The formula for Nintendo’s Smash Bros. series should be familiar to just about everyone by now. This is easily one of the company’s most successful franchises to date, and for good reason, it caters to nearly everyone who has ever enjoyed holding a controller in their hand at one point or another. This includes young kids just now getting into the hobby all the way through the older, more jaded gamers who have become accustomed to the fast paced, bump-mapped soldiers of the future. Smash Bros. is one of the most appealing discs that you will pick up this year and that is even before you ever even play the game. The sheer amount of fan service crammed into this dual-layered DVD is astounding making it one of the best values in gaming since the Orange Box.
The mechanics are simple: throw a bunch of mascots into various stages (all compiled from around the realm of gaming) and let them duke it out with a simplified, but surprisingly deep combat system that is easy to pick up, yet difficult to master. Smash Bros. has gained a reputation for being a “baby fighter” and to be honest it’s simply not true. While there are only two main attack buttons the game isn’t built around in-depth combos and counter moves, it is more about quick thinking and memorizing the levels. Think of Smash Bros. more like the Unreal Tournament of fighting games and it will make much more sense.
For the Wii iteration in the series you have a super-sized list of ways to play the game. You can always opt to take the traditional route and use the Gamecube controller or Wavebird thanks to the Wii’s ability to plug them into the top of the console. You can also choose to go the motion-controlled route and learn the scheme for the Wii remote and nunchuk. There is also the option to play using the classic controller, but to be honest the first option is by far the most comfortable. I have said time and time again that the Wii’s largest draw – motion controls – are completely dormant in Brawl, and to be honest it is for the best. Thankfully whichever control layout you decide on will suffice as Brawl is not all about precision, but more about having a blast simply beating the absolute sense out of each other.
The biggest draw to the Smash series though has always been multi-player and Brawl is certainly no exception. Along with the traditional roster of modes Nintendo has finally take the series into the online arena. You can now play up to four players from the comfort of your own home, granted you are willing to deal with the ridiculous complication of Friend Codes. Brawl also supports a new spectator mode that allows viewers to gamble coins on the outcome, which is actually much more addicting than it sounds. The online play was relatively smooth when jumping into random matches, but if you want to play with friends be prepared to spend an unnecessary amount of time exchanging those sixteen digit numbers as well as being devoid of voice chat altogether.
The local multi-player continues to be the game’s strongest aspect. All of the modes return complete with an insane amount of customization. You can set specific rules and conditions for some truly amazing combinations and even use the simplistic level editor to create and even share new levels with your friends both online and off. As opposed to most fighting games Brawl relies on a damage meter that constantly increases the more damage you take. Once it reaches levels upwards of 100% your chances of being “smashed” off the level increase exponentially. This reverse the way a game like this is played and continues to be one of the biggest reasons why the game is so popular among social gamers.
To compliment the extremely robust multi-player mode the devs have also added a surprisingly substantial single-player adventure known as The Subspace Emissary. This is essentially a retooling of the adventure mode found in Melee with a quirky story slapped into the background to give you reasons why you are controlling each of the game’s numerous characters. In between each level you are treated to a dialogue-free CGI cut scene that progresses the story, but much like anything else in the game it is entirely comprised of Nintendo fan-service. The levels are divided up by character so for instance if you are assuming the role of Pit expect to be floating among the clouds, while DK and Diddy will be traversing across territory very familiar to that of the original Donkey Kong Country.
The story, while entertaining is at best a work of fan-fiction. It’s feels like an all-star episode of your favorite show complete with unlikely team-ups and of course plenty of Nintendo paraphernalia scattered about each level such as the infamous R.O.B. the Robot peripheral from the original NES. The best part here is that Subspace could easily be game in and of itself as it weighs in at a hefty 8-10 hours and is fully playable in two-player co-op, which is fantastic. Of course there is always the standard single-player smash fest where you face off against a set number of opponents on your way to meet the Master Hand as well as a host of mini-games that are infinitely enjoyable, especially target smash and baseball.
Outside of the general modes of gaming goodness Smash Bros. has also been known for enticing the collection aspect in all of us. There seems to be an infinite amount of stuff to unlock in the game including the return of the ridiculous amount of trophies, plenty of new soundtracks and levels, a plethora of characters and the introduction of stickers. These items are the heart and soul of the game as they span the entire Nintendo catalog and contain some of the most diverse and obscure references to games such as Sin & Punishment or even the more recent Pikmin. The amount of fan-service present on this disc is astounding and continues to drive home the reason why the game is so popular among its fans and of course become the best selling Wii game of all time.
As far as visuals go Smash Bros. Brawl is probably the best looking game currently available on the system. The character models are spot-on and while the game isn’t an enormous leap above the last chapter, there is enough of an upgrade to notice. The frame rate is also rock solid, which is made more impressive by the amount of interactivity and action going on during any given time. The subtle nuances scattered throughout the levels and the sick attention to detail will guarantee you will still be discovering them after hundreds of times playing the stage. The music is equally impressive with a catalog of some of the best Nintendo hits available. Add in the ability to unlock a library consisting of a seemingly endless track list and you have some of the best presentation of any game-ever!
Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the type of game that actually delivers on every promise as well as exceeding every expectation. The addition of online and an incredibly substantial single-player adventure make this game a must have for all Wii owners. If you were a fan of the past games this is a no-brainer, but if this is your first experience with Nintendo’s brawling title you will likely be overwhelmed at just how much content they managed to squeeze into this DVD. There is absolutely no one who enjoys games that will not derive some satisfaction from this title and for that I cannot recommend it enough. More than recommended; required!