It's pretty amazing that it has been nine full years since the first installment in the Smash bros series. What started on the Nintendo 64 is now a worldwide revolution that's crossed over onto the Nintendo Gamecube and the Nintendo Wii. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was introduced to the world in May of 2006. Since then, it has become a game of legendary hype. But the proverbial question will always be asked: Did it live up to the hype?
When the game is first started, there's an excitement to it - a kind of excitement that just screams "finally, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is here!" Unfortunately, that excitement might not last long. After waiting for hours to get my copy, which is something I never do, I rushed home and immediately ripped the plastic off the box and put the game in. After over a year of waiting, I was finally going to get to play the new Smash Bros game - Oh wait, except for the lovely black screen that was telling me all my Wii files were corrupt.
Obviously, this game and I did not get along at first. In fact, I was angry that I waited so long and the game corrupted all my files. It eventually worked later on that night, but a lot of Wii files were deleted. I didn't really care at the time because of all the hype, so I continued to work and work until the problem was fixed. At last, it was time to play!
So, the games starts and players get to hear that legendary theme composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Audi Famam Illius...such epicness that we've been hearing for over a year at this point. The game itself has its own feel to it after the success of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Truly, this was the point where most players just exploded with excitement after the long wait.
Upon starting, a player had all kinds of options, from training to Classic to Wifi and beyond. It's a good time to start learning the gameplay, which is pretty simplistic. In fact, if a player has played Super Smash Bros. Melee, he or she can just dive in and start playing. The controls are all the same as they are in Melee with the Gamecube controller. But, there's more to it than just that, because Wiimote, Wiimote+Nunchuk, and Classic Controller can all be used. It's nice to have some variety, but really, there's no reason to. The Wiimote+Nunchuk controller is possibly the worst style of controls I've ever encountered in a fighting game. The Classic Controller is nice, but the Gamecube controller is still superior. The nice surprise was the Wiimote - it's highly usable and if very fluent. Luckily, the series has finally offered custom controls, which drastically help almost all players.
Unfortunately, the gameplay and style is basically a Super Smash Bros. Melee 2.0. Basic fighting is the exact same as it was in Melee, it was just a little bit toned down in terms of speed. Some advance techniques were taken out, and the game is more balanced. The problem is that there is no real drastic change from Melee. There has to be some sort of derivation, which this game severely lacks.
Luckily, the gameplay also introduced some new elements and new features. The biggest was the addition of a 1-player adventure mode: The Subspace Emissary. In this feature, a player gets to use all kinds of different characters that flow in one story line. As Sakurai, the designer of Brawl, said, "It was like working on a 2 different games." If that's the case, well, Sakurai should stick to his Kirby franchise. Subspace is good, but only as an addition, not as a separate game. It has no fluent storyline and is utterly confusing in terms of what is happening. No one expects a serious storyline for a side scroller, but random cutscenes featuring random character pairings are not enough! It was so lacking that Sakurai had to post what happened during the adventure on SmashBros.Com, the game's official site.
The levels in Subspace were disappointing. Yes, they were new, but there was really nothing that was series-specific. Characters were introduced at in-opportune times throughout, and by the end, it was just too repetitive. Move to the right, the stage stops, fight a set of enemies, move to the right, door, level finished. Oh, and an occasional boss. Very, very few puzzles or anything that was out of the ordinary from another the level. The ending of it finished up strong, so that was nice to see.
The nice thing about almost all one player modes, including the before mentioned Subspace Emissary, is that they can be done in Co-Op. Event Matches, Subspace Emissary, and more modes that were normally reserved for just 1 player can now be done with 2 players. The Event Matches are even different for two players, so it's nice to see that they are not the same. The fact that modes and features can be experienced with a friend added a lot of extra depth to the game.
Another new element is the introduction of Final Smashes - a powerful move that is a great equalizer. However, Sakurai, made one big mistake: They actually included them in the final game. Final Smashes are a terrible, terrible feature. They allow for someone with no skill to be able to win, and some characters have instant kills while other characters have moves that are completely useless. When a Smash Ball, the item that gives a player the ability to use a Final Smash, appears, the whole match stops because everyone goes after it. There is no fighting during this time, because they are that important to the outcome of the match. Each character doesn't even have a unique Final Smash - duplicates were used for characters that were similar.
