Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a game that's practically impossible to hate if you've been playing games for a serious length of time, unless you're the sort of jerk who automatically hates anything that's popular. But how much will you like it? That's a much more difficult question to answer.
Like the previous games in the series, Brawl takes a basic four-player fighting game and applies the accessibility of a typical party game. Though it's a little more nuanced in spots and feels like the characters who were overpowered in the previous game are a little more balanced in this outing, it'll be hard for any but the most die-hard Smash Bros. fans to notice a meaningful difference. If you're just getting started and have no idea what the series is all about, it'll probably take you around 30 minutes to pick up the basics and understand why, exactly, you don't want to fall off the edges of the game's numerous backgrounds. After another hour or so, you'll figure out how to prevent yourself from falling to your death over and over again.
The time you spend getting familiar with the game isn't spent figuring out the controls. All of the moves are easy to pull off, even though there are more moves in the game than you might initially suspect. Getting used to the game, whether you're new to the series or just haven't played it in a long time, is more about training yourself to keep up with the action. Smash Bros. is an extremely chaotic game, especially with four players going at once. It can be difficult to follow the action.
However, that chaos is one of the best things about the series. The gameplay is at its best when you're sitting next to three friends, manically pounding on buttons and shouting at the top of your lungs. At some point, taking a break to order and eat pizza should be involved. It's a game that gets better as you and your crew get more rambunctious, which is why so many people think it's just for kids. It's also why the game's online multiplayer isn't of much use. While it's technically functional, playing in the cold world of Nintendo's online service completely misses the point of the whole game. With no voice chat, there's no way to yell at your friends. But even voice chat wouldn't properly duplicate the experience of playing with your friends. You'll need a posse of people who are just as excited about Smash Bros. as you are if you want to get the most out of the gameplay.
That doesn't mean, however, that there's nothing for you if you don't know anyone else who cares about this release. To use myself as an example, I don't know one other person who genuinely cares about the series. So my multiplayer experiences haven't been the rowdy, curse-filled adventures that seem like this game's stock in trade. Instead, they've consisted of me telling people how to play, we play for 10 minutes or so, shrugs are sent my way, and we go do something else. Yet, in spite of that, I've still managed to have a really good time with the single-player modes, because they still tap into the other big thing about the Smash Bros. series.
This game is absolutely infested with nostalgic minutiae from Nintendo's past. It's starts with the selection of playable characters, which includes plenty of obvious choices like Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud, Luigi, and Pikachu. Pit from Kid Icarus also makes an appearance, and he's a great new addition. Not every character is a great nostalgic fit, though. It's sort of hard to get excited about Ness or Lucas, both from the Mother series that hasn't been seen in the US since the SNES days. But Brawl takes things a step further than the standard Nintendoverse with the inclusion of Konami's Solid Snake and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. They fit right into the fan-fiction-friendly nature of the game.
But the playable characters are just the beginning. Almost every background stage in the game comes from another game, ranging from the standard Mario- and Link-themed levels to areas ones based on WarioWare, Metal Gear, Sonic, Pokemon, and so on. Some areas are straightforward, while others have specific gimmicks to them. The PictoChat level is crazy, because new things are constantly being drawn onto the level, and you can jump around, avoid, or be damaged by most of them. The WarioWare stage occasionally breaks out into a little WarioWare-like microgame, which you must try to complete while still fighting. This just adds to the overall chaos and makes the whole thing even crazier.
Then there are assist characters, which are items you can grab and use in battle that unleash even more obscure characters from gaming's past. Plus there are trophies and stickers to be found, many of which also reference a ton of semi-obscure Nintendo stuff, up to and including the instructor from Pilotwings. If you've played a lot of games over the years, you'll really appreciate the game's insane level of detail when it comes to reminding you of games you haven't thought about in a very long time.
Aside from the standard fighting, Brawl also has an adventure mode, known as The Subspace Emissary, and this is where most of that nostalgic stuff comes alive. The gameplay here is a little funky in spots, because it tries to take the wild-and-loose action of the fighting and applying it to a side-scroller. That makes it frustrating in some spots. But it's worth seeing because it's full of crazy cutscenes that mash the different characters together in ways that rarely make sense. It's pretty cool, seeing Pit, Link, Mario, Yoshi, and Kirby come together to fend off a shared threat. Meanwhile, the Pokemon Trainer (who they should have just named Ash) and Lucas are running around some ruins, all while nefarious guys like Wario, Bowser, and King Dedede are running around blazing fools with a beam cannon that turns living characters into figurines. On top of all that, R.O.B. the Robot pops up in a role that will shock and surprise you. OK, well, maybe it isn't all that shocking, he's just a robot, what does a robot know of good or evil? In lieu of finding a good group of people to play multiplayer with, this ended up being my favorite part of the entire game.
So the questions you need to ask yourself before deciding to invest in Super Smash Bros. Brawl concern your own personal level of love for Nintendo's rich history and your ability to rustle up enough enthusiastic locals to get into the multiplayer. If both of those are in your favor, then this is definitely a game you'll want to add to your collection. But if you aren't big in either department, you probably won't understand what all the fuss is about in the first place.