Review: Super Smash Bros Brawl
June 1, 2009, Author: Trent Pyro
Announcing itself like a Nintendo car crash, Super Smash Bros redefined the party fighting game on the N64 way back in 1999. It went on to have two equally, if not more successful sequels; one on the GameCube and its latest incarnation on the Wii. Let me begin by saying that my relationship with Nintendo is similar to that of Charles and Camilla; there’s possibly love there somewhere, but it’s never been demonstrated by either party and really the whole thing is purely functional. I don’t hate Nintendo (my first console was a SNES) but I think their quality and standards have dropped astronomically over the last decade and most of the crap they churn out these days isn’t even worth looking at. Good job then, that Super Smash Bros Brawl is probably one of the best Nintendo games ever, let alone on the pearly white toaster that is the Wii.
The basis of Nintendo fan fiction!
For the benefit of anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to have never experienced the sheer joy of Smash Bros, here’s the premise in a nutshell. Random Nintendo characters have been collected together for one purpose; to kick ten bells of crap out of each other. Simply controlled, the idea is to hammer your opponents until you knock them out of the ring, eliminating them from the game. Last man (or woman) standing wins. It’s not quite that simple, as I’ll explain, but that’s the general idea.
For this latest instalment, the premise hasn’t changed much. The true genius here lies in the range of modes on offer. As well as your standard local multiplayer japes, there’s an extensive single player experience the likes of which is rarely seen in a fighting game of this type. There’s the basic arcade mode, where you pick a character from about thirty-five choices and fight the other characters until you’ve beaten them all. Characters range from the standard Nintendo staples such as Mario and Kirby to some surprising new additions like a suitless Samus, Pit from the forgotten classic Kid Icarus and even Solid Snake. Then there’s the amazingly packed out adventure mode, entitled The Subspace Emissary… How about I just go through them one by one?
Let the battle begin!
Firstly, the aforementioned arcade mode. This plays out like you’d expect, except that each opponent fights you in his or her own themed arena, which keeps things constantly fresh. Some even have special conditions, such as your opponent being made out of metal, making them harder to ring out. This mode is good to kill a few minutes with and is a must for the completionist in you. Then there’s the event mode, which presents you with certain conditions and challenges. There are over sixty of them, with just over twenty of those kept aside as special two-player events. If that’s not enough, there’s Stadium, which has a selection of tea-break friendly mini-games. Of course, you can work for hours honing your skills and getting the top score, but I found they lacked the depth for that sort of continued play.
There’s also one more thing worthy of mention before I give away the top prize. Hiding away in the Vault are some short but sweet demos of ancient Nintendo games, some you’ll have heard of and some you’ll probably never get to play the full versions of. The stingy time limits prevent any real enjoyment of these bite-sized chunks, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless. Now, the main event; The Subspace Emissary. Sounds like an episode of Star Trek I know, but it’s in-fact the name of maybe the best adventure mode of any beat ‘em up ever.
The story has something to do with a Subspace Army breaking into the wildly varied Nintendo world and blowing up large chunks of it with crazy, blue super-bombs. Due to the nicely rendered cut-scenes having no dialogue, the intricacies of the solid if not original plot escaped me, but it’s enough to keep you interested. The key thing to stress here is the sheer size of the mode. Considering the fact that most modern single player campaigns clock in at around 5 hours, it’s astounding that a side mode in a fighting game could last almost twice that. It has properly laid out levels with enemies, puzzles, switches and secret rooms. It has bosses that aren’t just recycled Smash Bros characters. It has a developing story with brand new characters, it’s genuinely funny and it keeps you interested. Compared to some of the dross that’s been churned out on the console recently, it’s a little nugget of joy.
It’s not all wine and cheese though. Whether the controls work depends on what control method you use. With a lone Wiimote, pressing up on the D-pad to jump just feels plain wrong, and it caused me to shuffle the controls around so much that executing a decent Special Attack became a feat of thumb-wrenching awkwardness. You can plug in the Nunchuck to get more buttons, but this doesn’t help matters much. It’s only when I plugged in an old GameCube controller that things improved; it’s obvious Nintendo had problems cramming the controls in, they might as well have put ‘GameCube controller required’ on the box. I’m sure the Wii Classic controller would work just as well, so if you have either lying around I implore you to use them.
