"So which-a one-a you ordered the knuckle sandwich?"
"In the red corner. . .hailing from a little town in Sicily. . . weighing in at a robust 275 pounds. . .the Prince of Pasta. . . the King of Cannolies. . the real Italian Stallion. . . Maaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrriiiiiiooooooo!!!!!! And in the blue corner. . .hailing from a GameBoy near you. . . weighing in at a svelte 12 pounds. . .the Pokemon of Pain. . . the Beast of Burden. . .the Whole Kitten Kaboodle. . . Piiiiiiikkkkkaaaaaaaccchhhhhuuuuuuuuuu!!!!
That's right, fight fans. It's what you've been waiting for. It's the Great Battle of the Video Game Mascots.
Just when you thought the design masters at Nintendo couldn't possibly squeeze yet another game out of their tired bag of lovable little characters, along comes Super Smash Brothers. But unlike other recent mascot games (like Mario Party, ugh), this one takes its cute, cuddly critters and throws 'em into a ring to battle it out. Finally - a chance to kick Kirby's fluffy, gumball ass.
I really wish there was some bizarre plot to make fun of, but sadly, there is not. Inexplicably, the Nintendo mascot gang is hell-bent on beating each other up. Perhaps there was some jealousy over which one is the cutest, or maybe mob kingpin Mario is recruiting new hired goons to help him take over the city. Who knows?
The cast is pretty complete: Donkey Kong, Mario, Pikachu, Kirby, Link, Fox, and Yoshi are here, as well as the often overlooked Samus (star of the Metroid games). There are also a few extra characters for those of you willing to go the distance.
Smash Brothers is essentially a fighting game. You choose a character and duke it out, the winner being the last one standing. However, Nintendo rarely follows the mold.
For starters, you don't actually 'kill' your opponents. The goal is to knock enemies off the stage. Each time you hit an opponent it increases their Damage Meter. The Meter number goes up as the character takes damage, and the higher the meter, the easier it is to smack 'em off the level. There's no blood or fatalities. What did you expect?
Unlike most newer fighting games, Smash Brothers isn't in 3D. The action is strictly up/down/left/right, which suits the gameplay rather nicely. Trying to knock your opponent off the screen while trying to keep yourself from getting knocked off results in some very engaging, back and forth battles.
To aid you in your quest to be le grande fromage, Nintendo has included a bevy of pain inducing items. During a match, items will appear at random and can be used by any player. These include ray guns, swords, bombs, fire flowers (remember the first Super Mario Bros.?), and the ever trusty baseball bat. Send Jigglypuff flying over the right field fence. Batter up!
There are a few ways to play. There's a boring 1 player mode, where you battle your way up to three different bosses. You can also hone your skills in Training mode, or practice the 'Bonus' levels you encounter in between matches. These include jumping on moving platforms and smashing a set number of targets.
No Nintendo game is complete without a multi-player option, and it is here where Smash Brothers racks up some points. You can fight up to four other characters at once, which makes for a hectic Battle Royale. Like most fighting games, this one is just a natural for multi-player and works very well.
Graphically, Smash Brothers is par for the course. The action is smooth with a good framerate, and the characters and levels look decent. There's nothing flashy - no super cool textures or fancy lighting effects - but that's not what you're looking for.
The sound actually made me smile. Nintendo flexes it's nostalgia muscles by including authentic sounding retro theme songs for each stage. You'll hear the original Legend of Zelda tune when fighting on the Hyrule Castle stage. You'll hear the Super Mario Bros. Theme song when fighting at their locale. It's a gas.
I think the best thing about Smash Brothers is the subject matter. Whacking Yoshi over the head with a baseball bat is incredibly satisfying. Tossing Pikachu over your shoulder and onto a bomb is intrinsically pleasing. I'm sick to death of cute, furry mascots, and it's very rewarding to finally be beating them up. It's nice to see Nintendo be so 'tongue-in-cheek.'
But everything isn't peachy keen in the land of Mascot Rasslin'. There are a few problems certainly worth mentioning.
The most glaring issue is the simplicity. There are only a handful of moves for each character, all of which use the same button/direction combinations. This leads to a lack of depth, which in turn leads to eventual boredom. I really wish they would have included some more character-specific moves. It would have upped the complexity tenfold and added some serious gameplay.
I also have a problem with the camera. The camera will attempt to keep all fighters on the screen at all times. But when there are more than two guys fighting, this gets annoying. One fighter will get knocked out into the heavens and the camera will pull WAAAAY back to accommodate. Suddenly, the other fighters are little specks, barely distinguishable from one another. Things only go back to normal when the characters are in close proximity to each other again. Irritating indeed.
Considering the state of fighting games for the N64, Super Smash Brothers is actually high in its class. While the single player mode gets tiresome, it's a fun multi-player game and is worth a look. Besides - who can resist the urge to wipe that smug grin off Kirby's fat face. . . you lookin' at me, puffball?