WWF Smackdown! (PS1) Review

WWF Smackdown! is very much the wrestling game equivalent of “from humble beginnings”, as this first entry in the series is, erm… lacking in a lot of departments, to put it nicely. It came out just a few months after I’d gotten WrestleMania 2000, so I only played it via renting it out once, and then playing around friends’ houses. Was I wrong to not give it a fair shake?! Let’s… okay, I think we know the answer, but let’s take a look anyway!

Background:

It’s the only in-game appearance of the purple tie dye Dudley Boys!

WWF Smackdown! was released exclusively on the Playstation in the US on the 2nd of March 2000, Europe April 14th that year, and in Japan on August 3rd. Oddly the next game in the series came out at the end of the same year, getting into the end-of-year pattern the series would keep to from then-on (at least up to 2020 anyway!).

The roster features The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H, Mankind, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Kane, Ken Shamrock, Edge, Christian, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Chris Jericho, Chyna, Road Dogg, Billy Gunn, X-Pac, The Big Show, Al Snow, The Big Boss Man, Bradshaw, Faarooq, D’Lo Brown, Gangrel, The Godfather, Hardcore Holly, Mark Henry, Steve Blackman, Test, Val Venis, Debra and Tori. It features the game debuts of the Dudley Boys, Bubba Ray and D-Von… and that’s it, but it’s still a significant debut!

The Blue Meanie, Gerald Brisco, Ivory, Jacqueline, Mideon, Pat Patterson, Albert, Stephanie McMahon, Stevie Richard and Viscera can be made in the rather limited CAW suite with unlockable parts, but I don’t count that as an official appearance…

Gameplay:

Chyna delivers a pedigree to The Rock… What, who were you expecting?

The gameplay is extremely simple, with one grapple button with either a single press or press it and a direction to do different moves, same goes for strikes and the finishers are just a single button press when you build one up. You can do running strikes and grapples, top rope moves, and ground moves, but the whole game feels like it’s on fast forward, with you and your foes standing up after pretty much every move and the movement speed, even when just walking and not even running, being comically quick. This was the main reason I didn’t really like it even when playing with friends, sure it was a good laugh, but it felt far too quick and loose compared to the N64 games I was still in love with.

The matches on offer include Singles, Tag, Three and Four Way matches (called “Survival Matches”), Steel Cage, I Quit, plus a four way Battle Royal, the Royal Rumble match and King of the Ring tournament. You can also compete in Hardcore and Falls Count Anywhere matches (the latter billed as “Anywhere Fall”) which include the ability to fight backstage, nabbing the idea from WCW Mayhem. Finally there is the game debut of the Special Referee match, complete with a player able to control the referee and make the counts, which is always fun with friends (why did they go on to remove that a few years down the line?)

Season Mode sees you play through a year of WWE action, from April to March ending with WrestleMania, as is the custom. It plays similarly to the one in WrestleMania 2000, but with more cutscenes and due to the frantic pace of the game, it doesn’t take long to complete. In fact they knew this as there are character unlocks and CAW attribute points awarded up to your 20th playthrough (though admittedly there are no bonuses for 11-19…)

There is also a limited CAW mode, with only a small number of slots, even smaller if you decided to use the unlockable parts of the real wrestlers and create them. To be honest, I’m pretty sure WWF Warzone, the first game to have a proper CAW mode, has more options, so it’s best left just for the unlockable characters, really… That’s it for modes, honestly given the next entry came out so quickly, it really feels like this was a rush job and that Smackdown! 2 was really what they wanted this to be.

Graphics and Sound:

Jericho makes his grand entrance in the weird video void.

The graphics are pretty basic. Similar to WCW Mayhem in their chunky-ness, just with more jagged shoulders but less robotic walking and awkward idle animations (plus much better hit detection!) The entrances are infamously just the wrestler’s titantron video with their models walking in a weird void in front of it, which is just… odd. Also weird is that all the rings have the show or PPV logo printed in the middle of the canvas, which, well, was never a thing.

Sound is very arcadey, to match the fast-paced arcadey gameplay. Some comic punch and kick sounds, mat hits and crowd noise, and that’s it. No commentary at all, which for a PS1 wrestling game was rare. Background music is generic as all hell, but harmlessly so.

Thoughts Then:

The one thing worse than a guitar shot is a guitar shot in a parking lot!

As I said, when it came out I rented it out of curiosity, and while there was a simple fun to it, it was no WrestleMania 2000, which even though I’d played that for four or so months by that point, still hadn’t got boring. Still, SD! wasn’t awful or anything, it’s still miles ahead of the Nitro and Thunders of the PS1 library…

Thoughts Now:

This is the only screenshot not taken by me. Can you tell the difference?

Now? It’s very… odd. I played a lot of Smackdown! 2 over the years, but this was a brief go here and there, so it didn’t hold much nostalgia for me. The gameplay isn’t great, to be polite, with the no selling of all moves being often frustrating rather than funny like its successor, but again that might just be nostalgia for 2 and I can’t imagine it plays much differently… I guess we’ll see in a few games’ time! Either way, this beginning served as a foundation for many, many games to come, and in that sense it’s worth a go for historical context, but you won’t be playing for long…

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