With the arrival of the Playstation 2, THQ continued their Smackdown legacy with Smackdown: Just Bring It. This Smackdown game is probably the worst of the PS2-era titles. While it did refine a lot of features (real, accurate wrestler ring-entrances being one), it also featured some of the worst wrestling commentary in a video game with Michael Cole and Tazz calling the matches. A lot of what they would say made no sense and wasn’t at all relevant to the content of the match. Another annoying aspect was the long load times. Even when going between menu screens, the game would have to load. This too has been an issue with Smackdown titles, but has also improved over the years. It also inexplicably had Fred Durst as an unlockable character. Yes, the lead singer of Limp Bizkit was a playable character in the game (he was always our “practice dummy” for our created wrestlers).
The next title to come out was Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth. This would be the last game in the series to bear a Rock catchphrase in the title. It featured a deeper story mode (albeit the sequences between matches would be played in a first person view, which was awkward to say the least), further tweaked gameplay, and a generally tighter package than the previous entry. It was followed by Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain which is largely considered by some to be the best wrestling title to be released since No Mercy. While I admittedly have played very little of it, what I have played I highly enjoyed. It features no audible commentary (take note developers), a wide variety of match types, and the requisite retooled season mode. Another thing of note in this game is the sheer dominance of Brock Lesnar. If you pick him and you know what you’re doing, chances are you will win.
Now here is where the series takes a big shift. With the next title, they decided to incorporate the Monday Night RAW brand into a game called WWE Smackdown vs RAW. While it still retained the same basic gameplay as its predecessors, it did contribute a lot of things that began to sour my opinion on the long-running series, the most damning being on-screen clutter. There were meters and menus for EVERYTHING. A lot of pre-match and in-match “minigames” were introduced to simulate events or occurrences that tend to happen in real wrestling matches. It’s a nice attempt at mirroring the presentation of the real thing but in my opinion, it only served to further complicate the system. It’s as if they felt the game wasn’t complicated enough so they had to make it “deeper” by adding a lot of nonsense. The next game, simply titled Smackdown vs RAW 2006, would cut down on the clutter slightly but it would still become overbearing if many wrestlers where on the screen. It did start to move to a more realistic fighting system with less focus on speed and more on the varying strengths of grapples. SvR 2007 would adopt an entirely new grappling system using the analog sticks as a method of performing moves and has been the standard since its introduction. While I’ve gotten used to it over time, I still prefer the strong/weak system of old and still believe it to be the more effective method of gameplay.
At this point, the games basically just add new features here and there as well as improving the quality of the graphics. The other significant aspect of 2007 is that it was the first game in the series to be released on something other than a Sony console. The most recent game, SvR 2009 refined the mechanic of tag-team wrestling to make it more realistic and involved. It also had an excellent create a wrestler mode which looks to be even more improved in the upcoming 2010 iteration.
As you can see, Smackdown’s had a pretty long history with a decade’s worth of titles under its belt. However, Smackdown didn’t get ALL of THQ’s love. They produced some wrestling titles for the Gamecube and Xbox as well. On the fledgling Xbox, you had WWF RAW, RAW 2, and Wrestlemania 21. Point blank, these games suck. While they all have great graphics and introduced the idea of importing ripped music from the hard drive for your custom wrestlers, the gameplay was typically a mess. It was some weird fusion of the old Smackdown style and something else. Basically, if you were a wrestling game fan and all you had was an Xbox, you got the shaft. The Gamecube fared better, though. It had a rocky start with Wrestlemania X8. This one personally disappointed me because I had loved the N64 wrestling games so much and I thought for sure that WMX8 would continue that tradition. Sadly, this was not the case. A very limited create mode, a very poor season mode, and overall sloppy gameplay marred this game and really ticked me off at the time. I would eventually buy a PS2 and start purchasing Smackdown titles to get my fix as I thought that wrestling games on the Gamecube were DOA. I didn’t pick up Wrestlemania 19 because I thought it would be more of the same. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I actually played a friend’s copy while in college. The gameplay, though still somewhat arcade-like, had some resemblances to that of No Mercy with strong/weak grapples. The create mode was excellent, with lots of choices of moves and apparel as well as a very intuitive create-an-entrance mode. Probably the weirdest aspect of the game was the odd single player mode. Instead of it being a typical season mode where you actually engage in a storyline or whatnot, you are tasked by Stephanie McMahon to seek vengeance against her father Vince by destroying the WWE Empire. To do this, you engage in weird, objective-based street fights with hired goons (construction workers, security guards, etc) in environments such as construction sites, shopping malls, and ship docks. Unfortunately, if you want to build up your custom wrestler’s stats, you HAVE to play this mode to accumulate points to use for the creation process. It’s very tedious and out of the ordinary, but an interesting experiment nonetheless.
The last two WWE games to come out for the Gamecube were the Day of Reckoning titles. Day of Reckoning is the last WWE game I’ve actually owned. It furthered the gameplay style from WM19 and did a good job of straddling the line between the simulation-oriented No Mercy and the more arcade-like Smackdown. It also had a pretty good create a wrestler/entrance mode (I made an incredible Deathstroke the Terminator in this game and still have him on my memory card). It contained a more traditional season mode rather than the Final Fight-esque single player of the previous title. I never played Day of Reckoning 2 but from what I gather it’s basically the same game with different wrestlers, better graphics, and a season mode that picks up directly where the previous game left off.
If you’re awaiting the new Smackdown vs RAW game like I am, hopefully this little rundown will satiate your lust for German suplexes or Michinoku Drivers until it is released on October 20th. This is actually the first time I’ve been excited about a wrestling game in a while. Once I get it, I plan on giving it a thorough play-through and then I’ll try to get a review posted. Believe it or not, I DO play games besides wrestling games, but it’s a genre I’m quite familiar with, hence my musings in this column and in columns past. I hope those getting SvR2010 will enjoy it as much as I hope to, and I’ll be back to share my thoughts.
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