Review by abear90
"A decent game by itself, but subservient to its predecessor in every way"
I cannot recall a game in recent history that had more hype going for it than Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I remember avidly following the daily posts on the official Brawl website until the day that Brawl came out, my excitement building as more and more facts about the game were revealed. I remember waiting in line at midnight to buy Brawl and staying up all night playing, entranced by the flashy visuals and what I assumed to be gameplay enhancements. Had I reviewed Brawl in March of 2008, I probably would have given the game a solid 9. However, now that the enchantment of playing a game that I had been waiting seven years for has worn off, I see Brawl as a complete letdown, a disappointment, and a step backwards for the series. I admit that some areas of the game are strong, but the majority of the game shows carelessness and lack of inspiration.
Super Smash Brothers Brawl certainly went for a more casual, big-buttoned-interface feel than Melee had, and generally all the menus in the game are inviting, colorful, and easy to understand. This was done well - the GUI is clean and easy to navigate. However, what was sacrificed, apparently, by creating a more colorful interface was speed. I still do not understand why this is even an issue, but load times in Super Smash Brothers Brawl are simply inexcusable. Getting to the title screen from the usual Wii wrist strap warnings takes a good fifteen seconds. Getting to Melee's main menu was instantaneous. Yes, once the main menu is loaded, you won't encounter many loading times except for small ones before matches begin. But a game with an interface this simple with load screens at all is kind of embarrassing and somewhat mysterious. Besides this small gripe, though, the Brawl menu system is well organized and easy to understand.
Yes, everyone talks about how great Brawl's soundtrack is, and I'm going to do the same. If you're a fan of Nintendo games, you're going to love the 250+ looping tracks that Nintendo has crammed onto the Brawl disc. While some songs are very, very lame (Electroplankton and WarioWare, I'm looking at you), most of the songs sound brilliant. Hearing "Sonic Boom" while brawling on Green Hill Zone is a priceless experience and if only for that, I'm glad that Sonic was included in this game.
But music is only half of Brawl's sound experience, and, sadly, my thoughts on the actual gameplay sound effects aren't as positive. I don't know if it's just me but everything in Brawl sounds....shallow. Powerful hits don't sound at all powerful. Too many attacks sound the same. I don't really understand what's missing here - it's hard to put a finger on, but the lush, powerful, sound effects that Melee had are missing in Brawl and were replaced with lesser sound samples. I wish I could explain this better - I recommend that you go play Melee and listen to different attacks, and then play Brawl, and see what I mean.
I don't understand why so many people praise the graphics in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. So many times I've heard things like "this game has the best graphics of any Wii game" or "look how much better Link looks now than he did in Melee!" I'm not going to be completely ignorant and suggest that Brawl looks worse than Melee, because it doesn't. There was definitely some effort that was put into making all of the character models look better and adding particle effects and the like. But really, if you look at the huge advancements that the Super Smash Brothers series made graphically between the N64 and GameCube - and I mean HUGE - in a time period of about two and a half years, and compare that jump to the jump between Melee and Brawl - a time period of seven years - the graphics just don't seem all that impressive. Instead of doing a complete graphical overhaul like in the transition from the original Smash to Melee, Brawl developers chose to simply update what already existed in Melee. The sad part, though, is that not everything that needed graphical updates got them. As I mentioned, characters and stages look great, and sometimes stunning, but some of the items are STILL flat, two-dimensional, tiny, barely recognizable images. Sadly, some of these two-dimensional items are even new to the Smash Bros series. The deku nut, for example, is way too small, has a blurry texture, and is not three dimensional. Granted, technically nothing in this game NEEDS to have depth as Super Smash Bros is, at its core, a two-dimensional fighter. But if you're going to allow a rotating camera and snapshots from different angles of your game, you should at least make sure that when the camera looks at items from behind those items do not look laughably out of place in an otherwise 3D environment. On a similar note, too many items are too small and look too similar. Specifically, the Franklin Badge, trip mine, and deku nut are much too similar. Personally, I'm colorblind, and for the longest time I had to guess which of those three items I was picking up because besides color, there really isn't much difference in size or shape between them. Overall, Brawl's graphics are acceptable, which seems to be fine for most people. But what I judge them by is whether or not they look good for being seven years newer than Melee's graphics. And based on that standard, Brawl seems to have put forth just enough effort to call its graphics an enhancement, with no more effort than just that.
