The story is flimsy and pure Nintendo fanservice, cramming in more references to past games that previously thought possible, but it still manages to be charming and entertaining. The gameplay is similar to adventure mode from Melee; repetitive platforming broken up by boss fights, but this time there are CG cutscenes that blend Nintendo lore like a comical fanfic. Playing TSSE reminded me of Halo 3. It got stale and frustrating quickly when I was going it alone, but when played with a friend, it was somehow instantly fun. I can’t really explain how that works, maybe battles are just more epic with two people, or the cutscenes are funnier when there’s someone else to laugh with you. The story lasts a good 6 to 8 hours so make sure you have a buddy handy, and a Nintendo-savvy one at that—TSSE is definitely for people who have been playing Nintendo games for years.
Brawl’s dedicated adventure mode was revealed relatively close to its release, but the real thing fans have been waiting for is Smash Bros. online. With Brawl, you get just that, but with the arbitrary limitations that Nintendo imposes and a few technical difficulties that just shouldn’t be there.
First things first: yes, you need to use friend codes to play with buddies. We all knew it was coming, and we all hate it but there’s no use complaining about it now. On the bright side, most of the options available in regular Brawl mode are included in online play. Free for all and team battles are there, with all of the standard rules that apply, such as stock or timed matches, handicaps, and item frequency. Unfortunately, the crazy options like metal or fire breath aren’t included, and the only solo mode playable online is the home run contest. That said, an online Brawl with friends is decently fleshed out and doesn’t feel to constrictive. Play with anyone, however, and your options are severely limited.
Anonymous battles have a set list of parameters: 2 minutes long, 4 players in free for all or in teams, no special options or rules. No communication or names either. Compared to the friends mode, it feels incredibly stripped down and bare, almost like an afterthought. You can’t even add rivals or new friends like in Metroid Prime Hunters. You can spectate on one of these woefully homogenous matches and even bet coins on who wins, but there’s no telling whether you’ll witness an epic battle between pros or a boring noob-fest.
I’d be able to stomach these expected disappointments (Nintendo’s online options suck consistently) if not for the persistent lag. I held off on this review for a while, hoping that Nintendo could clean up its servers and make matches run smoother, but nearly two months out and online play is still slow and stuttery. I played with anonymous people from across the globe and friends not five miles from my house, but the lag was the same. My character would act a few fractions of a second after I pressed a button which needless to say made battles a real headache of timing and prediction. In a game like Smash Bros, where split-second action is the difference between life and death, lag is simply inexcusable.
Thankfully, Brawl has a lot more going for it, and its extras almost make up for the disappointing online modes. The presentation values are fantastic, not in an overwhelming way but by virtue of quantity. Visually, Brawl looks like a somewhat prettier Melee, but the speed and fluidity and sheer amount of action push Brawl past its predecessor in volume of unabashed mayhem. The Final Smashes alone are worth the price of admission. The characters and stages all have a level of graphical perfection rarely seen in a fighting game. Some of them might be clones, but none of the players are disposable in terms of graphics and the love that went into making them move and fight.
Brawl’s audio portion can only be described as extensive. The sound effects have been tweaked and added to, with new voice clips for many of the characters, but the real star of the show is the soundtrack. Nintendo assembled a team of legendary game composers the likes of which has never been seen before, to write Brawl’s genre spanning musical score. The soundtrack is comprised of a whopping 285 pieces, some of them original recordings from the games, but many orchestral remixes and updates. Every character and franchise is richly represented with a selection of tunes, with a large helping of one-offs, obscure melodies and a couple musical references that will be unfamiliar to all but the most diehard Nintendo loyalist.
The game’s bonus content mirrors its soundtrack in depth and completeness. Stickers, trophies, Virtual Console demos and trivia plot a comprehensive timeline of Nintendo history, dating back farther than the NES.
And when it comes down to it, nostalgia taken to ridiculous proportions is the whole purpose of the series. Smash Brothers Brawl is gaming fanservice incarnate. The stunted online modes are a huge disappointment when they should have been groundbreaking, but Brawl makes up for it. There is so much Brawl has to offer—you can play this game for hours, jumping from mode to mode and still not get bored. Brawl doesn’t change much; it is essentially a massive update of Melee, and I’m a little sad that it doesn’t do much to validate the Wii’s unique controller. Still, Brawl succeeds in doing what the series is known for: hitting all the right spots for a Nintendo fan.
Despite having an online mode that disappoints in nearly every respect, Smash Bros Brawl gets everything else right. The characters, stages, music and extras are extensive, and the quality of the experience is unrivaled. Nintendo fans, you’ll be playing this one for a very long time.
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