Developer: Game Arts
Release Date: March 9 2008
In some ways, this review doesn't even need to exist. The name Super Smash Bros. holds as much weight among gamers as titles such as Zelda and Halo. You could sell a blank disc with the name, and it would sell a million copies. In addition, Super Smash Bros. Brawl has had one of the most intelligent and exciting hype campaigns in recent memory, with director Masahiro Sakurai releasing daily bits of information on the Smash Bros. Web site. The good news is that despite the massive amount of hype and constant delays, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was worth the wait.
One warning for gamers before we get into the review: An issue exists with Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Due to its immense size, it is the first Wii game to use a dual-layer disc instead of a single-layer disc, so a previously unrealized issue with the Wii hardware can cause problems. With some early-model Wiis, cigarette smoke and lots of dust can built up on the Wii's lens and obscure it, which renders it incapable of reading your copies of Brawl. If this should occur, go to Nintendo's Web site to get it repaired. As someone with a first-generation Wii, I had no issues at all, but there is nothing worse than buying a game that doesn't work, and concerned Wii owners should keep this in mind.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl's gameplay retains the unusual party/fighting gameplay mix that made the other titles in the franchise so appealing. For newcomers, Smash gameplay works like this: Every player has unlimited health, and every blow increases their "damage percentage," which in turn makes them fly farther and faster when struck. The goal isn't to drain your opponent's health, but to knock him or her off the screen to earn a KO. Along the way, you have a wide number of special moves and randomly spawning items to aid you in your fight — or for your enemies to use against you. It's unbelievably fun, especially when four players are fighting frantically at once.
Brawl adheres very carefully to the concept of "Don't fix what isn't broken"; most of the gameplay is identical, with the biggest addition being the introduction of Final Smashes, which are character-specific special moves that are earned by beating up a floating Smash Ball that randomly appears in levels. Final Smashes are incredibly powerful, ranging from instant KOs on any opponent to putting everyone to sleep, to transforming characters into a new and more powerful form. They're a lot of fun to use, especially because earning them is a hilarious and frantic rush. The Smash Ball is bouncy and needs a lot of damage to "break," so all players on the screen will instantly rush toward the glowing ball and beat the living daylights out of each other to be the first to break it — and to suffer the wrath of whoever gets the Final Smash. If you don't use your Final Smash soon enough, the other players can beat it out of you and turn it against you, so the frantic beatdowns don't end when the Smash Ball shatters.
Super Smash Bros.' appeal isn't just about the fun and frantic gameplay, but also the awesome Nintendo-inspired cast. There's a certain appeal about using Pikachu to knock out Mario that just can't be denied. Not only are almost all of your favorites from Melee returning (the exceptions being Dr. Mario, Mewtwo, Pichu and Roy), but they're joined by a number of new characters from the depths of Nintendo history. Characters such as the oft-forgotten Kid Icarus' Pit, Kirby's archrival Meta Knight, and even the failed accessory R.O.B. (the bane of many a childhood) make their appearances as fighters. By far, however, the biggest addition is the inclusion of two non-Nintendo characters for the first time in the franchise's history, in the form of Metal Gear's Solid Snake and long-time Nintendo rival Sonic the Hedgehog.
Beyond simply having a new and bigger cast, Brawl does a significantly better job of balancing and tweaking the new and returning characters so that the differences between them are not as obvious as they were in Melee. While it isn't perfect, no character is king; everyone has strengths and weaknesses that encourage a wide variety of different playing styles. Solid Snake, for example, is built around laying traps and delayed-effect attacks. Even his regular moves do things such as lay mines or fire rockets, rather than having an instant effect. Fire Emblem's Ike, on the other hand, is an absolute powerhouse, but incredibly slow; while fighting with Ike requires waiting for the perfect moment to strike, a single hit can KO a foe who would barely flinch from a lesser character.
The characters really do play differently, and while that may sound like a small thing, it makes the cast feel much more playable and varied than their Melee counterparts, many of whom were exact clones of the same characters, only faster and/or stronger. That isn't to say that Brawl doesn't have a few similar characters, but the "clones" here are significantly different in all but the must superficial of ways. The closest to an exact clone is Mother 3's Lucas, who plays very similarly to his predecessor, Earthbound's Ness, but once you start to play as either of them, you'll see that despite the similarities, they're actually quite different characters.
