There probably isn’t any doubt that Super Smash Bros. Brawl has been one of the Nintendo Wii’s most anticipated titles, since its beginnings on the Nintendo 64 back in 1999 the questions of which Nintendo icon would win in a battle of skill and a minimum ounce pure random insanity have been thoroughly answered. The first iteration obviously left an impression on many gamers and remains an all-time favorite milestone, especially with me and most of my group of friends. It was only a matter of time before a follow-up appeared and in 2001 Super Smash Bros. Melee was that title, even ranking supreme as the GameCube’s best selling game to date, with a then-numerous cast of characters, and a large variety of gameplay features and collectables of the big N’s gaming nostalgia all packed into one mini-disc.
Seven years later, Melee is still played today and remains a solid favorite in many groups, but it won’t deter Nintendo from outdoing its beloved game and own success with the long-awaited super sequel of its own. Since the Wii was first released, the countdown began in earnest, and now anxious gamers will finally get to answer the question that’s been on everyone’s mind for quite some time – was it worth it?
For those unfamiliar with the ritual of the Smash Bros. franchise, it’s all about ridiculously epic battles with a plethora of options, game modes, and more Nintendo-influenced mania than even the most syrupy Nintendo fanatic (looking at YOU, John Lucas!) can stand. Basically a fighting game love letter to itself, Smash Bros. represents the best of the company in the most brutal, mind-altering fashion. For the record, I honestly haven’t been enamored with the whole ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ approach, even loathing the beloved sequel for the longest time in favor of the original, but if you’re like me your curiosity will get the better of you especially if the draw of a new entry is just too impossible to ignore. Brawl will satisfy your fancy by offering even more of the same, but with some substantial and game-shifting tweaks. It’s apparent that producer Masahiro Sakurai wanted to bring the best possible Smash experience to the Wii, and it appears that no expense in presentation was spared to create something truly epic.
A whopping 35 combatants do justice to this game – a huge increase from the cast from Melee’s 26, and more than 30 stages representing old and new franchises alike with surprise introductions from Sega (Sonic) and Konami (Solid Snake) rounding out the various selections. It’s a safe bet that most Nintendo fans could possibly be in heaven over the inclusion of what’s here, and with the addition of Stadium challenges, multiplayer matches, and most importantly online play, nearly everything has been expanded upon considerably.
Some things that come to mind are gameplay related, and Brawl like its predecessors relies heavily on assessable controls with attack, special moves, and guarding. Preferences are also key when playing, as you can choose to use a variety of options, from the Wii Remote to the standard GameCube controller. In short, using either the Classic controller or just the Remote is a fairly frustrating experience to say the least, sticking to a reliable GameCube controller is the first choice to consider if you’ve spent some time with Melee. In a surprising touch, using the Wii nunchuck attachment is a favorable choice with some, as the button layout does work well between the attachments and has a natural feel to it. You’ll still be knocking opponents off the battlefield by almost any means necessary through tactics and bizarre weaponry, so besides readjusting yourself to minor character changes everything should feel familiar if you’re one of the many millions who’ve played the first two titles beforehand.
Probably the biggest addition to the mix are the Final Smash moves (i.e. super moves) that not only make quick work of the competition, but also change the pacing of most matches. When the coveted Smash Ball appears the battle shifts to even more hectic, screen-filling levels. It’s almost amazing that something like this wasn’t in Melee, regardless it does keep the action interesting while adding a desirable dimension to the usual fray and that’s what sequels are for!
One of Brawl’s more ambitious modes aside from the previous entries of event scenarios and stadium is the totally revamped adventure mode, known as the Subspace Emissary (SSE), with the experience had through action oriented full-motion cinematic sequences and simple platforming elements. The entire movie portion fuels the lengthy 10-12 hour story mode that does bridge much of the adventure together, by just looking at the beginning clips you can tell that Sakurai had big things in mind when the studio produced these quality video snippets. While the movie portions yield epic tales, the playable single-player affair retains a traditional platform-like feel, and as long as you keep your hopes and expectations in check, the Subspace Emissary can be entertaining. The storyline itself seems like a secondary idea after playing a few minutes – almost a complete contrast to the whole idea of this adventure mode, a loosely conceived plot that randomly pieces together the varying and otherwise unconnected gaming universes. It’ll take a while for most gamers to actually make sense of what’s going on, even then some things aren’t actually fully explained even through the end, but it does have the sound and looks of a cinematic epic to keep it going when not actually fighting in this adventure.
The real selling point for Brawl is the always intensely engaging multiplayer choices to dive into. As with the previous games, the experience of fighting against your friends in offline four-player matches will still keep you coming back, whether it’s a nightcap or a quick showdown the oncoming months will no doubt be filled with hours upon hours of being glued to your couch. But for the very first time, the component that will have many scrambling for a controller is the online matchmaking mode, which definitely brings this game into the modern era and onto world circuit. The structure is actually straightforward, with either you participating in matchups playing against friends, or fellow random players. Whatever you choose, expect duels on four separate connections, 2 vs. 2, or 3 vs. 1 varieties. The simplicity lies in the overly casual approach, as there are no leader boards or real player statistics to keep track of, only you and/or your friends enjoying the game online. In this respect it appears that the whole experience is “uniquely-Nintendo,” which I’ll leave the final say up to you, but there’s no denying the annoyance of inputting and gathering ‘Friend Codes’ to keep track of favorite adversaries.
