Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Do you remember the music to the third level of 1996 SNES game Yoshi's Island? Wouldn't it just be super cool if someone gave it a funky remix with a full orchestra? If the answer to this question is 'yes', then do not pause for thought, to eat, sleep or even get dressed - just tear off down to your local game emporium with some form of negotiable currency and pay whatever they're asking for Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii. This game is unquestionably the absolute apotheosis of Nintendo fanboy trivia, references, character team-ups, collectables, homage, pastiche and nostalgia. For those that answered 'yes' then this is probably one of the best games ever, created by true lovers of Nintendo for true lovers of Nintendo, overflowing with features and innovation blended with nostalgia that will reward players as much the 100th time as it does the first sweet taste.
On the other hand anyone that said 'No - I don't remember the music and rarely if ever find myself humming the tune from Mario Kart's Rainbow Road track' will have a slightly different experience. There are plenty of sites out and about that are simply having a knee-trembling, toe-curling nerdgasm of such orders of magnitude that they need a cigarette and a cuddle afterwards, but they often speak for the hardest of the hardcore gamers. Here's the skinny for all the regular, casual, girlfriend having gamers out there: Super Smash Bros Brawl is big, shiny, explodey and will be the most chaotic fun you and your three mates can have with a Wii, and unlike plenty of Wii games it won't even be too much effort to play after coming back from the pub.
The principle of Smash Bros is unchanged from the earlier instalments on the Wii's console progenitors. Pick one of a wide selection of Nintendo characters, get dropped into a 2D arena with floating platforms, and smack around the other fighters until they weaken and can be batted right off the edge of the screen, victory to the last Mario standing.
The fights are insane, acrobatic affairs. Characters with completely different designs from completely different stories double-jump and platform hop, grab ludicrous power ups ranging from flame throwing flowers to baseball bats to laser cannons. What seems to be a giant pink marshmallow swallows Princess Peach whole and spits her out like a cannon-ball at Luigi. Starfox grabs a Mario World mushroom and briefly becomes enormous, rampaging over Kirby and the Metroid. The Snow Bros hammer the crap out of Pikachu, only to be in turn victimised in a rain of cartoon violence by a heavily armed cherub from some obscure franchise you never even heard of. Explosions occur, special moves are inadvertently pulled off, no one entirely knows what's going on, glorious Technicolor chaos rules absolute.
The battles are a form of chaos that the players do their best to hang on to and influence in their favour, like a weaponised avalanche - an experience that Nintendo does better than anyone else, be it grinding rims and dodging shells aboard a Mario Kart or trading pyroclastic flows of explosives and insults in Bomberman. Also much like these two aforementioned titles the gameplay can almost immediately be grasped and the controls are simple, with the directionals hopping your character as you would expect, one block button, one normal and one special attack button. Thusly educated pretty much anyone can play and have fun, especially if their companions are of a similar standard. Also like Bomberman and Mario Kart, the simple interface belies the deep voodoo and ninja mysteries that the serious player will start to uncover strange and esoteric techniques that will shave whole seconds off lap times and escape the seemingly airtight trap, much to the confusions and frustration of the uninitiated. Brawl has unexpected depth in its fight mechanic that puts to shame more 'serious' 2D fighters such as Guilty Gear or Super Street Fighter: Orange Sherbet or whatever the latest incarnation is called.
The line up of characters and backgrounds in this game so completely encompasses the oeuvre that Nintendo has carved out for itself that even the most causal gamer is likely to at least smile once, recognising a sight or sound from their gaming youth or an infiltration into pop culture. At heart, the vast majority of the game's appeal is based upon these moments of nostalgia, but such attention to detail has been paid to each and every feature that it manages to stand up on its own. The causal gamer can think of it as the equivalent of watching the third Matrix movie without ever having heard of the previous two - you have no idea what the hell Keanu Reaves is muttering about, or why there are 500 copies of that guy from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but its all spectacular and shiny so I won't ask questions and just look at the pretty flashing lights. All but the Yes Men from the very first question will have no idea who three quarters of the characters are, or what the arenas are meant to reference, but every single frame of character animation and inch of platform has been lovingly created and tweaked.