The characters themselves are questionable in terms of selection. Sure, Nintendo has their reasons for including some characters and excluding others, but one has to wonder what they were thinking with some of the character choices. For instance, why are the Ice Climbers still relevant? They were in Melee and nothing has come out of it - no new Ice Climber game or anything! Why does Metroid only have one representative? Sure, there are two if one counts Zero Suit Samus, but even then, why does Starfox have more characters? Why are Mario and Zelda not represented with the most characters?
There just seemed to be some questionable choices. After all, Sakurai and his team did ask the fans who they wanted in. However, it came out that the roster was decided before they even asked, so why bother asking in the first place? If they asked, such characters like Geno from Super Mario RPG and Ridley from the Metroid series should have been in. Or the design team should have attempted to get them in, none of which happened whole-heartedly. Of course, that poses the issue of third party characters, which luckily, this game features: Sonic from the Sonic the Hedgehog series and Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series made the cut.
That takes us to the positives of the character roster. Sonic, by far, is the single best thing to happen to the Smash Bros. series. It's nearly 20 years in waiting that fans have appreciated a battle between Mario and Sonic who were once the two biggest gaming icons. Seriously, Mario on Green Hill Zone?! Absolutely epic, and nothing short of it. Believe it or not, this is the best game that Sonic has been in since Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which was released in 1994. Snake brought some much needed maturity to the Smash Bros series, though a lot of players will dislike him because he may be the most difficult to use in the game.
As with previous titles, each character has some sort of stage that is gives them a home field advantage. Well, not so much an advantage, just a theme that represents their series. The stages in Super Smash Bros. Brawl go two ways: They are either really good, or they are really bad. The good stages are by far the best in the series, and the bad are so horrificly awful that there is no competition for being the worst set of stages in the Smash Bros. series. There are few stages which fall in between that.
And the stage representation is also significantly off. Mario has 3 times as many stages as Zelda, yet the character representation is equal. There are series that were recently introduced on the Wii that have stages, yet there is no character representation! The good thing is that a lot of stages focus on retro games, which was really nice to see. The balance between new stages and retro stages, in terms of their themes, was excellent and right on.
The big thing outside of the basics required for fighting (characters+stages) was the inclusion of a online service. Nintendo has always, always lacked this. It is the one thing holding them back. And it looks like it will continue to haunt them. Super Smash Bros. Brawl's Wifi option is one of epic negativity. When I first played it, it took over 5 hours to connect to a Wii that was literally 10 yards from me. Error messages are constant when connecting online.
After connecting, playing online is essentially useless when fighting random people. There are no options available - each match is 2 minutes with items. You have no choice. It's even too hard to find opponents; it can take up to a half hour or more to find someone to play! And even with playing, there is all kinds of lag that drastically effects the match if players are somewhat far away. There isn't even any downloadable content, which was a huge disappointment.
Now, the online has gotten significantly better since the start. Playing friends whose code has been added is good because options can actually be changed there. The lag has gone significantly down in recent times and it looks like Nintendo has fixed the major problems. However, Brawl still lacks basic communication - no voice chat or ways to really contact a friend of a player. Also, the host does not get to pick all the options - an example: If one person has items on and another has items off, it's a 50/50 chance that the match will have items in it. There's always too much in the air when playing someone online.
But, online functioning is not the only new addition found in Brawl. Challenges were a very nice addition to the game. Challenges are simple or difficult missions used to unlock characters, stages, trophies, stickers, and more. The stage builder was a huge disappointment with its limitedness and its influent design and use. Stickers are cool, but are only applicable in the 1 player adventure mode, the Subspace Emissary. The Coin Launcher, which is used to get trophies, gets old quickly because trophies repeat themselves too often. But, combined, all the features are nice to have.
With that said, there are some major issues with Brawl. For a lot of people, the game did not even work and they had to have their Wiis sent out. For others, including myself, some options, especially those online, were missing. The loading times are absolutely out of this world, and there are just so many of them. Everything has a loading time, and the Wii struggles with reading the disc. For the first time, Nintendo showed why the Wii needed more power to match up against the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3.
