Super Smash Bros. Brawl was probably the most anticipated game of the 2008 videogaming year. As a part of the successful Smash Brothers franchise, Brawl promised more characters, more stages, more items, more music, more collectables, more multi-player options, and more modes of play, including the controversial story-mode, which made its debut in this series entry.
Smash Bros. 64 left fans wanting more. Smash Bros. Melee left fans wondering if “more” was possible to achieve. Does Smash Bros. Brawl stand up to its high-score expectations, or has Nintendo finally let this epic series take a fatal, KO strike?
This is the first game in the Smash Brothers series to have a “story mode.” Graphically, it’s beautifully rendered and filled with over an hour of cinematic cutscenes… but I’ll talk more about that later.
According to the story, which is told completely without words and only actions, the stars and sidekicks of Nintendo’s greatest games are under attack by a legion of mysterious, robotic menaces called the Subspace Emissary. In a friendly stadium bout, Mario, Kirby, Zelda, and Peach find themselves assaulted by a group of these creatures and one of the princesses is captured. Elsewhere, Metaknight searches for his stolen battleship, the Halberd, as he helps a besieged Marth fight off his castle’s attackers. In the jungle, DK and Diddy Kong find their banana hoard stolen by a group of Bowser’s minions. As for Bowser himself, well… he appears to be working for some dark menacing figure.
All across the Nintendo world, characters find themselves in similar predicaments. Their only hope is to discover who is responsible for the dangerous happenings and put a stop to their evil plans before it is too late.
There’s one element of Smash Brothers that never ceases to amaze me. It’s quite a small thing, but the day Nintendo removes it I’ll write a complaint. Unlike many fighting games where the losers throw a tantrum when defeated, the characters in Brawl actually clap for the winners. Yes, it’s a small thing, but the fact that everyone has a good attitude really impresses me. It’s pretty awesome to see Bowser clapping for a victory by Mario.
Several events in Brawl (including the storymode) allow two-player co-op. In Brawl, players have to work together in order to be successful. If one player abandons the other or goes too quickly for his partner, they will fail 9 times out of 10. In storymode, cutscenes emphasize teamwork and friendship between characters.
The majority of positive elements occur in the Subspace Emissary mode. The lack of dialogue makes some of these positive elements hard to catch, but they’re there, none-the-less. In fact, if there were dialogue, I’d probably have a lot more to write in this section.
In the storymode, characters are willing to go to extremes to help one another. One character sacrifices himself to save another. Another character gives up his one chance of surviving a disaster to save another character (though this example is harder to catch than the previous).
One character, Lucas, is afraid of his own shadow when first introduced, but after teaming up with another character and progressing through the adventure, he finds courage.
Two of the characters, Ness and Lucas, have “psychic” powers. However, this is limited to powers such as fire, telekinesis, and magical looking attacks. It appears to be completely unrelated to the real “psychic” mind-reading. Characters like Zelda also have magical attacks, but the magic is unexplained and more of a super-power than anything else.
In the storymode, a brief CGI sequence shows Pit in Angel Land getting orders from his goddess. Because Pit is of Greek influence, the goddess could easily be excused as a part of “Greek Mythology.” She really isn’t to be taken seriously. No characters worship her. She’s simply a powerful being who appears to give Pit orders.
Some people may be disturbed by the fact that, in storymode, the Subspace slime can cover trophified characters and create “evil copies” of sorts.
Cutscene Violence. With the exception of one scene, the cutscene violence is tame and limited to mostly large explosions from air battles. However, characters do encounter enemies and a few scenes do show characters attacking foes with swords (etc.). Still, it’s clean and nothing beyond what you would find in, say, The Incredibles. In the world of Smash Brothers, being hit by a “trophy gun,” or being defeated by another character and turned into a trophy, is the same thing as death. This happens to several characters throughout the adventure. Fortunately, though, they are all eventually revived. Close to the end of the game, we see blood on the Master Hand’s knuckles. It’s fairly brief and not overly-detailed, but it’s a bit surprising considering the franchise’s otherwise bloodless track record.
Gameplay Violence. Gameplay violence is probably the thing most parents are concerned about. Fortunately, it’s about on the same plane as a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Characters can be attacked with a wide array of weapons and powers, but they simply wince and get knocked off their feet (usually with a cartoony starburst). Sometimes, characters are flung into the screen and they bounce off of it, much to the amusement of the player. Unless you take issue with classic cartoons, you won’t have a problem with Brawl. The only move that some may not like is Snake’s grabbing attack, in which he seizes a character around the neck and chokes them. It’s not graphic at all and all you hear is a cartoony “squeeze” sound, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
A couple of special scenarios allow you to hear some “mild” words. For example, one Assist Trophy (a certain annoying mole from Animal Crossing...) will pop up (when used) and begin annoying other players by chatting non-stop in a big cartoon blurb. Occasionally, he will insult the players with names like “punk.” He will sometimes say crude things such as “You can’t see it from there, but all I’m wearing under here is a towel.” Some will find it funny. Others… not so much.