Brawl's gameplay is by far the biggest, most depressing part of the whole game. Like so many other Wii games before it, Super Smash Brothers has finally gone casual with Brawl. Now, I really have nothing against turning a confusing game that only an elite few can play into a simpler experience so that more people can enjoy it - it is a smart way to expand a game's audience. But Melee was never inaccessible or difficult to control. Melee was not confusing or considered a game for the gaming elite. Yet, apparently, by Nintendo's standards, Melee's gameplay was too quick and complicated for the average human being, and needed to be watered down in Brawl. To be honest, it kind of offends me that Nintendo seems to have made the assumption that most people who buy a Wii don't have the motor skills to play a real fighting game. So, with oh-so-slight adjustments to Melee's game engine, we are left with the Brawl engine, which is no longer a fighting engine but a party game engine. Gameplay mechanics weren't added from Melee to Brawl; they were simply taken away or adjusted. Off of the top of my head, here are some adjustments that were made that break Brawl's gameplay:
The overall gravity is too low - many attacks that would normally send opponents towards the sides of the screen instead send them upwards, momentum was removed, you can air dodge as many times as you want but cannot control the direction of the dodge, all characters are "floaty" and masters of air combat, tripping was added (where you have a 1% chance of falling when you dash) and there is no option to turn it off, you cannot adjust the intensity of your shield anymore, you can now mistakenly grab items in midair simply by pressing 'A' (instead of purposefully pressing Z, like in Melee), gameplay is considerably slower than Melee's, and although it's hard to compare, may actually be slower than the original Super Smash Bros' gameplay, you can pick up items while running (which, again, leads to accidental item pickups), shielding on the ground works too well and can be activated during combos where shielding should not be possible, toadstool jumping was added but is almost always only an accident when it occurs, you have to try to die by not making it back to the stage as almost all of the stages end too close to the invisible death boundaries, and the list goes on. All of the above "additions" (minus toadstool jumping and tripping) were simply adjustments to a system that was already established in Melee, and not new material. Now, these changes make for a great party game - there's no doubt about that. But if you wanted a fighter that builds on what Melee started, don't look for it in this game.
At first glance, there is a lot of stuff packed onto the Brawl disc. But nearly all of this content is simply what was packaged in Melee with new paint on it. Brawl has all of the same single player modes as Melee with the addition of the Subspace Emissary, the new adventure mode, and the resultant new Boss Fight mode. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the Subspace Emissary, although I could. In general, the SSE is boring, way too long, confusing, and unnecessary in this game that should be focused on multiplayer and multiplayer alone. All of the other modes are identical to Melee, only worse, it seems. Classic mode, for example, is way too repetitive, and beating it with all 35 characters like certain challenges require you to do is draining and pointless. The event matches, which were in my opinion some of the best things about Melee, are terrible in Brawl. All of the creativity that filled each and every match that Melee had is lost in Brawls events. The rest of the one player modes are just as bland, and just as similar to Melee's with nothing added that makes them worth playing. A few of the modes now have multiplayer support, but that doesn't make the modes any more enjoyable. Target test mode now has only 5 levels that any character can play instead of unique levels for each character like in Melee. I realize that this addition was made for the sake of comparing speed runs of each target level, but what made target test enjoyable in the first place were the character-specific challenges that the old target test levels used to bring us.
There are virtually no changes to the multiplayer section of Brawl from the modes that Melee had except for the addition of a few useless party friendly modes that I have never used. What I can't believe wasn't changed from Melee to Brawl in Brawl mode is the ability to save your default starting game type. Just like in Melee, each time you power on Brawl, the default game type is a two minute time match. So each time you play for the first time, you have to adjust the rules to whatever game type it is that you prefer playing. Why can't we set the default rules to a three life stock match? This is just another stupid little oversight that could have been addressed to make Brawl a little bit better than Melee, but even this obvious room for improvement was ignored. If you've seen Melee's multiplayer options and modes, you've seen Brawl's. That much has changed here.
