Review: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Posted 27 Jun 2008 at 04:17 by Iun Hockley
An all-star cast of characters clash in a cataclysmic battle for victory. N-Europe joins the fray to review the long-awaited fighter - was it worth the wait?
Finally! The long darkness of our lives is over! Rejoice for there are no more delays, no more lengthy translations, no more titbits of information to wait on and no more wondering. On the last day, Nintendo said: "Let there be Smash Brothers" and the world looked upon their mighty creation, and saw that it was brilliant.
It has been a very long wait for Europe, while America and Japan have enjoyed the glory that is this game, poor Europeans have watched and waited as ever to see the translations and localisation completed. Now that it's here, we can experience the same feeling of elation that our brothers and sisters across the globe have enjoyed.
First things first: this is exactly what a sequel should be. Taking its cue from the fantastically popular Smash Bros. Melee, Brawl uses the most successful elements and makes them bigger and bolder, with better graphics, an enormous character roster, an expanded Adventure mode in the form of the "Subspace Emissary" section, innumerable events and extra features, secrets, fan-favourites and a number of inside references that will make the most hardened of Nintendo nuts squeal like little girls.
Every Nintendo franchise ever (probably) is represented in some way. From Golden Sun to Game & Watch...
For newcomers the game is easy to access, clean in its presentation and simple in its premise: you beat the living daylights out of your opponent until they have taken enough damage to make them fly off the screen. Simple. Graphically the game is clean with nice textures and big improvements over Melee. Characters react nicely to hits and the whole thing feels smooth and refined in execution. The animated backgrounds have to be seen to believed, and more than once you may find yourself stopping in awe of the activity going on behind the main action.
Controlling the game is an easy affair, and there are several control options to suit a variety of play styles and players. The most uncomfortable of these is the Wii-remote alone: held sideways, the limited number of buttons just manage to do the job for the game. A much better option is the combination of Wii-remote and nunchuk, the extra buttons available make this more accessible and should be the default configuration for most players. However, those of you with the extra cash to spend should seriously consider getting the "Classic Controller" as the experience is far more rewarding with this style of control. If you still have your GameCube controller, then you can also use that for an extra-retro feel and a good alternative to the "Classic Controller".
All throughout the experience your oft-neglected ears are treated to a brilliant aural indulgence that mirrors perfectly the tension of the fights, the quirkiness of the stages and the satisfying thud of Kirby's hammer smacking into the skull of a dazed opponent. Musically speaking, recent titles have been rather lacking, but Brawl does not neglect any part of the experience at the cost of another, so finally we can understand all the delays: it was to make the game THIS great.
The visuals are polished to the extreme. Pause, spin the game around, and marvel.
The title presents you with a number of play options for your gaming pleasure: veterans will want to get friends over, or connect to them via the Wii connect service over the internet. If you prefer to learn before you leap, then the training option is there to help familiarise yourself with the slightly tweaked physics and controls.
Classic Mode pits you against a predetermined series of fights and "Break the Target" stages (thankfully those pointless "Race to the Finish" levels are gone). In this mode you will encounter a number of different fighters, either in teams of two or in multi-man battles. Some battles will see you and a team member fighting off a giant or metal version of one of the main characters. This mode can be extremely entertaining and helps you earn the character trophy of the particular fighter you choose at the beginning. The amount of "Stock" (conventionally called "lives") can be adjusted to suit your prowess along with the difficulty level. Beginners will definitely want to start on Easy, but true Smash veterans can pretty much ramp things up to Hard and enjoy a challenging experience.
The weakest aspect of the whole package is the Subspace Emissary mode, which replaces the "Adventure" portion of the previous game. Saying that it is weak, however must be justified in comparison with the rest of the game: it's still a whole lot of fun and you will really enjoy it -just not as much as "Classic" mode or the colourful event matches. One of the main problems with "Subspace Emissary" is that the physics of the character controls do not fully gel with the physics of the world surrounding them, often during the platform stages you over-judge a gap and fall into the next one, or get smashed by an enemy landing a cheap shot. Again though, these criticisms have to be justified: there is nothing inherently wrong with the physics of the fighting game: nor the world in which you are placed to use them. However, fighting game mechanics and platform physics are pretty much mutually exclusive, and as the characters are designed with fighting in mind, shoe-horning them into this world is not as successful as it could be.
