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The 7 - Guest Columns - The Obtuse Angle: Christ's Finisher is Reversible
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Wolfram J. Paulovich
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#1 Posted on 13.12.02 1453.57
Reposted on: 13.12.09 1459.06

Christ's Finisher Is Reversible: A Look at WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth
December 13, 2002

by Jeb Tennyson Lund

It’s the holiday season. Time to talk about that one thing as traditional as can-shaped cranberry sauce and balding uncles with wandering hands: a video game! More specifically, the new offering from the WWE, Yukes and Jakks Pacific, WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth.

Nostalgia for old games aside, this is probably the best wrestling game I have ever played. With this version, the designers have reduced loading time by ninety percent (eliminating an old friend's quip: "This game spends more time getting loaded than you do"), offered the same good music and video clips, improved video effects, added match types, added costume options and finally solved the problem of creating a fun and dynamic story mode. In short, they got rid of almost every infuriating feature of the old Smackdown games while keeping the fun and quirky stuff.

Bear in mind that I did not play this game for hours each day, over the course of two weeks. Rather, I sped through it as much as possible to see how far the story mode would take me. This review is not comprehensive, and doubtless each player will find different annoyances or pleasant surprises. I only hope to offer a general overview that might be helpful when making a buying decision.

The Story, the Story Mode and the Premise
The story mode opens after Wrestlemania, with the draft for the brand extension. You have the option of allowing Flair and McMahon to draft wrestlers themselves, an option that largely follows the draft decisions made in real life. Or you can draft wrestlers for Flair and McMahon — an option that allows every player to seek vindication for bad storylines and bad matches. (I put Billy Gunn, X-Pac, Albert, Test and all the women on Smackdown and myself on RAW just to see it happen. Then I reset and let Flair and McMahon pick.)

The aim of the game is obviously to get a belt. You do this by winning matches and increasing your superstar points. While backstage, you can go to the owner's VIP room and check out your point-standing or demand a match. When you reach enough points, you get number-one-contender matches and a shot at a belt. Early demands for title shots, when you have low points, get you European Championship matches or the like, but winning a "lesser" belt can reduce your options for challenges for bigger belts.

Your points can be reduced by clean losses, by allowing your partner or a team member to get the winning pin, or by deliberate DQs. The last option is great. At any point, you can bail out of the ring, go midway between the turnbuckles and press R1 (which makes you dig around under the ring until you find an International Object) then run in the ring and whale on your opponent with a chair, sledgehammer, table or garbage-can lid. Sure, you get DQ'd and lose points, but you seriously put the hurt on people. (You can use these objects with a "finisher." For instance, with the chair, you can do a Dangerous DDT, a Van Daminator or an Undertaker Throat-Crush-Destroy Thingy.)

Deliberate DQs can be critical if you get shanghaied into a handicap match, allowing you to kick ass and lose with anger. Also, if you are unfortunately paired with Billy "The Load" Gunn, you can destroy your tag partner before anyone else can get to him. This preserves your self-respect, if not your ranking. Another sinful (but fully just) pleasure involves Earl Hebner, a chair and head trauma. Earl referees all the matches, and he doesn't do anything about getting smack-patsied in the cranium other than lie on the mat for three minutes. The game can be very authentic at times.

Each RAW or Smackdown is only three matches long, and you can skip those not involving you or choose to interfere in one or two. Or, most times, you can elect to "play" any one of the contestants in the preceding matches. This allows you to help further the careers of wrestlers you favor, or simply punish those booking abortions who have always been a nightmare for you.

Also, before your match, you can wander around backstage and converse pleasantly or contentiously with other superstars. A cross word will put you in another match for the night, although getting your ass handed to you in it will not make you weak for your scheduled match. As a matter of fact, the extra matches can help you by increasing your superstar points. In the end, the variety of options for shows will suit your every mood, as you may blast through a RAW episode in five minutes... or you may get into an extra match, interfere in one, play one, then wrestle yours — and basically waste as many as twenty-five minutes on one show.

Eventually, Flair and McMahon come to loggerheads and have their brands face off at Survivor Series in a three-on-three elimination tag match. If you don't absolutely suck at the game, your owner will put you in this match, and you will be the one to decide total control of the WWE! After this, the brands crossover a good deal, and all your selective drafting of superstars will come to nothing as you face Mark Henry in an Iron Man match.

Pleasantly and surprisingly, the story mode does not end after the brand reunification. (It goes on for a few years, although certain match types and themes are repeated.) If you win for Flair, McMahon noodles around and makes trouble, and you have another solid couple of years of storylines to go. The owners fire wrestlers, band together, dissolve their union; Linda McMahon reinstates people, etc.

