If you've been keeping up with Wii related news the past seven days you'll probably have noticed the full re-launch of the official Super Smash Bros. Brawl website. But in case you haven't, it's conveniently located right here:
So far the site merely is teasing us with relatively minute nuggets of information every weekday, rather than flooding us with a veritable deluge of details. It's a torturous, if understandable necessity. The Nintendo housed beat 'em up is one of the most anticipated and high profile titles in Wii's forthcoming catalogue of games, and fans will take any little bites of it rather than none at all. Opening the whole site to reveal most of Brawl's secrets and nuances when there's still around five months before its release would be like pouring a large vat of your favourite ice cream down your gullet before dinner is served; "yeah, that was amazing, but erm what's for dessert?" A trickle is what we have to be content with for now.
But this slow burn of info is perhaps part of Nintendo's realisation in just how damn vital Smash Bros. is. From a sales point of view, the franchise is a behemoth. Super Smash Bros. Melee amassed over 7 million units worldwide for GameCube, becoming one of the best selling -if not THE best selling- titles for the format. Not bad for something with roots as a humble experimental venture on Nintendo's doomed N64 console. Indeed, Brawl could go on to be Wii's big end of year (wait for it) smash, should it manage not to slip into the 2008 ether. Its draw is not only that of a Nintendo character driven franchise, but also that of a 'hardcore' title that offers Wii some resistance to those who have unfairly labelled it a mini-game machine for casuals only.
However, Super Smash Bros. Brawl's appeal arguably goes deeper than even that. In many ways, Brawl represents Nintendo's gradual change for the better over the past decade. Right now, symbolically and in terms of sales potential, the fighting title is more significant than The Legend of Zelda or even Super Mario. Which seems unlikely at first, but actually has some weight given how Melee unexpectedly outsold both sister franchises on Wii's predecessor. As a relatively new series, Smash Bros. is very much like Super Mario Kart in the sense it shows Nintendo reaching out into a new genre with beloved characters and displaying a new side to the company while keeping the core values of what so many people love about Nintendo in the first place; simplicity, depth, wide appeal and pure addictive gameplay mechanics.
Thing is, it's easy to say Mario Kart has somewhat lost its way on the home formats by comparison. While the Game Boy Advance and DS versions keep the racing franchise utterly essential with brilliant updates that expand on the Super Nintendo original without being disrespectful to its roots, the N64 and GameCube versions were met with a rather mixed reception. Complaints flooded in that the track design was inconsistent, the Battle Mode was made too complex/its courses too large, the newer elements such as dual karting removed some of the simplistic charm, and so on. Not to say these Mario Kart sequels were bad games far from it. But they show a complication inherent to the genre where it's very difficult to better its fundamentals, without straying too far from what drew many in the first place.
On the other hand, Smash Bros. so far, has managed to avoid those traps in its one sequel and continued to progress in a direction that does what many other successful franchises have done before it: expand on what made it so popular without sacrificing its core ideals which simultaneously represent Nintendo's core ideals. So while Mario Kart falters to find itself through cries of what its audience wants (the Catch 22 of trying to change but wanting to stay the same), Smash ticks that tricky box and still remains the ultimate fan-service game an effort in itself. From the original to Melee, the fighting dynamics have been tightened up, the visuals polished and the sheer amount of challenges and awards included for longevity made it one of the largest and most 'discoverable' games in the whole genre. Even today, very few other fighting titles come close to the sheer amount of unlockable characters, items and gameplay features Melee has, all while remaining very much a Nintendo game.
Brawl seems set to continue this but in ways that its hardcore audience can only applaud for its sheer audacity, an audacity Nintendo has rarely shown in its software. The recent surprise about the game's soundtrack and its 30 plus composers has sent a justifiable ripple of excitement throughout the fan community, especially those who recognise industry legends from around a decade back. Tomoko Sasaki (NiGHTS), Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger / Xenogears) and Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser / Street of Rage), to name a few, raised eyebrows to stratospheric levels. Coupled with the outstanding opening theme rendition composed by Final Fantasy legend Nobuo Uematsu, it's clear Nintendo is taking this very seriously. Better yet, all these names' involvement likely profess a love for the Smash series, much like when Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima "begged" to include fan favourite Solid Snake in the game. Which in itself is a huge thing just how popular IS Smash Bros. within the development community in Japan?
