Thursday, May 01, 2008

Super Smash Bros Brawl

There is, and I say this after some careful consideration, absolutely no experience on this world that compares to hitting a Pokemon in the face with a baseball bat. But if there is a close second, it would undoubtedly be setting fire to Princess Peach and watching her scream while she burns.

That those charmingly child-oriented folks at Nintendo and HAL Laboratories have managed to pack both those experiencces into a single game for the Wii is proof, if we needed any, that this is indeed a good and excellent world we live in.

Super Smash Bros Brawl is the follow-up to the best-selling Super Smash Bros Melee. As you may be aware, Melee was the best-selling Gamecube game ever, which is to say that some stores in central city locations occasionally sold two copies on the same day. Melee was an absolute gem of a game, and Brawl takes everything that was awesome in Melee and ramps it up another notch.

For those not familiar with the series, Super Smash Bros is about two things: fan service, and face-punching. You're presented with a choice of some 40 characters drawn mostly from Nintendo-themed games, and tasked with beating the living crap out of those unfortunate characters who did not meet with your favour.

As opposed to most fighting games, you achieve victory not by running down an opponent's health bar, but instead by knocking them off screen. As characters take damage, their "damage percentage" increases. Most attacks deal a certain amount of knockback to their target; that knockback is multiplied by the damage percentage. Once you've dealt enough damage to a target, the knockback of your blows should be enough to drive them off-screen, whereupon they vanish with a small explosion and a scream. By being particularly violent with your controller you can execute "smash" attacks, which typically deal much higher amounts of knockback at the cost of taking a little longer to deliver. Typical matches put up to four contestants on screen at once, so things quickly get hectic.

This time around the character roster is huge. Almost all the fighters from Melee return, with the exception of Roy, Pichu, Dr Mario and Mewtwo. On top of that there's over a dozen new characters, including Solid Snake, Sonic the Hedgehog, Wario, R.O.B, and Olimar from the Pikmin games.

If you get tired of dealing out massive amounts of violence to the likes of the World's Fastest Hedgehog (which seems unlikely) then you can spend time validating our consumerist object-driven society by collecting things. First up there are some 500-plus trophies to find, each depicting an item of Nintendo nostalgia, from Mr Game and Watch through to Nintendogs and the Ouendan cheerleaders. Then there's 700 stickers, mostly highlighting particularly obscure games or alternate character designs (watch out for Ashley from Another Code, Dunning from Hotel Dusk and the costume designs from Mario Strikers).

If that isn't enough fan-service for you, try 258 tracks of Nintendo music (including classics such as the Tetris Type A & B music, the Wii Sports theme, and an instrumental version of Snake Eater). Or 40 stages to fight on, including ones based on Electroplankton, Animal Crossing and Pictochat.

There's so many ways to experience the core gameplay of Brawl that there's likely something for everyone. You can play multiplayer locally or over the internet, with any of a variety of rule sets. You can take on the game single player in Classic Mode, or single player or co-operatively in All-Star Mode. The Target Tests make a return, as does the Home Run Contest and the Event Series, both of which can now be played two-player co-operatively. There's also a massive story mode called Subspace Emissary for one or two players, which is packed with stunning and frequently hilarious CGI cutscenes. Subspace Emissary unfortunately mixes some rather crap platforming sections into the fighting, and has a pretty repetitive second half, but it's still a great addition to the game.

Probably the biggest downsides of Brawl are the same ones that Melee had. Firstly, with four players on-screen, and some rather big levels, it can get very hard to see where you are and what you're doing. Secondly, because of the wide range of characters and the fact that there's really no other games that use the "launching off-screen" mechanic, it can be a little difficult for new players to jump into a multiplayer game and intuitively understand what's going on.

That's not to say it's in any way hard to play - just that new players will likely want a couple of minutes with the training mode before getting hammered by experienced players. The game luckily includes an auto-adjusting handicap mode for multiplayer, which means that new players will be adjusted to being competitive against veterans after only a couple of losses.

For those who've played the previous games and want to know how the new characters hold up, I have to say that R.O.B, Meta Knight and Pit are a joy to play and have become instant favourites. Sonic is unfortunately rather crap and is so fast that running off the edge of the stage by accident is a real risk (the AI does this regularly). Snake is reasonable enough but is ultimately rather dull to use. Lucario doesn't thrill me but then neither did Mewtwo last time around. Lucas is mostly identical to Ness, only (in my opinion) better, with a PK Thunder that can pass through multiple targets and a PK Fire that has knockback. Ike is similar enough to Marth as to be hard to distinguish, and is really nothing like Roy from Melee. Wario plays a little like Mr Game & Watch but is awkward and I haven't really enjoyed him. Olimar is clearly supposed to rely on a complex Pikmin-management strategy but I can't get that to work for the life of me so I've temporarily resigned him to the "do not play under any circumstances" bin. Wolf is similar to Fox and Falco, trading in some of their agility and speed for more damage and knockback (a trade that I approve of). Diddy Kong is a little hard to describe - he mixes a bunch of agility and recovery with some reasonably range and speed attacks, but I just don't seem to use him much.

Of the returning characters, Ganondorf has suffered what seems like an extreme nerf, now being even slower and less agile, with his moves taking even longer to pull off. Samus also seems a little weaker, though I can't put my finger on exactly how. Marth no longer has quite as much punch but is a little faster, which seems to balance out. Everyone else seems largely the same as in Melee. The electric mouse is as cheap as ever.

All in all, this game is a must for all Wii owners. It's one of the defining games of the console, and you should absolutely buy it at your first opportunity. It's still not out in Australia, but it should be shortly.

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