Warning: Challenger Approaching!
(A Discussion About Super Smash Bros. Brawl)
I, along with many of my brethren, have long-awaited the release of Super Smash Brothers Brawl or, as it is known in Japan, Great Fray Smash Brothers X, presumably because anything sounds better when you add an “X” to the end. And, like many of my brethren, I hail the efforts of Masahiro Sakurai, the game’s director and all-around surrogate father, who has truly managed to combine fighting and fan-service into a beautiful game. So, without further ado, let’s dig right into this masterpiece and see if we can find the gems, and possibly skeletons, buried inside the game disk.
Identity Crisis (Who Am I?)
One of the most discussed issues among many of the fans of the Smash Bros series was the amount of characters. Would there be thirty or forty? Would Mega Man be in it? Could Ridley be shrunken as a playable character? While wars waged overseas and the economy plummeted, these things remained heated topics for the millions of people online who, instead of going out to boost the nation’s economy and, possibly, their social lives, chose to argue about the pixel rate quality of Mario’s Fireball attack. But I should stop thinking about the fans. I know Nintendo did, because they took all the comments and requests from fans, and decided that only the Sonic petition was worthy of their attention. There are thirty-five fighters in Brawl, not counting the transformations, which actually make it the much larger number of thirty-nine. Nintendo has offered a larger cast of characters with twenty veterans returning from Super Smash Brothers Melee and fifteen newcomers, including Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid and the aforementioned Sonic the Hedgehog, which breaks new ground for the franchise by allowing third-party, or non-Nintendo, characters into the game. While this is good, it leaves gamers with the bitter taste of longing for other characters, like the Ridleys and Genos of the world. And I think I know why.
Ever since the first game a trend has existed in the Smash Bros universe that many people commonly refer to as ‘cloning’, but I call Identical Blonde Syndrome, or IBS for short. It began with young Luigi and became a fad that Masahiro Sakurai has seemed dead-set on expanding. You see, in the Smash Bros universe, Sakurai is the bouncer. He decides who gets into the party, and who stands shamefully outside. And there are characters like Falco, whom I have long considered the biggest clone in the entire game, who have returned to Brawl for no other purpose then to spite me. You see, while fine characters like Banjo-Kazooie wait patiently, identical twin blondes Fox and Falco get in the party. I can understand Fox, he’s an institution in the Smash Bros games. But Falco is too much his double, the only difference being a darker shade and length of blonde hair. Therefore, Sakurai’s Identical Blonde Syndrome must have noticed this similarity, but decided that never should it be said that too many blondes are a bad thing at parties, and let them both in. Such is IBS. Many, many people suffer from this affliction. It is the third-leading cause behind all divorces, behind hunting and being in bands.
Personally, aside from this little disappointment, the game’s characters are top notch. Even the Assist Trophies, during the few moments of glorious fan-service they provide, manage to retain an oddly charming sense of character. I only wish there had been a few more that didn’t involve running around with a sword: most of the Assist Trophies suffer from IBS as well, like Knuckle Joe and Little Mac, who both run around punching people, or the Labrador Nintendog and Mr. Resetti, who serve no other purpose then to obscure the screen. Simply put, each Assist Trophy brings its own quaint little charm to the game, but I just wish there was a little more variety in said charm. The Assist Trophies sometimes feel like seasons of Power Rangers. Sure, there are different colors, and the themes change, but in the end most of the Assist Trophies can feel repetitive. Exactly like seasons of Power Rangers.
Where Shall I Fight You Tonight?
