Super Smash Bros. Brawl
System: Wii :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 1-4
Genre: Fighting :: Released: 09 March 2008
By James D. Deaux IV
22 May 2008 — Rather than write a review of Super Smash Bros. Brawl that consists of nothing but Caps Lock-acronyms and incalculable amounts of tildes and exclamation points (which I could do, but it really wouldn't be all that persuasive or enjoyable to read), I have elected to finally sit down and describe the many reasons why you should buy it. It is extremely difficult to remember a game for whose arrival I have awaited so anxiously. Maybe Kingdom Hearts II, but I don't think even that got me as excited as this game's prerelease time span. Perhaps it is because Brawl is not merely a game — it is a cultural phenomenon. In one $49.95 package, it brings together video game icons from past and present, and allows you and any number of friends to beat the crap out of each other using them for a seemingly endless span of time. Or, you can amuse yourself for weeks trying to unlock everything this game hides. One sentence can sum up my love for Brawl: to date, it is the reason I own a Wii.
As much as people raved about Super Smash Bros. Melee when it came out on the GameCube, perhaps the one thing that everyone maligned it for was its lack of online capability, which, to be fair, was a common complaint of most Nintendo GameCube games. What made Melee's lack of online capability most troubling was that it was, at the time, an elite party game that practically anyone could play. Novice or grandmaster, it didn't matter; Melee was a game where anyone stood a chance of victory based on its simple, yet subtly deep fighting scheme. Just imagine how awesome it would have been if you could have played people all over the world. Well, fret no more! Brawl takes everything that was so enjoyable from Melee and multiplies it exponentially by finally giving gamers the option of connecting to Nintendo's worldwide online service. While the options are somewhat limited — you can only play two-minute brawls — it's still nice to know that even if you don't have a gathering of buddies to brawl with, you can jump into the online pool. Another nifty option is to use Spectator mode, where you can watch others duke it out. What makes this fun is that you can bet on the victor(s). If you choose correctly, you win double the coins.
With the gargantuan amount of unlockables to obtain and the very nature of the multiplayer mode, there is simply no end to the amount of enjoyment you can get from Brawl. There are so many minigames in which you can indulge that you may never get around to playing some of them. You can play Coin Shooter, a variation of the arcade coin rolling games, which allow you to obtain stickers and trophies. The game also gives you the option to play (very small) samples of some of Nintendo's greatest games from the past: Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Kid Icarus, etc. Even if you somehow unlock everything in the game (a task that only those who never turn off their Wii could hope to achieve), there is always the multiplayer option where you and your friends can spend countless hours playing with a wide variety of Nintendo and third-party characters. Included among the 35 total playable characters is none other than the legendary soldier of fortune, Solid Snake, of Metal Gear Solid fame. Plus, catering to the vociferous public outcry for him, Sonic the Hedgehog was added into the game as a hidden / unlockable character. People like me, who are unabashed fanboys of Sega's speedy blue mascot, responded to this news with an inundation of those exclamation points and random Internet shorthand acronyms I spoke of earlier.
With the exception of Final Smashes, fighting (or brawling to be semantically correct) is almost exactly the same as Melee. If you choose to turn this new item on during brawls, a glowing orb will periodically float around the stage. If your character manages to break it open, he or she will start to glow. At that point you can unleash a powerful (and flashy) attack that in many cases equals an instant knockout. Some are stupidly powerful, some are used more for strategic purposes and others are almost useless. On the whole, though, they are mostly a great spectacle to behold. As far as regular fighting goes, it is still the same engine as Melee, only here you can use the Wiimote, the GameCube controller, the Wii Classic controller or the Wii Nunchuck — whichever suits your fancy. Personally, I don't see how anyone can use the Nunchuck. The only controller I can use is the tried-and-true GameCube controller. It's familiar and you can actually press your shield button as opposed to the Wiimote, where it's practically impossible. As far as fighting goes, I feel like anyone can play this game. The fighting engine is incredibly simple and it doesn't matter what your skill level is — beginner or reclusive Brawl shut-in — you stand a chance in any battle just because of how random the stages and items are. No two fights are ever the same. Now, if you choose to turn off items and fight only on Final Destination, then that's another story.
