Wondering where The Undertaker is? Demons have captured him and put him in a video game!

As far as I’m concerned, THQ released one of the best wrestling games in the USA several years ago, and raised the bar for everyone else; WCW vs. the World. They took a strong Japanese engine, added the skins and moves of the American wrestlers (and left in about 30 other thinly disguised wrestlers from Japan and a few American frequent visitors) and gave us the first great 3-D wrestling game, forcing everyone else to play catch-up.

History has repeated itself. THQ, now owner of the WWF license, took the Japanese game Touken Retsuden and has brought us the sweetest Playstation wrestling game yet — WWF Smackdown!

THQ is using the same strategy they used for their WCW era, and designing different games for the N64 and PSX, taking advantage of each system’s strengths. But unlike the…let’s call them “lackluster” Nitro and Thunder games, Smackdown is here to kick ass and chew bubblegum — and they forgot to include the bubblegum.

From the opening of each match, you can see things have been turned up a notch. Wrestlers come in to their own themes and entrance videos playing full-motion on the TitanTron behind them. No little slide show and midi-format generitunes this time, folks. It’s all there. The wrestlers are nicely designed, lots of detail. Facial expressions change as they move as well; mouths move, smile and grimace, making them seem more interactive.

Take the action backstage in the new THQ Smackdown!

The action is fast and smooth. With up to four wrestlers in action at once, the game doesn’t slow down at all. There’s a huge array of moves, and thanks to the easier button arrangement, it’s easier to get to the cool moves without needing a sixth finger. The little details in the game add to the overall realism as well; not only do the ring ropes stretch and bounce, the ring apron waves in the breeze after a hard shot to the canvas. Wrestlers sell moves like crazy, really moaning and groaning all over the mat. There’s no spoken commentary in the game, nor do the wrestlers trash-talk each other-all the narrative is text on the screen. But there’s so much going on you don’t miss it.

One of the big additions to the game is in the backstage activities. You can fight your way to the back to an assortment of areas including the Boiler Room. But as opposed to WCW Mayhem, you can go from place to place backstage, never setting foot in the ring if you don’t want to. An “Anywhere” match starts backstage and gets wilder from there.

There’s fun in between matches too. You might see two wrestlers talking backstage before the match, and then they’ll interfere in your next fight. Wrestlers will meet up with you backstage and offer to ally with you. These little bits help make the “season mode” really seem like a continuing storyline, not just a set of disconnected fights. It’s a neat idea, and something I hope to see continued in the future.

The Create-a-Wrestler mode is not quite as deep and flexible as games that have come before, but they more than make up for that with a game play mode that’s only available to created wrestlers — the pre-season. You go through a mini-career in the farm leagues, wrestling dark matches and house shows against low card wrestlers, earning more attribute points to make your wrestler stronger as you go. If you’re good enough, McMahon comes to you and offers you a spot, and you’re off and running. A REAL neat way to make the created wrestlers really special.

The Playstation hasn’t seen a wrestling game this good and fun since 3-D wrestling games were first introduced. Being a WWF fan, I’m happy that they have the top game again, and I no longer have to play some other fed’s game with only the guys who are now in the WWF and pretend.

Vinnie Bartilucci was born on Prince Edward Island, spirited to New York at a young age, and is living quietly as a computer programmer in New York. He has a wife, a daughter named after a character from “A Pup Named Scooby Doo” and an apartment too small for their collection of toys and movies.