While I just gave the Subspace Emissary campaign a glowing write-up I do have to say that those of you looking for a deep, story-rich experience may not be satisfied by the similarity of the levels and gameplay throughout. Gratingly, the single player arcade mode got very old very quickly for me; doing essentially the same thing over and over. Don’t let these minor cracks spoil your view though, Super Smash Bros Brawl is a fantastic gameplay experience, and it looks great too.
Shiny, happy people…
Being a Wii game, I wasn’t expecting much from Super Smash Bros Brawl’s visuals but I was pleasantly surprised. The character models are smooth and colourful, the battles fizz and pop with life and light. The stages are superbly designed and all look beautiful. The cutscenes and specially created levels for Subspace Emissary are well presented and visually interesting. It’s obvious Nintendo have squeezed every drop of graphical oomph out of the Wii for this, and it goes some way to allowing Smash Bros Brawl to outshine almost every other Wii game in the visuals department.
Sound is important in any game, but more so in a fighting game. If the sound sucks, the impact is lost. Good job Smash Bros lives up to its name with a plethora of satisfying noises to accompany the day-glo violence. Along with the expected slashes and thumps, each stage comes complete with a range of theme music. These catchy tunes are based on the music of the game the stage is taken from, and always feel appropriate.
Often I started a stage only to spend the first few minutes racking my brains trying to remember where the tune was from, finally leaping out of my chair in a happy ‘eureka!’ moment as it brought back fond memories of playing on my battered old SNES when I was a kid. Very rarely have I seen nostalgic game music so well handled, so top marks to the soundtrack people on this one. Also worthy of mention are the cool and sometimes hilarious character catchphrases, which range from the typical ‘Not this time!’ stuff to some genuinely funny quips from the likes of Solid Snake.
At the core of every beat ‘em up worth its salt is a solid multiplayer, and Super Smash Bros Brawl is no exception. Previous Smash Bros games have been party favourites, and Brawl continues the trend by entertaining anyone who cares to pick up a controller. Despite the aforementioned control issues, the game itself is incredibly easy to play and once you grasp the concept of smashing opponents off the stage, it ranks as one of the most casual-friendly games I’ve ever played.
I expect most people will stick closely to the local multiplayer, but there are some other interesting things to do with friends that enhance the experience. Along with the aforementioned co-op events, the entire Subspace Emissary campaign can be played with a friend, which enhances the experience somewhat despite the fact that the limited lives available are then shared by the both of you. So basically, if your friend sucks at the game, you have little to no chance of success. There’s also online multiplayer, and it’s here that one of my pet Wii hates rears its ugly head.
Both of the other next-gen consoles have sophisticated online frameworks that allow users to play with people all across the world, and make friends easily in the process. Nintendo have, for some bizarre reason, neglected to include this feature on the Wii. So, while you can play with random people, there’s no way to find out who those people are, make them your friends or interact with them in any other way. There’s also no matchmaking to speak of, so most of the time you’re paired with hardcore Smash Bros veterans who batter you in a matter of seconds, making the random opponent option almost useless unless you’re the Zen master of Brawl. Then there’s the friend code travesty.
If I want to play against my friend, I have to first find out what my friend code is, then find out what theirs is, then tell them what mine is and then we can play. The logic behind this escapes me. The fact that I have a different friend code for each game means that when I get a new game I have to go through the whole process again. I think this is a cheap trick to get people to play together in the same room, which is a little deceitful on Nintendo’s behalf. Either way, the fact that playing with friends is actually more difficult than playing with strangers defeats the object entirely. You have to already have other means of contact with said friend so you might as well invite them round. Poor show Nintendo, and I don’t see them improving it anytime soon.
Super Smash Bros Brawl has succeeded in changing my mind about the Wii somewhat. It’s the first complete, well-constructed package I’ve played on the console and a refreshing break from Mario games and terrible ports. The single player experience was full and rich, and had me occupied for hours. There’s so much content that I never got bored and there was always something to do. The multiplayer, while annoyingly difficult to set up, works very well and remains an essential part of any party.
This is a tough one, because game-wise Smash Bros Brawl is well below other fighting games in most areas, but as a Wii game it’s a cut above the rest. I think it’s only fair to assess the game in context, as a Wii game, and for that reason I implore you to buy it. There’s so much fun to be had, and alongside the majority of the Wii catalogue Super Smash Bro Brawl stand out as an achievement many will hopefully strive to beat. Just make sure you’ve got a couple of GameCube controller handy…