Smash Bros.? What's Smash Bros.? If you are a Wii owner asking that question, you'll get many funny looks from other gamers that wonder where you have been the past ten years. Super Smash Bros. is perhaps Nintendo's most successful franchise (in terms of sales per game) in the past decade. If you have actually have been living under a rock for the past ten years, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting series that brings characters from different Nintendo franchises and pits them in epic battles. Two previous iterations of the games, Super Smash Bros. and Super Smash Bros. Melee, were best-selling hits for the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube, respectively. The latest title, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, is bound to sell millions of copies and move quite a number of Wii consoles as well.
For those that haven't played any Smash Bros. title, here's a brief introduction to the game mechanics. With up to four players in a match, the players strive to knock each other off the stage, earning a knockout (K.O.). Depending on the rules of the match, the win conditions vary, but usually it is played with timed matches or stock (life) matches. Each player has a damage meter that starts at 0%. As he or she is hit by various attacks and items, that damage meter will rise, making it easier for characters to K.O. each other. Items randomly appear and range from exploding Bomb-ombs to health-replenishing food. Certain stages are interactive and require the players to adjust to the changing environments.
Characters and stages in Brawl are from some of well known Nintendo hits. The characters range from famous gaming icons like Mario (Super Mario) and Link (The Legend of Zelda) to mostly unknown Nintendo heroes such as Ike (Fire Emblem) and Lucas (Mother/Earthbound). Each bring their own normal and special attack movesets, along with some unique qualities and abilities that are specific to the character. For example, winged characters like Pit (Kid Icarus) and Meta Knight (Kirby) can fly while Zelda (The Legend of Zelda) and Samus Aran (Metroid) can transform into alternate characters (Sheik and Zero Suit Samus, respectively). Two interesting additions to the cast? Non-Nintendo characters for the very time in a Smash Bros. game: Sonic (Sonic the Hedgehog) and Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid). Both seamlessly enter the fray and mesh well with the existing lineup.
Brawl's stages bring more interactivity to the table, with destructible environments in Pit's "Skyworld" stage and mini-game frenzies in Wario (Super Mario/WarioWare)'s "WarioWare Inc." stage. Although some are rather annoying or too large (Lucas's "New Pork City" and the returning "Hyrule" of The Legend of Zelda series as examples), most of them are extremely entertaining and mind-boggling. The surroundings are amazingly detailed with tons of little events occurring in the background such as arrows being shot in the Fire Emblem stage and some of Sonic's pals rolling by in Sonic's "Green Hill Zone" stage.
So what else is in Brawl? Four control schemes, WiFi play, and custom stages are only a few of the new features. There are still the new Subspace Emissary adventure mode, stickers, and replays.
When Brawl was first announced, gamers questioned possible control setups and devised some of their own for the Wii remote and nunchuck. Luckily, director Masahiro Sakurai and the Sora development team decided to implement four control schemes for players to use: the sideways Wii remote, the Wii remote and nunchuck, the Classic Controller, and the ol' faithful GameCube controller. Other than the Classic Controller, the first two control setups are wildly different from the GameCube controller most players are used to. The many options are nice, but from what I've seen and heard, most players will stick to the GameCube contoller (or the Classic Controller).
WiFi features?! Yes, WiFi play, something that most or all Melee fans wanted. The general multiplayer is available for online play but exclude the co-op Subspace Emissary adventure mode. With strangers, you will be limited to two-minute free-for-alls or team battles. Once you've swapped 12-digit Friend Codes, however, the limitations end and the game allows you to change the rules and play other events such as Multi-Man Melee. Also available is the Spectator feature, which allows you to gamble your coins (more on this later) and watch other people fight. In addition to the actual playing, custom stages can be submitted to Nintendo who will then upload select stages to everyone's Wii. It's a cool feature that will keep Brawl refreshing months down the line. Unfortunately, at the time of review, Nintendo seems to be having problems with "With Anyone" matches, although connections through Friend Codes work. There is a 64-friend code limit, so choose your friends wisely. The actual playing experience online has been lackluster; lag has been present in every match, sometimes becoming completely unbearable. The others I've played with have reported lag as well. There is only one method of in-game communication, and that is the in-game taunts. Four 20-character messages are able to be set your D-Pad directions, and you may type the messages yourself.
Brawl does feature a rather limited stage builder, but it is a stage creator nevertheless. At the start, your items for stage creation are severely limited, but with greater playtime and experimentation, more tools and parts for custom stages are unlocked. As stated earlier, these stages can be submitted to Nintendo. Nintendo will send a new custom stage daily through the WiiConnect24 service. These stages cannot be saved, which is a confusing design decision.
