Super Smash Bros. Brawl Review
One of the most anticipated Nintendo games ever made is finally here. Has it been worth the wait?
by Matt Casamassina
March 4, 2008 - With more than six million copies sold worldwide since its release seven years ago, Super Smash Bros. Melee remains – easily -- GameCube's best-selling title. The 3D fighter, a sequel to 1999's surprise hit Nintendo 64 project Super Smash Bros., packed in more characters, more stages and a seemingly endless supply of nostalgic trophies and collectibles to become one of the system's most beloved efforts. There was so much content squeezed into Melee, in fact, that the multiplayer fighter kept devoted fans entertained not just for months, but years. Yet, compared to the Whooper that is Super Smash Bros Brawl, a Wii game dripping with different play modes, characters, stages and online components, Melee has been reduced to a plain old hamburger. (And by the way, we're hungry.)
Hungry, that is, for some epic offline and online multiplayer fights, and thankfully Brawl – like its predecessors – satisfies. If you want numbers, we've got them. Nintendo's latest fighter features 35 mascots – a figure up from 12 in the original and 26 in Melee. It also includes more than 40 different levels, each a throwback to classic franchise stages, both from Nintendo and also from the likes of SEGA and Konami, but we'll get to that. Point is, it's a much meatier package -- we honestly don't know why we can't seem to break from our hamburger analogies – and we haven't even started in on the customization options, online support, and more.
Video Review up at the bottom
With Brawl, famed series director Masahiro Sakurai and his Sora development team have spared no expense to bring to life the full Smash Bros. universe with a meticulous attention to detail and a decidedly un-Nintendo approach to presentation. For example, whereas the Big N chose not to spring for orchestrated music for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, one of the company's biggest titles, Sakurai has enlisted the aid of the industry's greatest musicians to record a fully-orchestrated soundtrack for his fighter. In what other game will you be able to listen to music from Masafumi Takada (of Killer 7 fame), Kenji Ito, Koji Kondo and Akihiro Honda (who recently helped score Metal Gear Solid 4)? There are nearly 40 musicians providing songs to what is one of the greatest Nintendo soundtracks available.
Meanwhile, if you're a longtime Nintendo fan, you will be amazed by the presentation of the story sequences in Brawl's unnecessary, but nevertheless lengthy (eight-plus hours) single-player mode, known as the Subspace Emissary. Crisp, colorful full-motion animation sequences tell the story of a ridiculously epic battle between dozens of Mushroom Kingdom characters. It's clear from the opening cinematic that the studio has put a lot of time and thought into crafting the action-packed snippets, which successfully bridge the gap between the traditional platformer-esque challenges comprising the single-player affair. The storyline itself seems almost randomly compiled – a pieced together jigsaw puzzle of different factions coming together. Only after you advance halfway through are you likely to grasp the tale's underlying purpose, but at least it looks and sounds great along the way.
Brawl looks like an enhanced version of Melee. The title runs in both 480p and 16:9 widescreen display for the first time, and it also hums along at an uninterrupted 60 frames per second. This is true despite the fact that the in-world characters are comprised of more polygons and skinned with more detailed textures, likewise for the many environments (some of which are destructible), and that the title features some of the most beautiful particle explosions in any Nintendo entry yet. It's certainly a good looking Wii game, and yet many of the backgrounds are kept very simple in an effort to the keep the framerate up and character animations, while speedy, typically ignore the laws of physics, weight, and momentum. These minor nitpicks will be tossed to the side, however, the moment you're engaged in an intense four-player battle overrun with explosions and background destruction, all without so much as a hiccup in fluidity.
That said, there are some presentational deficiencies, too, although these shortcomings aren't nearly as blatant as the fighter's many qualities. The cartridge-fast speed in which you can navigate Brawl's character and stage selection screens is marred by a 20-second front-end load, a truth that clashes with the majority of other Nintendo-published titles. Meanwhile, the Subspace Emissary's flow is broken by similarly too-long loads between in-game progress and the animation sequences that complement them.
