Review by LenDar22
"It does NOT replace Melee, but it's a remarkably successful follow-up."
If somebody ever says they spent some time with Melee and comes away without having had incredible, pure "fun" with it, the first thing you should do is check for a pulse. Seriously, it's incredibly rare--Smash Bros. is extremely approachable, if not very deep. Grasping the game's mechanics are hardly difficult, and yet there's so much to do, partly because the diverse cast of characters are somehow balanced in spite of having drastically different special abilities. Smash Bros is definitely about fanservice, but it is also very much a real game, all right.
The concept of the original Smash Bros. actually began with the idea of a fighting game where there are no "knock-outs," but the system where increased damage only made a character more reactive to attacks to be thrown out of the ring. It was THEN that the developers asked to use Nintendo characters, and Melee (especially) ended up being Nintendo heaven--pretty, Nintendo-themed stages, remixed music tracks, and appealing portrayals of Nintendo characters (and now, of course, everybody fights hand-to-hand!).
The appeal, as a fighting game, is in extremely diverse character types, a wide-open playing field, and some interactive environments and special combat items. In all of these respects, Brawl clearly aimed to expand Melee--a game that squarely hit what it aimed at--without leaving anything good behind, with some somewhat mixed results.
Brawl's fight engine, right from the outset, is definitely slower which has caused fan complaining, although I can see some of its benefits. Attacks thrown simultaneously in Melee would cause a duel that would cancel the attacks, which tends not to happen in Brawl. Personally I had only one real strategy in Melee, which was all-out assault, and I hardly ever blocked, and the herky-jerky nature (albeit more impacting) of the violence is contrasted by *smoothness* here--block, dodge, attack, get position, and so on just has more room to happen more methodically. It definitely loses some of the intensity of all-out intensity of Melee, but it would be a mistake to claim that Brawl's engine doesn't have its advantages.
Sometimes Brawl's aesthetic can be its downfall, and one of the best examples of that is the Star Fox stage--it is completely simple, unchanging and non-interactive, and yet a ridiculously overactive background stands to be a full-blown distraction to the gameplay rather than something that compliments atmosphere. In not being satisfied by merely making a stage, the aesthetic definitely *gets in the way* in the most obnoxious ways imaginable, oftentimes. At the time this game was made, clearly gamers have been carried away with flashy graphics (this game IS competing with titles on hardware some ten times as powerful) and it's unfortunate to think this game suffered because of it. Even if the aesthetic contains most of the creativity, however, the essential stage design is still excellent. Personally I find it unfortunate that more ambitious stage-design like Melee's "Rainbow Cruise" (which is also here) wasn't expanded upon--fluid, changing stages. The stages in Brawl the change layout are mostly sudden and inexplicable, which is disappointing when more could have had the sort of movement that Melee's had. Once again, the ingenuity of the courses are somewhat different, especially with an emphasis on environmental hazards (parts of the stages that threaten).
The most glaring absurdity of Brawl, however, is the use of items. In short they are fantastically overpowered. In Melee a Pokeball or Hammer was about as devastating as items could get, where anyone would quit fighting and head straight for them, but in Brawl, there are fewer items that AREN'T game-breaking like that--Pokemon are more threatening than before, and now there are "hero assist" items that are as harmful or worse, an even more powerful hammer, and so on. Every character has a "Final Smash" attack which is acquired, idiotically, by chasing an item around the screen, and these attacks range from easily-avoided to so overpowered that they could knock out every character, and in a few cases, even *again* after a fighter respawns (Sonic's and Snake's come to mind)! While the "Final Smash" idea is amusing, it devastates the character balance.
On the other hand, some less overpowered items are definitely inspired. The bumpers are fantastic, which can be thrown and will bounce characters around like a pinball without causing damage. The needle cushion is another great idea, not deadly, but becomes an object to be avoided.
The character balance is pretty spot-on. Some are a bit different from the way they handled in Melee but the special attacks are definitely more interesting than ever. The new characters (much more far-out Nintendo references, since Nintendo did a good job of listening to who fans wanted to see) blend very nicely with the old. Sonic and Snake are especially interesting, not Nintendo property--Sonic's speeding isn't much different from Yoshi's egg attack (and even more hazardous to use), but Snake is as successful as he is ambitious, using attacks that are radically different than other characters, a clone of no one, without being really disadvantaged or overpowered. As someone who hates the existence of "The Twin Snakes" remake, I'm now glad it exists to justify the presence of Snake in this game.
The fanservice: Brawl makes the smart move on this one. Melee was very nearly perfect Nintendo fanservice, and so this time around, Nintendo brought extra talent into the design of Brawl. For one, the music is remixed by many composers, among the most famous in the industry. Talent from Squaresoft appears, also, such as in the outrageous, wordless story of "Subspace Emissary." While some of the results are mixed and downright underwhelming, it avoids Nintendo overdose, respecting all of the "Nintendo" aspects while taking it to some new places. Subspace Emissary is expansive and the potential for making a full-blown platformer based on the Smash Bros. universe is loosely realized, here. The level design is often annoying but never overly offensive. Hopefully next time around what was clumsily put together here might be more fully-realized: a thorough story and game about the Nintendo universes crossing, with proper respect to the old and the new. For the Square talent involved, this effort is definitely similar to Kingdom Hearts with Disney, and could be every bit as successful, and moreso, since it's already based on game material. What's here isn't bad and compared to the charming Adventure mode in Melee, this was obviously meant to accomplish the same and more--but again, more still could make a compelling package.
Brawl definitely has mixed results all the way around, and the fact is, mostly anything objectionable is adjustable when customizing matches in Brawl mode or online--the ridiculous items can be turned off and certain stages avoided. The developers didn't seem to exercise a lot of restraint with what ideas they threw into this game, and the result is that there's little to directly complain about as something built on an already good game. There's just so much material in this software to enjoy that it's hard to be disappointed. A few things would have improved it: trimming some excess (which hasn't truly damaged the core game, really), and more ambition. But what Brawl has definitely accomplished is "completeness" for what it actually is, and that counts for a lot as an extremely solid, playable, and replayable game. It won't (or shouldn't) rock the world, but it's hard to go wrong, either--keep Melee, grab Brawl too. Hopefully the next will get the best out of both and then some.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/24/09
Game Release: Super Smash Bros. Brawl (US, 03/09/08)
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