One of the biggest selling points of Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the addition of the Subspace Emissary mode, which is a fully fleshed-out single-player game, complete with storyline and an intriguing method of leveling up. Players take control of the entire Brawl cast as they team up to figure out a way to stop the Subspace Emissary, a mysterious cloaked being who is traveling from Nintendo world to Nintendo world, sucking them into subspace voids for some unknown purpose. The plot is only a sideshow to the real fun of Subspace Emissary: the character interaction. Each of the meetings between the various Nintendo characters (as well as Sonic and Snake) is shown in a well-animated and often completely hilarious cut scene. From Pikachu and Samus teaming up to rescue Samus' stolen Power Suit to an adorable and hilarious team of Captain Falcon and Pikmin's own Captain Olimar, these cut scenes are dripping with charm. They're just plain fun, and they make it worthwhile to trudge through the single-player segment.
"Trudge" is indeed the correct word for the Subspace Emissary mode. It isn't terrible, per se, but it feels like a loose and awkward mishmash instead of a cohesive game. Either alone or with a friend, players take control one of the mascot characters and hop and fight their way through a series of levels, effectively turning Smash Bros. into a platforming game broken up by occasional boss fights. The problem here is that as enjoyable as Smash Bros. is, it wasn't designed to play the same way as Mario Bros. The characters, designed for the hectic fighting of Smash Bros., feel very awkward and slippery in the platforming segments. Some characters control better than others, but for the most part, they never feel natural, and there are quite a few moments where you may suffer damage or even die simply because your character wouldn't react naturally enough. It isn't game-ruining at all, but it does make the levels feel repetitive and tedious once you get past the first few areas.
The good news is that the game's excellent boss fights more than make up for the awkward platforming. The epic screen-filling fights are great fun and played against characters such as the legendary Pokemon Rayquaza and the Metroid mainstay Ridley. They're all well designed, reasonably challenging, and mesh much better with the Smash Bros. gameplay than the uncomfortable platforming segments. You can even choose to rebattle all of the bosses in a Boss Rush mode once you've completed the Subspace Emissary mode, in what is one of Smash Bros. Brawl's more enjoyable and most difficult challenges.
There is, however, one part of Subspace Emissary mode that comes close to souring the entire experience. The last level, titled "The Great Maze," changes the mode's gameplay. Gone are the prior platforming sequences; instead, a large interconnected "maze" comprises this level, with various save points scattered throughout. While this Super Metroid-inspired idea sounds good, the execution is extremely flawed. The maze contains the exact same levels you encountered in the rest of Subspace Emissary mode, just awkwardly cut and pasted together. Furthermore, each of these areas is bookended by a boss fight, a clone of one of your own party members, or a rematch against one of the bosses that you've already battled before. All in all, this level alone will probably take you roughly two or three hours by itself, and it's nothing but mindless recycling and tedium, without a single charming cut scene, unlockable character, or original idea to break up the awkward platforming.
Besides the Subspace Emissary mode, Super Smash Bros. Brawl retains all of the modes and gameplay types found in Melee. For those seeking combat, you can take on the Fighting Alloys, the newest incarnation of the Fighting Wire Frames introduced in Super Smash Bros., run through the Classic arcade mode, or battle the entire cast in All-Star mode. Those looking to master their moves can attempt the Home Run Contest or the Break the Targets mode, both of which encourage players to master using every aspect of their character to achieve a high score.
Of course, the main focus on Smash Bros. has always been multiplayer, and Brawl is no exception. A healthy dose of multiplayer modes is available to gamers so they can play however they want. This doesn't just mean time-based matches or stock-based matches; combat is completely customizable. If you want a match where everyone is playing as a giant metal Yoshi with the only items being Pokeballs and everyone is moving at half-gravity, go for it. The only limitation to the variety of gameplay modes is a gamer's imagination. Even better, Super Smash Bros. Brawl also offers a Stage Creator, so players are not even limited to the levels included in the game. While it isn't possible to create levels as detailed as some of the pre-created stages in Brawl, the customization is enough to create some very interesting and silly stages.
For gamers who have a hard time setting up four-player party matches at home, Nintendo has you covered, too. Smash Bros. Brawl finally introduces the long-awaited online Wi-Fi matches, which are rather easy to set up. Players can either use Brawl-specific Friend Codes or search for random players across the Internet to battle one another. Random gameplay is unsatisfying at best. Matches are stuck on two-minute timed matches without any possible way to change it, which makes the matches feel much more frantic but also far too short. It's better to play with friends, assuming you can find Friend Codes for other people. The type of match can be altered, the characters are no longer anonymous, and you can even create specialized taunts to communicate with your friends. Once you get online, the matches run fairly smoothly, although how laggy they are seems to be a bit of a roll of the dice. Some matches ran absolutely lag-free, allowing nearly perfect brawling, while others were so slow and twitchy that they were almost unplayable. The unplayable matches were few and far between, so it isn't enough to ruin online gameplay, but lag can be an issue.
