Hit me with your best shot.
READERS NOTE: First off, let’s just dispense with all the ponderous, do-we-judge-it-as-gamers-or-as-Nintendo-fans hooey, shall we? This is one of those special cases where, if you’re not at least in some sense a Nintendo fanboy / fangirl, you need to click the hell away from this review right now. You’ll only hurt yourself.
[image1]Once again, we’ve gotta give it up for Nintendo: Thanks to a long history of visionary, lovingly-crafted game design and hordes of nerdcore, devoted-verging-on-mental fans around the globe, they’ve witched up a bubbling brew of company-to-community relations (and damn-near obligatory fan service) that nobody else can even touch. Super Smash Bros. Brawl isn’t merely the newest iteration of a mega-fighter cobbled together with a roster of wildly-disparate characters; it’s actually something of a revised, knock-down-drag-out love poem between Mama-san Nintendo and the most ardent of her console-gamer paramours. In fact, if you look up ‘fan service’ in the Big Index of Everything, you’ll find this game’s UPC code staring you in the face.
(On the mathematically-insignificant chance that you’re not up on the Super Smash Bros. phenomenon—haven’t you lot clicked away from this page yet?—here’s the recipe: Bring in all the current and classic characters you can, willy-nilly, from every Nintendo game-brand, time-period and established universe, and turn them loose in a variety of themed platform-y stages to beat the crap out of each other. Until the last plumber, princess, Pikmin, Poke-thing or whateverthehell is left standing. There have been various tweaks, subtleties and additions along the way, of course…but that’s pretty much it).
The setup: A nasty old Ancient Minister and his Primid Minions are turning Nintendo characters into trophies, and using bombs to blast pieces of the world back to the realm of Subspace to…
…you’ve already gone Alpha on me, haven’t you? It’s okay; the story of the Subspace Emissary single-player mode hardly makes sense or matters—you’re here some frenzied fighting, and frenzied fighting you shall have.
[image2]It’s all about jumping around on the platformed battle arenas and tooling up on your opponents until they’re so damaged that your next blow will be the one that finally Mark McGuires them out of the park (or out of Pokémon Stadium, or off Yoshi’s Island, or what have you). Up to four players can go at it as their favorite Nintendo characters, and it’s an addictive, just-one-more-round battler with a dangerous potential to rage on and on into the wee hours. Have beanbags and junk food ready; if you have a working monitor and any game-playing friends at all, you’re probably gonna be a while with this one (and that’s before you get online).
Brawl can be controlled in a variety of schemes, including the Classic controller, the Wiimote & ‘Nunchuck,’ and even that old standby the GameCube controller (which I personally find the least loosey-goosey of the three solutions—Brawl’s control is improved overall, but it’s still not what you’d call precise). It’s breezy, but with enough potential complexity, so that those who want to dig a little deeper into their technique can play alongside those who just want to get beer/sugar-buzzed and spaz about with the Wiimote for a while. Enthusiasm counts for a lot, here.
Before you start dealing with other live opponents, you might want to check out the single-player, ‘Subspace Emissary’ mode, which side-scrolls the player through a sampler-platter of available fighters and the very low-calorie platforming/story/role-playing aspects. The cinematics are very well done, but it goes without saying that they…well, that they go without saying. Literally, they are devoid of words or dialogue.
In addition to the expanded roster of beloved Nintendo characters, Brawl takes the somewhat unusual step of introducing fighters from outside Ninten-space—specifically, Konami badass Solid Snake, and Mario’s long-time, cold-war, not-really-rival Sonic the Hedgehog (no Tails in tow, however…and good thing, too; the more rabid Nintendo fan-boys would have a fresh-meat Friday on his furry ass!)
Since each character and universe that enters the Smash Bros. fold also imports his own taunts, special moves, smash attacks and environs, newcomer Snake naturally has his cardboard boxes, and one battle-arena is in fact Shadow Moses Island (by all accounts, Kojima-san really, really wanted Snake to be in this game…and there are some people one just can’t say ‘no’ to).
Some of the more unique and innovative stages include an attention-deficit WarioWare stage with shifting backgrounds, as well as a Pictochat-inspired setting…in which new platforms are drawn-in, crudely and in real time, creating new fighter-perches on the fly as well as scrawled-in environmental threats! Nice.
[image3]Visually, it must be said—Brawl is adequately excellent, but it ain’t all that. It runs in widescreen 16:9 and in 480p, and it keeps up a rock-solid 60 frames-per, but it still looks like what it is… a non-high-def visual upgrade of Smash Bros. Melee.
Brawl is, however, full of variety, items, unlockables, details and overall fan service with a smile: In fact, even though the single-player Emissary mode is goofy and a little awkward, completionists will want to brave it just to access all the goodies (and to watch the cutscenes). In terms of collectables, for example, there’s the vast variety of stickers; they’re not as difficult to get as trophies—in fact, just play, and you’ll get as regular rewards.
Brawl boats 35 characters and a whopping 49 items, both new and imported from previous games—and some of them are real whoppers, too (like the Super Spicy Curry, which causes your character to continually belch fire, even as he/she/it continues regular attacks). Meanwhile, the Assist Trophies will bring in non-playable characters to help you in battle…although you won’t know exactly who you’re calling in until you use them, and ‘help’ may not always come in the expected form: You might assail your enemies with a pack of onscreen Excitebikers (crunchy, pixilated old-school graphics and all), or you may find a huge, adorable Nintendog suddenly pawing at the screen—and blocking your view of the combat! This is man’s best friend?
While you’re at it, be sure to pick up those in-game music track CDs, as Brawl has a spectacular soundtrack, spanning a generous swath of gaming history.
Of course, you’re really here for the offline and online multiplayer Brawling, and the fights get as Epic as they are asinine: There you are as Solid Snake, laying the explosives on Zero Suit Samus, while Link is winding up to bat a banged-up Kirby wailing out into the left field of Subspace (how can you not be enjoying this, especially when ‘Kirby’ is that putz of a ‘friend’ of yours who wiped out your last can of Full Throttle in the fridge?)
Offline modes include training, Classic, Stadium and special events, and online modes offer Brawl, Special Brawl, Tournament and Rotation. When and if you’ve had enough with the game’s generous menu of themed stages, you can try your hand at the stage editor. The results will inevitably seem a little generic compared with the elaborate, pre-constructed stages already available, but it’s a nice touch for the restlessly-creative, nonetheless.
[image4]Brawl sports the peculiar Nintendo brand of online, of course, and it’s a different beast than you’ll encounter with the PS3 or 360. There’s the admirable (and very Japanese) determination to protect the interests of younger gamers, and you know what that means: Friend Codes, no voice chat, a somewhat impersonal blend of online competition, and the sneaking, pervasive sense that you’re really going up against little more than a clever brand of A.I. opponents. On the plus side, players can enable a spectator function, and non-combatants can wager coins on the outcome of online Brawls.
So, yes—the online functionality is a little on the shallow, blunted side compared to that of its next-gen console peers, and there are some offputting load times…but these are minor complaints. There’s so much here in the way of cool details, nifty items and ubiquitous, understated fan service that it’s a little difficult to grade Brawl’s raw gameplay without factoring in the Nintendo-culture saturation factor.
One thing that’s safe to say: Even if you’re not a slavering Nintendo cheerleader, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the best shot in the history of the Smash Bros. phenomenon, certainly the most-refined product of the series thus far, and a solid, friend-bashing good time. You huge Nintendo-heads out there can safely bump up our score a half-grade or so and still be in the right.
And let’s be honest—in your gamer heart of hearts, you’re probably going to anyway.