We've been looking forward to the latest SmackDown game ever since its lauded predecessor first arrived. Although Just Bring It was extremely popular and sold enough to justify a Platinum re-release, we weren't exactly piledriven into loving it, as it suffered from a number of irritating niggles which conspired to spoil the illusion of 'real' wrestling. Nevertheless, we knew Yuke's would return with something bigger and better, and it has. In fact, Shut Your Mouth is arguably a more enjoyable spectacle than the TV series, which continued to shed its regular viewers throughout this year.
Ironically, it's the soap opera style of presentation and scripting that make SYM more enjoyable than Just Bring It. Season mode starts with WWE boss Vince McMahon drafting wrestlers into SmackDown and Raw schedules, and you'll have a full card of fighters to negotiate in the boots (or indeed high heels) of your chosen wrestler. These range from typical one-on-one bouts to the more elaborate ladder and cage matches, tag team battles, Royal Rumbles and even Pay-Per-View specials, which take you all around the globe.
These days though it wouldn't be WWE without a bit of variety in location and outcome. You'll witness brawls in the dressing room area, your allies and enemies interrupting matches and swinging steel chairs about behind the ref's back, and all manner of incidents which adhere to the scripting.
There isn't really an ultimate goal in the season mode - it is what it says on the tin. You have to fight your way through a season, and if you're good, you'll be able to start thinking about challenging for belts. Indeed, if you can work off the deficit of losing the first few matches (as we did) then you can start requesting "title shots" from big man McMahon. He isn't guaranteed to say yes, but you can always go after one of the other myriad prizes on offer in the WWE.
This new season mode has proved very popular around Eurogamer, and the results are rarely the same. It isn't all text with names swapped around either - there's actual "acting" here, in all its glorious cheesiness, and different characters get very different receptions from fellow wrestlers and the crowd. And the management, too. It all depends on whom you befriend, and with whom you lay the smack down.
But apart from being the best yet interpretation of modern day wrestling with plenty of replay value, which respects the sanctity of the 'sport's stupidity, progress in season mode also rewards you with new costumes, characteristics and other options in the create-a-wrestler mode. And since you can enter your own custom bodyslammer in season mode, it's another bullet point for the replay value column.
Seasoning isn't all you can do, though. You can still opt for single matches, using just about any variable imaginable. Do you want ladies only with ladders and cages? Sure thing. Blokes versus birds in the car park? Righty ho. Men in pants only Royal Rumble? Go right ahead. In fact, if it's on the TV, or a combination of elements on the TV, you can probably do it in here. Very impressive.
Raw or overcooked?
The improvements continue almost unabated as we move onto the game mechanics. Even using Just Bring It's visuals and controls, SYM would be an incredible improvement, but by upping the polygon count to a level the PS2 regularly (but only marginally) strains to deliver, Yuke's has made it look almost real to boot. Okay, the animation and arena detail get most of the attention, and the models do look a bit like waxwork sculptures, but throw in improved collision detection, with only the odd blemish, more than 50 real-life wrestlers each with increased move counts, the ability to execute your enemy's signature moves if you're cheeky enough, a few control improvements (like easy reversals) and a thick coat of varnish and you have a real beauty to see and play.
Sadly though, after extensive play a number of little inconsistencies emerge in much the same way they did with Just Bring It. For example, for some reason your characters are still capable of floating in midair standing on the ring apron. And in the mechanics department, the ability to induce a dizzy state in your opponent (opening him up to finishing moves) is so inconsistent that we've yet to work out exactly what triggers it. Some reversal moves seem to, and yet huge power moves often go apparently ignored. Oh, and although we like the way the script is characteristically cheesy, Yuke's Japlish is a bit iffy and a lot of the jokes don't really work. Likewise the commentary, though an improvement over Just Bring It, still falls a bit short of 'good', and we're not quite sure why the wrestlers remain mute...
But there's so much that is good about the latest SmackDown! game that it's easy to forgive it. Multiplayer (for up to six players) is no longer limited to enthusiastic post-pub brawling - the game's mechanics lack the glaring flaws present in previous versions, so you can feel safe wheeling it out to a lucid audience. And also unlike previous games, this one offers so much for the single player that it's easy to forget about beating up your nearest and dearest.
Oozing with cheese
Shut Your Mouth is the best PS2 wrestler there is, largely thanks to Yuke's success in mimicking the cheese that oozes from every pore of the WWE. We've often joked that WWE television reminds us of game scripts with appalling acting and laughable dialogue, but it really came to Yuke's aid here, because as a simulation of the WWE bastardisation of combat, SYM is hard to fault. As a piece of gaming software it's a bit easier to pick holes in, but if you're even remotely interested in, ahem, "sports entertainment", you're unlikely to come away disappointed. It's by no means perfect, but WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth is a scissor-kick to the wrestling genre's collective throat.
But please folks, call it something halfway defensible next time, eh?