If you're the kind of gamer who simply has to do everything in a game, be prepared to be playing Smash Bros. Brawl for an incredibly long time. Brawl takes the trophy collection aspect from Melee and exponentially increases it. Not only are there hundreds of new trophies to collect, but there are also countless stickers and CDs to find. Stickers are simply art of the various characters, but they can also be used to power up your characters in Subspace Emissary mode. CDs, when found in stages or during brawls, unlock new music tracks to play during battles, and there are a ton of these as well.
Trying to get everything in Smash Bros. Brawl is a Herculean task, but it can also be a ton of fun. Stickers and CDs appear during regular fights and gameplay, so as long as you're actually playing the game, you'll gain a healthy number of them. Stickers can also be earned if you bet on online matches and lose. Trophies are a bit harder to earn, but are potentially even more fun. While some Trophies are earned through regular gameplay, a vast number of them can be discovered in the Coin Launcher minigame, which is a Space Invaders-like arcade game where you shoot flying objects overhead while trying to protect your coin turret. Trophies fly overhead, and you must blast repeatedly to capture them. The catch here is that the Coin Launcher, unsurprisingly, uses coins as ammunition, which means that you can only fire as long as you have coins in your bank, which means that you can't fire willy-nilly at everything that moves onscreen.
Another method of unlocking many of game's features is the Challenge screen, which is Smash Bros.' version of achievements. There are a large number of opaque glass boxes, and once you complete a specific objective, the glass shatters, gifting you with the object inside, which can range from trophies and stickers to brand new stages. Once you break a Challenge box, you can see a silhouette of the contents of the boxes to the left and right of it, and you'll get a hint about what you need to do to break them. These challenges range from simple tasks, such as unlocking a character, to the most difficult, such as earning 5,000 coins in a single Coin Match, playing for 100 hours, or defeating modes on the Intense difficulty level. If things get too tough for you, gamers can actually use a Golden Hammer to shatter a silhouetted glass box and earn the object without completing the objective. The catch is that you only get three of these hammers, so use them wisely.
For a Wii title, Smash Bros. Brawl is quite good-looking. The characters are fast, fluid and well-animated; the gameplay is smooth and slowdown-free, even with hectic four-player battles; and everything retains the usual Nintendo charm. There are a lot of amusing little touches that add life to the characters, and overall, it just looks great. It looks so good that Nintendo added in a screenshot-saving feature so that players can take and trade photos of their most awesome or most hilarious moments. There are a few graphical disappointments, such as the rather lackluster selection of Stage Creator backgrounds, but they do little to detract from the overall gameplay. Of particular note are the Subspace Emissary cut scenes, which are delightful and visually impressive. Seeing Captain Olimar try to use his undersized Pikmin to take down a towering R.O.B. is the sort of thing that brings a smile to you face, even before Captain Falcon shows up for a bombastic and utterly hilarious introduction.
The soundtrack to Smash Bros. Brawl may very well be the best in video game history. This is not an exaggeration. The soundtrack is made up of hundreds of songs from classic Nintendo properties, as well as a health dose of Metal Gear and Sonic the Hedgehog tunes. Everything from the classic Mario Bros. theme to songs from the yet-to-be-released Metal Gear Solid 4 appear, remixed and retuned by some of the best composers and musicians the video game world has to offer. A few of the remixes and themes fall a bit flat, but there are very few of them, and they're buried by a seemingly endless wave of amazing music. You can even alter which songs play on which stages, so if you particularly hate a song, you never have to hear it! It is a simple unparalled soundtrack.
Is Super Smash Bros. Brawl perfect? No, it most certainly is not. The Subspace Emissary mode is a bit weak, the loading times are a bit hefty, and the online gameplay suffers from some lag and the usual Nintendo online awkwardness. However, those issues are far overshadowed by the excellence that permeates the rest of the game. The gameplay is as good as ever, and the changes to the system seem to be for the better. Final Smashes turn the already frantic Smash Bros. gameplay into something even more hilarious and fun, the new items are exciting and worthwhile, and the stages are some of the best to ever host the Smash Bros. franchise. The replay value is through the roof, not just because of the wonderful gameplay, but also due to the seemingly endless parade of items to collect. Between the trophies, stickers and unlockable challenges, you'll probably still be unlocking things in Brawl when the next Smash Bros. title comes out. Super Smash Bros. Brawl may not be perfect, but it is definitely a game that everyone with a Wii should own.
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