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Wii Reconnects with Super Smash Bros. Brawl

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Saturday, March 15, 2008
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No game company on the planet has been more successful at building marquee-quality franchise titles than Nintendo. And, on a related note, no game company has been more successful at finding a way to integrate most of its franchises into a single, “everybody needs to buy this” sort of game. Nintendo achieved the first feat with Super Smash Bros., a simple “knock your enemies off the screen” fighting game developed by trusted Nintendo partner HAL Labs, and followed it up with the even more ambitious Super Smash Bros. Melee. The problem: the first game was released on the Nintendo 64, and the second on the GameCube, neither a super-popular game system. Still, Nintendo sold roughly 5 million copies of the original Super Smash, making it the N64’s fifth most popular game, and 7 million of Melee, which made it the GameCube’s top seller. How could a sequel do on the red hot Wii?

The answer is most likely going to be “very well.” Super Smash Bros. Brawl ($50) was released this week in the United States after a successful February launch in Japan, where it has already sold 1.4 million copies. And no matter what you think of the gameplay—most major publications have praised its accessibility and simplicity, while some see the action as button-mashing and chaotic—the depth of the title is quite possibly peerless. Brawl has been in the works for two and a half years, during which Nintendo’s specially-formed, Tokyo-based development team has been stuffing the DVD to the gills with nostalgia. Seriously insane amounts of it, such that anyone who has owned a Nintendo console since 1985 will find random references to their past, and Nintendo’s, scattered all throughout what otherwise is a 1-4 player punching and shooting game. You don’t need to appreciate, say, the Mario Kart theme of the level above to enjoy the action, but knowing why you’re repeatedly being hit by go karts while you’re fighting is the difference between a challenge and a chuckle.

Once again, Nintendo’s biggest draw here is the slate of characters drawn from major and minor franchises it—and friendly companies—have released. Brawl lets Mario, Wario and Princess Peach fight against Pikachu, Donkey Kong, Link and Zelda. It resuscitates Pit, hero of Nintendo’s beloved Kid Icarus. And, for the first time, Brawl brings in two non-Nintendo characters: Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Konami’s Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. More photos and details are available by clicking above or below.

The game’s primary mode is a 1-4 player smack fest that takes place on the equivalent of a single screen full of platforms, though depending on the level, the camera focuses only on certain platforms at the same time. Rather than possessing a traditional life meter, your character punches, kicks, and uses projectiles to create instability in on-screen enemies—0% is complete stability, and over 100% is enough to risk being knocked off the screen, losing the game. This system replaces “instant death when your life runs out” with a way to let you keep fighting—with a higher risk of elimination—even if you’re in the multiple 100’s. A good hit at that point will almost certainly eliminate you, but if you’re skilled enough to avoid a hit, you can keep going. Weapons tossed into the levels, background-specific ways of being eliminated, and character-specific, dramatic “Final Smash” attacks, keep the action varied from level to level.

As with earlier Smash Bros. titles, Brawl pulls its backgrounds from classic Nintendo games, but pretty dramatically updates them visually, improving the smoothness and animation of art last seen on discontinued consoles. As is almost always the case with Nintendo-developed titles, the backgrounds do not tax the Wii’s graphics hardware, but they look good, sometimes great, and bring added depth to scenes that fans of past Nintendo games will instantly recognize. Above, a realistic castle scene inspired by the less-well-known Japanese game series Fire Emblem contrasts with the hand-drawn, completely cartoony look of Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story, games that focused on Mario’s dinosaur comrade. Characters are rendered by Nintendo to the best of their classic forms, such that Mario is a textured cartoon, Link and Zelda are more realistically proportioned, and Donkey Kong is a hairy, semi-cartoony mix.

A big and unexpected treat in the game is Subspace Emissary mode, a single-player adventure mode that starts off weak and is dragged down by mediocre movie-style cutscenes, but winds up surprising you with its length and variety of classic game inspired levels. Early on, the NES game Kid Icarus—one that for years has begged for a sequel—is recreated in cloudy, platforming stages involving Pit and some familiar enemies, each with much-improved graphics that whet the appetite for a more complex follow-up.

Donkey Kong, once the star of his own series of successful (albeit controversial) action platforming games on the Super NES, also gets his chance to shine again in the Subspace Emissary levels. A couple of stages allow both Donkey and his Junior sidekick Diddy to roam through jungle and barrel stages inspired by the SNES titles, smashing enemies and finding items scattered across the levels. On occasion, you’ll find a colored door that leads to a secret room full of enemies and a little trophy.

These trophies, and related items, are the game’s other big draw. The more you play, the more you win, and the more you explore, the more trophies, items, backgrounds, and songs you find from classic Nintendo titles. That earlier reference to “insane amounts” of nostalgia? As you play, the game constructs a vault full of unlocked items: literally hundreds of songs from old Nintendo games, 3-D models of characters and items, and much more. Then there’s the area where you have a minute or three to try stages from the games—40 seconds of Ice Climber, 1 minute of Super Mario Bros., 1:30 of Kid Icarus, 3 minutes of Super Metroid or Star Fox 64. And the places where you can learn how to unlock more hidden content, or use coins accumulated in the game to buy it.

After a day of playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it’s obvious that we’ve only scratched the surface. Ten or so levels into the Subspace mode, and we’re still under 10%, and we haven’t even tried the free online play mode yet. Hopefully a friend out there has the game too—we expect to have another quick report on Brawl if so.

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Comments

1

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Happy Smashing!

Posted by Jiji on March 15, 2008 at 7:20 AM (PDT)

2

Nice mini-review, but how was the Donkey Kong Country series even remotedly “controversial.”  You are the first person I’ve ever heard of saying that they are “controversial.”

