Game Review: WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It

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Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yuke’s
Genre: Wrestling
Series: SmackDown! (It would become SmackDown vs. Raw and WWE in future)
Released: November 18 2001 (US) and November 16 2001 (UK)
Certificate: 15+ (Nowadays 16)
Consoles: PS2

The year 2001 was massively significant in wrestling: ECW collapsed for financial reasons, and WCW – which was on the verge of its own self-destruction after a deal for Fusient to purchase the company was killed off – was purchased by the WWF, taking American wrestling from having three major wrestling organisations to just one. The impact of this changed the business forever, and nearly sixteen years after the famous Raw-Nitro simulcast, the industry has never truly recovered, making 2001 arguably the most important, and perhaps most devastating, year in wrestling history.

Something which is understandably forgotten in the wake of those major events is how another wrestling boom period ended in 2001, partly due to the above: in the year 2000, there were a whopping six wrestling games based around a major company. Sure, only two were great – and one of those, No Mercy, was perhaps the best wrestling game of all-time – but nevertheless, wrestling fans who enjoyed playing videogames had plenty of choice. Contrast that to 2001: the end of WCW and ECW also meant the end for their videogame histories (ECW had just two games, to be fair), and due to the transition between videogame console generations, Nintendo did not have a wrestling game for the first time in years (one had been scheduled but was later cancelled; I will take a fantasy look at this almost-title, WWF Backlash, in a future article). Add to that the sudden death of the Sega Dreamcast, and the fact that the Xbox wouldn’t arrive until 2002, and therefore the only new wrestling game was WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It, the first wrestling title for the PlayStation 2 console.

Mind you, the previous two SD titles – SmackDown! and SmackDown! 2 Know Your Role – were both stunning entries for their time, in particular KYR, which was second only to No Mercy in terms of being the best wrestling game to date at that point. So, hopes were high that on the more powerful PS2 console, Just Bring It would be even better, fixing the issues with Know Your Role while adding a ton of improvements. Unfortunately, while it went some way towards achieving the former, it didn’t quite succeed at the latter, resulting in a game which wasn’t actively bad, but was undoubtedly a disappointment.

Let’s handle the positives first: as you would expect, Just Bring It boasted the best graphics on a wrestling game ever at that point, easily trumping the visuals for Know Your Role. The wrestlers looked more lifelike, the arenas looked more colourful, and the moves looked more authentic. Of course, judged against future titles, JBI’s graphics would nowadays look simplistic, but they were a huge step up from even the most recent wrestling games. This was particularly noticeable via the new camera angles during matches, with TV-style camera cuts during big moves (even while other moves were happening in the background), and during entrances, which were finally included in their proper form, boasting full motions in a proper setting as opposed to wrestlers walking in front of a screen, complete with authentic theme tunes and entrance videos. The entrances for Triple H and The Undertaker were especially impressive for the time, since their intros marked the first use of theme tunes performed by third parties in a wrestling game. The vast majority of the entrance themes in the game were authentic, and you could now listen to them for a full minute rather than just during entrances or on a frustratingly-short loop, plus they were of the highest audio quality, unlike those in previous games. What’s more, some wrestlers (such as Steve Austin) had two themes to choose from, and you had the option to switch them as you wished.

Just Bring It was the first game in the series to allow for eight on-screen characters during matches. Strangely, there was no eight-man tag option, but there was an 8-Man Battle Royal stipulation, and the presence of so many characters at once also created fun moments during the (still very tricky) Royal Rumble match. Whilst Sega Dreamcast’s Royal Rumble game allowed for nine on-screen grapplers, the use of eight was still a massive step up from the limit of four in Know Your Role and No Mercy, yet it’s a mystery as to why no WWF/WWE game since JBI has allowed for eight fighters at once. There were new match types – Street Fight, Last Man Standing and Three Stages Of Hell, plus some additional formats for existing stipulations – and the backstage world was, well, ginormous. Around a dozen different areas were available, and whilst some were suitably small – such as a locker room containing the APA Office – others, particularly the initial backstage lobby, were massive; characters looked like dwarves if you put them on opposite sides of such rooms. They also boasted interesting props, such as plate-glass windows and popcorn machines. In terms of complete positives in the game, other nice additions were the enhanced Create A Move Set option, where you could completely customise move sets for both created and actual stars, and a checklist of hidden “cards” to represent unlockable items.

So, why the disappointment with Just Bring It? Some were a result of certain features being a mix of good and bad; for instance, this was the first game of the THQ era to feature colour commentary, which was handled by Michael Cole and Tazz. Unfortunately, this sound-on-paper addition was a mistake because the commentary was laughably bad, mixing random words with varied pitches and tones, which only made the announcers look like fools, not to mention that Cole was still in his annoying teenager announcer phase and Tazz had only begun announcing full-time a few months earlier which didn’t help matters (Howard Finkel provides ring announcements but is never credited, although he at least sounds, well, normal). More crucial was the roster, which lacked the WCW/ECW names who joined the WWF as part of the Invasion storyline since they arrived too late to make it in, whilst also lacking a lot of current WWF names, meaning that the overall line-up was around a third smaller than in Know Your Role. The only newbies were William Regal, Raven, Molly Holly, Jerry Lynn, Rhyno, Tajiri, Spike Dudley and, erm, Fred Durst (yes, the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, whose inclusion here was presumably a compromise for their song Rollin’ to be used as The Undertaker’s theme during his entrance).

