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Super Smash Bros. Brawl Review

By Jeff Buckland, 3/10/2008

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Few games have the longevity that the Smash Bros. series has enjoyed. Nintendo's unique fighting game series pulls together dozens of characters from many titles on its systems from the last 25 years and puts them into ridiculous arenas with tons of attacks, strategies, and items to destroy each other with. With everything built on and added to and new, key features tossed in, there's more than enough depth here to last for just as many years as its predecessor. Nintendo has really outdone themselves with Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

When compared to the traditional fighting game, Smash seems at first to be overly simplistic and maybe a bit cartoony and shallow. There are only four buttons used - one controls regular attacks and Smash attacks, another controls your special moves, and two more unleash grabs and evasive maneuvers - and one D-pad or analog stick controls your character's movement. You can use a Wii Remote alone, add in a Nunchuk, or use either the Wii Classic Controller or even an original GameCube controller, all to pretty decent effect. The Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo is probably the toughest to use in my opinion, and if you ever do consider getting serious, you can always pick up a few of the classic GameCube Wavebird controllers for wireless control. Either way, controls are simply not an issue; they're simple for even the least devout of gamers to pick up, and diverse enough that just about anyone can be happy with how it plays.

So much stuff has been jam-packed into Brawl that it's hard to even begin to talk about it all. The game's got a ton of new characters with the dozens of originals still here (35 total, over a dozen of which must be unlocked), a few classic stages with the addition of all kinds of new ones (and encompassing a broader range of games this time, like Electroplankton, Luigi's Mansion, Metal Gear Solid, and even the DS chat software Pictochat), new gameplay modes, online play, more online sharing features, and just an incredible amount of stuff here that any fan of the series will be able to appreciate. And in serious fan service, characters from non-Nintendo games are here: Sonic the Hedgehog and Snake from Metal Gear Solid, specifically. Five from Melee aren't making it back: Dr. Mario, Young Link, Mewtwo, Pichu, and Roy.

But let's talk a bit about the single player mode, which has gotten a pretty decent revamp. Not only are all the original modes back, but there's a new story mode called Subspace Emissary that contains most of Nintendo's effort in this area. In its eight plus hours you'll gradually be able to open up new characters and usually get a narrow choice between a few (some of which are pretty unlikely combinations), but as you go you collect these stickers which act a little bit like armor in an RPG. By equipping your characters with various stickers, you can add to their ability to attack and defend in all kinds of ways. The strategy is that some stickers may be powerful but are purposely large or oddly-shaped, and so you'll need to either get creative or just take some off in order to fit them. Nintendo has included a system for randomly placing and trying to fit stickers if you just want to get to the fighting, but serious gamers who want to play at the hardest difficulty levels will almost certainly be fine-tuning. One of my favorite parts of Subspace Emissary is that a second player can jump in at any time to play together cooperatively. Nice touch! Unfortunately, some of the stages can get a bit aggravating and the 2D platforming aspect is really pretty tough on some of the more sluggish characters, but it's still a huge amount of fun.

Plenty of new stages are included in Brawl and they're even crazier than ever. While Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube really branched out with its stages that force you to move and find cover, now things are coming at you from almost every angle on some stages, and just about every arena moves and makes players move in order to win. This is far from your standard, static fighting game tournament ground; the stages are alive in Brawl, and you'll need to know them just as well as you know your opponent in a serious game.

And getting serious gamers together is very easy in Brawl. While the player limit is still capped out at four, you can easily set up things like 2-on-2 battles, tournaments, round-robin for taking turns if you've got five or more people, and online battles. Yes, we still have to screw around with Friend Codes to play buddies online, but you can also play together with random internet people right from the menu. You can even observe matches and make bets on who will be the winner - and gain coins to buy and unlock stuff with on your own profile. Online play is about as lag-free as you can get with a modern internet connection, which is to say that you will be able to notice the difference and after a small adjustment can have just as much fun online as you do off. The fact that there is no chat or voice of any kind is actually a good thing to me, as it's very different from the game invites, parties, trash talk, and constant mic chatter on Xbox Live. It's not better than Live, but it is a refreshing change. Online sharing of custom levels, screenshots, and replays also makes it worth going ahead and distributing your stupid Friend Code to people you know, if not because of the ability to play online against them.

Visually, this could be the best-looking Wii game yet. The graphics are bright and crisp, and widescreen 480p mode is supported without any noticeable drop in frame rates. With the huge amount of things going on at any one time, the last thing you're likely to be thinking of is how this game isn't HD or that the textures aren't quite as good as some 360 game that you quit playing two weeks after the release. This one is going to stay stuck in many Wiis for months - for some, years - so it's really tough to knock it on the graphics front. And the music? It's like a veritable who's-who of Japanese game composers got together to make new versions of their classic tunes, just for Brawl. Over a hundred songs in total are included, and you even get to fine tune the occurrences of songs and play them back one at a time if you want.

Every aspect of the Smash Bros. series has been expanded. From the many interesting new characters to the tons of new items and stages to master, I don't see how any diehard fan can't be happy. All of the original rule-tweaking to disallow specific items are here, allowing the most picky of players the option to fine-tune their games to obsessive-compulsive levels. It ensures longevity for those crazy tournament folk as well as the gaming masses out there who love Brawl but aren't that dedicated. Indeed, this is one of those few games where almost anyone who picks it up will have a blast, and then can find the depth to keep playing at it for months and even years and still have fun.

Overall: 96%



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