Nearly every aspect of the SmackDown! series has been improved in its latest iteration, WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth. The revamped season mode lets you take an untested wrestler through the ranks of the WWE while reliving key events that have transpired over the past year, such as the co-ownership storyline between Vince McMahon and Ric Flair and the reintroduction of the NWO. Moreover, the series' gameplay has also been drastically improved for Shut Your Mouth, with a reversal system that requires precise timing and some guesswork and smoother overall wrestling mechanics that place more emphasis on grappling than any previous game in the series. To make the overall package even more enticing for wrestling fans, the game's developer, Yuke's, has added an incredibly robust create-a-wrestler mode that allows you to customize nearly every physical aspect of a created wrestler, on down to his or her animation.
Of course, SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth continues the tradition of offering numerous different match types. The exhibition mode features the basic single and tag team matches, as well as the six man tag, handicap, royal rumble, king of the ring, hardcore, special, and survival options. The hardcore matches are particularly entertaining, as they can take place in a variety of different locations around the arena, such as the locker room, the VIP room, the parking lot, the rotunda, or the sidewalks outside, where traffic steadily flows by as you pummel your opponent. But if you're feeling even more adventurous than that, you can also bring the fight into a subway station complete with operating trains, inside the WWE restaurant known as The World, or into the streets of Times Square. You can choose to start a hardcore match in any of these locations, but what makes this mode especially entertaining is the fact that all these areas are connected, so you can travel between them over the course of the match. Almost all these areas contain plenty of weapons to use on your opponent, including steel chairs, foam hands, rattan canes, and even functional fire extinguishers. It's also worth noting that the royal rumble in SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth comes closer to resembling the actual event by starting it with only two wrestlers and then having an additional wrestler come in every 15 seconds or so (to keep the action brisk), although the game can only support up to six wrestlers in the ring at once.
In any case, each of these match types can be configured in a number of ways. For example, you can choose to add a tornado tag, tornado six-man tag, triple threat, fatal four way, or time limit dimension to any hardcore match. Likewise, if you select the survival match, you can change it into a four-, five-, or six-man battle royal. Some of the other match types have more basic secondary options, such as the single match, which only allows you to decide if you want to walk out with a manger or not. Most of these matches will keep you busy, but those looking for some of the more bizarre WWE match types won't be disappointed to find that there are plenty of those as well.
The exhibition mode's special option features matches that are essentially based on gimmicks. You can test your wrestling skills in steel cage, elimination, hell in a cell, I quit, ironman, ladder, last man standing, lumberjack, slobber knocker, special referee, street fight, submission, table, three stages of hell, and TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs) matches. The ladder and TLC matches are perhaps the most entertaining of all the options in the special match menu, simply because they can be so chaotic and tense. The object of these matches is to grab a belt that has been suspended from the ceiling. When you see an opponent climbing the ladder and reaching for the belt, you can either try to knock the ladder down or meet that wrestler at the top of the ladder to prevent him or her from snatching it. In Shut your Mouth, wrestlers can now grab onto and swing from the belt if they have the ladder knocked out from under them, which adds even more excitement to the proceedings. All these special matches have a different gameplay experience to offer, but some will certainly be entertained with the idea of re-creating some fondly remembered matches from the WWE days of old.
Most of the matches you see in the exhibition option are blended into SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth's season mode, which loosely follows the last year of WWE programming, starting with the splitting of Raw and SmackDown! between Ric Flair and Vince McMahon and continuing past The Rock and Hulk Hogan's legendary showdown at WrestleMania X8. Upon starting the season mode, you have to select one of the preexisting male WWE superstars or a wrestler you've created. If you select a wrestler with a high number of superstar points, such The Rock or Chris Jericho, you'll immediately start wrestling on the main TV shows and participating in pay-per-view events. Conversely, if you start off with a created wrestler, you'll have a low number of superstar points, which means that you'll have to toil with other relatively unpopular wrestlers on Heat, and you won't be able wrestle in any of the pay-per-view events or get a title shot right off the bat. All that changes, though, as you continue to win matches and gain the respect of either Vince McMahon or Ric Flair.
