Retro Respawn – WWF SmackDown!: Just Bring It

Video games and other media like them can sometimes disappoint, especially if what came before them was uniformly popular and highly regarded. In some scenarios, the game in question might not even be that bad, but because it doesn’t quite fulfill the wishes of the fans that loved what came before, it’s only ever going to be disappointing no matter what it does.

WWF SmackDown!: Just Bring It would be a game that falls into that category for a lot of people, me included. Released by THQ as the third game in the popular SmackDown! series, Just Bring It was the first one to make a foray into the sixth generation, seeing its release to the PS2 during the winter months of 2001.

As I was such a big fan of the previous two SmackDown! games and near feverish in my desire to own a PS2, Christmas 2001 was a thoroughly epic moment for young Mike, as I got my grubby paws on both a PS2 and the newest SmackDown! game all at the same time. The moment was bittersweet as my parents had neglected to pick up a memory card, meaning I couldn’t really put any proper time into Just Bring It on Christmas Day itself, but I was suitably impressed with the graphics and gameplay on display.

And I think it is important to stress that Just Bring It is still a pretty playable game and also looked nice for its timeframe as well. Seeing as I’m going to spend quite a bit of time later on in this article talking about what I dislike about the game, I feel it’s only fair to bestow some niceties upon it first, just to soften the blow.

For a start, wrestlers now have full entrances as they come down to the ring, something that was sorely lacking from the first two SmackDown! games. In addition to this, champions now actually wear title belts around their waists instead of just carrying them over their shoulder in a generic fashion. You now also have the ability to edit existing wrestlers’ movesets and entrances, something which helps ever so slightly when trying to keep things fresh.

The creative suite is back and more detailed than ever, allowing you to create a host of semi-decent looking created versions of other wrestlers, and the game even includes certain entrances animations for wrestlers who didn’t make the final game’s roster, along with recordings of Howard Finkel announcing their name to add that extra smidgen of authenticity.

On top of all of that, wrestlers now have the opportunity to deliver two finishing moves instead of having just the one, and the moves themselves are generally well animated and look realistic. Everything in general looks a lot smoother here than on SmackDowns! 1 and 2, although future games in the series would go on to look even better.

There haven’t been any real particular innovations to the overall gameplay, with it still having a very arcade feel. One change is that you can now whip opponents over the ringside barricades and fight in the crowd. Although this does sound exciting, sadly it doesn’t quite come off in execution as the 2D crowd fleeing like animated paper cutouts lacks the desired “oomph” that you’d envisage from such a chaotic scene.

But ultimately if you played either SmackDown! 1 or 2 and liked it, then there’s no reason why you wouldn’t also enjoy playing Just Bring It as well. It retains and refines the controls, improving countering especially as you can now counter most attacks with a canny push of the square button. Countering feels very fluid, and there are all sorts of reversal animations that look very nice. So when it comes to gameplay and graphics, Just Bring It acquits itself well, but sadly, there are other elements that really let it down.

The first big knock against it is that the in-game roster, for the time, is massively out of date. This is the one area where time has been slightly kinder to it as all rosters from older wrestling games are inherently out of date when viewed from a retro perspective. However, it was a big bone of contention back in the day, although a lot of it was kind of out of THQ’s hands. When work proper was started on the game, it was before the deaths of WCW and ECW had come to pass. At this time, a number of alumni from both companies made their way to the (then) WWF to begin the ill-fated “Invasion” storyline.

However, the timing of all these new wrestlers hitting the WWF came at a time that made it incredibly difficult for THQ to cram them all in. Some of the ECW refugees such as Tajiri, Rhyno, Jerry Lynn and Spike Dudley managed to make the roster because they came in around WrestleMania X-Seven, which by all accounts is when the roster for the game was finalised.

Though it is nice to see them making the cut, other grapplers such as Rob Van Dam, Diamond Dallas Page and Booker T, who all in came in around June of 2001, just couldn’t be squeezed in before release. It’s also strange that roster regulars from the timeframe, such as Too Cool, X-Pac, Haku and K-Kwik, didn’t even qualify for inclusion. Also, Steven Richards shows up in his full “Right to Censor” garb, but Ivory doesn’t (despite screenshots of the time showing her wearing it), with no other members of RTC present at all.

If we’re being fair though, THQ really were unlucky to be stuck making a game during possibly the most hectic year in wrestling history.

For instance, the Invasion storyline itself had already run out of steam by the summer of 2001 and was mercifully ended in November at the Survivor Series, essentially the same time that Just Bring It was being released. This had the knock on effect of making the game feel even more out of date. There hasn’t been a WWF/E game since that has suffered these same issues, so vital and costly lessons at least seemed to be learned from the whole mess.

Another big issue is that popular modes and options from SmackDown 2 were removed from the game, angering fans in the process. Making your own Pay-Per-View events, a staple of wrestling games at the time, is sadly removed, as is the ability to defend titles in exhibition mode. Both of these took a long time to be reinserted into the series, with Pay-Per-View mode only coming back briefly for a couple of games before getting axed again.

Story/Season Mode has also suffered severe gutting and can now be completed in all of half an hour. You essentially play out one episode of Raw and one episode of SmackDown, with a possible Pay-Per-View visit depending on which story route you decide to take. It starts the same every time, with Vince McMahon walking up to you and asking if you want to form a tag team. You can say yes and go down the tag title passage, or you can say no and go down the single passage.

The single passage starts the same way every single time, whereby a random wrestler will be in the ring during an un-skippable cutscene where they challenge the WWF Champion to come out. You then have the choice of coming out and cutting your own promo or running down and starting a fight. If you want to unlock everyone in the game, then you’re going to see this cutscene A LOT, and by the third or fourth time of having to sit through it, I guarantee that you will be sick to the hind teeth of seeing it. Why couldn’t they make this skippable? You can barely skip any of the cutscenes at all, and after a while it just becomes completely arduous.

It’s a shame as well, as some of the cutscenes, mostly ones involving William Regal and Tajiri, are actually pretty well animated and are quite funny, but even they start to grate after you’ve watched them ad nauseam.

I can’t adequately put into words how utterly disappointed I was when I first played this Story Mode, especially after how detailed and enjoyable Season Mode had been on SmackDown 2. I was expecting to see an improved version of that with an up to date roster and better graphics, but I ended up getting neither.

And that’s before we even get to the frankly horrid commentary from Michael Cole and Tazz. It’s more wooden than a giant wicker man with wooden teeth walking in a wood with a boner. Cole and Tazz would eventually go on to become a pretty decent commentary combo in real life, but my word, they are AWFUL here.

Add in the fact that the game will take up a whole megabyte of room on your 8MB memory card (going as high as 7MB if you decide to have created wrestlers) along with some utterly tortuous saving and loading times, and Just Bring It ultimately becomes a game that suffocates under its flaws. If it wasn’t for the fact that the gameplay is serviceable, it’d probably be the worst game in the whole SmackDown/WWE/2K series.

The only upside about Just Bring It is that THQ listened to the complaints of fans and completely revived the series with the excellent Shut Your Mouth a year later. However, THQ’s first attempt on the sixth gen was not a creative success, and I’d struggle to recommend it unless you really like the dying days of the Attitude Era and fancy playing as Jerry Lynn in his lone WWF/E game appearance.

Thanks for reading

Until next time;

Enjoy Yourselves!!!

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