The vault is a new section of the menus in Brawl that sounds different but is really just what Melee has already done with a few additions. For example, now you can see your stickers (worthless want-to-be trophies that are only usable in the Subspace Emissary as character stat adjusters). Brawl also contains a stage editor that had great potential but turned out to be too simple and too limited. With a whopping TWO backgrounds to choose from for the stage you create, most stages look similar, and with the limited number of building blocks that you are allowed to use, it is nearly impossible to create a stage that would be fun to play on more than once. Brawl also added the ability to save and watch replays of games that you play - that is, if the game that you played happened to be less than three minutes long and you happened to choose to save that match once the match ended. Realistically, no match that I have ever played with a five life stock limit has ever lasted under three minutes. If you truly wanted to save a Brawl match, you would have to decide beforehand that you were going to record it and set a time limit or low stock limit accordingly. Then, there are masterpieces, which are short demos of games that some of the Brawl characters originated from. Some of the demos are so short that you spend more time loading between starting the game and finishing it than actually playing the game. None of the demos are long enough to actually appreciate any of the games, which is disappointing. The Chronicle, also a new addition, is simply a list of every game that Nintendo has ever released. And...that's it. O.......k. Finally, there are the challenges, which are actually kind of cool and remind me of the achievement system on Xbox. Challenges added a lot of replay value to Brawl for me, although some of the challenges were completely ridiculous. Granted, Brawl does give you the option to complete a few of the challenges without actually completing them. But some of the hardest and most ridiculous challenges, such as clearing the boss battles on the "very hard" difficulty, are immune to this freebie system, and these challenges are more frustrating than challenging.
Playing Super Smash Brothers online was the very thing I was looking forward to most in Brawl. Unfortunately, out of all of Brawl's shortcomings, its online mode is the most broken mode by far. As Brawl was released before Nintendo's voice chat "solution," there is no option to use a microphone in Brawl. Instead, you can only hope to communicate through four preset messages that appear when you taunt with your character during a brawl. Because of this, playing online feels no different than playing against computer players. Actually, playing computer players instead of playing online is the wiser option, given that there is no lag in local games and that your stats are actually kept track of in local games. Yeah, if you ever want to know how many online games you've won or how you stack up against other Brawl players, too bad, because there is no way to find that information out. Also, even though Guitar Hero 3 accomplished this well before Brawl was released, you cannot stay "signed in" to Nintendo Wi-Fi while you play a local brawl so that you can receive game invites in Brawl mode. Rather, if you want to play an online game with your friend, you both have to happen to be in the online menu of Brawl and be glancing at your friend list. In other words, there is no way to simply happen across a game with someone on your friend list. You're going to have to call your friend up on the phone if you want to organize an online game. Playing with anyone in the world is another option, but matchmaking is buggy, extremely slow, and the resulting games are usually unplayable due to lag. I have waited in the matchmaking lobby for more than 30 minutes and come back to find myself still not in a game. Even online games with people on your friend list are usually laggy enough to make playing strategically impossible. Brawl's online mode is simply, unarguably, broken and unplayable. Given that we are well into the age of online gaming, it is extremely disappointing that Nintendo cannot even give its most popular multiplayer offering a working online mode.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10
Yes, Super Smash Brothers Brawl is highly playable. Yes, it can be fun at times to play a few hours' worth of 4 player Brawls. But the main problem with Brawl is that it is not an improvement over Melee. Even the parts of Melee that Brawl tried to copy somehow went wrong in development. Brawl tries to cover up its lack of depth with more characters, more stages, more songs, more modes, etc. I really am sad to be admitting all of this since I really wanted to believe that Nintendo could and would create a game even greater than Melee, but I cannot ignore all of the shortcomings that Brawl contains. I recommend that if you own a Wii and you don't own a Super Smash Brothers game that you buy Melee from a bargain bin instead of paying full price for Brawl - trust me, you won't be missing anything.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 09/18/09
Game Release: Super Smash Bros. Brawl (US, 03/09/08)
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