And because the game is so big to the point where the Wii has a hard time with it, there is a lot packed into it. This includes a lot of music. There really is no way to fathom the amount of audio that is in this game. There are over 300, yes, 300, that's not an error, tracks found in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. That is nothing short of epic. I find music to set the tone and mood of a game, so music is very important.
The music for Brawl was done by an impressive list of composers, perhaps the single greatest list for a single game of all time. Representatives from numerous series worked on all kinds of tracks. And for the most part, they did an excellent job. The song selection was tremendous, convering new and old. Songs from the past were once again relived, some in their original form. That was huge: Original songs with no remixing. It really added an old-school feel.
All the music can be controlled in the My Music feature. The My Music feature, next to Sonic and Snake, is the best thing to happen to the Smash Bros. series. Each stage has multiple music tracks to which a player can choose the frequency. This was a great feature, because in previous titles, you were stuck with 1 song whether you like it or not. And each stage has at least 1 great song of different styles for all players to enjoy.
However, there are some drawbacks with all the music. Unfortunately, a lot of great songs, and by that I mean really, really great songs, are used on stages that are just not consistently playable. A lot of terrible stages have great music. There is no way to take these songs to other stages of the series representation. That would've been nice because some stages are really not that fun to play on.
Another negative is that some songs just did not get the attention they deserve from the composer. By that I mean that some songs have been slightly neglected, or at least portray this in their arrangement. Some songs have a permanent scar on them. Of course, not everyone will like every song or every remix - that's a given. But, changing the whole composition of a song is something that just cannot be done.
A perfect example of this is the infamous song "Bramble Blast" from the Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country 2. That song is considered to be one of the greatest ever composed, yet the Brawl remix does not even represent it. The remix is so horribly done that the song is literally unrecognizable except for a brief time during the beginning and end. The entire composition was changed and it sounds nothing alike. Now, that's not saying that the song is not done well, because the song itself is quite good. However, it's just not "Bramble Blast" - it is a completely different song. This happened with a few - not many, but a few - songs throughout the game.
Music is not the only thing that sets the mood for it. The visuals are also important. They are by far the best in the series for their respective times. Characters are significantly more detailed and are much more representative of what they should be. The details really do standout - Mario looks more rough than his normal cartoonish self, Link has a much-needed re-design of his current form. The character designs are all unique and were really needed.
The stage designs are also incredibly well done. The retro stages are absolutely gorgeous in terms of preserving their old look but being updated for a new game. They were very impressive. The Green Hill Zone stage, for example, looks like the original Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog, but it has been updated to fit the Brawl theme with no major or minor flaws. Stages designed to take things from newer games are also well detailed and accurate, but they did not seem to capture as much visual appeal as the stages that were retro themed.
With all the music, stages, visuals, etc, Brawl is a game that a player can play...a lot. Like, a real lot. Melee lasted for 7 years, and Brawl will probably do the same. The replayability for this game is extremely high, though with all the characters, it does get repetitive after a while. However, there is just so much to unlock that players will constantly be playing. Unfortunately, all the major things, such as characters and stages, are incredibly easy to unlock, something that changed from Melee to Brawl. That was a bit of a disappointment, because really, most players will not care about doing harder challenges to unlock a trophy or sticker. But just having the option to do so will challenge players for a while to come.
Overall, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a tremendous game and a great addition to the series. There is a ton of new characters and stages, as well as a bunch of new modes and features. However, some of these, such as the Wifi, were disappointing and still need to be worked on. Otherwise, there is a ton of unlockables throughout the whole game, though most are very easy to unlock. The music and visuals are the best of the series, and everything combined will give players reason to being playing this game for a long time.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl nearly lived up to the hype, but it just didn't quite get there. It has a lot, but there are some things that are seriously lacking, such as the disc not loading and the long loading times. Almost everything seems to be there, but some much needed polishing is missing. It's not quite the perfect game everyone thought it would be, but still, games like this don't come all that often. Truly, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a game that will go down as a legend.
Overall Score: 9.2/10