In Subspace Emissary mode you'll see a huge array of Nintendo characters... both good and bad.
The biggest let-down is undoubtedly the length of the stages and some appalling design choices. In particular, the last few areas in the Subspace Emissary are just dull as ditch water and you will find yourself groaning out loud as you find yet another door after an overly long section of poorly thought-out platforming. The whole thing is certainly more entertaining than Adventure Mode from Melee, but it's still badly done in parts. This is where the gameplay area loses a whole point from its rating, and deservedly so. Luckily the rest of the game is consistently fabulous.
Still, it could be a lot worse and it remains fun even if a few stages are needlessly protracted. The cut scenes really are to die for, and it's worth playing through a dull section to see the gorgeous character animations and their beautifully realised expressions. The story is unclear at first, with a few entertaining and unexpected twists as you go deeper into the experience. A nice touch is the ability during the story mode to capture enemies using the "Trophy Stand" item. Much like a Pokéball, this item allows sufficiently weakened enemies to be turned into trophies for your personal collection. It's a great touch for a game already bursting with extra content.
Events matches pit you not only against different opponents, but also against a certain set of conditions. Some see you with a high damage counter facing off against superior and more aggressive opponents, others only let you win by using certain items or the much-vaunted "Final Smash" move that has been so often talked of. These matches could easily be a game in themselves, as there is far more entertainment in this collection of short challenges than in most games lasting 20 hours or more. Again, the difficulty of these matches can be adjusted to suit your abilities, even old-hands might want think twice before going straight on to "Normal" as the subtle control difference and new characters make these more of a challenge than you would expect.
Expect to spend many hours getting to grips with the new characters - there's plenty to master.
Also returning is the Stadium mode with the Home-Run contest, Multi-Man Melee and Break the Target minigames. The least enjoyable of these is the "Break the Targets" levels as the areas are designed generically rather than to test your ability to control individual characters as was the case before. Still, if you ever tire of smacking the heck out of other people, you might find this a fun distraction. In the Home-Run Contest your job is to damage "Sandbag" sufficiently within a ten-second time limit to hit him far enough to win trophies and stickers. Once you think you have done enough damage, you grab the nearby baseball bat and let fly. It's another enjoyable distraction that on its own would be weak, but with added incentives keeps you coming back. Perhaps the best of these Stadium modes is the Multi-Man Melee, in which you face off against wave after wave of alloy fighters in matches designed to test your endurance, skill and ability to react simultaneously in four directions at once.
Trophies are a fun means of extending the lifespan of the game, and a way of making the player test out every single aspect of the package. Ranging from the old to the new and the well-known to the obscure, trophies give you fun facts about little-known characters and a few new ones about the characters you do know. Collecting and displaying these trophies in the game world can and does become an overriding obsession, with every extra coin earned spend on gaining new trophies, and a great feeling of satisfaction when you finally beat down a hard-to-find enemy with a trophy stand, capturing them for your collection. A slight criticism comes from the number of Kirby trophies present in the game: there are too many. And most are just Kirby with a different hat on. Before the trophies were mostly related to the game, but now we have trophies from unrelated franchises and peripheral characters too, it's a great touch for the completists.
Feeling manly enough to play as Peach?
Stickers are not only good to collect, but also practical in that assigning them to characters increases certain abilities like direct and indirect attacks, or makes trophy drops all the more likely. Its interesting to see what different powers are assigned to different Nintendo characters in their sticker forms, and as the stickers are indistinguishable from one another when you collect them it gives you the impetus to collect as many as possible to improve your collection.
