Oh, Nintendo, you certainly have come a long way. Super Smash Bros. originally started out as an experiment between Satoru Iwata and a young Masahiro Sakurai. The idea behind the game was to make an unparalleled fighting experience that took specific advantage of the analog stick, which was one of the N64's keystones at the time. It wasn't until later in the development that Sakurai had asked for permission to slap Nintendo's most well-known characters onto the bodies of the fighters and market the game as the perfect fanboy fighting experience. Two years after its release, a significantly beefier Smash Bros. Melee launched on the GameCube, which stood the test of time for a solid 6 years. Finally, almost a decade after the first release, we are graced with the third and presumably final chapter in the Smash series, entitled Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
First, a little about myself. I've been playing Melee since day one, and play it regularly at least a few times a week. I'm what you can consider a "competitive Smasher," so going into Brawl, I had quite the skepticism. From the initial videos, the gameplay of Brawl seemed rather slugish and seemed to favor to the non-gamer, which had a lot of us quite worried. While the style seemed spot on as usual, I couldn't help but set myself up for a possible disappointment. Well, I know this is a rather unconventional way to start a review, but I'm fairly certain that Brawl is the greatest game I've ever played in my entire life.
The second you start the game up, Brawl greets you with a full motion video of the classic Nintendo lineup in a typical spliced cutscene fashion. If you're like me and have been religiously following the Brawl updates on The Dojo , then you've no doubt already seen practically the whole lineup. I have to hand it to Nintendo's marketing department there, because I don't think I've ever seen a Nintendo title hyped as much as they did with Brawl, or any videogame hyped up this much with relatively little spent.
Like Melee, my top priority was to immediately test the multiplayer mode. After a few quick local friend matches, it became abundantly clear that Brawl was, in no way, sluggish. In fact, the controls are tighter than ever. In an interesting move, Sakurai, the lead designer of Brawl, chose to include four control schemes to suit all players. If you're new to video gaming altogether, you might want to try the Wiimote scheme. If you're a seasoned veteran looking for something new, give the Nunchuck or Classic controller a try. But of course, the majority of gamers will stick with the tried-and-true GameCube controller mode. This time around, you can even customize your controls, which allowed me to finally disable analog Up to jump. (Which makes up-tilts so much easier.)
The best way to describe Brawl's gameplay would be if you took the best elements of Smash 64 and combined them with the complexity of Melee. Brawl feels completely fresh, and truly wipes the slate clean for all players. A few advanced techniques have been taken away, while the overall aerial game has been more emphasized. Each of the new mechanics added, like the momentum air dodge, are completely natural and suit Brawl's overall feel. While I am a highly competitive Melee player, I didn't miss advance techniques like Wavedashing or L-canceling nearly as much as I had anticipated. Simply put, Brawl has the absolute best controls of the series.
The Smash Bros. gimmick is the idea that any characters from Nintendo's history are able to be paired against each other, despite the obvious plotholes. While Melee sported the "clone" system, where certain characters felt and played the same as their similarly designed counterparts, Brawl shies away from this technique and offers unique gameplay for each fighter. While Marth and Ike look similar and hale from the same series, their combat styles are like night and day. Even the three space animals from Star Fox have significantly differing attacks along with overall speed and movement changes. The really surprising aspect is how well each of the characters seems balanced, which makes them all playable, as opposed to certain characters in Melee who were clearly low-tier. (Poor Pichu.) Take the most influential icons of Nintendo and throw in two fantastic 3rd-party characters, and you've got an all-star cast.
But the magic of Brawl isn't just in the raw combat and characters. It's all about bringing the entire Nintendo experience onto one disc. Each franchise represented in Brawl sports not only a character or two, but also nostalgic stages and music into every fight. The first time I battled on the Isle of Delfino, both my controller and jaw hit the floor as I watched the entirety of Super Mario Sunshine whiz by in the background. And brawling in the town of Smashville only conjured up memories of my sleepless nights trading rare furniture over the Internet in Animal Crossing, all while K.K. Slider sang the blues to me. Even stages without much depth, like the Pictochat and Electroplankton stage, are a true testament to how much Sakurai wanted to please even the pickiest Nintendo fanboy.
