Tuesday, 28 October 2008

[61] Super Smash Bros. Brawl

I've been agonising over this piece for some time. Back in February, the games writers over at CC2K clubbed together and wrote an article about their most anticipated games for 2008 on their respective systems. For the Wii, I chose Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This review / comment piece has been floating around on my hard-drive in various forms for the last 4 months. I'm still not happy with it, but I'll post it, and send it off, just to be done with it. I'd appreciate some comments, reactions, etc. Thanks.

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Back in February, where we CC2K games writers wrote about our Most Anticipated Games of 2008, I had this to say about Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the latest in Nintendo's blockbuster franchise:

'...The list of new features and additions is staggering. It will be the first game in the series to offer online play; the single player campaign has been overhauled, now offering a proper storyline; and this is without mentioning the amount of collectibles, customisables and unlockables.

One development that has caught the headlines is the inclusion of characters from other, even one-time rival, development teams - namely Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake from Konami's hugely successful Metal Gear Solid series. It seems that Nintendo have pulled out all the stops for this game, choosing to refine and amend, as opposed to tacking on awkward Wii motion controls or dumbing down the gameplay to entice a wider audience...'





Super Smash Bros. Brawl offers players a huge amount of content. The game is vast. In terms of unlockables, extras, modes, characters, levels and music, I struggle to think of anything that comes close. In fact, as an overall package, I think that Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a success. The creative team expanded what is a very simplistic central concept by throwing in lots of goodies for the enthusiasts out there. Even though the actual differences in gameplay provided by these additions is debatable, they provide Brawl with a well-crafted entertainment factor.

Like the Mario Kart series, but on a much grander scale, the Smash Bros. games have always celebrated the Nintendo canon. The first game, released on the N64 back in 1999, cemented the franchise's central elements. Gamers could choose characters from various Nintendo games, and engage in an innovative, platform-style twist on the fighting genre across stages once inspired by locales in the Nintendo universe.

Super Smash Bros Brawl offers, essentially, the same game. However, the designers have put evident effort into moulding the ultimate Nintendo fan-service game. The list of playable characters is now 35 (after 10 on the first installment and 25 on the Gamecube's Super Smash Bros. Melee), and there are now over 40 playable stages. Of course, the stages have been upgraded and updated, featuring more shifting and morphing throughout the playtime (night turns to day, or level-specific dangers appear). There are new items, including Assist Trophies (short bursts of help from a Nintendo mascot, like a Hammer Bro or Lakitu) and Smash Balls (giving the player the ability to unleash a devastating attack), do nothing but make the combat more complicated and chaotic. They're welcome additions, but hardly groundbreaking stuff.





Possibly the most radical aspect of the game is the inclusion of a fully-fledged single player mode. Previous installments have included traditional fighter single player progression, where the player goes through successive stages against characters (with variations), sometimes stopping for a bonus stage, until they fight a final boss. Brawl adds in a proper story mode, called Subspace Emissary. The single player plays like a platform-adventure iteration of the Smash Bros. concept, with cut-scenes and a barely-understandable narrative anchoring the play. Sadly, the Brawl control scheme doesn't work so well in a platforming context. However, the early stages zip along, padded out by some brilliantly choreographed cut scenes and fun (if shallow) boss battles.





Halfway through the mode's 8 or 9 hour length, the whole shebang takes an inexcusable downslide, as levels become longer and players have to revisit old ground. Nevertheless, Nintendo have packed so much into the game that it is practically impossible to be without something to do. Other than completing the different main game modes (on 5 different difficulty settings), players can engage in old-school point-scoring exercises in the Home Run and Target Smash contests, as well as Multi Man brawls. There is also an events mode, with various custom rules, and 'challenges', an achievements-like system which guides the player through various landmarks and goals (complete the game on a certain difficulty, under a certain amount of time, etc). The single player is brimming with content, and is quite staggering to relate.

Equally, the unlockable trophies of characters and items (complete with mini-biographies) have been increased to over 500. Completely new aspects of this museum side of the game (or 'vault' as it is called) include further unlockables, like stickers, music and 'masterpieces' (playable demos of early Nintendo classics). The music library is well-selected, with multiple tracks from each represented franchise, including some remixes and re-arrangements. Indeed, even though Brawl is endlessly playable as a multiplayer game with some buddies, this jungle of nostalgia is where the infected will find their entertainment. The infectiously whimsical music that plays while you flick through pages of stickers and trophies recalls deep-rooted memories of games-gone-by. It is a weird kind of porn for the Nintendo fanatic.





And that's certainly what it feels like; this game is perfect for those who enjoy choosing their favourite player (Lucas from Mother 3, a game so awesome it was never released outside of Japan), choosing their favourite music (of course, the remixed heavy metal version of Ridley's theme from Metroid) and level (Pirate Ship, from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, duh). This is a game for players who will barely pause for a break, who will attempt to beat high scores, or just have mammoth brawl sessions. High points will include cheering with glee when Little Mac, from Punch Out, bursts out of an assist trophy and uppercuts Ike (from Fire Emblem) out of the arena. This is fan service, pure and simple. It is a scary, obsessive kind of genius. Nintendo have somehow distilled nostalgia for their own legacy, either imagined or authentic, into a game. That game is Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

And this brings me to my concluding point. Granted, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is probably the most complete game, the most satisfying all-round package on the Wii from 2008. It delivered on the hype, and has provided many of its fans, and maybe some of the Wii newcomers with plenty of fun for a long time to come. However, I think it is a sorry state of affairs that a game that is so exclusive, buggy and similar to previous installments could be placed at the top of any end of year list. Brawl is, for all its extra bells and whistles, the same basic game as its predecessors. There have been more daring (Zack and Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros' Treasure), original (De Blob) and surprising (No More Heroes) games released this year. Super Smash Bros. Brawl contains little of those features. It may have been the most anticipated game when the year started, but its position as the year's best will have to be closely scrutinised.





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