Game Review - If you own a Wii, you need to run out and buy a copy of Super Smash Bros Brawl. It is one of the greatest Nintendo games of all time.
Super Smah Bros Melee was one of the only saving graces for Nintendo's Gamecube platform, and now that iconic franchise has been brought to the Wii.
In the gaming community, some have begrudgingly referred to the game sight unseen as "Super Smash Bros Melee version 1.1," a poke at the misconceived concept that Brawl is nothing more than the six-year-old Gamecube title with some added tweaks.
However, I am here to dispel that notion. Brawl has so many new features, an improved interface, and answers the calls of fans in so many regards that it deserves to stand completely on its own above and beyond the Super Smash Bros coat-tails.
Brawl has, by far, the most expansive set of single-player options available. The "classic" mode is back in action, letting players go through a nonstop circuit of fights in order to gain nominal in-game prizes. As you unlock new characters, this mode changes dynamically, taking away from the tedium seen in previous installments.
Additionally, there is a huge mode called "challenges." There are over 100 different challenges to complete, which unlock things in the game from new music files to new battle arenas to display trophies. If you are the kind of gamers who wants to complete everything perfectly, the challenge mode alone will take you dozens of hours.
The biggest single-player part, though, is called "Subspace Emissary," which is a story mode of sorts and is also where you'll find most of the unlockable characters. It's a story mode, but I'm not sure exactly what the story is. There is absolutely no dialog, spoken or written. The cutscenes are literally like watching a silent film with only body language from the characters telling the story. And there's a good 8 - 10 hours worth of game here even if you speed through it.
Of course, we're still talking about a game that is, at its core, a hack-and-slash fighter. It's pretty tough to grow that idea into an epic story mode. As such, Subscape Emmisary does get repetitive at times. There are stretches of the game that have you battling the exact same enemies essentially three or four times in a row.
Throughout this mode, there are tons of battle sequences that you must play through to advance the game, but there are also several areas where you can literally just run through without consequence. You don't have to spend any time battling the enemies, and if you do, you get almost nothing in return - just a few extra coins that can be used to purchase in-game items.
By scoping out these areas a little more in-depth, you will find miscellaneous in-game trinkets and bragging items, like trophies, but virtually all of these are useless once you leave the story mode or can be found elsewhere within the game.
One nice addition to the story mode is that you can team up with one other local player for a cooperative play through the various tasks. This works out extremely well, and actually makes it feel even more monotonous when playing by yourself.
On to the multiplayer side of things, where the heart of Brawl is. Just like Melee, there is a whole slate of customizabe features, and with well over 20 characters on the list, the fighting free-for-all has never been so diverse.
Of course, the big names this time are Sonic the Hedgehod and Metal Gear Solid's Snake. Both are unlockable so you won't be able to use them out of the box, but they are worth the effort as they have some of the best movesets in the game.
Where Brawl is making the most waves is online. Now, of course I have to mention the incurable problem with Nintendo. The guys over there have an incredible knack for creating really fun, really addicting party games, but their online service is under par.
There is no voice chatting during Wi-Fi battles, although you can pre-enter up to four text-based "taunts" that you can put up on the screen during battle. Of course, that's only if you go through the cumbersome "friend code" registration, which means you need to connect with someone outside of the Wii and have both of you enter the other person's information.
You can still battle with random players, however you cannot communicate with them and there is no way to save their friend code information for a later battle. However, it is Super Smash Bros, a game that a lot of us have been wanting to take online for nearly a decade, and now it's here. Despite the rough edges, the first time you brawl online is an experience not to be missed.
There's also a "build you own stage" mode, which was somewhat idealized when it was first announced. You're actually quite limited with what kind of arenas you can create, and you can't even battle on these in online fights. However, there are more than enough pre-created stages with interactive scenery and other features you just can't put into your own creations.
One of my favorite features is the addition of video replays. In Melee there was a fairly pathetic picture-taking mode that allowed you to capture shots of cool battle poses, but in Brawl you can save entire battles, as well as attempts in mini-games like target practice and home run contest. You can then send these videos to anyone on your Brawl friends list over Wi-Fi.
Surprisingly, one of the most fleshed out parts of the game is its music. There are literally dozens upon dozens of songs here, most of which were made or rearranged exclusively for Brawl. For every one of the 20+ playable characters, there is at least one song from their respective game series. Dozens of these are specially created remixes. For fans of the 8-bit and immediately subsequent eras, it's almost worth getting the game just for the cool variations of the dozen or so classic Mario tunes.
You can even control what songs you want to play when you fight in certain battle arenas, regardless of which mode you are playing. Dozens of people worked solely on Brawl's music. A team that size is a rarity in video game audio.
Visually, the game is quite impressive as well. Nintendo has done a pretty amazing job with the limited hardware, with exquisite details in every character and fighting environment.
Super Smash Bros Brawl's only shortcomings are the ones that continue to plague Nintendo as a whole. The game itself is a marvel to the genre, and is one of the few new titles out there that offers a game structure amenable to literally playing for hours on end. If you liked Melee or the original Super Smash Bros on the N64, Brawl is a no brainer for you, but other Wii owners should definitely check this out. I know it's only March, but Brawl is definitely worth noting as the best Wii game so far of 2008.