In addition to the multiplayer heart of the game there is for the first time in the franchise a genuine single player mode where the solo gamer will play through a series of levels themed on the games the characters are taken from. Strung together with beautifully rendered silent cut-scenes, some sort of ludicrous plot about a threat to the gaming multiverse means titanic team-ups are in order to save the day. Without reference to the manual, there's no way on God's green earth anyone could work out what its all meant to be about - again like the third Matrix - but soon the pretty lights and mad action fade it to inconsequence. Such is the speed and style of the single player mode that it could have made a perfectly respectable game in itself, and at the very least acts as an excellent training ground and introduction to all of the characters to later challenge your peers with.
Should peers be in short supply, the inclusion of an online feature will provide you with a world of opponents, but in truth you might as well play against the AI. As each battle will last only a few minutes, there is little satisfaction in playing with remote and unseen folk - the banter, outrage and shared excitement of your flesh-and-blood friends always accounts for at least half of your brawling fun.
Certainly not considering it any sort of badge of honour or boast, I would consider myself slightly more positioned in the hardcore gamer than the casual gamer camp, but the friends I tested with were firmly in the casual bracket. The lunacy and the explosions certainly pleased them for a short while, but it wasn't long before their interest waned a lot faster than it ever did over sessions of Bomberman or Kart. Some of them found it actively boring after about an hour of play, which suggested to me that unless you're prepared to dedicate several serious hours of play to start uncovering the esoteric mysteries of the fight system, there might not be enough to keep the casual gamer engaged. You will certainly have to go a long way to find another game which has as much thought gone into its creation, and despite its friendly cartoon exterior it probably enjoys as much a considered production as the latest dour Metal Gear instalment. Despite its absolutely luminal reception, there is a strong argument that Brawl will appeal to the two polar opposites of the gaming community but fall flat to the majority of 'middle class' gamers in between. The very casual gamer will enjoy the chaos and the pyrotechnics, the hardcore gamer will love the bizarre mojo they can discover to gain their edge, but the middle of the road party player will probably soon tire of the impetus of play without being able to access the deeper mysteries. This is unquestionably a great title for any Wii owner, and is worth your hard earned cash, but might not be the epoch making gaming experience that the wider press has hailed it as.
Here's a further thought from Duncan's "middle class gamer":
For the purposes of this article I have been nominated as the "middle class gamer", although I find even that would be an exaggeration. My introduction to computer games happened very late, by way of an old Nintendo 64 that someone left at the house we rented at university. Much of my memory of those years is closely associated with days wasted on Bomberman, Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers; games that required little dexterity, were instantly accessible and infinitely replayable, imbued with bags of charm and humour, perfect to play with your mates and a selection of narcotic delights. Nothing will make me giggle as much again as being high on Rainbow Road at 2am. Therefore I have had a special nostalgic affection for Nintendo ever since, and although I have been mostly underwhelmed by the Wii so far, I was quivering with anticipation at the chance of playing my favourite character, the little pink blobby again, only to be cruelly let down.
For starters, using the Wii's magic wand as a standard controller is unwieldy, although it is hard to imagine how stick waving could have been incorporated into the game concept. The adventure mode was nonsensical and repetitive, whilst the chaos of multiplayer mode that had been so riotously funny and exhilarating in the past, in Brawl is just annoying, confusing and monotone. Since the game has changed very little, and the superior rendering adds little to this very basic concept, I have to conclude that I am too old for this full frontal sensory assault of silliness. Super Smash Brothers no doubt has the potential to take the same place in the hearts of the Speed Racer and Agent Cody Banks generation as its previous incarnations hold in mine, but for this world weary "middle class gamer" the magic has certainly gone out of the franchise. As radically different a platform the Wii is compared to its predecessors, it is calling for a new 'classic' that we can fall in love with all over again rather than the rehashing of old favourites. Maybe one that will finally justify perfectly reasonable adults waving their arms about in their living room like deranged windmills.
By Anna Patai
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