In the world of wrestling games "WWF Smackdown!" ranks near the top of the Playstation heap. That is not saying much considering the crop of games put out for the system is mediocre at best. With the recent license crossover Smackdown comes to the shelves only half a year after Attitude graced the market. Thankfully the game is significantly different in control and does add a few new elements in the on-going quest to make a wrestling game that captures all of the hoopla surrounding professional sports entertainment.
Right now WWF is on top, which would make it easy excuse to make a crappy video game, rush it out, slap the license on it and sell a million. THQ is not known for making brilliance on the PSX (remember Nitro?). However, they have learned from their mistakes, gotten a new team of developers and a new engine and have cranked out a surprisingly fun and easy wrestling game. Truly made for a wrestling fan's tastes, Smackdown comes through with a large number of options and variations on the same old wrestling theme.
Let's talk about the word easy. The controls on this game are so simplistic compared to games like Attitude and even Wrestlemania 2000 that even a six year old can get into the action and beat some guys up. The manual touts that it is easy to learn and hard to master due to the rapid nature of the matches and the emphasis on timing. However, after about an hour of kicking and grappling I got a little bored with the limited controls and I wanted to have more at my disposal. Every character only has 4 simple grapples and 4 more complex moves. They also have their specials but all of this gets old really quick especially since the more devastating moves can only be executed it the opponent is stunned. However, I must point out that there was something I must have been doing wrong because it was really difficult to win. I guess it is hard to master.
The saving grace of the game is all of the many options that are available. Of course there is a create-a-wrestler mode but the only choices are the heads, bodies, and legs of the wrestlers already in the game with a few extras. It is more of a mix and match than a WWF Attitude type of creation engine. Still, putting Chyna's head on Mankind's body with the Rock's legs sticking out was kinda funny (if you are weird and you go for that sort of thing). What makes the create-a-player mode worth while is the detail paid to the wrestler's attributes. This is the first game where the move list is based on the wrestler's skill. When you create a wrestler you start with a certain number of skill points that you can apply to different categories such as power, aerial, or technical. Then moves are made available in those categories only. This keeps big hardcore wrestlers like the Big Boss Man from being able to fly like Val Venus.
The other options include all of the usual stuff, cage matches, Royal Rumbles, weapons matches, and 2 on 1 kind of things. One of the coolest new additions was the Pin Anywhere mode where the action starts in the ring and gets further and further and further away as the wrestlers battle backstage and into the parking lot. There is also the option to have a guest referee. Did someone say set-up? The season mode, which was introduced in Attitude, is expanded upon in Smackdown. You have the options throughout to make decisions, which can form allegiances or create rivalries. Since the plot in wrestling is 90% of the fun, it was nice that more attention is paid to those details.
Let's not get too excited just yet. There are still some problems with this game. Though it is leaps and bounds better than any of the other THQ games to come out for the system all is not perfect, possibly because of the limitations of the system itself. The collision engine is poor (no surprise there). The characters have a weird habit of turning the wrong way during the match especially if there is more than one opponent in the ring. The characters are blocky and they seemed like they are squished. One plus is that the moves are all highly animated and very detailed, not like previous games where the characters would seem to jump from one position to the next.
If you are looking for a good WWF game that is easy to pick up and play then Smackdown is it. I do not think that it has as much depth to it as Attitude, but it has much more personality. There is plenty of video and music to go along with each of the character's entrances and many different ways to play. It is not a perfect wrestling game but it is better than a lot of the other crap out there. There is plenty to keep any wrestling fan happy. What other game lets you hit an opponent from behind, with a shopping cart, in the parking lot, after making allies with him? Ah, the glorious drama that is Smackdown!
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