Of course, like its N64 and GCN counterparts, Brawl is a game about multiplayer matches, which, this time around, transpire both in the offline and online arenas. But if you can't seem to find a single friend, you can always turn your attention to the Subspace Emissary component so long as you lower your expectations of the experience, as it is simply not as balanced or entertaining as the stages designed for multiple human opponents. Nintendo devotees will argue that the mode is but a complementary piece to the meat and potatoes of the game and they will be right, and yet that does not mean we can give it a free pass. The single-player missions are an adequate distraction from the multiplayer selections, but as a standalone endeavor, they aren't likely to hook you or keep you glued to your television in anticipation of the next major story arch, even with all of the classic Nintendo characters housed within.
The biggest problem with the mode, which to its credit does support two-player cooperative games, is that Sora has merely kidnapped the control schemes designed for a 3D fighter and transplanted them into vertical and horizontal-scrolling platform-heavy stages. While these schemes are perfectly suited for fast-paced fights, they are only passable for more traditional levels. The second problem is that the levels and arbitrary characters (many of whom have little association to the stages you navigate) are largely uninteresting and quickly become repetitive. Thankfully, Nintendo has devised a clever system which enables completionists to unlock all of the many fighters in a variety of different ways so that if you would prefer to completely avoid the Subspace Emissary and instead focus yourself on the multiplayer modes, you have that option. In contrast, players who want to traverse through the single-player mode will be able to unlock characters by doing so.
Brawl's multiplayer components, though, take the winning control and fight mechanics polished up in Melee and enhance them more, adding further balance, tightening maneuverability and developing the move sets for the majority of the 35 characters. The end result is a fighter which plays incredibly fast, is highly responsive, and whose inner-depth is a rabbit hole with no discernible end. Unskilled button mashers will be able to jump into the bouts with a façade of prowess, but skilled players will draw upon each fighter's unique strengths, avoid their weaknesses, and capitalize on properly timed smashes; eventually, the men shall be separated from the boys. It seems almost silly to suggest that a fighter whose move sets revolve around two buttons and an analog stick or direction pad could offer so much in the way of on-the-fly fight variety, not to mention control flexibility, but there's no denying the truth and the more you play the more you will come to believe it.
Nintendo has with Brawl injected welcomed layers of strategy to the fights with the inclusion of both assist trophies and final smashes. The former are special pick-ups which call upon trademark characters to swoop in and inflict damage on opponents, and the latter execute spectacular finishing moves sure to blast enemies off the screen. These additions can in an instant dramatically alter the shape of matches, potentially rendering knock-outs as quickly as any hammer. Final smashes appear randomly during battles and float around the screen in smash balls, which must be broken apart, and you will find yourself in a race to the item with your friends, each doing everything in his power to stop the other. Those lucky enough to unload a final smash will be rewarded with some of the most impressive animations, filled with a stunning array psychedelic overlays and particles, in the game.
Purists destined to relive Melee can fully customize fights, choosing which items to keep and remove (including assist trophies and final smashes), determine the frequency of item placement, change the rules, time limit, handicaps, damage ratios and more. There is even a Special Brawl in which you can specifically select everything from player stamina, size of characters, jump and fire, metal or invisible body types, as well as speed and gravity differences. On top of that, Nintendo has allowed the option to control the game in whatever fashion you choose, be it with the Wii remote, Wii remote and nunchuk, classic controller, GameCube pad, or even the Wave Bird. (It must be noted that Brawl is not well-suited to a standalone Wii remote; it plays much better with an old-school pad.) Just plug in and the title will immediately and very intuitively recognize your preference; you can even play against friends, all armed with different controllers. And if that weren't all enough, you can fully customize the control configurations for every pad. It's an incredibly flexible system sure to accommodate even the most discerning and finicky players. How could it not? You can play exactly how you want to without many restrictions.