Story mode was meant to fix the issues with Season mode, which was generally not very well-structured or well-presented. Fortunately, loading screens were very brief during the mode (across the game, loading times were short except when saving data, which would take an age to do), and the cut scenes looked and felt authentic, plus they were entertaining and up-to-date, one example being a re-enactment of Kurt Angle’s milk truck gate-crashing. You entered into feuds, you could roam backstage between matches to conduct interviews or recruit a tag team partner, and you could pop into Commissioner Regal’s office or Vince McMahon’s suite to ask for a title shot. You could even try to defeat the Hardcore Champion if you spotted him, using the 24/7 rule. So, what was the problem?

Well, it was just too short. The storylines were dictated by which championship you aimed to capture, but your chase would last no more than three or four matches. The way in which you could switch between title stories was designed well, but fans were looking for epic tales to rival classic feuds such as Steve Austin vs. The Rock, whereas the mode in this game would focus solely on, say, the final week before their big PPV showdown. If you entered the mode as a champion, or if you wished to try and defend the title successfully, it would consist literally of just one match with the title at stake; if you won, that mini-story was over. And that was it. So, despite the positives of the mode – such as TV-style intro videos for Raw and SmackDown! shows – overall it still didn’t match expectations, and it wouldn’t until Season mode in Shut Your Mouth the following year.

The other issue with the game was that, whilst the in-ring action was slowed down ever-so-slightly, this was by no means an evolution for the series; it was essentially SmackDown! on PS2 with some new features, and some aspects taken away, rather than a whole new experience as had been promised and expected. Fans had been led to believe that this game would blow away past titles, but if anything, as an overall package, it was the weakest SmackDown! game so far. This seems to be a trend whenever the series debuts on a new console, but as stated earlier, there were no alternative wrestling games in 2001, meaning that fans either bought this or made do with their games from 2000 (mind you, since one of those was No Mercy, would that really be such a bad thing?).

Other notes: you could fight in the crowd in small areas near the ring, although it was dropped for the next game in the series. Some wrestlers now had two finishers, or two versions of a finisher such as Triple H’s Pedigree. Although the generic PPV aisle remained with quasi-authentic ring mats for most PPV events, there were now full arenas for WrestleMania, InsurreXtion and Heat, as well as the brand new SmackDown! venue alongside the original oval-tron SD setting and Raw. There were minor celebration scenes after matches, and there were new weapons, perhaps the daftest yet funniest being Moppy, Perry Saturn’s old “sidekick”. There was now a referee in the ring at all times, which was none other than Earl “You screwed Bret!” Hebner. You could now create 12 wrestlers, which admittedly was paltry compared to previous WWF titles on the Nintendo 64. The other create options which debuted in Know Your Role were dropped, except for Create A Taunt. The memory for the game itself took up more than half of the 8 MB memory cards available for the PS2 console, which could be very frustrating depending on your games collections. And a montage of in-match clips opened the game, along with Michael Cole saying “WWF SMACKDOWN! JUST BRING IT!” in the height of his then-nerdish voice.

If you had never played a wrestling game before, then you would probably have loved Just Bring It; as noted earlier, it isn’t actually a bad title from a gameplay standpoint. It was easy to pick up and play, fairly easy to master, and it had plenty of bells and whistles for a new fan to be impressed by. Plus, it undoubtedly brought some exciting new parts to the series, some of which haven’t been seen since. However, if you had played Know Your Role or even No Mercy and had understandably gone into this one expecting something extraordinary, then the game’s limitations and flaws will have swung things in the opposite direction. And if you didn’t own a PlayStation 2 – well, you had a long wait before the next wrestling game that you could play. Ultimately, the new console generation of wrestling games would belong to the SmackDown! series with the next few games establishing a high standard of excellence in the wake of what would be even more disappointing titles on Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube (seriously, although some parts of JBI were a let-down, the game is still miles better than the first Raw game was on the original Xbox, as I will outline in a future review).

In the end, SmackDown! Just Bring It symbolised the WWF that same year and its WCW/ECW Invasion storyline; there was now only one game in town (literally), and fans expected the world and then some, only for some missing elements and held-back aspects to result in an end product that was only adequate at best. Nevertheless, just like the 2001-era WWF in comparison to today’s WWE, some fans would much rather have Just Bring It than the modern-day 2K titles. Still, within the series as a whole, Just Bring It comes in somewhere near the bottom.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable