"All of the top WWF Superstars - Largest interactive backstage area ever - Most advanced season mode - Make decisions affecting rivalries - backstage storylines and tag teams - Revolutionary Create-A-Superstar - Sliding scales, moves, and personality variables. All signature moves, taunts, and mannerisms - From Elbow To Eyebrow!"
The game I want to take a look at today represents the birth of modern-day WWE games, more or less. WWF SmackDown! was the first WWF game developed by Yuke's, who continue to develop the WWE games to this day. A lot of things we take for granted in modern WWE games were started with this seminal effort by Yukes and were carried over and perfected over the years.
Although developed by Yuke's, WWF SmackDown was released by THQ. THQ had previously released two decent but all-in-all sub-par wrestling games for the Playstation - WCW Nitro and WCW Thunder. I guess, after those two titles, they decided to jump ship like a lot of wrestlers did in the late 90s - early 2000s. They hooked up with the WWF and, most importantly, some better developers for their game. I'd say they made the right decision.
WWF SmackDown was released to the North American audience on March 2, 2000. It was later released in Japan, by Yuke's itself, as Exciting Pro Wrestling. I would assume this to be a re-skinned version, lacking any of the WWF Superstars. I have never actually played this version of the game for myself, though, so I wouldn't know for sure.
Personally, I was super excited when this game was released because it featured the first WWF game appearance of one of my favorite ECW tag teams - The Dudley Boyz. Even aside from that, this game marks a lot of firsts. It was the first time that the classic grappling engine that Yuke's created (that we all know and love) was used for a wrestling game. Granted, it's in its elementary stages here but you can catch a glimpse of what it would later become. It was much better than the previously used "button combo system" that Acclaim used for its WWF and ECW wrestling games. Don't get me wrong, I currently play UFC 3 on my Xbox One A LOT. I don't mind throwing combos when it comes to striking. When you're trying to grapple, though, button combos shouldn't have to be utilized to pull off a move. Why do I have to push "up, down, left, X" just to do a bodyslam? Thankfully, this was the first improvement Yuke's made.
This was also the first WWF game where you could store your finishing move for later use by filling up your "spirit meter". Prior to this game, when your finisher was active, you only had a brief amount of time to use it before you lost it. Thankfully, that's not the case anymore.
In another first for WWF games - you can take the fight out of the ring entirely and brawl through backstage areas here. Obviously, "hardcore" was huge at this point in wrestling history and I was really excited for this feature to be implemented! Brawling through backstage areas using the Dudley Boyz; it was a young man's dream.
Another new twist this game offered was a proper "story mode" where you played through your wrestling career, interacting with other superstars and participating in rudimentary storylines. Even at the time, though, this mode needed some work. It was long, drawn out and tedious. Also, the extra stuff you could unlock by playing through it wasn't that enticing and didn't give you much incentive to play through it. Still, it was a good start to a great idea. WWF SmackDown! features a fair amount of different match types ranging from cage match, hardcore, Royal Rumble, and even an option for a "special referee match." I used to enjoy setting one of these matches up and then messing with the AI by being a crooked official.
Aside from the Dudleyz whom I mentioned earlier, you can pretty much guess the rest of the roster going by who was popular in the WWF circa '99 - 2000. The roster includes Mankind, The Rock, Chyna, the entire DX crew, The Undertaker... A lot of different options to choose from!
This game doesn't look so great now (although I wouldn't call it "ugly") but, at the time, it looked pretty good. At least comparable to the other wrestling games on the market. As far as how the game plays - as I said, the new grappling system that Yuke's implemented was nice. It was obviously improved upon and tweaked over the years but it still feels pretty comfortable to play here. The matches are still a little fast paced for my liking, but nowhere near as fast as previous games like WWF: In Your House.
My main complaint is that no one on the roster seems to want to sell at all. No matter what you hit your opponent with during the match (or what he hits you with for that matter), everyone just bounces back up to their feet fairly quickly. It's like everyone wants to be Mike Blackwell vs The Skyscrapers around here.
It was really enjoyable replaying this classic. It's the most fun I've had looking back, in a while. I was super excited when this game was released and it didn't disappoint at the time. It was great! Sure, games got better and there are some minor complaints here but this was a great start to the classic SmackDown series that later morphed into the even greater Smackdown vs Raw series.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!