his famous catchphrases, but that's it. Once you've played this a couple of times over and explored the limited options there's very little reason to ever play it again unless you're determined to unlock all 50+ hidden features.

That's not the biggest problem though - the actual storylines are quite fun at first. No, the biggest problem is that the cut scenes, where your wrestler interacts with other characters to get to the next plot point, are just awful.

For one thing, they're way too long, so you get moments were it takes Vince McMahon two full minutes of gesticulating and gum-flapping to say 'do you want a title shot?'

They're also really, really badly written, so you get wrestlers saying things like 'you'll never get away like this!' and other nonsense that no English speaking person has ever said ever.

The worst part is that there's simply no way to skip past these scenes. Pressing start or X or any other doesn't get you onto the next screen. Instead, you just sit there for minute after minute of crudely-animated, poorly written scenes that are a far cry from anything you'd actually see on a wrestling show.

With the exception of the world title, which does at least require you to beat two other dudes to become number one contender, title shots aren't actually earned in Just Bring It - authority figures simply offer you them for no reason, so you don't really feel like you're accomplishing much by getting a shot at the gold.

Create a Superstar 

WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It (PS2) Psycho Storm CJ Scholes
I still remember the days when this kind of feature was so brand new to wrestling games that I would spend ages on the old PS1 games doing nothing but creating characters.

Now that I'm a grownup with responsibilities, I don't have time to do that any more, but I easily could have done, it's that indepth.

Seriously, you can change everything from the size of a guy's elbow pads to the shape of his nose and chin.

This doesn't always work out well. If you ask me, the created characters are uglier than the real-life Superstar characters and no matter what you do to them -including adding all the extra outfits you can unlock- you still end up with a weird, jobber-looking character that looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It (PS2) Ragin Angel Axl Diablo
Still, I did my best, and created Psycho Storm CJ Scholes (that would have been my wrestling name if I'd ever been interested in learning to wrestle)

And The Ragin' Angel Axl Diablo, who I actually think is pretty cool, so there.

Sound and Commentary 

Most of the background music here is basically stock techno-drivel that sounds like it would be more fitting as the menu theme for a game about the Matrix than the World Wrestling Federation.

It's fine though, and not really offensive, unlike the commentary, which is just the worst thing you've ever heard.

Matches are 'called' by Smackdown hosts Michael Cole and Tazz, who randomly shout out absolutely nonsense throughout the match.


'This is fine' says Cole, really demonstrating all the heart and passion you'd expect from a top-flight commentator.
'I think this is good,' agrees Tazz, before inexplicably asking 'what? That's not good?' 

Cole then tells you that your wrestler 'really is a nice person' (because that's what you really want from your tough-as-nails WWF wrestler) after which Tazz tells us that your wrestler 'was great the other day.' 

Whether he means great in the ring, in bed, at bowling remains a mystery.

My favourite Tazzism, however, comes when you're fighting as a female character.

At random points, Tazz will yell out 'I can't believe she's a woman!' with a genuine sense of surprise and alarm as though the fact that Molly Holly doesn't own a penis has come as a complete shock to him.

Now, given that the developers made Trish Stratus to look like a meaty transsexual, I can sort of understand Tazz's alarm, but still, that one makes me laugh, whereas the rest of the commentary just makes me cringe.

Other gems include 'he's the World Wrestling Federation Superstar' and -get this-

'He's the wrestling entertainment.' 

Honestly.

OK, the bad writing I can understand, but I have a hard time believing that Cole and Taz walked into a recording studio, looked at the script and said 'yep, that's completely realistic.'

Seriously, was everyone on crack the day they recorded the commentary for this thing?


Theatre 


Finally, we come to The theatre, which originally just features the trailer for another video game.

After capturing the title for the first time, however, you not only unlock the credits but also several 'movies.'

These are commercials for WWF Smackdown and Smackdown 2, plus behind-the-scenes 'making of' vignettes for each commercial.

The first behind-the-scenes clip for The Rock's commercial isn't all that interesting, but the second one featuring Kurt Angle is far better.

It's longer and much funnier because it's in character; Angle never breaks from his arrogant, egotistical heel persona, and it's a joy to watch,

Three also a clip titled 'Recent Smackdown Moments,' which is just a highlight reel of spots set to an ill-suited piece of classical music with bad graphics that look like your 12-year-old cousin had made the whole video on an early version of Windows Movie Maker.



Lasting Impression 

In the words of Michael Cold, this is fine. 

There's a lot to like about WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It, like those sweet-looking reversals, fun gameplay, and awesome entrances, but the short storylines, terrible commentary and Tranny Trish Stratus do let it down. 

On the whole, this is a good game to pass away a few hours, but no more than that. It's fun at first, but quickly gets repetitive and eventually boring, leaving you longing for more of a challenge. 


Thanks for reading. For more reviews of retro pro wrestling games, shows, and more, follow RPW on Twitter or like the Facebook page here.

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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.