Posted by Cameron on March 17, 2008 at 8:22 AM (PDT)

3

I was personally a huge fan of Donkey Kong Country (and to some extent, part 2, not so much part 3), but there were two conflicting schools of thought on that series: mine (amazing graphics, very good music, fun action-platforming, new pillar franchise for Nintendo), and one that I’d call the “contrarian” view, which held that the series was a knock-off of the Sonic series maintained by development teams (read: Rare and Treehouse) who weren’t worthy of Nintendo’s Japanese roots.

The former view was originally dominant, and considerably more widely held when DKC1 appeared and rhetorically blew back the Sega-3DO-Atari onslaught that was threatening Nintendo at the time. After DKC2, the latter view started to emerge, gaining even more in popularity after DKC3 and DK64, continuing with the “I hope EAD rescues DK” stuff when handheld and GameCube titles appeared.

Some people in the latter camp have suggested that the series sucks and deserved to disappear entirely years ago. It is my opinion that this view was held mostly by people who are such die-hard Mario and Nintendo Japan fans that they couldn’t see the value of a second, different series of platformers to the company.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 17, 2008 at 11:19 AM (PDT)

4

I dunno, I just thought DKC wasn’t very fun…

Posted by Therum on March 17, 2008 at 5:50 PM (PDT)

5

Thanks for the response, Jeremy….I can see the “contrarian” point of view but that still seems nuts to me.  A good game is a good game, and I really don’t think anyone can say that DKC1 and 2 were great games….By 3, I thought it was getting a little old.  Never played 64, but from what I hear it was a lot of item collection….I think Rare lost its touch after Goldeneye…

I’m a die-hard Nintendo fan…but that doesn’t mean that it has to all be Mario!

Posted by Cameron on March 18, 2008 at 8:59 AM (PDT)

6

I’m one of those weird parents who doesn’t like to expose my kids’ (9 and 11) to violence for violence’s sake. I appreciate cartoonish violence—Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Lego Star Wars. But the whole point of Super Smash Bros. is to beat and shoot and eliminate an opponent by violent means. The little bit of action I’ve seen seems objectionable to me, especially to expose to my kids. But maybe I’m being too harsh and judgmental. What do others think? (Birthdays are coming up and I know this is on their wish lists.)

Posted by Plan K on March 21, 2008 at 7:23 PM (PDT)

7

Plan K:

Smash Bros is a fighting game, however, the goal is not to kill your opponent, but to knock him off the stage.  There is no blood, and the action is very cartoonish and comic. 

Ultimately you can only decide what’s best for your kids, but I would think a 9 or 11 year old would handle this just fine. 

Might I suggest you peruse Youtube for some gameplay videos?  that might help your decision…

Posted by Cameron on March 24, 2008 at 10:01 AM (PDT)

8

OK, it’s taken me a couple of months, but I’ve had a chance to look at gameplay videos and read a lot more about this. In addition, my sons have hounded me endlessly about getting this game. The easy thing to do would be to knuckle under and promise them this game as an incentive for completing projects this summer. And nothing would make me happier than providing them such an enticing incentive that would please them so much.

But it comes down to this: It’s a game about using violent means—hitting, burning, exploding, shooting fire (and arrows?)—to eliminate an opponent. Yes, there appear to be no bullets and no blood and no death. It may be the least violent fighting game on the market but it’s still a violent fighting game.

I know my reasoning may be on thin ice. They play the Mario soccer game in which they electrocute each other on the fence and blow each other up in midfield. They play Mario kart games where they sideswipe each other off an impossibly high bridge. They even box each other in Wii Sports, knocking each other’s Mii silly. Why do I have such a problem with Brawl?  In those other games the point of the action is to win a contest of some sort in which violence is really not central (though boxing may be an exception). But the whole point of the entire game of Brawl is to go after each other violently. Yes, the violence may be cartoonish, but the perspective, the outlook, the stance of the game is entirely and intensely physically abusive. In other games, there are redeeming values—scoring a goal, winning a race. In Looney Tunes there were redeeming values—Bugs Bunny cartoonishly blew up Yosemite Sam to keep him from annexing his rabbit hole. But Brawl is violent for every reason—and for no reason.

Having said this, I’m still torn. It is rated T for a reason. And my kids are not yet 13.

And I know that Brawl’s violence isn’t realistic. But that’s almost another argument against it. Would it not be better to show children the realistic outcomes of using violence? Doesn’t this cartoony violence give them a false impression of what it’s really like? Wouldn’t it make more sense to show actual consequences of violence to keep them from it?

There has got to be a better game out there than this. But my boys, of course, say there isn’t.

Posted by Plan K on May 28, 2008 at 3:31 PM (PDT)

9

I agree with Plan K.  I’m a mom of 9 and 12 yr olds and this series promotes absolutely nothing but violence and more violence.  And I’ll go a step further in declaring that it’s games like these that are destroying the moral fiber of our youth in this country - from the first in the series through now.  They just get more and more violent.  Parents, when is enough enough?  This is a means of slyly indoctrinating your children to MEANINGLESS VIOLENCE.  As for our household, it is a resounding “NO”, regarless of their ages!!

Posted by Cherie on March 21, 2009 at 10:08 PM (PDT)

10

“It’s games like these that are destroying the moral fiber of our youth in this country.”

This game has absolutely no role whatsoever in “destroying moral fiber.” If you’re looking for someplace to point a finger, blame lax parenting, poor education, and lowered expectations. Suggesting that a video game is destroying a child’s character is about as pointless as claiming that Elvis was responsible for the downfall of Western society. Games don’t raise kids or teach them values - parents do.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 22, 2009 at 1:16 PM (PDT)

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