|By Charlie Goodrich||Monday, 14 Apr 2008|
The definition for the word melee is, “a confused hand-to-hand fight or struggle among several people.” Furthermore, brawl is defined as, “a noisy quarrel, squabble, or fight.” Two separate words with similar meanings. Similarly, if you compare Super Smash Bros Melee with Super Smash Bros Brawl you are left with two separate but almost identical games. This is both a curse and a blessing. Super Smash Bros Melee for the Gamecube was an incredibly fun fighting game. Apparently the people at Nintendo thought the same. Therefore, they decided to not stray far from their now seven-year-old fighting gem. Melee’s successor, Super Smash Bros Brawl, doesn’t revolutionize the series, but it does add some nice features to help make Brawl standout from Melee. The question now becomes, are these features enough to make Brawl a classic game? After all, many consider Melee to be a classic game [ed. note - though there are others who don't...].
The core elements in Brawl greatly resemble those found in Melee. The fighting system remains intact from the previous two titles. Every fighter has a set of standard attacks and character specific attacks. Each set of attacks is designated to one button (for example, all standard attacks executed using the A button), and you can use different attacks by combining that one button with a direction. It is fairly easy for newcomers to jump in and play. The control scheme I am referring to is on the Gamecube controller. This is what I use to play Brawl because I am familiar with the controls. You do have the option to play with the Wiimote and nunchuk, just the Wiimote, or the classic controller. I didn’t want to have to relearn a control system so I stuck with the original. However, you can customize the controls for each controller type. So if you want to play with the Wiimote you can program the buttons however you desire. From what I have seen, people prefer the Gamecube controller as well as not wasting batteries.
Besides the controls, another part of Brawl that is similar to Melee is the multiplayer. The biggest draw of the Smash Bros fighting series has always been the multiplayer. This is still the main attraction. Get three friends (at least!) and get ready for some wacky, fast-paced battles. I say at least because you now have the option to use “rotation” mode. Basically you can pick whether the winner or loser passes the controller after a match. You can have a total of sixteen players use this mode. After playing Brawl with five people, I realize this is a handy feature to have in a fighting game. Besides “rotation” mode, the major changes to the multiplayer in Brawl come in the form of items. To the plethora of items already found in Melee, we add now the assist trophy and smash ball. Grab an assist trophy and out will pop a helper. There are twenty-six assists that include a Metroid leeching onto you, Shadow the Hedgehog slowing everyone else down, a Hammer Brother hurling projectiles, Little Mac punching anything that gets in his way, Excite Bikes that play a nasty game of hit and run, and Gray Fox who slashes away at the competition. There is even a Nintendog that will annoyingly leap at the screen and obstruct everyone’s view. Generally, going out of your way for an assist trophy will usually pay off.
The smash ball is something that will leave you on the verge of screaming more times than not. This handy device unleashes a finishing move that is character specific. To gain this ability you need to land three to five hits on a floating ball that appears. The person who shatters it will gain the finishing move even if someone else hit it all but that last time. That is why this thing is annoying. If you hit the ball hard enough it will fly around and leave you far from landing another hit. If you are lucky enough to break the ball open, you’re character will glow and you are now the primary fear of every person against you. With a tap of the B button you can unleash a potentially devastating attack. Each character has a unique attack and some are more effective than others. Mario shoots out a giant fireball, Link performs a multiple slash attack, Fox summons a tank, Kirby cooks those around him, Wario transforms into Super Wario, Samus shoots a massive laser, Bowser turns into Giga-Bowser, and Snake fires a grenade launcher from a helicopter. It’s fun discovering these attacks and how useful they can be. However, I found myself turning this item off because the computer can sometimes spawn with it already acquired. But when playing with people, this can be a fun item to have turned on.