And play you shall. For a very long time. That's because Brawl is like its counterparts a truly intoxicating and addictive multiplayer experience that will hold you for many months, if not years to come. More than Galaxy, more than Prime 3, it is a game that you will keep coming back to, night after night, to play with friends. The offline four-player multiplayer is Nintendo-branded heroin that will have you chained to your living room couch for hours on end, trying your hand at different gameplay modes and stages, and accidentally or on purpose developing your skills with each unique fighter, an immensely enjoyable undertaking in and of itself.
For the first time ever, though, these intense battles needn't be limited to the offline arena. That's because Brawl features a fully functioning online component in which up to four gamers can duke it out in a variety of configurations, be it four separate connections or three people on one console and one on the other end. Unfortunately, there are some disappointing restrictions and omissions – for instance, there's no voice chat, just a gimped text system that uses a paltry four pre-written messages; there's no online leader board or statistic tracking; and if you're playing against random opponents, you won't even see their names or be able to communicate with them at all. However, even with these drawbacks and Nintendo's refusal to step outside frustratingly unnecessary friend codes, the core experience is amazingly well put together, enabling surprisingly speedy four-player online matches against friends. Completely lag free? Well, that all depends each player's connection. In tests conducted between the offices of IGN Los Angeles and San Francisco, a distance of roughly 400 miles, we noticed no lag whatsoever. However, Nintendo itself has warned that the greater the physical distance between online players, the greater the chances that the fluidity of the experience will suffer. As an aside, while friend matches are generally error free, we found random bouts to be an unreliable experience, oftentimes refusing to establish a connection or booting us shortly thereafter. We expect that these are just baby steps with the game's arrival in America and that the offering will be smoothed in the weeks to come.
We've only barely referenced the robust roster of characters up until now, but rest assured that whether you are a fanatical Nintendo zealot or merely a passerby, you will find someone to love in the lineup. Naturally, the majority of the brawlers have been imported directly from the Mushroom Kingdom and, to be more precise, Melee, which is why you'll see Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser, in addition to everybody from Pikachu to Samus, all with unique move sets and final smashes. But there are some notable newcomers, too. Take, for example, Pit from Kid Icarus fame, making his triumphant return to a Nintendo console after a two-decade hiatus. Perhaps more exciting to many players, though, is Brawl's inclusion of two non-Nintendo fighters – namely Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake – armed with speed and an arsenal of explosives respectively. We couldn't be happier with the lineup – it's the largest yet for any Smash game, after all – and yet we'd be liars if we suggested we weren't disappointed that even more third-party character crossovers weren't introduced. There's so much potential left, even amongst the Sonic the Hedgehog and Metal Gear franchises. Don't get us started on potential contributions from top-tier publishers like Capcom and Square Enix.
When you're not learning to play like a pro with all 35 characters, you can view dozens and dozens of unlocked and collected stickers and trophies, the latter of which feature accompanying Nintendo bios and lore. You can also build your own levels in Brawl's new stage editor, an addition that greatly extends the replay value of the fighter. There are sadly only a few stage backgrounds at your disposal, but you'll be able to do a lot with 30 or so tiles, from uniquely shaped platforms to moving elevator pieces and ladders. Best of all, you can submit your newly created levels via WiiConnect24, where they will be evaluated by Nintendo; the best user-created stage will be distributed to all Smash Bros. Brawl players every day from now on, which means that you will potentially always have a reason to boot the game up again. We can't wait to see what players come up with in the months to come and we're simultaneously disappointed that Nintendo has not also offered the option to save the best levels to your system's internal memory or to an external SD card. As it stands, when your 24 hours are up, the daily-downloaded stage is wiped whether you hated or loved it. Also, Mr. Sakurai recently confirmed that there are no plans to offer any new Nintendo-developed stages or characters by way of WiiConnect24, a huge oversight in our opinion.
