Acclaim has held the license for the World Wrestling Federation for over 10 years. However, most of the titles they came out with were forgettable. The NES ones were pretty much a joke, and the early releases for PlayStation and Saturn were arcade-based. Only the SNES, Genesis, and the PlayStation Warzone were worth bragging about.
On the other end, THQ was having success with the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) lineup. Starting with WCW vs. the World for the PlayStation, and working their way up to the very impressive WCW/nWo Revenge on the Nintendo 64, there were many gold nuggets to be picked up. Then again, there were also many pyrite nuggets as well, WCW Thunder for PSX comes to mind. Times change though. Last year, Acclaim lost their WWF license to THQ, which in turn gave their WCW license to Electronic Arts. And while Acclaim has now directed their efforts to Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), and EA released their first wrestling effort – the somewhat forgettable WCW Mayhem – THQ is already off to a great start.
First they come after the Nintendo 64 with the excellent WWF Wrestlemania 2000, and now with their PlayStation effort, WWF Smackdown!. The WWF on THQ is on the same roll that the WWF is in general, straight to the top! While Wrestlemania 2000 on the N64 was based on the amazing AKI engine, Smackdown! has its own impressive engine, Yuke’s Toukon Retsuden. TR has achieved a strong following in Japan, and while this is not the first time the engine was used in the States (Activision’s Power Move Pro Wrestling takes that honor). This does mark the first time is was used for a major wrestling franchise.
For those who have played the TR engine, I don’t need to go into how well it plays, but for those who haven’t, let me just say that it provides the fastest control of my wrestler that I have ever seen. Rather than having to do a control combination to get a move to work, like in WWF Attitude, a simple D-pad direction and a button push is all that is needed.
And when it’s time to do the special move, a simple press of the L1 trigger gets the job done. No more having to memorize the move or looking at the move list (thus killing time) to finish your opponent off. The control is amazing!
The TR engine was also known for high quality graphics, and Smackdown! is definitely no exception. First of all, the characters look like their lifelike counterparts, instead of just having their faces slapped on like in other titles. They also move fluidly, which can be seen in all the close-ups and various angles the engine provides. What is even cooler is the lighting effects used.
When a finishing move is being executed, the crowd erupts into a blinding array of picture flashes that replicate the WWF perfectly. Tons of modes add to this impressive package. Sure we have the Exhibition and Tag Team modes, but every possible WWF mode is available: I Quit matches, Royal Rumble, Triple Threat, Fatal 4-Way Elimination matches, Steel Cage, Falls Count Anywhere, Hardcore matches, and even a Special Referee mode allowing a third player to control the referee’s count. (Can we say Shane McMahon, boys and girls?)
The only match I know missing, and I wish they kept it in, is of course, the Hell in the Cell matches. There are over 40 WWF superstars available either at the start or can be created. Unfortunately, those who started after Survivor Series are not present (Kurt Angle, Tazz, The Radicals). But those who are present are introduced into the ring with their actual TitanTron entrance and theme music. You can even see The Rock doing his People’s Eyebrow as he walks out!
But for me the best mode in the game is the extensive Season mode. No longer are we stuck to rising up to the ranks, winning the belt, and that is it. Smackdown runs a full WWF league, from simple House Shows, to Pay-Per-Views, all the way to Wrestlemania, keeping track of all the title belts (WWF Title, Women’s title, Hardcore title, Tag Team, and European title). It’s about time that a wrestling title allows constant changing of the belts like the real thing.
I do have a couple small complaints though. First of all, the sound is pretty average. Aside from the real wrestler’s themes, everything else is pretty basic. I could have loved some commentary from Jerry the King Lawler and Jim Ross like the old days.
Secondly, the Create a Wrestler isn’t as impressive as it is in WWF Attitude. For instance, since Kurt Angle wasn’t available (as mentioned about), I tried to create him as best as I could. However, with the options I had available, Angle looked more like a heavier-set version of Jeff Jarret in the WCW. Even worse, it seems as though only four superstars can be created as opposed to the endless number in Attitude.
However, to me these are very minor gripes compared to everything else this game stands for. After the recent disappointment of wrestler titles on the PlayStation, I am so glad to see that THQ moved to the WWF and got one of the best wrestling engines for their product. Already I see this 5 GiN Gem beauty as a possible contender for Best Sports Game of 2000 – though as Vince McMahon would say, it’s not sports, it’s Sports Entertainment!