Now, as any gamer knows, something almost as important as the fighters in a fighting video game is where the fighters fight. To their credit, Nintendo and Sakurai have devised a wide amount of places for friends and complete strangers who share a love of killing each other in a legal, manly way to fight. There are a total of forty-one stages to play in, ranging from the simplistic Final Destination, which is a platform suspended in front of a beautiful backdrop of a realistic display of a black hole, a galaxy, and finally a sunset, to the oddly nostalgic but insanely difficult Mario Bros. stage from the original video game. Some of these stages are ludicrous, a fine example being the Pictochat level, in which random drawings come to life as you struggle to avoid your opponents’ next attacks, and some are absolutely brilliant, such as the Mushroomy Kingdom, where you battle through the first and second stages of Super Mario Bros. Like everything about Brawl, all of these stages pay homage to the various game series represented in the game, such as an Animal Crossing stage known as Smashville where, on Saturday nights at 8:00 pm, one can enjoy a private concert by a non-playable character called K.K. Slider. Almost every stage has an odd little quirk like that that makes it special and unique. One I would like to call out for its outrageousness, however, is WarioWare: a stage which, during the fights, requests you perform a microgame, or a brief action like dodging a speeding car or taunting, to earn rewards. It’s things like these that make Brawl’s stages truly…magical, in a sense, though programming them took some hefty technology.
But even better then all the aforementioned battlegrounds is one of the newest aspects of the stages in Brawl, and quite frankly one of the most interesting: you can make your own! An option called the Stage Builder, available right from the get-go, lets you boldly and shamelessly create your own stages to give yourself an advantage. However, the Stage Builder seems to be where Sakurai managed to get over his Identical Blonde Syndrome, and has given us a very limited selection of parts to choose from. You can unlock more, but all in all the choices you have are incredibly small. This was a great idea, I still think it is, but it seems more like a novelty then something to be taken seriously, which is a kind of downer, as I was hoping for Sakurai’s IBS to kick into overdrive for this.
The Subspace Missionary
One of the more compelling things that separates Brawl from its predecessors is the inclusion of the single-player, or co-op if you have friends, adventure mode, The Subspace Emissary. Your adventure into the Subspace will be met with plenty of fan-service and good, wholesome fighting, primarily because the Emissary plays a lot like a side-scrolling adventure game. The most intelligent thing about the entire plot of the Emissary is that absolutely no words are ever stated by the characters, which was a golden move on Nintendo’s part. I have seen so many games ruined because of hack voice acting (I am looking at you, Tales of Symphonia) which I always found odd, considering only 7% of human communication is presented verbally. So I applaud Nintendo for expressing the other, often ignored, 93% of nonverbal communication. The story itself is communicated through little gestures and grunts, all of which suspiciously point towards saving the world. This really can’t be helped, though. It’s been the ‘in’ thing to save the world in video games for a long time. The main characters in the Emissary, as some of the roster just weren’t cool enough to make it to the casting call, all seem to be telepaths with a deeply religious enjoyment of Barney the dinosaur. All of them can tell what the others are thinking, and fights can break out at random and result in the fighters being best pals after it’s finished. A perfect example of this is a part where Link and Zelda get chummy with Ganondorf, which is kind of a jaw dropper. All in all, I’m fairly satisfied with the Subspace Emissary, though it can sometimes get a bit repetitious, especially near the end, when it forces you through a Maze when you really want to fight the bad guy. And occasionally the game will go through an identity crisis about whether it wants to be a side-scrolling game or a fighter, as it has a tendency to interrupt nice side-scroll segments with random and pointless fights with the local grunt baddies. Yes, it’s a little short, but despite this manages to carry itself proudly. All in all, though, it’s short and sweet, but has a ferocious underside beneath its happy graphical style. Come to think of it, the Subspace Emissary is exactly like my dog.
The Wondrous World of Wi-Fi
To properly discuss Brawl’s online mode, one must dig deep into one’s soul to discover how much lag one is willing to bear. Once, there was a time when Brawl existed only in Japan and in the minds of several million gamers across the world. But when the game hit North America, a terrible curse came upon the game in the form of the dreaded monster known as ‘lag’. And this creature called lag seems to get its rocks off by making online matches between people last longer due to frame rate issues and the varying online connection strengths between fighters. I dare you to try a match between someone in the US and Chile. Now, this isn’t Nintendo’s fault. In fact, I blame the fans. How dare you, fans? How dare you play a hyped game like Brawl to the extent you do online? Why would you do such a thing and ruin it for everyone trying to play lag-free online? I just don’t understand fans…
Of course I exaggerate a bit with this, but sometimes the lag is really unbearable. Once, and I can recall this from memory because in the time it took for my fight to de-lag itself I could have cooked a Christmas goose, the game took forever to load Wolf’s Final Smash, so I got to stare at a Landmaster halfway through appearing for the amount of time it’s going to take Europe to get the game. These are examples of fights in With Anyone mode, it’s infinitely better in With Friends, which makes sense because, if you have friends, your online experience should be better then that of those pathetic losers who can’t even score some Friend Codes. My experience in With Friends was much more enjoyable, and made me thank Nintendo for giving my the ability to demolish a certain friend in Florida (she begs to differ). You can even get the stages you make and submit them to Nintendo or your friends, though you’ll need your friends’ Wii code to do this. This brilliant strategy of competitive gaming will make Brawl a game to be treasured for ages to come, or at least until the next one shows up.