However there are many more restricting woes besides frustrating Friend Codes. The obvious complaints have to do with the lack of any real live communication features especially when playing against random people. Battling with friends isn’t as accommodating either, as there is no voice-chat only a static selection of four partly customizable text messages. Much of my experiences online have varied greatly, due to online traffic difficulty finding a good connection and lag-free match to even playing online at all. It’s been stated that playing against random entrants will yield a different experience as some fights played near-perfectly while others were clearly dependent on distance, the real issue lies in just waiting for opposition to join in the action it usually takes a few minutes to get things rolling. Ironically, playing with Friend Codes is a better alternative, since the whole setup is often fluid with little lag, and typically resulted in error-free match-ups. Its obvious that Nintendo has much to learn about online gaming, and its somewhat frustrating to see such a marquee game used to test what should have been a flawless experience for fans.
Other additions include a welcome Level Editor, finally allowing would-be Smash fans to craft and design their own smaller stages from a pre-set group of options and variable elements. By no means robust, it’s obvious that much work went into making this feature as accessible as possible, even allowing players to upload their masterpieces to Nintendo directly and hoping for fame to shine their way. Snap-shots of gameplay for bragging rights are also possible now, and it’ll be interesting to see how Nintendo plans to better utilize their valuable tools in the future, or even implement them into other online-enabled franchises.
Graphically, Super Smash Bros. Brawl makes for a pretty nice enhanced version of Melee. There are noticeable improvements and detail changes among characters like Mario, Samus, and Link and the new arrivals like Pit, Solid Snake, and others look great also. The stages are also fantastic in appearance, even with some of the craziest and most seizure-inducing levels still manages to keep the game running at 60 frames per second 99.9% of the time. Animations and the numerous types of special effects are all presented in 480p progressive-scan and 16:9 widescreen for one of the Wii’s better looking title to date, considering the robust polygon count and all the intense action that’s quite impressive. As great as the game looks, its still a basically improved version of the excellent looking (but seven-year old) Melee, which probably goes to show you how nice looking that game was in the first place.
Audio-wise everything in the Nintendo vault been thrown in at least somewhere in this game, all of your familiar sound effects are accounted for and blend in perfectly with the monotony. The biggest treat for many is the inclusion of the largest grouping of Japanese gaming musical greats ever assembled for one product, game or otherwise. Heavyweights like Koji Kondo, Nobuo Uematsu, Yoko Shimomura, Akihiro Honda, and Masafumi Takada to name a few are all present and accounted for, as are many surprises that’ll tickle any videogame music fans toes pink. Frankly it’s not every day that these various (38 to be exact) get together and produce over 300 songs with for a single title, and thanks to the dynamic quality and variations in the recordings its a fair shake that there’s literally something for everyone, and a good case can easily be made for ‘Best Soundtrack Ever’. Who’d have ever thought we’d get the Mario theme sitting, very comfortably I might add, next to a Metal Gear Solid track? Excellent stuff that deserves its own impression.
All is not perfect though, as loading times bogs some of the immediate enjoyment down, it’s also a shame that through my experiences of playing the various modes that loading times didn’t feel consistent, sometimes it only took few seconds to load a multi-man brawl while in some cases I had to endure 10-15 second waiting periods. The Subspace Emissary loading sequences were debatably the worst examples of this, but not intolerable.
It should go without saying that this new installment of the Super Smash Bros. series is a marked improvement for many fans who’ve been waiting patiently since the Nintendo Wii was first released. Even with a few undeniable gripes with a somewhat repetitive and loosely-crafted single player mode, long load times, and bare-bones online features, it just can’t be ignored that most will likely adopt Brawl as their newest multiplayer game-of-choice when everyone gathers around the television and lose countless hours duking it out as their favorite Nintendo character. In the end though it feels more like an greatly enhanced version of Melee but this far from makes it a simple rehash, and while I’m probably in the small minority of fans wishing for something more akin to the original Nintendo 64 release, there’s no doubt many will be playing and loving this one for a long, long time.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl belongs in anybody’s Wii collection, and considering how popular the franchise is, that seems fairly likely. If knocking all your friends around with Kirby doesn’t entertain you, then it’s a safe bet that nothing will. Masahiro Sakurai and his development studio Sora went and did some serious overhauling in the gameplay and presentation department with more robust selections of unlockables and some high quality production values. Problems and quirks aside, it’s a must-buy for any longtime fan and having newcomers join the fun has never been easier. There’s an almost embarrassing amount of features and modes to speak of, and that only adds to the value and excitement of one of the best multiplayer games ever made.