Say you don't have any friends to play with and you can't connect online. Unlike Melee, which had no true single-player mode to be spoken of, Brawl lets you tackle a marathon adventure called The Subspace Emissary. The hereafter abbreviated TSE allows you to go on an adventure through the Smash world playing as almost every character in the game while trying to stop Ganondorf, Bowser and a gaggle of their evil minions from engulfing their world into the world of Subspace, a none-too-pleasant dimension. It isn't as goofy as it may sound. In fact, it is quite nostalgic in that it's a fun 2-D side-scrolling adventure through many terrains that vaguely resemble stages from popular Nintendo games, such as Donkey Kong Country, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Plus, there are some wickedly cool cutscenes that you can watch over and over again in the Vault. It is through the TSE that you can more easily unlock hidden characters like Solid Snake, Falco and Luigi. Or maybe you'd rather play over 400 matches to unlock Wolf from Star Fox?
The graphics are a huge improvement over the GameCube's (which weren't shabby, either), and I cannot understand why anyone says they are the same (a claim I have read from several other reviews). Put Link's Melee costume side-by-side with his Brawl costume and tell me those two look the same. It's night and day. The details in the clothing on characters like Ganondorf, Zelda, Mario and Link are fantastic, and it shows the careful attention to detail the graphic artists paid to such characters. The highly detailed maps, such as New Pork City, Frigate Orpheon and the Castle Siege are awe-inspiring. Many maps, like the Castle Siege and Luigi's Mansion, are destructible and change over the course of the battle, or can be manually destroyed by attacking pillars (Shadow Moses Island) or the ground (Green Hill Zone). There is, perhaps, no more interactive stage than Warioware, Inc., which forces you to not only fend off your attackers, but pay careful attention to the stage itself. Every few seconds, it will randomly give an instruction (a la the eponymous Nintendo DS game), and if you fail to make your character do what it says, either your opponents will be given power-ups, or you will be punished. Sometimes both.
Another fantastic new mode among the seemingly endless supply of them is the Stage Builder feature. Now, if you get bored with all of the 41 preexisting levels, you can just make your own and create all kinds of havoc. You are given a pretty nice range of options and parts. If you want to make a level of nothing but springs and spike pits, go for it. Or, if you'd rather make a level requiring lots of strategic jumping and brawling, go nuts. Then, if you are particularly proud of whatever monstrosity of a level you've created, you can upload it to Nintendo's online service. Each day, they pick one user-created stage and make it available to the world for download.
I'm wracking my brain trying to think of anything overly "wrong" with this game, but faults are few and far between, insofar as I can tell. I think the only true problem is the horrendous load times. It takes literally a full 45 seconds to get from the Wiimote safety instructions screen to the start screen of Brawl. It's almost as bad waiting for matches to load; it does get annoying very quickly. Then, you have character balance (and I use that term loosely), which is something that the developers have seemingly never been particularly concerned with. A couple characters have far too much of an advantage in certain areas. For example, it is almost impossible to knock Pit off of a map horizontally because he can fly from just about any distance back to the platform with his Wings of Icarus maneuver. Conversely, other characters have been neutered beyond redemption, such as Captain Falcon and Jigglypuff. Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, skilled players can overcome just about any perceived advantage with this game's fighting engine. If you know what you're doing, even Mr. Game and Watch can become a lethal character. Well, maybe not him, but you get the idea.
If you own a Wii, then there is little reason to not own Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It seems to me that all of the "loose ends" from Melee — online capability, a legitimately fun single-player mode, creating your own stages — were tied up here. If you can just get used to the load times, you shouldn't be disappointed with this game at all.
Final Grade: 95/100 — Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the definition of "replay value."