• Super Smash Bros Brawl Review - Nintendo Wii

    The best selling game for the GameCube was not Super Mario Sunshine. Nor was it either Metroid Prime title, Mario Kart: Double Dash or any of the Zelda incarnations. Or anything Pokemon related. No, it was Super Smash Bros. Melee, a title quite unlike any other, taking the honours. A game released just after the console came out and one which continued to prosper throughout its entire lifespan. Maybe that is partly why it has taken almost seven years for the next entry in the series to appear.
    The other reason would be the sheer amount of time, love and attention given to moulding this third entry into the all-encompassing fight-fest. Rewarding both new and old players, Brawl showers them in knowing nods and references to all manner of games, past and present. It is not mere hyperbole to state that it has exceeded even the high expectations lumped upon its shoulders by a fervent fan base. This is no small part due to the guiding hand of Masahiro Sakurai, who was director on the two previous games. Although he left HAL Labs in 2003, he was asked by Nintendo to oversee and develop Brawl with a new team at the helm.
    For those new to the series, here is the quick Smash Bros 101: unlike almost all fighters that work on an energy system, Smash Bros. has a damage gauge that increases (in percent) with each hit received. The more damage accrued, the further your fighter gets knocked back, or travels, when hit with a powerful blow. However, a point (or 'kill') is only gained by smashing an opponent outside the boundaries of the play arena; as long as they remain active in some way, they can continue to fight. Matches are generally fought either with a time limit (with unlimited lives) or a certain number of lives in stock - here, last player standing wins.
    While the path to victory is shaped a little different to normal, the mechanics are very much familiar territory. One mantra Nintendo games have always sought to enshrine is "ease of control": let it be simple enough for new players to pick up, yet have enough complexity underneath to allow experienced players to shine. This continues to be embodied by the Smash Bros series; while there are only two attack buttons, their use in timing with the joystick and the particular direction pressed gives a surprising number of different moves. A separate button allows for blocking and dodging, giving the skilled player a frightening amount of precise control and timing in their actions. It may not quite come down to frame-counting in this instance, but being able to respond with any move at a particular moment is the backbone of any fighting game, and Brawl keeps the flag flying high.
    In all honesty there is so much content to Brawl that it is hard to know where to begin. Probably no one will ever have enough time to explore everything in depth and unlock every single item; unless they are OC and have a couple of years to spare. From the countless trophies and stickers that are unlocked, to the vast swathe of beautiful music dancing across the ears and various time and distance events, Brawl batters the senses with variety and choice. In addition, there is the ability to take in-game snapshots, construct your own stages to battle upon, and mess about with the music selections attached to each stage. But let's get back to the brawling shall we?
    In contrast to the Adventure Mode of Melee, the single-player quest in Brawl - dubbed "The Subspace Emissary" - is a much better and more extensive challenge. It still has occasional similar flaws, mainly down to how some characters control within a scrolling platform environment. This time around, the adventure can be highly amusing (especially in the character pairings and FMV) and allows the player to experiment, earn trophies and unlock almost all the secret characters present. Overall, it is far more entertaining than before, and certainly a worthwhile diversion. But, needless to say, the real meat of the game lies within the multi-player brawling option.
    Balance - probably the most important aspect of a fighter. The existence, or lack of it, comes most to the fore when competing against other real people. Most gratifyingly, the trend imbued by Melee has continued within Brawl: every character has their strengths, subtle weaknesses and a far from all-conquering nature. While it may appear that some are too powerful for their own good (looking at Ike and Lucas here, in particular), what can be overlooked is the flip side of the coin: what they lack. Ike is often too slow and Lucas can be swatted away due to his lower weight.

    Sora has done an excellent job in rounding out the existing characters, tweaking abilities down (in the case of Mario and Link) or up (Ganondorf and Luigi) as need be. The new characters added to the roster have been incorporated exceedingly well - especially third-party incumbents Sonic and Snake, who have both been given move lists and traits tailored to their known abilities. In fact, the sole imbalance to proceedings merely occurs when the new smash ball attack is unleashed, and multiple kills are readily possible. However, not only is it usually hard to acquire, but it can be turned off - as with every other item present within the game. If you don't like it, then you don't have to play with it.

    Outside that, the only real fly in the ointment is the online functionality. The options are fairly basic and not a patch on the ones offered by Mario Kart, for example; limiting players to either a friends group or two minutes against random opponents for versus brawling action. While this could be overlooked, in part, if the overall delivery was excellent, unfortunately the servers are often quite unpredictable. In patches the game can be lag free and smooth as you like, before swinging back into statue-like freezing and disconnection. When it works it does really work well, when it doesn't, it is teeth-grindingly frustrating. However, all fighting games suffer to an extent when played online.

    Brawl has the most characters, is the best balanced, delivers the most and generally trumps both the other games so far. The graphics may not be that far in advance of Melee, but they never had to be in the first place - they looked good already. Brawl opens its arms wide to embrace both new and old players, the hook of familiar names and uncomplicated mechanics combining with a wide choice of control methods and a subtle depth for those who dig deeper. Where the series goes from here is unsure, because it is very hard to see how it can climb any higher.

    Score: 9/10