The chance to review “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” is something of a historic moment for me. Nine years ago, when Nintendo released the original “Super Smash Bros.” for Nintendo 64, I first played one of the greatest games of all time. In 2001, Nintendo released the sequel, “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” which was hated by some (me) but was still the best game for Nintendo GameCube by a long shot (then again, a lobster could count the number of good GameCube games on one hand). Now, with the release of “Brawl” on the Wii, expectations were set exceedingly high. Did it deliver? For the most part, yes.
What? How Did I Die?: The original “Smash Bros.” had a physics system advanced beyond its years. You knew how each hit would feel and exactly what it would do to your opponent. “Brawl,” though, has continued the trend set by “Melee” of abandoning this physics engine; It’s sad to see that Nintendo didn’t learn from its mistakes. When you hit someone, they fly in an unexpected direction for an unexpected distance, and old staples like shielding and grabbing are almost useless. On top of this, “Brawl” further complicates the convoluted control system found in “Melee,” which added moves like forward-B attacks, sidestepping and air dodging. Even “Smash” players with years of experience will end up killing themselves and all-around sucking, because the game play of the original and that of “Brawl” are as different as oil and water. It might take another nine years to fully master the new system.
Because “Smash Bros.” Needed a Plot: Nintendo has now added an “Adventure Mode,” which is just about as cracked out as any other Nintendo storyline. All the good characters team up and fight all the bad characters while antimatter bombs demolish the countryside and everyone keeps turning into statues. When fighting games try to expand their scope and become action games, they often fail (see “Tekken” and “Mortal Kombat”), and “Brawl” is no different. The characters fight endless numbers of enemies in a side-scrolling format while trying to avoid the typical Nintendo obstacles of spikes, lava and bottomless pits. Although the intervening cut scenes are fairly impressive, the mode itself is largely useless and repetitive. Fighting games should stick to fighting and leave adventure mode to “Streets of Rage.”
No Master Chief?: One of the most gratifying things about “Brawl” is its sheer volume. There’s so much shit to unlock it’s ridiculous. The most coveted prizes are the bonus characters, some of which are platform crossovers like Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog. Disappointingly, many (all) of the original characters are carbon copies from Melee, but newcomers like Pit and Meta Knight will have players picking new favorites soon enough. With a grand total of 35 characters, it’s almost impossible to have them all be perfectly balanced like in the original, but give Nintendo props for trying. It’s possible to kick ass with almost all of the characters, but the biggest disparity amongst fighters comes in the form of “Brawl” ‘s new finishing move feature. With some characters (Fox’s tank, Samus’s obliteration beam) this fatality-like maneuver can kill three players with little effort, while others (Link and Ike’s sword swipes) are lucky to squeeze out even one kill. Some of the animations are awesome to behold, like Giga Bowser, which made me shit my pants the first time I saw him, and it’s definitely something that should be carried on to future installments with the kinks worked out.
Seriously, Stop Eating Me: One of the many problems with “Melee” was that players ended up fighting the level instead of each other. Dangerous hazards abounded in “Melee,” and they sure as hell do now as players are eaten by giant fish, giant slugs and giant monsters that look like they escaped from the set of “Where the Wild Things Are.” That being said, many of the levels show some truly innovative design (a crumbling castle, a spaceship in a firefight, a blank piece of paper which draws its own obstacles as you go), and the game designers should be applauded for their creativity.
Control Freak: The major question when “Brawl” was announced was “how will it work with the motion-sensing Wii controller?” Well, Nintendo responded in turn and made “Brawl” playable with the Wii Remote, the Wii Remote with Nunchuck, the Wii classic controller and the original GameCube controller. I’ve just listed those in order of worst to best – at least according to most websites – but if you’re like me and think the GameCube controller and its button layout is something a blind 4-year-old would sculpt out of Play-Doh, you might be better off with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, which is a lot more intuitive than you would think. But don’t worry, you won’t look like a douche making punching motions in the air, because all of the control schemes strictly use physical buttons.
A Classic in Its Own Right: Like “Melee,” which was the best game for the GameCube, “Brawl” is by far the best game for the Wii at this point. Although it has lost much of what made the original one of the greatest games of all time, it’s still a ridiculous amount of fun and a party game for the ages. I could moan and groan for the glory days of the original (and I clearly have), but I’ll be damned if I’m not half way to unlocking Wolf at 400 multiplayer rounds already. Play on.