Picasso or Piece of Art?
Here’s a question few gamers are asked: was Picasso good? While that may be like asking a dog what he prefers to lick, tapioca pudding or his own hindquarters, it is a curiosity I have long entertained. If Brawl is like Picasso, does that make it the tapioca pudding of video games or the hindquarters? I would like to take this opportunity to tell everyone that Brawl is indeed the tapioca of this metaphor. From the stages to the characters, Sakurai has made it immensely difficult for me to criticize the graphics of Brawl. Everything has its own little quirk about itself, whether its Wario, who gallantly stride across the screen in an odd mesh of two-dimensional movement in a three-dimensional world, or the stage Flat Zone 2, which transforms every character into a paper-thin spectacle. But there are a few blotches on this masterpiece, mostly a lack of high-definition rendering on close-up shots, which can lead to some fuzziness. In all honesty though, that’s the worst bit of the graphics, and if this fuzziness turns you off somehow to this game, there‘s something wrong with you. These graphics can result in longer loading times, which is perfectly understandable most times. For other times when this loading problem is annoying, see the Event matches which time you.
What Else Is There? (The Fandom Whines For More!)
I’ve covered a lot of stuff in this review, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Very much like a treasure cave, or any episode of House, MD, this game has much more going on for it then its dynamite single-player mode and its amazing multiplayer. Oh, did I mention that, if you’re too lazy to remember to pass the controller to your buddy, there is now the Rotation mode to help you? How thoughtful of Nintendo, always thinking of us. There are also Events to play, where you can engage in odd fights with weird rules to attain glory. There is Classic mode, a timeless enjoyment in which you must battle through hordes of characters who love Alice in Wonderland, as they can be giant, small, or metal. They can even come in teams! And there’s Master Hand. Don’t let him slap you silly (that was lame). And there are trophies, endless amounts of trophies. Well, actually, there are 543, which gives the game even more fan-service then anything I have ever seen before. But the best parts of these little treasures, like Masterpieces or even the Stickers, are discovering them for yourself, so get out there and get exploring. I will now stop being so optimistic.
Before I wrap up this review, I would like to take the time to insult some people who have managed to soil the reputation of this otherwise brilliant–though somewhat lacking in attention in some areas–game. To the Prophets, I give my very least criticism, because at least the Prophets made the days when I stayed in my room researching the game bearable. Yes, they lied, but they also gave hope. The best Prophet I remember was thealmightygoat, who led me to suspect that Mayor Tortimer from Animal Crossing would be a Boss in the Subspace Emissary. My next ‘wag’, as it were, of my finger goes to Masahiro Sakurai himself, for delaying the game endlessly. Just when it seemed we would have the game in February, he delayed it again, one week for Japan, but a month for the States, and has yet to even tell Europe and Australia when they get to touch the game, which occasionally seemed more of a slap in the face instead of perfection at work. But my biggest disgust of all is reserved for the fans. Yes, the fans. As I looked for information about the game, I discovered many chats devoted to the refusal to believe the true character list solely on the notion that their favorite character had not made the cut. And then, the people chatting would flame the true list. Flame it, like a piece of filth, too far beneath them to even be considered as the truth. So, to all those people who flamed because Ridley, Geno, Mega Man, or even Tom Nook didn’t make it in, I save my biggest contempt for all of you. You do not deserve this game.
In Closing (For Real This Time)
Seriously, go get the game already. If you’re reading this, chances are you already have it (sucks to be you guys, PAL countries) so stop reading and get playing, which the best advice I can give to any young gamer.