WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It certainly does “bring it” – brings the pain, that is.
The gaming and pro wrestling worlds seemed to diverge in 2001. While gaming was brimming with possibilities and abuzz with excitement over where the medium could go next with the release of the Xbox and GameCube, and the true establishment of the PS2 as well as a fine crop of games to go along with it (Grand Theft Auto III, Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X, Halo, Melee, Ico, and that’s not an exhaustive list), mainstream professional wrestling was flatlining. WCW and ECW were dead at the hands of WWF’s Vince McMahon, independent wrestling wouldn’t establish itself for another year, and WWF buyrates and TV ratings were starting to tank. “Less competition, less interest” is the simple and sad story for pro wrestling in 2001. Even though wrestling was on its arse and the Federation was entering a creative nadir, THQ still had to put the yearly video game out, even though they had a lot less to work with this time around in a creative sense. As such, with all factors against it, and faced with the challenge of debuting on the sixth generation of consoles, how well did WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It fare?
To start with, taken as nothing more than a game, Just Bring It holds up decently well. It builds off the success of the two PS1 SmackDown! titles, meaning we get more of the same here; fast and fluid gameplay that plays decently to be moderately enjoyed. However, it comes off for the worst when compared to titles that both preceded and surpassed it; the prequel, Know Your Role, is recognisably a good game by PS1 standards because it pushes the console to its limits, but in comparison, while it’s fun and controls decently, Just Bring It feels lazy by comparison – essentially seeming like the same game as its predecessor, just with more polygons. Matches will feel competitive – and a big plus for this game is that it fosters competition by allowing for 8 players at once – but they’ll also come with an overhanging gloom of disappointment, that the game could have been so much more, leaving you wondering, “This is fine, but why couldn’t I just play SmackDown! 2 instead?” As such, the game provides an okay, yet marred playing experience.
The game does feature a grab-bag of miscellaneous pluses – there’s a good reason for bundling all the good together now, but we’ll get to that. The roster has an impressive depth to it; the stars of WWF circa May 2001 are well-represented, featuring obvious top guys such as The Rock, Steve Austin, and Triple H, to the lesser-remembered such as Test and Perry Saturn, so you’ll be able to put on a large variety of matches, especially as many of the Federation’s vaunted gimmick matches such as Hell in a Cell are in the game. This is also the first THQ WWF game to have fully-animated entrances, which really adds so much to the presentation and overall “match feel”; seasoned players will remember the near-comical “walking in front of a video” entrances from the PS1 entries. An effect only seen in this game is a picture-in-picture video feed which appeared when wrestlers were making interference, which both helps busy players keep an eye on the action (avoiding sneak attacks) as well as making the action feel more cinematic. Plus, interference seems more shocking and momentous; this is a feature that definitely deserves to come back, and is representative of how THQ really did try hard on this game – we probably have to consider how hard it is for developers to jump to an unfamiliar new console. Just Bring It has many “neat little touches” that give a good account of the developers, but just because they’ve shown their thought processes does not mean that they’ve made a good game in any event.
While the roster is impressive; note that it’s accurate to May 2001; then note the date that this game came out, November 2001. Just Bring It is madly out of date, which is always the case for wrestling games, and developers use a “cut off” date for a reason, but so much happened within the wrestling year of 2001 (WCW buyout, ECW bankruptcy, the Invasion) that some might walk away disappointed feeling like they just played Know Your Role 2.0.
While the actual meat and potatoes of the game, the gameplay in matches, are acceptable, the “story” mode certainly is not. There are three ways to do wrestling story modes. You could go the No Mercy route, where the story has diverging paths offering multiple playthroughs. You could go the SmackDown vs Raw 2006 route where the stories are more fixed but cinematic. Then there’s Just Bring It, where the “stories” – no matter what championship you choose to vie for – are 3 matches long. That’s pathetic by any standard, but the final kick in the cojones is that this is the only way to change title holders. This is all absolutely pointless, shoddily put together, and comes as a deficit to the game. It would have been better to just leave this out entirely; leaving it in is like a big, dirty soup stain down the game’s shirt.
Are you a masochist? Good news, the commentary on this game is perfect for you! Instead of having Michael Cole and Tazz record their lines properly, commentary is instead done like Mad-Libs, with tiny phrases recorded so they can be mashed up later. “This is a great…SINGLES MATCH!…we’re watching.” “The Undertaker! Has a great…THE LAST RIDE!” “He gave up! That’s dumb!” That’s only three short phrases, but imagine that going off for 20 minutes as you try and conduct a heated match. Really takes you out of the game, even though these recordings are hilarious in a purely objective sense.
Things were never going well for this game to begin with, between its laughable career mode and the annoying sound design, but to deter players even further, to convince them that this isn’t the game they want, the save for this game takes up 4MB. That’s half of a standard memory card. Meaning, to play this, you’ll either need to wipe some of your precious saves (ha!) or spring for a new memory card (HA!). Speaking for most people that bought this full-price tech demo, “I’ll leave it, thanks.”
As a game, it’s absolutely flaccid, and despite slightly gussied-up graphics, it offers nothing new over its PS1 predecessors. Just forget about this game and look towards Shut Your Mouth or Here Comes the Pain.
Verdict: A shambles, saved slightly by the fact that the gameplay works but is uninspiring. Still, wouldn’t bother with this game when literally every sequel was better.