Of course, even if the 40+ stages start to run dry (which could theoretically happen in about 15 years), you have no room to complain since Nintendo included a full stage builder. While you don't have the visuals and random Nintendo themes at your disposal, you do have a fairly expansive array of platforms, blocks, and hazards to build any stage you can imagine. To take things a step further, Nintendo permits you to submit your crazed creations to their main server, where they can be automatically downloaded everyday onto Wiis worldwide through WiiConnect24. A new stage everyday? Just freaking awesome.
One of the more highlighted features of Brawl is the ability, for the first time ever, to play online with anyone on the globe. Now, I'm not oblivious to online play. I know that lag is literally impossible to avoid, and affects fighting games more than any other genre, so this was one of the first modes I decided to write off. But, for the sake of the review, I decided to give it a shot anyway. To my amazement, the lag wasn't nearly as awful as I had anticipated. In fact, it can be directly compared to playing Smash Bros. on a plasma television. That means that casual players will believe lag doesn't even exist, and competitive gamers will be able to adjust to the ever-so-slight delay. However, the only real way to play online is with friends, which still requires the tedious entering of Friend Codes. With friends, you're able to customize your match as much as you would if they were sitting right beside you, which is the way Smash should be played in the first place.
Personally, I'm not all that into throwing items into my Smash, but I know that I'm in the minority on this one. Although, Sakurai really went all-out with the items this time around. In addition to new weapons, like the sticky bomb and cracker launcher, Brawl introduces a brand new item called the Assist Trophy. I like to think of it as the Nintendo outcast item, though. Inside each AT is a random character from Nintendo's history that wasn't quite popular enough to make the final roster, but was important enough not to ignore. Much like the Pokéballs, ATs will have characters like Latiku or Waluigi pop up and cause mischief all over the field. I'm still pretty bummed that Knuckles isn't hidden in one of these trophies (or a playable character for that matter), but that could just be me.
Then the other significant change to the item barrage is the brand new Smash Ball. Unlike other fighting games where your Special meter charges up gradually, breaking open a Smash Ball will instantly surround your character with a glowing aura, which means you're ready to perform your Final Smash. The idea of a Final Smash can be compared to just about any other fighting game's special move system, where your character unleashes all hell onto the fighting ground through a specially crafted attack. Link slashes up his opponents using the power of the Triforce while Kirby sucks them into a giant pot and makes a tasty stew out of their sizzling flesh. When a Smash Ball appears, the standard fight ceases and it becomes a frenzy of who can crack that baby open first. Thankfully, it takes a few hits, so the Smash Ball won't randomly appear in front of someone who can immediately use it to their advantage.
Just like Melee, Brawl's lasting appeal is in everything multiplayer, and naturally that's what most gamers are looking forward to. But in an odd stroke of generosity, Sakurai made it a point to develop an expansive and satisfying single player campaign called the Subspace Emissary. Throw away everything you thought you knew about single player Smash, because SSE is absolutely gigantic. Your story begins as Mario and Kirby decide to compete in a friendly fight in a large tournament environment. After the quick battle, Metaknight's Battleship Halberd shows up to rain purple globs that mysteriously morph into baddies, where you begin the first of many boss battles. As peril ensues, SSE constantly flips back and forth through various storylines involving Nintendo's large lineup of characters. Instead of choosing a single character at the beginning of the game, you continuously swap between each Nintendo icon and battle through their appropriate world. And as the storyline progresses, the individual worlds of each series begin to mesh together in a somewhat poetic and appropriate fashion, where you'll find Samus battling along side Pikachu, as well as other mismatched teams, as if it were a well-written Nintendo fan fiction. SSE can be enjoyed either by yourself or cooperatively with a friend (locally) and will take you anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to complete, which is quite beefy for a fighting game.
I've heard my fair share of Wii-bashing, especially when it comes to the raw hardware of the little white rectangle. It's no secret that the Wii simply doesn't have the graphical capabilities as the PS3 or 360, so this could be considered a concern to the gamers who like a bit of eye candy on their screen. At this point, though, I'm absolutely positive that Sakurai sold his soul directly to Satan in order to produce everything you see in Brawl. Artistically, it's one of the most in-depth games I've ever played. Each stage has its own visual personality and brings everything from its respective series to the playing field. The new Star Fox stage will tear up your eyes with an epic space battle and eventual reentry onto planet Corneria. The models and aesthetics of each character are greatly improved over Melee, and show that the Wii has much more potential than we give it credit for. While the Wii unfortunately doesn't support true high definition, Brawl was nice enough to include Progressive Scan and, for the first time, 16:9 widescreen. Brawl's artistic and visual composition rivals games native to even the 360, and never once did the framerate dip below a solid 60fps. Brawl is truly a gorgeous game.