The jewel in this game is, hands down, the story mode. In previous Smackdown games, it was always the nadir. In Smackdown2, the story followed some of the McMahon-Helmsley era, then degenerated into nonsense. A wrestler not put in the heavyweight-champ category couldn't win a lesser belt and then upgrade without you, the player, deliberately losing said belt and then switching the wrestler into the heavyweight category... at the bottom of the contenders list. Furthermore, you were as likely to wrestle Viscera in a Hell in a Cell as you were to meet X-Pac in a casket match. Worse, you had to wait through minute-long decisions for each of ten different matches (in the "skip" mode), and sometimes you were not booked on a card at all. The story mode was a monument to wasting time and a study in losing patience.

Smackdown: Just Bring It, the third installment in the series (and first for PS2), was even worse. There really wasn't a story mode. Each time you started it, Vince approached you for a "one-time only" shot at the tag titles. If you accepted it, you went on to wrestle for them. If you lost, you started over. If you won, you then defended; then the story mode was over. To do anything else, you had to decline Vince's tag title offer; then you were put into main-event hell. If you rushed someone who was cutting a promo in the ring, you were in the WWF Title hunt. If you didn't rush them but cut a promo on them, you were still in the hunt. To wrestle for anything other than tag or world titles, you had to decline an opportunity, act like a wuss in promos, then run around backstage looking for Regal. Even then, he would offer you an IC or European title shot, and you would have to decline those just to get in the hardcore title hunt.

The whole thing was like an exercise in Pavlovian response. "You don't like the tag titles? BAD! [smack] You don't like the WWF Title? BAD! BAD! [smack, smack] You don't like the IC or European titles? BAD! [smack, go away! Come back here! Smack] Okay, have your crappy hardcore title match." Jesus, even the video games were holding Crash Holly down.

Great Tidbits About the Game
• You can use another wrestler's finisher against him/her.

• You can remove the turnbuckle padding.

• You can grab foreign objects during virtually any match.

• You can stick the garbage can on someone's head, then smack them around. Also, you can wield the fire extinguisher as a blunt object or spray people with the frothy retardant.

• The more you hit a finisher, the faster you recharge it. After pummeling someone with a Stunner, your recharge rate increases, becoming almost automatic after a third or fourth finisher. This rewards you for being in charge of the match, but it can be a challenging demon if you are on the losing end.

• You can beat the crap out of Earl Hebner if it looks like you're losing the match. When he's dead on the mat, he can't do anything about your recent "Pedigree" experience.

• If you have a finisher charged up, you can often block or prevent an opponent's finisher. This causes the both of you to lose the charged-up finisher, but it puts both of you back to square one. Sometimes you can block a finisher without having one charged up; but this is so rare that it either hardly ever happens — or I was so into the match that I didn't notice I had just lost a finisher that I'd never noticed in the first place. Maybe it doesn't happen at all, and I am just crazy.

• You can remove some superstars from ever being an option in the draft.

• You can skip most of the inane story crap that doesn't concern you.

Average Annoyances About the Game
• Once again, it's a headache to win any tag or multi-player match by a pinfall. A wrestler always kicks you in the back when you look like you might have a pin. Sometimes it seems as if Hebner will break up the pinfall on general principle.

• The annoying counterpoint to this is that no one can break up a submission move. Once it's locked in, someone could move you under the ropes and suspend you over circular saws: if the guy taps out, you win no matter what. If you have a submission finisher, you can win almost any Fatal Four-Way. If you don't have a submission finisher, you have to spend all your time killing anyone who does.

• The unlockable items vary from pay-per-view to pay-per-view. For some, you can unlock one moveset or one of three different wrestlers's attires. For others, you can unlock one of several movesets or a whole familiar wrestler. The problem is, what to choose? After a few trips through the wrestling year, the good options disappear on some pay-per-views, and your historic victory is rewarded by access to Trish Stratus's outfit, walkman or set of flatware.

• Unless you have a serious wanderlust when it comes to hardcore matches, the ability to futz around outside the arena, get into the subway, then go to Times Square seems to have no point at all in the game. I appreciate that designers added some different venues, but the lack of opportunities to use them while in character seems like a waste of memory. I did play some hardcore matches with a strategy of, "let's see how far I can journey through New York while being hit in the head," but it wasn't terribly exciting.

• Cinema-spots! Almost every wrestler has a "cinematic" move that involves the opponent standing, artificially dazed, waiting for the spot to happen. With The Rock, there appear to be two cinema spots:
1. The clothesline-get-up-clothesline-get-up-clothesline-and-get-up-dazed, only to walk into a DDT... or into the other "movie," which is...
2. The Punch-Punch—Wait-for-It—Spit-Big-Punch Small Movie of Holy Fuck, Who Cares?
As implied, these snippets of zoomed-in movie attacks are wonderful if your character is doing them to someone else. But even so, they are only wonderful for the first ten or twenty matches. For those players who are sick of certain wrestler's overplayed spots, it can be a hell of inescapable stylishness and — very often — repetition.

