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WWF Smackdown | Just Bring It | review | game | Lollipop

WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It

(THQ for PS2)
By Eric Johnson

It has been said that the only thing real in professional wrestling is the pain, and that's 100% true. No matter how far the WWF (now the WWE) dissolves into melodramatic soap opera, complete with betrayals, plot twists, upsets, comebacks, and blatant low-brow emotional manipulation, it's still the only sport in the known universe where competitors intentionally subject themselves to injury in order to entertain the masses. Think about it, football, boxing, and even bullfighting involves individuals doing their best to avoid getting hurt. But like gladiators, the possibility for catastrophic injury is quite real in wrestling. If you're thinking that the whole thing is fixed, you're missing the point. Match outcomes may be planned in advance, but pro wrestlers get the living shit beaten out of them in a bizarre hybrid between self-flagellation and performance art that boasts a fan base at least equal in number to that of any "reputable" sport you can name. Like ancient gladiators, whose sweat was bottled and sold as an aphrodisiac, modern wrestlers are marketed to a saturation point that would turn George Lucas green. Albums, videos, arena events, t-shirts, magazines, ice cream bars, action figures, and, of course, video games are churned out on a continual basis.

Video games, now that's an idea! Give the fans a little vicarious wrestling action without the risk of accidental paralysis! Great in concept, but problematic in execution. Pro-wrestling video games all suffer from the same fundamental problem: In order to recreate the mayhem of the squared circle, the control scheme is always a contrived mess that inevitably results in a built-in learning curve better suited to a flight simulator. One button pins the guy, another throws him against the ropes, one is for punching, another for kicking, another to make the two opponents lock arms, and a combination of buttons is used to perform advanced signature maneuvers like piledrivers and body slams.

Just Bring It is the closest anyone has yet come to cramming the bawdy spectacle of professional wrestling into a console system. A large number of scenarios for severe beatings are available, dozens of wrestlers can be used, referees show favoritism if beaten on, allied wrestlers can appear from out of nowhere, and opportunities to cheat abound. None of that is really new, it just looks better. There are only two features of Just Bring It that are really fresh: One is somewhat successful, the other is a dismal failure. The better of the two is a story mode where you control your wrestlers dialog in a series of pre-event interviews. Each interview is presented as a series of dialog trees where choices trigger a series of confrontations, alliances, betrayals, and vendettas that does a decent but stiff job of replicating the bizarre soap opera that the WWF has come to resemble. The bad news: A god-awful attempt at replicating colorful ringside commentary is so poorly executed that it detracts from the game. And the awful, looped, constipated, limited speech is impossible to turn off or turn down.

The only problem is you all have to know how to play it, which is quite a feat given the steep learning curve of the controls. One fine day someone will design a wrestling game with a control scheme that is instinctual enough to pick up and play without practice, like Tony Hawk's line of skateboarding games. But until that day, WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It is certainly good enough to check out. After all, The Rock is on the cover, and everyone knows the mere presence of The Rock is a guarantee of a quality product.

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