Despite my growing dissatisfaction with Nintendo and a few of the things they are doing, I was obligated to pick up their long-promised killer app, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Longtime players of the series can relax; Brawl is every bit the hardcore game you’ve been waiting for, so if you’re holding out, let me assure you that you should go buy it right now. Brawl is a far cry from the casual shallowness of Wii Play and Brain Age, even if Brawl does contain clever references to games like them. The amount of content is staggering, and even though I’ve only scratched the surface, I can see that Brawl is a monumental tribute to decades of Nintendo history.
I’ll try to start this review off on a positive note—I don’t want fans to have a bad first impression simply because Brawl’s glow has worn off for me. Rest assured that Masahiro Sakurai and his team has made Brawl a more than worthy successor to Melee and the original Smash Bros. Each mode from the previous titles has been expanded upon and improved, from the standard battle mode to the tournaments and events.
Free for all mode, appropriately renamed Brawl, will be the most familiar to veteran players. You select a character, choose computer opponents or enlist some friends, and then bash each other senseless in the arena of your choice. A veritable cornucopia of Nintendo-themed items randomly fall from the sky, allowing any number of creative ways to damage your opponents. As always, the aim is to knock your enemies off the stage, by sending them hurtling into the side of the screen, rocketing up into the sky, or by preventing them from returning, causing them to plummet to their demise. By hitting your enemies you raise their damage meter, making them easier to throw around and thus more susceptible to a KO.
This gameplay formula is literally sacred to Smash fans and thus has been left untouched—there are no changes, only additions. The first and most obvious is control. Brawl lets you use a single Wii remote, a remote-Nunchuk combo, the Classic controller or the venerable GameCube pad. I played around with all of these, and while each has its appeals for different people, I stuck with the GameCube pad. After nearly seven years of Melee on that controller, I just didn’t feel like changing. For gamers who like to experiment with controls, Brawl has the option to assign any feature to any button on any of the four controllers. I’m happy with the old GameCube layout, but with so many control choices, I’m sure there will be plenty of eccentric configurations out there.
Brawl contains even more configurable options to make your battles both epic and esoteric, an impressive feat since Melee was already highly customizable. You can now play battles in low gravity, invisible, with speed-enhancing bunny ears, coated in metal and several other options. You can even combine all of these extras for some really strange brawls.
Brawl has the best selection of arenas in the series, with an emphasis on clever design and balance. There are a few novelty stages that aren’t all that fun to play in, but they are outnumbered by greats like Frigate Orpheon, The Halberd, and The Bridge of Eldin. The Norfair stage continues the series’ clever and sadistic use of lava, and with Castle Siege and Skyworld we get more experimentation with destructible levels. The hit-or-miss levels are usually new inclusions for the sake of referencing Nintendo lore—the Mario Kart stage is fun, but the Pikmin one is just plain annoying.
Some old friends are revisited in Brawl, with a healthy selection of Melee stages and an update to the two tournament favorites: Battlefield and the legendary Final Destination. Brawl has a total of 41 stages, 31 of them new, and while this is a sumptuous amount, I was a bit disappointed that there aren’t any old N64 levels. Sure, there are already several Kirby-themed stages, but nothing beats the elegance and balance of the original Dreamland, and as a Metroid fan I was hoping that Brinstar might return.
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