A fantastic party game, but not much more
Super Smash Bros Brawl is the third instalment in Nintendo’s best-selling fighting/party-game franchise. For everyone somehow left out of the loop, that means all of your favourite characters from the top Nintendo franchises going at each other’s necks in an all-out fighting fest. Have a bone to pick with that cuddly chum Pikachu? Blast him away with Samus’s arm cannon. Or hack him to shreds with Link’s master sword. There’s thousands of possibilities, and the best part is that you and your friends can jump right in – no hardcore training preparation required. The sad news, is that apart from some glossier graphics, more modes and further fighters, Smash Bros Brawl isn’t nearly as groundbreaking as its predecessor and you could probably get just as much fun out of the Gamecube edition.
Here here, a quick look at the key elements of the Smash Bros series for those who are new to it all. Smash Bros is a fighting game whose focus is not on reducing your opponent’s health to zero for a Knock Out, but by using several of your character’s unique moves in succession to rack up damage on your opponents, making them fly further each time you hit them – just enough so that you can launch them out off the side of the screen for a KO. Each character has its own techniques it can use against opponents, including regular punch, kick and slash attacks with the A button, special techniques like projectiles and recovery moves assigned to the B button, grabs, throws and shielding techniques, as well as super strong smash attacks used to hit opponents for massive damage and hit them off the edge of the screen with ease. There’s also a tonne of items you can use to aid your fighter in each battle hailing from each of the various character’s universes: banana peels from Donkey Kong, turtle shells from Mario and baseball bats from Earthbound. It’s all enough to make a very frantic fist-fest which turns out to be the perfect thing for parties and casual get-togethers, and if you’re looking for a game to satisfy your needs to trash talk and yell at the television in the company of friends, look no further.
While additional characters and arenas were a shoe-in for Brawl, the game adds further to the frenzied fighting of prior instalments with a new item called the Smash Ball. After appearing, this ball of rainbow light will float around the battlefield until a player hits it with enough force to break it, at which point they will become charged with its power. If the player is able to hit the B button before the Smash Ball has been hit out of them by another player, they will be able to unleash a unique ‘Final Smash’ attack upon their foes, usually with very devastating results. Each time a Smash Ball appears, you’ll find yourself making a wild dash towards it in order to snag its powers before anyone else – and then as soon as someone grabs it, everyone else will begin sprinting the other way to avoid ending up as mince meat. While the unique final smash attacks can be quite unbalanced at times depending on the situation, they still add a large element to the hysterical gameplay.
If you’re more of a competitive fighter and prefer to earn your wins rather than have fights decided by the random elements of Smash Bros, then Brawl probably isn’t the game for you. While you can turn off the items to remove random advantages in fights, and while you can stick to some of the gimmick-free battlefields if you prefer, it becomes fairly clear from an early stage that Smash Bros Brawl does not take itself seriously as a fighting game, rather, a casual party game. No more, no less. The cast of characters isn’t too balanced and the game’s speed has been slowed down dramatically since the game’s previous instalment to give room for beginners to think rather than simply mash buttons. Hitting an opponent no longer stuns them like in previous games, so if you’re one who likes to string together long combos against your foes, you’re out of luck. There’s also the inclusion of ‘tripping’, a supposedly humorous animation which randomly occurs every time a player taps the control stick left or right, effectively tripping them over for a split second instead of executing whatever the player wanted their character to do. In the end, it’s all one, big double-edged sword – new players will be able to pick up the game and have fun with it against their friends almost immediately, regardless of skill level differences, but veterans attempting to take the game past this level will probably discover a distinct lack of depth. It’s a bit sad, as while previous instalments have been able to cater to both of these audiences, the developers have made it clear what type of game they want Brawl to be.
In terms of visuals, Brawl might not be as groundbreaking as Melee was when it made its debut on the Gamecube, but it still looks very smooth and vibrant on the Wii, probably one of the console’s best looking games to date. Each character and battlefield has been modelled superbly, and regardless of the universe overlaps everything seems to fit in with each other almost seamlessly. The soundtrack for the game is one of the most extensive and diverse I’ve seen in a game for a long time, consisting of a collaboration of tracks representing many of Nintendo’s franchises including some classic tracks from the original source material as well as some catchy remixes. The best part of it is that you’re given the option to choose what music you want to play for each stage out of a few tracks. It’s a shame that you’re limited to a few tracks for each stage rather than the whole library, but it’s still a nifty and very welcome feature and really personalises the way you play.
There’s a tonne of other new features on show this time around, too. Players can now build their own stages, and while the tools and textures may be limited it’s still a welcome addition. There’s a tonne of new trophies which can be collected to let players brush up on their knowledge of various franchises, and a lot of these can be collected through a new shooting minigame if you’ve got the coins to spare. Break the Targets, Home Run Contest and the Fighting Polygon Team (now called the Alloy Team) are all back, this time with the ability to play them all co-operatively with a friend. But the biggest addition of all this time around is the Subspace Emissary – an adventure mode spanning roughly eight hours long with a tonne of side-scrolling beat-em-up action. While it can get a bit repetitive at times when you’re beating up on all of the various, crazily designed monsters of the mode, there’s a plethora of brilliantly rendered cutscenes spread inbetween the action which make up for this. It really adds to the game if you’ve got nobody to play with, but with that said, there isn’t much else to keep you occupied with the game if you’re alone and you finish it.
Another welcome addition to the game is the online multiplayer, allowing you to battle other smashers from all over the world with use of the Wii’s friend code system. But while this may sound great on paper, it doesn’t work out too well in the actual game. Random matches don’t work very well and are usually plagued with terrible lag, and even when you try playing a friend you’ll get varying amounts of lag which can really mess with how the game is played. It doesn’t matter if the person you’re playing is a mere thirty minute drive away with an excellent internet connection, there’s still some annoying input lag which can be really frustrating if you get defeated just because the game didn’t register your character’s attack on time. What’s more, the feeling you get from playing against friends online just isn’t the same as having them in the room with you. There’s no voicechat, so a lot of the yelling and screaming you may associate with playing against your friends in the same room just isn’t replicated, and battles feels a lot less energetic as a result.
It’s not too hard to see that Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a party game through and through, and a very good one at that. It looks fantastic, it sounds fantastic and it plays fantastically… with friends in the same room. And beer if you’re into drinking games. There are a handful of new modes on show, but players aren’t likely to spend nearly as much time with these as in regular multiplayer battles. But even if the fun of multiplayer matches may be Brawl’s best feature, it doesn’t feel like it does this any better than Melee did before it; perhaps even worse since casual fans are the only ones it caters to well. In short: if you’re looking for a game to play with friends on the weekend, Brawl is your main candidate. However, if you’re looking for a deep fighting game, Brawl might not be the game for you.