To use these fun new items you need battlefields and combatants. Luckily, there are forty-one stages to fight on and thirty-five characters to choose from. Twenty of the characters are available from the start of the game. Mainstream characters, such as Link, Mario, Samus, Donkey Kong, Fox, and Pikachu, return, but there are some new characters that make their Smash Bros debut. Sonic, Solid Snake, Olimar (from Pikmin), Wario, and the Pokemon Trainer are some of the more original characters. It was nice to see Nintendo branch out and create more unique characters. Melee was fraught with clones (Pikachu and Pichu, Gannon and Captain Falcon, Fox and Falco) but not only did Nintendo introduce more original characters, they also retooled the existing clones to make them stand as individuals. The moves for characters like Gannon and Falco have been changed to make them more diverse. They haven’t been completely made over, but this change did give them a different and more individual feel.
Unfortunately, the new levels don’t seem as diverse as the new characters. To start with the positive, Nintendo did include ten levels from Melee and the ability for you to create your own stage. However, after unlocking all the accessories to build your own stage you will realize you don’t have much creative power. There is a decent selection of pieces but they take up a lot of room. You can’t fit many objects into your level, and after making a few levels, they all look bland. This was a promising feature not well executed. The new levels they made for Brawl are nothing special either. Most are small and contain only a few platforms. Many of the levels evolve the longer you play on them but it’s often just in a cycle that repeats after three scenes. It’s not all bad though. They included a neat level which mimics the first level of Super Mario Bros. It scrolls to the left and even has the castle at the end. But the ratio of well-designed levels to bland levels is lopsided. Fighting games like Dead or Alive 3 and Power Stone 2 were great because of their levels. These games came out many years ago, and Nintendo could learn a few things about creating levels that you get to experience rather than just fight on.
The single player game is relatively the same compared to Melee. There is one major change that I will discuss shortly. Returning to the single player experience is classic mode and all-star mode. Classic mode is your standard arcade style fighting option. Battling your way through twelve stages yields different challenges. Sometimes you have to fight multiple enemies, giant enemies, and enemies that are made of metal (thus very hard to knock off the stage). It all concludes with a battle with the boss, Master Hand. All-star mode is also taken from Melee. In this scenario, the player has to battle all thirty-five characters. The catch is that you do not recover in between fights. Your damage continues to escalate with your only relief being three heart containers. Once these sources of life are depleted you are left to survive on your own.
The latest addition to Brawl’s single player experience is Subspace Emissary. This is a story/adventure mode that was written by Kazushige Nojima. I didn’t know who this guy was either until I googled him. It turns out he is responsible for the storylines in Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X, and X-2. Additionally, he worked on Kingdom Hearts for the PS2. Pretty good resume if you are in the market to write a story. However, there is something strange about the Subspace Emissary that makes you wonder why they needed such a mastermind. It contains no dialog. There aren’t even subtitles. Despite this odd trait, you do get a complete story. Basically Bowser, Gannon, King Dedede, and Wario are trying to turn the other characters into trophies. Mario and company set off to rescue those who have been already transformed as well as stop this evil plot. When playing Subspace Emissary, you are doing one of two things. Either you are completing a platforming level or you are fighting in a boss fight. It’s a simple game that will take about ten to twelve hours to beat. Personally, I would have liked a more in depth and engaging story (especially after seven years), but this was a pleasant improvement over Adventure mode found in Melee.
When I began writing this review I was convinced that Brawl deserved the rating of great rather than classic. My main defense for this was that Brawl did little to improve over Melee. Everything in Brawl seemed bland, as if I had already seen everything this game has to offer (after all, the graphics are nearly identical in both games). Then it dawned on me that fighting games rarely grow in leaps and bounds. Instead, this genre changes steadily with each new addition to a series. However, after three or four games of too little change, then a fighting series needs to vastly grow. I thought back to the large change from the original Smash Bros on the N64 to Melee on the Gamecube. Should Nintendo have placed more emphasis and time on creating a more revolutionary fighting game rather than spending time adding trophies dedicated to the most abstract Nintendo games? I reviewed the evidence. This game is like a Nintendo museum. You collect trophies for countless Nintendo games and you can unlock a vast array of knowledge. Having access to all this Nintendo knowledge is neat but I would have preferred the revolution. Brawl is too much like Melee. I spent fifty dollars on something I already played. I don’t feel enough steps were taken to progress this series to warrant a rating of classic. That is why I am going to give Brawl a great. This is still a wonderful game to play and own, but don’t expect anything you haven’t already seen.