Super Smash Bros. Brawl does not make the kind of leap that Melee did coming from the N64 game. I guess when you find a working formula, you should stick to it. I wouldn’t consider Melee the end-all of brawlers, though. It was chaotic to the point where you could hardly tell what was going on. Fortunately, Brawl is a little slower and toned down, but it’s still not on the same level as the original Smash Bros. Some like it crazy, anyway, and crazy is what this game is. Where else will you see Pikachu and Samus (in her form-fitting zero suit) teaming up together?
Brawl plays its crossover basis to the extreme in the new Subspace Emissary adventure mode. Remember those platforming sections from Melee that played out like a simple 2D beat ‘em up? Well, now they’ve created a 10-hour story mode just like it. If you ever wanted a story that made absolutely no sense, this is it. Characters meet up at the most inopportune times and join forces against an evil whose goal is vague and whose leaders constantly switch hands. It’s fun to see Diddy Kong and Fox interacting in beautiful FMV cut scenes, but it starts to feel like that’s all this adventure mode is: a chance to throw random characters from different games together. There’s no dialogue and not much plot, and the real potential is missed. The adventure mode itself ends up being a pretty tiring endeavor. It’s repetitive, remixes the main music theme to annoying lengths, and has some absolutely obnoxious enemies. The Smash engine just doesn’t bode well as a platformer, either, feeling kind of loose and sloppy. It’s possible to have a second player join in co-op, which alleviates some of the pain, but they have no control over the camera and end up getting dragged off the screen a lot.
So the Subspace Emissary didn’t work very well. Bad news for you, playing it is the easiest way to unlock everything. There’s still the typical Classic Mode, Break the Targets, and other special events, but that’s possibly an even more frustrating avenue. I love how the Smash Bros. games always have so much content. However, it takes a long, long time to open it all up. That’s great for completists who like a game with legs but not so fun for those who wanted to experiment with Sonic right off the bat. And, honestly, does Smash Bros. need a gimmick to keep you playing? The games have never been about playing solo.
Multiplayer, then, is a blast. In the very same vein as Melee, this is a frantic free-for-all starring 33 Nintendo and two third-party mascots. The roster of characters is fantastic, and I really can’t think of any others that would have kept it from being ridiculous. Some of the newcomers, like Captain Olimar, are throwaways, but the likes of King Dedede, Pit, ROB, and Sonic add a lot to the game. There just seems to be a greater balance between light, medium, and heavy classes as well as a wider array of skills to toy around with. A few returning characters have been tweaked, though. Jigglypuff doesn’t feel as strong as she used to, and Mario’s special attacks are different (and possibly worse). Still, with 35 characters total, it’s perfectly fine for even half of them to never get played.
In an attempt to one-up the character roster, Brawl also includes 41 stages to fight on. Their themes range from Animal Crossing to Mario Kart to Electroplankton (a pleasant surprise). But ten of the levels are ports from Melee, and they aren’t even the best ten. A problem I had with Melee was that the levels were too elaborate. If they weren’t moving like a side-scrolling platformer, they had too much going on in the background. That still rings true for most of Brawl with the exception that you can now make your own levels. At first, I was disappointed with the small amount of materials available, but the stage builder levels are now my favorite ones, because I can keep them simple and clean. You’re even allowed to save levels to an SD card and play from the card, theoretically allowing you to create, store, and exchange thousands of levels.
Brawl doesn’t change the overall mechanics of the franchise, though, which is both good and bad. As noted earlier, the speed does feel a little more manageable but still fails to provide those satisfying, solid punches that the original N64 game did. Brawl also throws in a few new items to shake things up even more. Assist trophies act like pokéballs. When broken open, a character (who can be anyone, even that girl from Drill Dozer) will pop out and wreak temporary havoc. There’s a smash ball, as well, that randomly appears and flies around until someone breaks it. The player who does get it can then unleash a final smash which almost always kills everyone. It’s fun to see everyone scramble to get the ball, but the final smashes do feel a bit cheap. It’s such a relief, then, being able to turn this off. You can turn everything off if you want. Customization has always been a big part of Smash Bros., and Brawl is no slouch. You can even control which songs play how often on each level.
Smash Bros. Brawl is the biggest compilation of Nintendo music you will ever find. There is a ton of stuff here, including sweet remixes of the Balloon Fight and Big Brain Academy theme songs. What’s really surprising is that most of the music goes unused. It simply sits there and waits for you to finally call on it in one of your custom levels. The graphics are also very impressive and, behind Super Mario Galaxy, are the best of its kind on Wii. Widescreen helps tremendously, and the framerate rarely falters. During the adventure mode, though, there is a lot of loading between gameplay and cut scenes. And, all things considered, Brawl doesn’t look vastly different from Melee. There is an improvement, but it’s hardly a “next-gen” step.
What really makes Brawl feel like a GameCube game is the fact that the best way to control it is with a GameCube controller. The developers had the good intention to allow you to use just about any control scheme you want, whether it’s the Wii remote and nunchuk, just the remote, the classic controller, or the GameCube controller. All of them have their strenghts and weaknesses and, as such, there is no definitive way to play the game. What is nice is that you can create user profiles and customize the controls for each. You just can’t have two people on the same profile, nor can you set a general default, so whenever somebody new joins your party, you’ll have to make a profile for them.
Super Smash Bros. Melee was a game I played to death… to the point where I no longer liked it. With that history, I initially found it difficult to enjoy Brawl. Brawl doesn’t stray very far from its predecessor, minus the Subspace Emissary adventure mode, which is a mistake to jump into first. After having spent some time with the multiplayer, however, I now absolutely love the game. The new characters are great, the level editor is a wonderful inclusion, and the amount of variety and customization solidifies this as a game to hang onto.