Release Date: March 2008
There was a time a few years ago when Nintendo's approach to game design was actually slightly controversial. This would be about when the PS2 was on top of the market, and the top-selling games tended to be sandbox shooters with a high emphasis on bloodshed. Link could not lop off enemies' limbs; Mario did not visit mushroom hookers for health refills. Hence, Nintendo was a dinosaur, or so the reasoning went, and would soon be left behind in this new, hip, dark, self-consciously quasi-adult industry.
That line of reasoning seemed silly then and now seems actively moronic, like Victorian scientists assuming science had stopped. They do make kid-friendly, colorful games, and if you still want to criticize them for that, you may have to shout to be heard over the constant cash-register chime.
In a way, though, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is an answer to that old criticism. It's completely uncomplicated, it's deliberately bloodless and shiny, it's set in a wide variety of colorful worlds, and there are hard drugs that are less addictive than this.
Nintendo has done a masterful job of whipping gamers up into a fever pitch for this title. After spending a few days with the import version, I can honestly say that the final product is in no way a disappointment.
Well, admittedly, that's not strictly true. As with Melee, there's a lot of extraneous stuff in Brawl that can safely be disregarded or ignored. This is a two- to four-player competitive game; anything that involves cooperative play, or worse, single-player action, is anywhere from mediocre to outright bad.
When you've got people to play this with you, though, Brawl is easily the greatest multiplayer game of the last few years, or at least the greatest multiplayer game that doesn't involve guitars or Game Boys. It's fast, frantic, balanced, unpredictable and varied; every time you start to get bored, you unlock a new character or stage, and then everything seems fresh all over again.
As with the past Smash Bros. games, Brawl is essentially a big game of King of the Hill starring a rotating cast of Nintendo's top characters. As pretty much everyone on the planet knows by now, Brawl also features appearances from Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog, both of whom come with their own trademark stages, music and a few members of their supporting casts.
Each character brings his own arsenal of special moves to the table, including several that break pretty much every established rule of both fighting games and the Smash Bros. series itself. There's no real sense of orthodoxy, if that word works; most fighting games stick to a basic central theme with their controls and engine, but Brawl throws that out the window from jump street. Characters are wildly distinct from one another, and knowing what you're doing with one usually won't help you at all with the rest.
Mario, Link and a couple of others are probably the closest to "typical" fighting-game characters that you can find in Brawl, but then you get into some genuinely weird territory. Zelda and Samus can completely change their move sets with the touch of a button, the Pokemon Trainer has three different Pokemon to fight with and can tag them in and out on the fly, Sonic is so damn fast that he's a danger to both himself and others, Snake seems to be built around people losing track of him in multiplayer games, and so on. There's more sheer variety in Smash Bros.'s roster than most other fighting games even think to try to include, and Brawl tears the roof off of that.
Even when you don't know what you're doing with a character, though, the constant assortment of random items helps to even the odds, which adds another wrinkle to the gameplay. Yeah, you can turn off the items, since some of them do tend to mean you win instantly — the Donkey Kong hammer, the bumper, Smash Balls, the starship parts you can assemble to call in an Arwing airstrike — but leaving them in makes the gameplay fast, furious and occasionally viciously destructive.
With all of that, plus online play and a few dozen attached minigames, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a major improvement to what was already one of the greatest fighting games of all time. It's not as "deep" as some other fighters; luck can play a pretty substantial role, and between the items and the game's accessibility, a complete novice stands a decent chance against much more seasoned players. That doesn't change the fact that it's just about pure fun, on a level that very few developers are capable of reaching. This is the Wii's most recent killer app.
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