Nintendo's epic 3D fighter series arrives on Wii as the best iteration yet. It's true -- there are a few minor quibbles to be made about the sometimes-repetitive single-player mode, unexplored third party character additions, lacking online communication options, or the largely familiar content inherent to sequels. But the moment you gather together with friends for a multiplayer match only to find, several minutes later, that you still haven't blinked, you'll have taken your first step into the digital drug that is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and there's really no better way to describe it. The title's robust and balanced multiplayer offerings are completely engrossing and wholly entertaining from beginning to end, and this time around you can take those bouts to the online arena for similarly satisfying results.
Masahiro Sakurai and his team at Sora have drowned the fighter in high-caliber presentational extras, from a superb soundtrack to gorgeous full-motion cut-scenes. These, coupled with all of the characters and stages to see and master, the many unlockable trophies and stickers, the stage builder, the screenshot and replay tools, and so much more, combine for an exceptionally deep experience overrun with replay value.
You will play the game to death when you get it. But unlike so many single-player hits, Metroid and Mario included, you will still be playing and consequently loving Brawl in the months and years to come. It is one of the great multiplayer titles of the generation and simply not to be missed.
from Mark Bozon
Along with Goldeneye, Smash Bros. was easily the most-played videogame of the N64 era for me. Whether it was one-on-three against a trio of level nine Pikachu, or playing countless hours with friends in all-nighter multiplayer sessions, I knew back then that Smash was something special, and that momentum has carried through Melee, and is again felt with Brawl. For Nintendo fans, Smash is a series that defines systems, and Brawl will do just that for Wii. We could give it a five out of 10, or a perfect score, and that won’t change the fact that when you’ve got a slew of hardcore Nintendo fanatics in front of a TV, Smash (along with the occasional Mario Kart race) is where you’ll turn. The series has infinite lasting appeal, and unprecedented fan service.
But when all is said and done, how does the game really stack up? The short answer, is that Brawl is a nearly-perfect experience, but it does have its flaws. It isn’t so much that Nintendo "failed" in a specific section of the Smash experience, but rather there was untapped potential that is visible through the small cracks in the game design. Branching out with Snake and Sonic, only to end it there, for example, is an odd choice. Where’s the extra third party support? In fact, why did Sonic make his debut, but leave characters like Tails and Knuckles by the wayside? Along those same lines, why go through all the trouble of adding some of the best CG work in Nintendo history, as well as what is undisputedly one of the most captivating and majestic audio scores in the industry, when it’s accompanied by a seemingly random placement of Nintendo characters and newly designed enemy fodder in the Subspace Emissary? It’s areas like these where I look at Smash, a game synonymous with fan service, and wonder why some of the most intricate details were added, but some of the most obvious design choices ignored.
But the wishlist could go on forever, and in the end that’s not the point. Yes, we could use more characters in the roster. Of course, we want voice chat for online, and sure, there’s always an opportunity to go bigger in specific areas (the Subspace Emissary is a perfect example of that), but remove all the hype and expectation we’ve had for the game over the last few years and you start to realize just how much passion was put into Smash. The animation is beautiful, the musical score legendary, and the pure fun that comes with smashing friends into oblivion with a killer cast of fighters is unrivaled.
I could rant and rave all day about how good Smash is, but it’s redundant at this point. Simply put, Smash is a must-have game, and every Wii console out there isn’t complete without it.
An impressive lineup of stages and characters, including some from third parties. Amazing soundtrack. Gorgeous cut-scenes. Simple menus. Long front-load and lacking online options.
Looks like an enhanced version of Melee. Improved character models and backgrounds. Everything runs in 480p, 16:9 and at 60 frames. Even so, the graphics definitely lack detail in areas.
One of the best soundtracks ever created. Sound effects, meanwhile, are perfectly punchy and well-suited to the characters and environments.
Tight control, more balanced character move sets, new final smashes and more. We're not particularly fond of the single-player mode, but multiplayer is so good we just don't care.
10 Lasting Appeal
Destined to be played for years thanks to spectacular offline and online multiplayer modes. One of the great four-player games of all time.
(out of 10 / not an average)