You can monitor how many superstar points you have, or even demand a title shot, by talking to either owner in the VIP room located in the room known as the rotunda. This room is also where you can view whatever create-a-wrestler moves, alternate wrestler outfits, special movies, and arenas you've unlocked--which is accomplished by winning matches at pay-per-view events--and briefly interact with other wrestlers. You can also just wander around from a first-person perspective and explore some of the different venues in the game.
But before you can do any of that, you have to complete the Raw and SmackDown! draft. Linda McMahon opens the draft with a brief explanation of the current situation and why certain wrestlers like the undisputed champion, Undertaker, and Stone Cold Steve Austin can't participate in the draft. When she's done, you can choose to manage the draft for either SmackDown! or Raw, or you can skip the formalities and simply edit both rosters manually. It can be fun to go through the draft and see who the computer picks and adjust your choices accordingly, but most fans will probably choose to edit them manually so they'll be faithful to the WWE programming--though, the same can probably said for stables. Several of the wrestlers on both Raw and SmackDown! will be in a stable with other wrestlers, which basically means that they're aligned with each other and will occasionally interfere in matches to help their teammates out. You'll find that most of the stables, such as Goldust and Booker T, as well as the Un-Americans, are already in place, but you can choose to edit them or even add new ones that can include up to three wrestlers. You can add new stables at any time over the course of the season, but you can't edit any of the stables that were established before the season started.
The season is broken down so you usually participate in four matches every month, but if your wrestler has enough superstar points, you'll also wrestle in a pay-per-view match every month. Moreover, if you happen to win the undisputed championship, you'll have to jump in between SmackDown! and Raw, so you'll have to wrestle up to nine matches per month (including the pay-per-view matches). In some cases, you won't have to wrestle during a particular week. Instead, you might be doing an interview with Michael Cole and Tazz or just visiting the fans in The World, but even The World isn't a safe haven, as you can still be ambushed by wrestlers who are feuding with you. As previously mentioned, the season unfolds differently depending on where your wrestler is in the rankings, but it can also change depending on the responses you select when speaking with other wrestlers, announcers, or the owners.
It's incredibly cool to see events unfold in the game just as they did in the show. Watching Vince McMahon launch into a soliloquy on "killing his creation" and then turn around in his chair to reveal the NWO logo or get teary-eyed as Hulk Hogan makes his triumphant return to the Hulkamaniacs in a post-WrestleMania X8 match pose-down with The Rock will put a smile on the faces of devout WWE fans. It's also very satisfying to bring an unknown wrestler up through the ranks, but that's not to say there aren't a few very minor issues. Wrestlers you're feuding with won't always act as such when you confront them in the rotunda or the locker room. There are also some minor inconsistencies in the story line, particularly during the "search for a traitor" portion, but the biggest problem with the season mode is the fact that you'll often wrestle against the same opponents over and over, which can get somewhat tiresome. It's also disappointing to see that none of the female WWE wrestlers can be used in the season mode.
Like its predecessors, Shut Your Mouth features a high-speed style of gameplay, but the game makes quite a few changes to the series' formula. Grappling, which involves picking an opponent up off the ground and then locking up with him or her, is much more useful, as it helps slow down the pace of a match, giving you a chance to think about your next move. It's also a safer opener than punches or kicks, as those attacks can be easily countered. Speaking of the counter system, it's also been revamped since Just Bring It, and it now depends on timing and guessing the direction of your opponent's move. For example, if you press the reversal button at the right time and your opponent throws a punch, your wrestler will more than likely counter it. However, if you press the reversal button and your opponent executes some sort of maneuver, then the counter has no chance of working because you also need to guess the direction that your opponent used to execute that move and press it along with the reversal button. It's a tough system to use, and it penalizes you for guessing incorrectly, but it also prevents participants from abusing the counters.
Other changes to the gameplay are a little more subtle, like the increased fluidity of the moves. Numerous wrestling maneuvers in Shut Your Mouth have been designed so you can smoothly transition from one to another, and some of them are more specialized than others. For example, a basic kick to the gut can be used as an opener for just about any other move, while some wrestlers have specific transitions, such as The Rock, who uses a special punch to knock a wrestler down and then flies in for an easy arm drag, body slam, or some other move as soon as his opponent gets up. This results in many more canned animations than in previous SmackDown! games, but the trade-off appears to be well worth it.