• Linda McMahon's music sounds, as always, like something Herbie Hancock and John Tesh put together out of some sort of heroin-related competition for the title of King Syntho-Bastard.

• You will probably break the "square" button on your controller by trying to reverse moves. The sad thing is that the computer player will reverse your moves far more often. Oddly enough, when I deliberately lost matches by putting my controller down and watching what happened (i.e. "How long will this clown take to defeat me when I put forth no offense?"), my character managed to reverse as many ground moves on his own as I would have by feverishly pushing the reversal button.

• As always, the programmers have selected a few superstars as the "indefatigable kings of the game." The most notable are Hulk Hogan and Triple H. The Rock and Stone Cold (I suppose due to their absences) are far easier to pin than in any previous game. Triple H and Hulk, however, have an almost preternatural ability to counter anything you have thought of. Hitting them with a finisher does not slow them down; they remain just as reversal-vigilant. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the video-game version of Hulk Hogan is a faster, more energetic and more talented grappler than the real one has ever been.

General Oddities and Obscenities
As with any video game, certain things jump out at you that seem unnecessarily strange. Here are a few notes I made while playing:
• Stephanie's breasts are a normal size in the game. If I'd spent as much as the WWE did to artificially inflate them, I'd pretty much demand the extra polygons in the game. But, apparently, Stephanie has had second thoughts.

• You can only defeat Hulk Hogan (in non-season mode but at "superstar" or "Smackdown" ability) under the severest circumstances. I've tried using several different characters in several different match types, but Hogan can only be defeated with roughly a minimum of four finishers. Moreover, the finishers make no impact on his style of play: he can still reverse almost any grapple attempt and only seems to move faster after several finishers. For an especially masochistic experience, try playing against him in a submission match. Since Hogan has no submission finishers, it takes about ten minutes for him to polish you off with a headlock. During that time, you will lose many tests of strength, lose who-can-punch-harder contests, be hit with the slow cinematic Interrupt-a-Vision version of the big boot, and be crushed by about 10-15 legdrop finishers. Each one of these will render you more incapable of getting up, reversing anything, standing, or getting out of the fucking interminable big-boot sequence. And after his third finisher or so, each legdrop recharges him almost all the way.

• Half of the pay-per-view music sounds like the suspenseful "submerging" music from the movie Crimson Tide. (Either that or the opening credits from Cave Dwellers.) The other half sounds like the introduction to each audio-book in the Dragon Lance series — you know, background music for dicing elves.

• The right analog button allows you to look up and down while backstage. There is no ostensible purpose for this.

• When Flair struts, he looks like he has some osteopathic hunching problem. (I'm talking about the game, here.)

• It's interesting how storylines die as quickly in the game as they do in real life. Shawn Michaels comes back to run the nWo, then you never hear from him again. Then he reappears. Apparently he can wrestle other people in the game, but whether he ever wrestles you (the player) is hard to determine.

• Why is it that Triple H is the prominent person on the cover of a game that he doesn't even enter until over a year of season play?

• I'd just won the belt at Armageddon, and HHH came out to announce his entry in the rumble. JR said: "And just like that he already owns the belt." (Wow, glass ceiling in the game, too!) We had a two-out-of-three falls match at the Royal Rumble. It gratified me that I didn't need the third fall to win.

• Even in the game, X-Pac looks like a useless, greasy gopher who fetches sodas for his bigger friends.

Created Characters: Making It All Better
As with all previous Smackdown incarnations, the shortcomings and irritations of the game can be overcome or ameliorated with the delights of the "created" wrestler. And the options for moves and attire are outstanding in this game.

I remember the first Smackdown game rewarding the player with the option of naming finishers. Smackdown2 took away the finisher-naming option, but it did allow you to come up with your own "yes" or "no" replies for interference requests or match options. The only thing to do with these replies was make them as horrendous as possible. I fondly recall that most seminal of characters, "Electric Sodomy," using these snappy rejoinders:
1. "I'm all lubed up!!!" (Yes)
2. "Not in my bungus!" (No)
I have no clue what responses we gave for "The Foreigner," "The Mongoloid," and "Mr. Thingy." Although I do remember that The Mongoloid was a crazed giant with a mohawk, heart-shaped glasses and a thong; and that "Mr. Thingy" had a skull for a face. But I digress....