So, when I used to stay up until 3am every weeknight to experience each Brawl update live on the Dojo, there was one particular category I hoped for more than any. Music. I have to tell you, I'm quite the audiophile, and when I first read the monstrous list of contributing composers, my inner music geek began doing cartwheels. Melee had around 40 song tracks, and they were arguably some of the best Nintendo arrangements I had ever heard. Of course, that is until I played Brawl. I'll say this right now; Brawl has the absolute biggest soundtrack of any standard video game, ever. Period. With just under 300 songs, most of which are brand new arrangements, any respectable music lover would be content with dropping their $50 bucks down just for the tunes alone. The obvious mixes, like themes from various Mario and Zelda games, are there, but in a stroke of either pure genius or absolute ridiculousness, Sakurai chose to throw in music that really has nothing to do with, well, anything. Certain songs hale from games that have zero influence on Brawl, such as the Japanese-only GameBoy game entitled "X." Other songs, like the infamous "Sonic Boom" from Sonic CD somehow made the final cut, as well. With so many contributing composers, the styles and genres of music are endless. Please, please release an official OST, Nintendo.
When you see everything Brawl has to offer on the surface, it's quite obvious how expansive the game is. However, Sakurai adds a magical touch by polishing everything off with small modes and bonuses that one might glance past. Brawl features an incredible amount of modes and options, such as the Classic single-player mode, as well as homerun contests and multi-man brawl, both of which can be played co-op online. If you're sick of standard 3-stock matches, change it up with the returning Coin Mode, or try your luck in Stamina mode, where each character has a specific amount of HP. With so many options at your disposal, you'll absolutely never get tired of playing.
Making a triumphant return to the Smash Bros. series are the collectible trophies. Once again, each trophy you snag will show up in a giant pile in your collection and provide some insightful, albeit useless, knowledge regarding Nintendo's history. This time around you can also collect stickers, which are more or less simply images of various Nintendo characters and icons. Though, the cool part about the stickers is being able to attach them to characters of your choice in order to beef up certain stats in the single player mode. Much like Xbox 360 achievements, stickers, trophies, songs, and more are unlocked by playing through the game and accomplishing specified goals. I can't say for sure, but I'd average the total amount of unlockables in Brawl at somewhere between 1000 and 1500, considering there are around 600 trophies, a plethora of stickers, and a vast amount of songs, which makes Brawl's metagame that much better.
It's clear what Nintendo has done with Brawl. They held a gun to Sakurai's head and told him that if he didn't create the best damn game Nintendo has ever seen, they'd be forced to shoot him and his family. I have to admit that I had more than my fair share of doubts, especially after being so in love with the Melee formula all these years, but in an unexpected twist, Nintendo really came through with this gaming legend. Ok, ok, I'm sure by this point you're sick of hearing the ridiculous amount of praise I'm giving this title. I should, by all rights, be able to point out at least a few flaws of Brawl. But that's just it; Brawl really doesn't disappoint in any key area. Sure, I could bitch about how stupid Friend Codes are and why I can't chat online via headset, but at the end of the day, everything that makes a video game fantastic is more than abundant in Brawl. It's quite clear that if you already own a Wii, there's no reason why you shouldn't immediately drop the $50 entry fee to Brawl land. And if you're one of those gamers who simply isn't all about the Wii, I'm sure playing a few rounds of Brawl will quickly change your mind.
: A solid combination of Smash 64 and Melee. The balanced fighting and easy-to-learn yet heavily in-depth controls will keep you striving for perfection.
: What the Wii lacks in polygon count it makes up for in sheer artistic value. Brawl looks absolutely stunning and completely appropriate at all times.
: Hands-down the best soundtrack a video game has ever had. All of the sound effects are appropriate and vary enough that you won't grow tired of them. Also, Sonic Boom!
: Infinite. Period. You will never stop playing Brawl, unless Sakurai decides to release a fourth installment on the Nintendo Us.
10 Final Word
: I have never seen more effort put into a video game than what has been shown in Brawl. With unbelievable multiplayer fighting, an enormous single player mode, and collectibles that will last for years, there's no reason why you shouldn't buy it.