I’ve been very bored lately and decided to dig through my old Playstation games. Truth be told, I had no idea that I still owned a copy of this game. I remember back in the day when it first came out people had mixed feelings about it, like some “special” kid the parents didn’t know what to do with. On one hand it was an entirely new game, and had a lot of things people had never seen in a wrestling game before, but on the other hand it fucked up quite a bit as well. If you were to look through the GameFAQs posts about the game, you’d see things ranging from “tHIS gAME iS aWESOME!” to “…a pale shadow of Toukon Retsuden’s greatness”.
THQ’s first PSX game after acquiring the WWF license from Acclaim in 1999, Smackdown had a lot to live up to. Acclaim had ruled the wrestling game market at the time with WWF Warzone and it’s sequel WWF: Attitude, which featured dozens of match types, commentary and quotes by the real WWF superstars, and the famous Acclaim Create-A-Wrestler system. THQ also had to outdo themselves after making the popular WCW vs. NWO games on the Nintendo 64.
So THQ put Yukes in charge of development and had them use their popular Toukon Retsuden engine (Toukon Retsuden was released stateside as power move pro wrestling) to bring the WWF to life. Although I admit to never playing it, I have read that Toukon Retsuden was well known for it’s realistic wrestling simulation and large amount of features and game modes. Sadly this was somewhat butchered in smackdown.
Smackdown brought quite a few new things to the table, but they weren’t perfect. For example, we get the never before seen special referee mode, where you could call all the shots just like Earl Hebner (except for the killing Canadians part, sadly), but it was made quite glitchy, such as the in-game referee making you rope break your submissions, even though you ARE the goddamn referee. we also got the “I quit” match, but all it really turned out to be was a hardcore match where you had to pin your opponent while holding a microphone. One feature that really shines is the backstage areas, which although limited, were great fun, and featured some interactive parts. Wrestling games didn’t have these types of things back then.
In the ring things were quite different from the status quo set by previous WWF games. Controls were simplified to having one button for grapples, one button for strikes, and using the directional pad in conjunction to make different attacks. Your wrestlers signature move was reduced to the L1 button, so all you had to know was where to set it up. This made playing as different wrestlers less of a chore, unlike the Acclaim games where you had to memorize complex button combinations to do simple things like a hip toss or body slam. New innovations such as being able to get tied up on the ropes, or being knocked down into the sitting position by the turnbuckle, as well as actually getting weapons from under the ring as opposed to them magically appearing out of nowhere helped to make this seem more like a wrestling match you’d see on television, and gave the player more options and situations to explore, but other things such as a five count on the ropes and blood were removed from this game, making it more like a speedy arcade fight than a Pro Wrestling simulation.
The wrestlers in the Acclaim games moved like robots. Hell, I almost expected to hear transformer noises when they slammed each other. I’m happy to say that is not the case in Smackdown. Wrestlers move fluidly and act like getting dropped on their head or throwing a huge guy like the Big Show around actually hurts or requires effort. After a few Figure Fours or Piledrivers, wrestlers may start to favor an injured body part, and after a long match wrestlers begin to breathe heavy from the exertion. The camera moves around to show the best angles for certain situations, and even gets close ups of the wrestler’s faces during some submission moves. Although the crowd looks like a bunch of cardboard cutouts, the arena is packed with them, unlike the giant empty spaces in the crowd such as in WWF Attitude. The crowd cheers and cameras flash when some big moves go off as well.
The sound department is a mixed bag, however. The matches are VERY quiet compared to previous games. the wrestlers are completely silent, the commentary is gone altogether, and the crowd doesn’t yell insults anymore. To be honest I’m not complaining. If I had to hear “I am NOT a nugget!!” one more time I was gonna shoot myself. Smackdown went the WCW vs. NWO way and added music to the matches, which I think was a great idea, is it pumps the player up and keeps momentum. It doesn’t hurt that Smackdown had some of the best in-game music of any wrestling game in my opinion, much better than it’s sequels (on an interesting side note, the same thing is true with WCW vs. NWO world tour and Wrestlemania 2000, compared to their respective sequels). I just wish there were better sound effects for slams and hits and stuff, and the wrestlers should still grunt or something. Anything to break the silence.
The roster was also fairly up to date for the time this game came out, complete with accurate rankings and title history. Wrestlers had their correct gimmicks, finishers, and titantrons, and alliances weren’t outdated either.
A big concern was the Create A Wrestler (CAW) system. THQ had boasted that this game would have a revolutionary one, and we were kind of let down. In some respects it brought a lot of new stuff to the table, such as being able to give your CAW certain personality traits and to edit their skills. A huge problem though was the wrestler’s appearance. It was a huge step back from previous CAW systems, you could only choose a head, upper, and lower body. You couldn’t even change more than the skin color in some instances. With some ingenuity and a lot of imagination however, you could make some pretty good CAWs. I made the likes of Kurt Angle, Lita, Rikishi, Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels, and they didn’t turn out TOO bad. The second really big problem was that you couldn’t just use any moves on the list for your CAW. They had to be “unlocked” by reaching certain skill levels. this made for either some very unbalanced CAWs, due to spending all your points on skill rather than offense or defense, or some very broken move lists, due to not being able to pick those desired moves. You also couldn’t preview them beforehand, which made for a lot of trial and error editing. Patience is definitely a virtue when making a good CAW, and this game proves it. But even if you could make good CAWs, the game only had room to save four, so expect to use more than one memory card.
THQ’s second big boast was an all new season mode, with multiple story lines and angles. sadly this fell short of expectations. Backstage happenings were limited to a few random cut scenes without dialog and “yes or no” choices. Still, it was a step up from previous season modes, which were just a series of matches. your decisions in the cut scenes determined your matches, and your personality traits may be altered accordingly. This system was later improved for sequels, and then randomly abandoned altogether. Another cool feature about the season mode was that the game kept track of your wrestler’s current health and rankings, which affected what happened and how well you performed in the ring.
Taking the good and the bad into account, Smackdown was a great first attempt that left room for improvement. It’s sequels picked up where this game faltered, and made tremendous improvements. You should definitely pick this game up if your looking for a walk down memory lane, and for such a cheap price you can’t go wrong . I got mine for ninety-nine cents at a comic shop.