For Smash veterans, there are some familiar faces making a welcome return to the series, as well as a refreshing number of new additions to the series. Old hands returning include Mario, Fox, Link, Samus and Pikachu, as well as quite a few from Melee making a second bow. New characters include many unknowns on the starting roster and plenty of hidden fighters that can be discovered throughout the course of the multiple adventures.
Using characters is easy: mastering them is a different matter. Old favourites like Mario appeal to the player unfamiliar with some of the newcomers, but becoming a true Smash Bros. master requires the ability to adapt to new styles of fighting on the fly. Take Metaknight, for instance: his sword gives him a long reach than most, but his speed means that his attacks are not so powerful and his size means he is easy to knock around, Scratch the surface, however, and there is a chance you will see the potential of his devastating arsenal of moves. The beauty of the game is that you do not have to go into too much depth to get the best from it, different players will enjoy different aspects and there is really someone for everyone in the character line-up.
The Subspace Emissary mode will probably take players 10 hours to complete 100%.
Fighting is what the game is all about and it is rare to see such an unusual premise work so consistently well. With damage counters going up instead of down, new players can be forgiven for being confused. But once you adapt to the unusual mechanic, it is then you appreciate the true splendour of the game. Drawing on the vast history of Nintendo titles, Brawl presents stage after stage of unrepentant joy, from the static but classic Final Destination to the internal clock governed Smashville, each stage has a myriad of subtle and not so subtle features that need to be taken into account with the strength of your opponent.
Your fights also come littered with plentiful power-ups to aid your quest for dominance. Again, gamers will be familiar with the out-of-control but devastating hammer, the annoyingly powerful Mr Saturn and the flame-blasting Fire Flower. It is the latest additions to the lineup that have garnered most attention, and deservedly so. The Assist Trophy is a useful powerup that when collected and thrown lays down a powerful attack in the guise of a Nintendo character from games gone past, these characters are invincible so running really is the only option.
More overwhelming is the new "Final Smash" technique gained from attacking the glowing Smash Ball. This special power can turn the tide in a fight in a few short seconds, but keeping hold of the powerup can prove tricky as everyone else can knock the ability out of you if they get in a hit before you unleash the fury. Watch as everyone in the arena suddenly completely forgets to fight as they all race towards the glowing orb of destruction. The character animations for these can be breathtaking or subtly underplayed to disguise the true power of the move at your disposal. You have been warned.
To complete everything and get every character, level, CD, trophy and sticker? We'd be surprised if you did it without cheating within 60 hours...
And finally, onto multiplayer, the most important feature of the game, and indeed, for some players, the only feature in Smash Bros. that actually matters. You will all be relieved to hear that the game retains that same of nearly-illegal fun that it has always had when played with four people crowded round a suitable television. The options available for customisation of matches offer near infinite variations of the game to continually refresh the experience. A personal favourite here at N-Europe has always been the Super Sudden Death melee, leading to outrageously high-scoring matches as each opponent seeks out the other in the fastest time possible.
In answer to the prayers of virtually every fan everywhere ever, Nintendo has seen fit to make the experience playable online. And while we see no reason to spoil the intimate details with a full blurb, we have to say that you are all in for a real treat with this one. SSBB must in time come to rival First Person Shooters for the king of online gaming crown. Friend codes return, but you have friends, right? Or do you consider it an unpleasant reminder of the social isolation in which you live every day? Meh. Cry all you want, the online aspect is easy to use, fun to get involved in and addictively entertaining. There's naturally some lag in matches as the whole world uses different speed connections, but mostly this is a non-issue as it does not always occur in every fight.
Yet again, Masahiro Sakurai has made a game that puts to shame not only its predecessor but virtually every game available this generation. For multiplayer fun and the completeness of the package, none can touch it. Journalists often say that no game can match the hype generated in its anticipation, but frankly, they need to issue a gold plated apology to Nintendo.
Our score breakdown follows...
N-Europe Final Verdict
Smashtacular. Buy it, or regret it forever.
Something for everyone
Easy to pick up, hard to put down
Subspace Emissary dull at times