As far as single player features go, Brawl offers a lot to do. That, however, is not enough; the heavily touted Subspace Emissary is not as great as it may seem. It is a story-driven adventure where the player will encounter and use pretty much every character in the game. It is essentially a platformer, but a ridiculously boring one at that. There is no text other than name introductions, no speech, and no real character development other than the unimpressive cut-scenes. The levels feel very bland and repetitive, and it will become annoying and tedious to fight the same mindless enemies over and over. The level design of these stages are rather poor and simply have the player wandering around in search for the next door. Characters are thrown in randomly for the sake of including them in the adventure, and the game does not provide a worthy reason for me to continue playing other than to unlock Sonic.
The remaining single-player modes include the Classic mode, Event Matches, Home-Run Contest, Multi-Man Brawls, and Target Tests. All of these are returning from Melee, although some parts are tweaked and modified. Most of these enable co-op which is a great addition, but I don't see myself playing these event matches with a friend; I'd much rather play a regular match.
Rounding up Brawl's offerings are the miscellaneous items: trophies, stickers, replays, snapshots, and Virtual Console demos. Trophies are the same as ever: they offer a bit of information on the character or item. Stickers are items you can use to power-up your characters in Subspace Emissary. Replays can be recorded (for up to three minutes), so you can show off hilarious or epic K.O.s to your friends. Photos were a part of Melee, but Sora Ltd. has implemented photo-taking in any match which greatly encourages the feature and actually makes it worthwhile. The last additional features are the Virtual Console demos. Brawl offers several timed demos of classic Nintendo titles such as Star Fox 64, F-Zero, and Kid Icarus. All of these don't detract from the game; depending on how the player views them, they can be incredibly essential to the user experience or be simply extra things he or she may try out.
Coming back to the game mechanics, I will say this: Brawl is not a fighting game. This is not my original thought: 1UP's Retronauts podcasts made me realize that Brawl is a platformer with fighting elements. Although Melee was quite responsive to controls and worked well with its environments and levels, Brawl is not the same in that regard. Competitive Smashers and the regular hardcore Smashers agree that Brawl feels slower and more sluggish than its predecessor. Perhaps this is the result of Sakurai's simplification of the game, but it's not something that was executed properly. If the controls aren't always responsive and well suited for the world, it will make for a frustrating experience. This applies for both singleplayer and multiplayer; a match can rest upon the quickness of a character's reaction to a button press.
Does the game look and sound good? Yeah it does. It is nothing near the 360 and the PS3's finest, but it is definitely among the Wii's best graphical offerings. Brawl runs smoothly at 60fps consistently in 480p and 16:9, which is somewhat impressive with character models more detailed and polished than Melee's characters. Most of the environments are amazingly detailed, with low-resolution textures difficult to spot. What I think is more important than the graphics here, though, is the absolutely phenomenal soundtrack. Brawl's soundtrack is comprised of orchestrated works by some of the gaming industry's well known and successful musicians; there are nearly 300 music tracks available for play during your brawls and for custom stages. This is an unprecedented effort in the audio department by Nintendo, a company that resorts to MIDI music for the vast majority of its titles.
One flaw that deserves its own paragraph is the long disc-loading times. Nintendo's GameCube titles have had quick loading times with new levels and cutscenes appearing almost instantaneously, but Nintendo's Wii titles cannot pull off the same feat. Brawl's disc-loading times can range up a couple of seconds to a whopping fifteen seconds. The actual gameplay makes up for this rather nagging problem, but it's something that always affects you; it makes Subspace Emissary even more unbearable.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a well-rounded experience that excels in all aspects: presentation, audio, gameplay, features, and replay value. With an impressive cast of 35 characters and 41+ diverse stages, each Smash match offers something new and exciting for the player. Even though it comes with its own set of flaws, Brawl definitely improves upon what Melee did best and brings even more to the table. Something I got over was the incredible potential this game had and did not fulfill; this can be said for every game in existence. Brawl could have included many more characters in its playable lineup, including Issac of Golden Sun and Viewtiful Joe of Viewtiful Joe, instead of R.O.B. and some other "Luigified" clones. The wishlist is endless, but hey, we'll still live with the existing roster. Sakurai and the rest of the team at Sora neverthless did exceptional work, drowning us in extras and the same, fun gameplay that kept us entertained for the past nine years. Now, enough of this review. I must go play for another 12 hours.