A couple of Snake’s codec messages (which the average player may not know how to activate) include some crude/mild language. “Heck” is used, and if a player begins a codec on Wario, Snake and his commander will begin to discuss how Wario uses “farting” to attack his foe. The codec messages are completely optional.
Speaking of Wario… er… passing gas, that is one of his attacks in the game. Wario shoots off the ground in a burst of yellowish fog, accompanied by appropriate noises. One cutscene shows him picking his nose.
Zero Suit Samus is a female character who wears a skin-tight suit. She also happens to have a very full figure and the suit accents this. The good news is, no skin is shown and Samus is not flirty in nature. The suit seems to be more indicative of battle-convenience than sensuality, though.
A couple of other Assist Trophies (Barbara the Bat, etc.), collectable trophies, and stickers are of female characters wearing slightly revealing attire (cleavage, etc.).
Other Negative Content
Players do have the option of playing as villains if they wish, but in Brawl (in non-storymode, anyway) it’s really not a thing of good VS evil. It’s more you picking a character and fighting your Brawl buddies.
There are a couple of events in which you must fight the good guys as a bad guy, but they are few and I wouldn’t take them seriously.
At its core, Brawl is grounded in a very basic combat system. Attacking your opponent racks up damage via percentiles. Build up enough damage and you can send your foe flying off the screen to score a KO. Whoever has the most KOs wins. Clapping, confetti, and jingles follow.
Every character has a unique move-set and movement, and the control scheme works rather flawlessly with each one of them. There are a few cases of cloning, where characters share a similar control scheme; however, even in these situations, each character is given some unique factor that keeps them from being a mere “skin” of another. Fox and Falco share a similar model, but they each have unique ways of firing their guns and using their reflectors, for example.
Perhaps the largest difference between Brawl’s gameplay and that of its predecessor, Melee, is the speed and weight of the combat. Brawl is much more methodical. Characters take time to move and don’t feel as “feathery” as before; the downside is that this can lead to slightly more-than-healthy predictability in mid-combat. There’s also the new “tripping” gimmick, in which characters flip and land on their backsides at random intervals throughout the battle. From what I can tell, there’s no real indicator as to what triggers the tripping, making it an unfortunate–and some would argue unfair–game changer in particular matches.
The controls get a little iffy in the Subspace Emissary mode. While they work great in all other parts of the game, certain segments of the storymode are difficult to complete with the set controls. I enjoyed the whole storymode so much that I looked over these difficult moments, but others (who aren’t so captivated) might notice them more easily.
The awesome thing about Brawl is that you’re never out of stuff to do. Whether you want to battle a friend (either present or online), play through the story, do the Home Run Contest, collect stickers through the coin launcher, watch movies, listen to music, play the (in)famous Break the Targets game, build your own level (etc.), you’re never board. Determined gamers will find themselves spending some 100+ hours on Brawl because they’re missing that “one last sticker/song/trophy.”
If you’ve browsed YouTube, you’re probably familiar with the “Giant Jigglypuff” glitch and the “Sideways Landmaster” glitch. In all of the 100+ hours that I’ve played this game, however, I encountered no glitches so they’re obviously rare and you have to be deliberate to make them happen.
Graphics are simply gorgeous. Each level has appropriate styles and colors to reflect the original gaming inspiration–ranging from bright, cheerful Mario stages to technical, somber Metroid stages. All of the character models are lovingly crafted with acute attention to detail, and many are given new, comtemporary looks.
The CGI is captivating–beautiful and movie-like. The Subspace Emissary mode shows off some of the best visuals in the game. From the hot, dry desert, to the splashing, bright water, everything looks realistic and tangible.
The music in this game surpasses expectations. There are quite a few orchestrated pieces, among the repertoire of synthetic tracks, with practically every musical genre featured. Mountains of nostalgia are packed succinctly into each soundtrack–original, re-mixed, orchestrated, re-mastered, or otherwise.
Sounds are abundant. They’re appropriate, realistic, and yet cartoony at the same time. The voice acting, while minimal for the most part, is performed satisfactorily by the few characters who actually talk. Characters like Snake and Fox sound realistic (although Pit can get a bit on the annoying side with his mid-battle cries…) Most voice acting is restricted to grunts and combat yells, which is also great (Link screaming at the top of his voice, anyone?).
Does Brawl stake its claim as the best game in the series? It’s the most innovative, expansive title in the franchise thus far, to be sure. That fact isn’t likely to quiet Melee fans from hailing the prequel as the superior title, however. The gameplay is heavier–a fact that some fans will certainly take into account when evaluating the game–but, after an hour or two, players are likely to adjust with little to no gripes (except for that preposterous tripping gimmick, of course).
If you own a Wii, your collection is not complete without this game. Brawl is a gathering of heroes and villains like you’ll find nowhere else, and the content is very clean for the ominous T-for-Teen rating that ESRB has stamped on its cover. Yes, Brawl is a bit pricy, but it’s also one of the few games that feels well worth the money. You’ll be in for some 180+ hours of action-packed, challenging gameplay, with lots of nostalgia triggers to be found along the way. In simple terms, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the perfect excuse to buy a Nintendo Wii.
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The Bottom Line
Super Smash Brothers Brawl is the perfect excuse to buy a Nintendo Wii.