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Developers: Sora Limited, Game Arts
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 2008
Platform: Wii
Genre: Fighting
ESRB Rating: T for Teen

Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the third, and possibly final, game in the Super Smash Brothers series. It was released for the Nintendo Wii on January 31, 2008 in Japan, and March 9 in America. As of today, release dates have not been announced for the rest of the world. The previous two were 1999's Super Smash Bros. and 2001's Super Smash Bros. Melee.

The game has been in development for a long time, and hyped to the point where I normally start to doubt it can live up to the buzz. But did it?

Yes.

Originally, the rumor was the Brawl was going to be a launch title for the Wii, but it quickly became apparent that this would not be so. In fact, the game was pushed back repeatedly, with Nintendo apologizing each time, and explaining that they would rather release a perfect game late than an imperfect game early. And seeing the habit of some other developers have recently acquired of releasing buggy halfware on consoles, I'm glad they did it.

Masahiro Sakurai, inventor of Kirby, former employee of HAL Laboratories (the developer of the Kirby series, the previous Smash Bros. games, and Earthbound, among other favorites of mine), was originally reluctant to work on this game, but was finally convinced. In mid 2007, as talk about Brawl started to heat up, Sakurai began to release information about the game droplet by droplet on smashbros.com, with a new gift of information each day, and his personal commentary on the features, images, and very occasionally movies being released. Other than the two videos demoed at E3 2007, this was the only source of information on Brawl until the game's Japan release. It was interesting to see how anticipation built with the developers favoring an older style of information release, rather than the continuous deluge of information that spews forth from every other game developer.

Some of you may recall that I'm a bit of a Smash fanatic; I've written several other nodes on Smash technique. So I was more excited about this game than I've ever been about any other game before. On release day, I woke up at 8:30 in the morning (on a Sunday, and the first day of the Daylight Savings Time change, so as far as I was concerned, it was actually 7:30), and rushed to the mall to find it wouldn't open until 11. I got there at opening, waited in line for my game, ran home, ripped it open, and spent the rest of the day immersing myself.

When I've played more, I will write a node on technique and secrets; if I were to write this now, I would have to copy it from Smashboards, and that would be plagiarism. So this writeup will be my initial reactions.

The first and biggest change to Smash Bros. is the inclusion of a beefy story mode. Called The Subspace Emissary, it's a platformer which involves nearly all of the Smash characters, and reminds me heavily of Kirby Super Star on the Super Nintendo. Hardly surprising, since both were Sakurai's brainchild, but KSS is one of my favorite video games, so that's a pretty favorable comparison. There are a variety of levels, some of which you can revisit later to expose secrets and unlock characters. There's very little in the way of puzzle elements, but it's a competent platformer which finally gives you the chance to use your Smash skills outside of a fighting arena. Loaded with little secrets, a goodly number of bosses, some reasonably difficult forced scrolling levels, and an interesting RPG element where "stickers" you collect can be applied to characters to boost their stats (there are some spacial constraints so you can't go totally wild). Classic Mode is still here, as is All-Star — an unlockable mode where you must defeat every character in the game using a limited number of recovery hearts and no continues. Still, Subspace Emissary is the real heart of Brawl single player gameplay (though it can be played with a friend), and puts the Adventure mode in Melee to shame, but even so, it's not the core of the game.

What is the core of the game? Brawls. You can now take them online, although I've found this to be pretty flaky. This could be the instability of my connection, but even so, I have broadband and found the game pretty much unplayable in a match between me in Maryland and a single friend in Indiana. Once again, Americans are foiled by our terrible Internet connectivity.

Ahem. Brawl features four control schemes. You can use a Gamecube controller identically to Melee's control style, although some techniques are different: for example, a change in the mechanics of air-dodging means that anybody used to Wavedashing to move quickly will be in for an unpleasant surprise. You can also use a Wiimote on its own, a Wiimote with the nunchuck attachment, or a Virtual Console Classic Controller. I'm not sure why anybody would use the Wiimote alone, since you won't have a joystick and thus won't have access to tilt attacks, among other things. I have friends who are happy with the new control schemes, though I myself have stayed with the Gamecube controller. All of these schemes are fully configurable, if you don't like them.

Here's the part you've been waiting for. Brawl has 35 characters, although 3 of these can switch between several different characters, so there are properly 39 characters in Brawl. Roy, Mewtwo, and Young Link are gone, but clones are present in their places. Dr. Mario and Pichu are gone without replacements. This is also an interesting game because of the inclusion of two non-Nintendo characters: Snake, who would have been a Melee character had there been development time, and the often-requested Sonic the Hedgehog. Here are the new characters, and the games they come from.

Many of these characters are wholly new, but there are (to my eyes) a disappointing number of clones of other characters. Three characters are eliminated, two of whom are clones, and the two clones are replaced with new clones. We get a new Mother character, and since Earthbound is my favorite video game, I was properly excited, but rather than, say, Duster or Jeff, we get a Ness clone. The biggest kick in the pants is that there are now three Fox-style characters. Although clones' moves differ a lot more in this game than they did in previous Smash games, to the point where they play almost completely differently it still strikes me as laziness on the part of the developer to have so many characters whose moves are all variations of each others'. With so many other Nintendo mainstays available (Simon Belmont? Mega Man? King K. Rool? Toad? Pokey Minch?), this is just plain frustrating. Of course, this doesn't ruin the game; there's more than enough variety already. But it's a small tarnish, and a completely foreseen tarnish, on an otherwise fantastic game.

And the gameplay is superb. Some techniques are gone (like wavedashing) but many new ones take their places. You can now grab items while running, grab somebody behind you, edgegrab when you're facing the wrong direction, and some other, more complex stuff, which I'll get into later. In some ways, Brawl is much closer to the original game than to Melee, specifically in how much time you spend fighting in midair, and how long matches last. Characters can recover far more easily in Brawl than in Melee and live longer; gone is the "scream of death" that indicates that a character hit hard enough is dead without the game giving her a chance to recover. Abilities have been balanced; Ness and Kirby are once again good characters, and some painfully cheap moves like Peach's down-smash and Sheik's forward-air have been weakened in the interest of balance.

Even the trophy collection has been improved. Trophies can be found in Subspace Emissary through clever exploration, as well as throwing a "trophy base" item at an enemy to convert it into a trophy. In place of the lottery system, there is now a simple shoot 'em up to collect both trophies and stickers, a cross between Galaga and Puzzle Bobble. And you have reason to want these; stickers make Subspace Emissary easier, and with enough unique trophies, you can unlock Mr. Game and Watch. Since many more accomplishments lead to unlockables, with a bevy of new stages, unlockable music, and other things, there's a screen where you can see the feats you've overcome, and get hints to others. You use a limited supply of hammers to complete objectives without actually accomplishing them, but unless you're looking it up online, you have no idea whether you're going to unlock a new character or just waste some time (like playing for 100 hours without having played for 30 hours).

Should you buy Brawl? As the announcer says: No Contest. It's great. It's everything that the previous games were, and more. If the things I've been reading on Smashboards are any indication, this is a worthy successor and a top-notch fighting game. Like the other Smash games, it's clearly a sell-up to the big Nintendo franchises (this one even includes demos of Virtual Console titles featuring Brawl contestants), but it's the most fun you will ever have being marketed to.


My Brawl friend code is

3351 3724 4135
What's yours?

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