WWF Smackdown! Just Bring It! (PS2) Review

Just Bring It! is not only the first PS2 game on this never-ending marathon, but it’s also the last WWF game on it… because of the name change to WWE, obviously! Far from the last game from that company… It’s also the last game to have eight people in the ring at once for a good while, plus the first game to have proper commentary! … Man, the commentary… Me and my friend still quote it for a laugh sometimes… So with all these firsts and lasts, what’s it actually like? Let’s find out!

Background:

Look at all those life bars. At least later on they found a way to put eight bars on screen just at the bottom…

Oddly enough Just Bring It! was released in Europe first on November 16th 2001, with the US release coming two days later on the 18th. It was then released in Japan as “Exciting Pro Wrestling 3” on January 24th 2001. It’s interesting to note that the budget re-release of the game was actually retitled “WWE Smackdown! Just Bring It!”, with the scratch logo edited in all the menus.

This was the first game I remember people just not understanding that game rosters are finalized many months before the game is released, as it coming out right at the end of the WCW/ECW Invasion storyline but not including any of the WCW/ECW guys brought in from June onwards raised the ire of a lot of fans. It was out of their hands, and before the era of post-launch DLC, so what could they do?

It DID include Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, Kane, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, The Big Show, Edge, Christian, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Bubba Ray Dudley, D-Von Dudley, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, William Regal, Raven, Billy Gunn, Rikishi, Trish Stratus, Lita, Ivory, Molly Holly, Albert, Bradshaw, Faarooq, Hardcore Holly, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, Rhyno, Spike Dudley, Tajiri, Jerry Lynn (making his one and only non-ECW game appearance!), Steve Blackman, Steven Richards, Tazz, Test, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon.

So thanks to the ECW games and that one weird Molly Holly WCW game appearance, nobody made their wrestling game debut in this title. Well, apart from Fred Durst, but I only count wrestlers, not musicians who stick themselves in a game in exchange for use of his song…

Gameplay:

Now there’s a star studded match you could only get in the early 2000s! (and very late 90s, I guess…)

The gameplay is much improved over Smackdown! 2, most notably in that it’s not so fast any more. Sure, people still roll up to their feet from a lot of big moves, but it doesn’t happen as often and the running animations and such don’t feel like they’re on fast forward. You still have a dedicated strike button, with different moves happening with each different direction, and a dedicated grapple button with similar effects if pressed with a different direction, and now you have a counter button where if properly timed you can… well, counter your opponent’s moves. This can be done in a chain, I remember several times getting into a strike exchange of block-counterstrike-block-counterstrike-block-counterstrike-block-strike. It was a good laugh, but once you had the timing down fighting a fellow human with the same timing down often led to matches with very little action beyond the reversal animations! You then of course have ground moves, top rope moves, running moves, all the usual works, plus finishers that you can store for use later, and everyone now has two finishers to pick from.

As for matches and game modes? Well, most of the matches from SD!2 are back, apart from the Casket Match, while the ladder match isn’t quite as easy to win as before, it’s still not exactly challenging and the Hell in a Cell is still a regular cage with a breakable top on it. Plus I have to mention that I was looking forward to the Royal Rumble mode (because of course I was…) but it’s sadly so easy to be eliminated that it’s hard for the ring to fill up. That’s the other big thing of course, up to eight people in the ring, something they would then drop down to six from the next game onwards for many years (due to the higher quality character models taking up too much memory, in case you’re wondering) This means you can have six man tag team matches, a six-way Hell in a Cell, triple threat tag team matches (something that was also dropped and took forever to return in any format) and up to eight person battle royals (with pin and submission if you want, that was always a favourite of mine). Other new features included “Three Stages of Hell” matches, which is just best two out of three but each fall being a different gimmick match, and “Slobberknocker Mode”, which is a surprisingly fun match where you run a gauntlet of opponents and see how many you can beat in a row (your foes being much weaker than you so you can often beat them with one finisher).

You can also brawl backstage and there are more weapons to use as well. As for modes outside of Exhibition? Well, the endlessly fun (and broken) story mode from SD!2 is gone and replaced with a similar mode found in No Mercy, where you pick a title to challenge for and then run through a storyline of about four or fives matches and then that’s that. During the story part you can freely roam backstage in first-person, and some of the unlockable characters are actually found by wondering up to them during a career play through. Then you have the greatly improved Create-a-Wrestler, and that’s your lot, pretty much! The Create-a-PPV feature is gone, as are a lot of other, admittedly pointless, Create-a modes like manager and stable, given the career mode is gone.

Graphics and Sound:

My god… he’s making his entrance via an actual stage! Will wonders never cease…

The graphics can only be described as “better rendered PS1 models”, as while they’re less blocky and angled, the actual clothing and face work is still a slightly brighter and clearer version of the PS1 models, which given the less-than-a-year work period is understandable. This is why they were able to have eight in the ring at once, the models were still very basic but the technology powering it was enough to handle more of it at once. It also has to be noted that this is the first Smackdown! game to have actual entrances, with the wrestler walking down the ramp and into the ring and everything! Weird how it took them so long, but hey-ho.

Sound, oh boy oh boy… The actual background music is dull and generic, but does its job, and everyone has the right theme (including The Undertaker, as mentioned above) but the brand new commentary… yikes. Michael Cole and Tazz just read lines and people’s names and then it got stitched together, leading to such classics as “THE UNDERTAKER HAS A DEVISTATING! … the last ride.” And Tazz proudly proclaiming “TAZZ! … was great the other day”, which just him saying “PERSON was great the other day” already makes no sense as something a commentator would say, but him referring to himself in the ring while commentating was doubly weird. Honestly, while it is retrospectively embarrassing, I’m happy it happened, if nothing else it’s lead to two decades of “… was great the other day” gags with friends and family, among other references to the commentary track…

Thoughts Then:

Check out that… motion blur. Ah well, it’s the PS2, I can’t take screenshots myself, so don’t blame me!

I happily played this game for a few months after its release, often playing eight person battle royals and royal rumbles with friends and family, but eventually the simplistic nature of the game led to me going back to No Mercy around spring/summer that year. Still, from here the next two entries in the Smackdown! series keep me entertained on and off for the whole year, so looking back this is clearly a “stop gap” between generations as the people behind the game try and wrap their head around the new technology.

Thoughts Now:

A royal rumble on HeAT? Well… okay then!

Funnily enough I did enjoy myself replaying Just Bring It!, and not just because of the still-funny commentary track. The arcadey feel and unique roster is still a good laugh, for a little while. Obviously it wears thin, but some of the modes and features are still quite unique to this game, so a good time can still be had, unless you have no nostalgia for the game / time period, in which case I’d avoid it…

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