Smackdown: Just Bring It, mistake that it was, reinstated the two-finisher option for wrestlers while adding many more moves and types of clothing. It also had great pre-created characters. I used one, rather perversely, who was a short, fat and bearded man in a gray jacket, hat and shorts. Somehow I got the idea to name him, "Enos von Hammer: The Sodo-Minister." The joke would have been much more (or maybe much less) puerile had I not given him the "Stunt-Rider Stretch" for a finisher. This move basically involves grabbing someone from behind, wrapping a leg around their waist, pulling their arms behind them, then thrusting forward with the pelvis. How wrestling — an activity already beset with a dubious heterosexuality — managed to produce a submission move best described as "The Sodomizer" I'll never know. Doubtless some Japanese fellow invented it... in a place thousands of miles away from American self-consciousness about enjoying large, underdressed men vigorously hugging one another on television. I also recall creating a demented islander named, "Otonwei, the Godless Savage," but he was much less fun because I couldn't find a finisher that shrunk heads or set people on fire.

Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth rewards players in two ways, in the "create a wrestler" mode. Most fans will enjoy whole preset characters who look like current wrestlers not included in the game. From what I understand, it's fairly easy to make your own Rey Mysterio or Chavo Guerrero from the available options.

For those whose imagination runs to the bizarre, like me, this game is a veritable cornucopia of strange. I ran to a religious bent while creating my characters, and the grappler, "Christ Jericho," was easy to make. Making someone look like Christ, in wrestling, is not terribly hard, what with wrestling's extensive predilection for long hair and long beards. I was also able to fit him out with raggedy pants and some sandals. Plus, his two finishers were easy: the "Judgment Slam" and "Christian Armlock." Other moves were easy, too, as the red mist was renamed, in my mind, "This Is My Blood," while the Frog Splash became, "This Is My Body." Christ was also prone to many bear hugs, as he embodied love.

The experiment in blasphemy broke down, as I realized that Christ really can't have much offense, and there aren't many options for solely reactive, defensive moves. In the end, he seemed to follow more of a "WWJND" path, as I began giving him moves that Jesus most certainly, if he had the choice, would not do.

"Boniface: The Street Preacher," was much easier to work with. I gave him a long black coat, some leather pants, a brooding look and some pretty evil submission moves. Again, however, the religious concept broke down, in much the same way as Brother D-Von. There is little room in wrestling for someone who actually advocates the teachings of Jesus — something that Jake the Snake Roberts proved so well and so inadvertently. Pacifists and universalists just can't go on the attack very well, and if they followed their hearts, they'd never get off Heat.

Maybe it's time to call "The Mongoloid" out of retirement.

And in the End...
There are so many little delights to this game that it should please even the most jaded wrestling fan and gamer. From heels who grab the tights, to deliberate DQs, to broad movesets, to very elective play, this offering should provide much more extensive entertainment than any previous wrestling game. Minor annoyances, like cinematic Interrupt-a-Vision and unstoppable submission moves can easily be ignored in light of a story mode that comes very close to allowing the player to choose his or her own destiny. Finally, hardcore fans — or, in my case, nutty cranks — can reap endless delight from the "create a wrestler" mode, playing forgotten favorites or weird abominations. Buy the game and irritate friends who don't care about wrestling. You will surely enjoy it, and they will, too, if they ever get past their quasi-enlightened bourgeois scorn.
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#2 Posted on 14.12.02 0237.47
Reposted on: 14.12.09 0238.08
I quote Comic Book Guy: "There is no emoticon for what I am feeling." No, wait, found the FAQ. Let's see. We got one of these. Actually, that sums it up. You should have put in for Christ Jericho. Seriously funny stuff mixed with a great review. Keep up the good work.
Wolfram J. Paulovich
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#3 Posted on 15.12.02 1507.34
Reposted on: 15.12.09 1517.53
Thanks, Gugs — at least one person was not horrified at the thought of my "sacrilicious" created characters. Thanks, too, to Mountinman44 and Socetew, for writing in after the other column.
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#4 Posted on 16.12.02 1023.16
Reposted on: 16.12.09 1026.15

    Originally posted by Jeb Tennyson Lund
    Thanks, Gugs ? at least one person was not horrified at the thought of my "sacrilicious" created characters. Thanks, too, to Mountinman44 and Socetew, for writing in after the other column.

Y'know, Jeb, I think my friends and I can relate to ya...
when "Wrestlemania 2000" came out, we created a league of religious figures that battled it out for theological supremacy, and named it WUG (Wrestling Under God).
Satan, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Judas and Xenu (sp?) battling it out.
Jesus had the Big Show's music and his finisher was the Crucifix DDT, natch.
I remember quite clearly that we put all the characters in a Royal Rumble to determine the first WUG champion and let the computer play. Jesus kicked much ass and eliminated many foes, until it was him, Satan and Judas left in the ring. While Jesus had his back turned while dumping Satan, Judas snuck behind Jesus and eliminated the Christ to win. Perfect ending, I thought. Swear to God, it's like the game knew.
Ah, memories.
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#5 Posted on 17.12.02 1418.51
Reposted on: 17.12.09 1418.51
Please tell me you stuck Mick Foley in there...
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