Pretty damn popular, given that over 20 non Nintendo composers are helping create the soundtrack for it, I'd say.
Brawl has mutated Smash Bros. into a games industry community project, of sorts. I can't remember the last time a title -a Nintendo title, no less- has encouraged such a wealth of talent from other companies pitching in. These aren't no-names from tiny developers; these are people who have created and helped influence generations within the games industry. As a representation of an ever changing Nintendo, it's utterly significant. We're talking about a publisher that has shown callous disregard for its third-parties and partners in the past, and apparently not done its best to Make Friends and Influence People. Yet for this one game, respected and talented individuals are being invited along and accepting at worst case, and throwing themselves at the project at best. It's a revelation that belays how much Nintendo has changed over time given it was hard to think it would help create a beat 'em up in the first place barely seven years back. Let alone a beat 'em up with such depth, high production values and a personable esteem towards outside developers. Is this really Nintendo we're talking about?
And what about the game's roster? When Solid Snake was unveiled as playable last year at E3, you could hear the jaws of gamers drop around the world. That such a huge third-party character could ever be included was something no fan could have imagined; surely only Nintendo related icons could be part of the Smash party. Snake's appearance suddenly opened a floodgate of possibilities, given reality once Shigeru Miyamoto and title director/designer Masahiro Sakurai asked for suggestions of who should fill the remaining couple slots designated for third-party characters. Entertaining this idea prior to Brawl seemed a foolish endeavour, now it's a fan smorgasbord of promise.
As to who will be the final two (or so the number has yet to be confirmed) third-party characters for Brawl is a closely guarded secret, made all the more bewildering when you consider just how many other franchises the game's composers represent; do they hold some clue to who we'll be seeing? Have a couple of them created and remixed stage themes of those chosen characters? It seems very likely, but there's a wealth to choose from. Of all the potentials, the big name games related to their musicians that stand out are Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts, NiGHTS, killer7 and Devil May Cry. Each has at least one cast member that would fit within the Smash Bros. mythos.
Personally, as much as I'd like to see Chrono beat the tar out of Pikachu, it seems unlikely that the hero of Square's Chrono Trigger will be there, just simply from his lack of presence in the past few years. Also possibly discounted would be the killer7 characters, because of the audience perception of a 'Mature' rated title being within Smash. Sure, Solid Snake breaks necks like a pro, but blood and extremes of violence are not large features of Metal Gear compared to Suda 51's cult classic. Devil May Cry's Dante can be totally counted out, unfortunately, as he doesnt fall within the remit of being on a Nintendo format, prior. Which is a shame, given a match-up between him, Snake and Link would have many frothing at the mouth.
Among the more probable inclusions would be Sora from Kingdom Hearts (which has been on Game Boy Advance), and also Sonic and/or Nights. Sora is very adaptable, given his gameplay nature in the KH series (the kid has more damn forms than a late Generation 1 Transformer), while Sonic and Nights are both symbolic of Sega's growing relationship with Nintendo and thus a near certainty in one form or another. Each character fits within Smash Bros. design sensibilities and has a composer from their respective games on board, while remaining recognisable and popular to the hardcore demographic. And each one can easily be given a move set that is diverse and visually entertaining.
Whoever is unveiled to join the Brawl, it can only be good for the game on a whole. Smash Bros. shows how far Nintendo has come in one way, while still showing us how far it has to go in others if only its stable-mate titles had as much care and attention lavished over them. All that's left is that Melee fulfils its potential to be the best of the franchise yet, and thus one of the best titles Wii has to offer. No small task, especially when there's the tricky question of motion controls to be sorted out (taunts, anyone?)... but regardless, the end of 2007 can't come soon enough. Bring on the Brawl, baby. Bring on the Brawl.