Yuke's went to great lengths to make each wrestler perform like his or her real-life counterpart. For example, wrestlers like Rob Van Dam and Hurricane have their unique stances, and they both move much as they would on WWE programming. Hulk Hogan uses slow, deliberate techniques, while someone like Jeff Hardy speeds around the ring, performing high-flying maneuvers. Of course, this has been done in previous wrestling games, but it feels much more convincing in Shut Your Mouth.
Submission holds are another aspect of gameplay that's a little more effectively implemented in Shut Your Mouth than in other wrestling games. In order to put a submission hold on an opponent, you first have to go to work on a specific area of the body by executing moves that damage that area. You'll be able to see the results of your work, and you'll know it's time to go for a submission hold (if your wrestler has one) when the opponent starts to limp around in a daze for a few seconds after getting up. It's not as in-depth as No Mercy's location-specific damage modeling, but it's certainly a step in that direction.
The last significant feature in Shut Your Mouth is the incredible create-a-wrestler mode. This mode allows you to both create wrestlers and create animation that you can later select from while creating wrestlers. When creating a wrestler, you can edit a number of his or her physical characteristics, including skin tone, face, facial hair, clothes, and more. You can also create crowd signs for your wrestler, choose a weight classification (heavyweight or cruiserweight), and decide whether he or she is a "face" or "heel." In addition, it's possible to manually edit individual attributes such as power and speed by distributing a limited number of points across the appropriate categories. Or, if you prefer, you can choose from one four predetermined attribute sets. You can then choose a generic move set for your wrestler or edit all the individual moves yourself. You shouldn't have any problem creating popular wrestlers who aren't featured in the game, like Rey Mysterio, whose mask conveniently appears in that section of the mode.
The create-an-animation mode is pretty robust, and it lets you create some completely insane animations for your wrestlers. You can edit fighting, running, taunting, walking, and winning animations, and within each of these categories there are a number of preset animations to choose from and edit. For example, if you select the robot stance when editing fighting animations, you can then add other preset animations on top of that, like the wrestler's facial animation, the direction that his or her neck is moving, and the movement of his or her body, arms, and hands. You can create something that looks entirely crazy or something that looks entirely realistic, but this mode gives you plenty of different options and a surprising amount of freedom.
Not that you'll really need to edit any of the animation in the game, as it's already excellent. The wrestler models are incredibly well done, and in some cases they look so close to their real-life counterparts it's almost spooky to see them staring you in the face. Hulk Hogan, who is probably the most accurate of the bunch, actually looks like a withering old man with plenty of wrinkles on his face and a deteriorating muscle structure. The wrestler introductions are especially impressive, as they're not only accurate, but they also feature good facial animation. The environments outside of the ring are equally detailed, and they're filled with plenty of interactive objects. Items are thrown from shelves, glass shatters, and cars rumble when wrestlers collide with them. Even traffic will come to a halt when a fight spills into the street, and surprisingly, even with all this detail (and six wrestlers onscreen at once) the game maintains its brisk frame rate.
The play-by-play commentary in Just Bring It has been removed and instead replaced with occasional comments from Jim Ross or Jerry "The King" Lawler. That's not to say that's it's any better, though, since both will occasionally deliver comments that seem out of place, but it succeeds in conveying a sense that there are indeed commentators calling the match. All the wrestlers, with the exception of Tough Enough champion Maven, have the correct ring entrance music, and there's a generic rock soundtrack that complements the in-ring action.
Shut Your Mouth offers just about everything that a wrestling fan could ever want. The create-a-wrestler mode gives you plenty of freedom to create your own WWE superstar, and the season mode does an excellent job of conveying the sense that you're a part of WWE programming. Of course, the gameplay still might be a little too fast-paced for some, but Shut Your Mouth tries to balance it with a more useful grappling, submission, and counter system. If you're even a casual fan of the WWE, you can't go wrong with SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth.