Reviewer: Michael Mendis
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Of the many different kinds of games available today, fighting games are often some of the hardest for a new player to get into. These games usually have very complex controls and other systems that take a long time to learn, let alone master, and for someone who hasn’t experienced them before (or had someone else explain them), it can be daunting. One franchise stands out from the crowd, however, as one that is accessible and welcoming to players of all ages and gaming backgrounds: Super Smash Bros. Nintendo’s fighting series showcases famous characters from many other Nintendo franchises, and provides exciting multiplayer action for anyone willing to pick up a controller and try it out. Here we will be reviewing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the third entry in the Smash Bros. series.
What makes Super Smash Bros. Brawl so accessible is its game mechanics, which are easy to learn. The basic objective of the game is to knock your opponents far enough offscreen that they are considered "knocked out" and lose a life. Each time you damage an opponent, they fly a little further away, so the more damage you do the more likely you will be able to knock them offscreen. It’s a simple mechanic that is easy to grasp and keeps things exciting throughout a match; a player who has taken a lot of damage can still eke out a victory if they are squirrely enough to avoid taking any more big hits while taking advantage of their opponents’ mistakes.
The game’s controls are also quite simple. No matter what character you pick, almost all of your moves can be performed with one of the two attack buttons combined with a direction on the D-pad or analogue stick. This automatically makes the game far easier to grasp than a more traditional fighting game, which requires the player to rotate the stick in quarter circles in combination with up to three button presses. At the same time, Brawl provides enough depth to reward players who invest time into learning the strengths and weaknesses of different characters. Being able to easily perform moves is one thing, but it still takes a lot of practice to understand the best time to use any particular move in your character’s arsenal.
Special items will also periodically appear on each stage that can give an advantage to one player or another, such as bombs, baseball bats, and even a floating orb which, when broken by one of the characters, will enable that character to perform his or her unique and devastating Final Smash move. These items help keep the match interesting, especially for newer players who are learning how to play. Of course, these items can be disabled if players want a more predictable and level playing field.
For a fighting game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl (and the Smash Bros. franchise as a whole) is very kid-friendly. Yes, you spend pretty much the entire time attacking other characters, but no blood or gore is ever depicted, and there is no foul language or sexual content present in the game. The screen displayed at the end of each match shows the losing characters clapping for the winner, emphasizing that the fight is meant to be seen as friendly competition or sport, rather than as a spectacle of violence.
Brawl’s extensive roster of classic Nintendo characters (along with a couple guest characters from other companies, Sonic from Sega and Solid Snake from Konami’s Metal Gear franchise) is both one of the game’s biggest strengths and also a slight weakness. The great thing about it is that there are characters from a wide variety of Nintendo franchises, both the famous ones (Mario, Zelda, Metroid) and the not-so-famous ones (Kid Icarus, Fire Emblem), and there are enough different types of characters (light- vs. heavy-weight, slow and strong, fast and agile, etc.), that anyone with even a passing knowledge of Nintendo games should be able to find someone they like. The problem this creates, however, is that the characters are not as well balanced as those in other fighting games. Some characters are widely considered superior to others (Metaknight and Falco, for example, are considered two of the best characters in the game, while Link and Jigglypuff are two of the worst). For a group of amateur players this may not make a big difference, but at professional, tournament level play, certain characters are simply not viable options.
In addition to a wide variety of characters to choose from, Brawl also offers a wide variety of stages on which to do battle. These stages vary wildly in size, and some are completely static (such as Final Destination, a single platform suspended in mid-air) while others are frequently shifting and changing (such as the Mario Sunshine-themed Delfino Plaza). Which kind of stage you should pick comes down to what kind of experience you are looking for. Do you want a completely level playing field and pure competitive experience? A more static stage like Skyworld, Battlefield, or Smashville is your best bet. Do you want a less predictable stage that has unique quirks or hazards that keep you on your toes? Try Rumble Falls or The Summit. Personally, I’ve found the static stages to be more enjoyable, as they put a greater emphasis on the core fighting mechanics, which are excellent, rather than on platforming skill, for which the game’s controls are not quite as well suited.
There are a selection of different game modes to try out in Brawl, some returning from previous games and some completely new. Where Brawl shines brightest is in its local multiplayer. Getting together with your friends, sitting down on a couch and duking it out in a game is a blast, and the reason I enjoy coming back to this game. Local multiplayer provides endless hours of fun, and there are plenty of ways to alter each match to your heart’s content, such as changing the frequency of items, and whether you play based on Stock (each player has a limited number of lives, and the last one standing wins) or Time (each player has infinite lives, and the one with the most knockouts at the end of the time limit wins). This kind of gameplay has long been one of Nintendo’s biggest strengths, and that certainly comes through in Brawl and in the entire Super Smash Bros. series.
There are also a number of single player modes in the game returning from previous entries in the series. Classic Mode, in which the player selects a character and then tackles a series of challenges in a row (fighting other characters or smashing targets within a time limit), is the best single-player option; other game types like Home-Run Contest, Target Smash, and Multi-Man Brawl are decent distractions, but don’t offer enough depth to be engaging for very long.
Where Brawl falls flat is in its new 1-2 player adventure mode, Subspace Emissary. Here you play through a light-hearted story in which the villains of Nintendo franchises are teaming up to defeat Nintendo’s heroes, and the heroes must then join together to stop their enemies. The player is tasked with running through platforming sections and defeating a variety of boss battles in order to complete the story. While the boss battles are usually enjoyable, the platforming segments (which take up most of your time in this mode) are not; the game’s controls are designed first and foremost for fighting, while platforming feels slow and clunky. Trekking through the levels feels like a chore, and the enemies scattered throughout each area are annoyances that impede your progress. The storytelling isn’t any better; the narrative told is an inoffensive but forgettable tale of good versus evil, and the characters’ attempts at humor elicit a few chuckles at best. The characters actually don’t speak any words; instead, they issue grunts and other noises while pointing at whatever has their attention at the moment. In the hands of more skilled and/or ambitious writers this design choice could be used effectively, but as it is it only further hampers the storytelling. And just when it appears that this tedious game mode is about to end, the story throws in a curveball that forces the player to retread each area of the game for a second time, and with only a handful of the characters that have been unlocked throughout the adventure.
If there is one major positive about Subspace Emissary, it is that this mode introduces new characters to the player in a straightforward and structured manner; characters are unlocked in all modes once they become playable in the story, and the game forces the player to test out most of the characters at some point in the adventure, often right after they have been first introduced. This is the most logical method of unlocking characters in the game; the methods outside Subspace Emissary are far more complicated and opaque (such as completing Classic Mode multiple times, and under specific conditions that are not actually revealed to the player).
While Subspace Emissary is a big disappointment, Super Smash Bros. Brawl nonetheless shines as a game that is fun for all types of gamers and provides limitless multiplayer fun. Firing up a Wii and playing some matches of Brawl is a great way to spend free time with family, roommates, or a group of friends coming over for a game night.
Content Score: SUPPORTABLE
Overall Score: B+