March 13, 2008

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Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Wii)
Nintendo, March 9
By Glenn "Zero Suit" Given production@hippopress.com

Hit Princess Peach with a giant hammer! Shoot Pikachu with a machine gun! Rejoice!

Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Nintendo’s latest iteration of its madcap multiplayer fighter, makes its way onto the Wii with much hubbub, and rightly so. Dredging up 35 characters from the big N’s library of IPs and roping in a handful of guest fighters (notably Konami’s Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog in a move that pats another shovelful of dirt onto SEGA’s grave). Brawl pits up to four sluggers against each other in spastically frantic fisticuffs. Smash Brothers builds on a foundation of standard 2-D fighters and layers platforming elements, random item usage and over-the-top super moves onto its gladiatorial fields.

While the near three dozen fighters have a limited array of maneuvers — four basic, four “smash” and four super attacks (like Link’s boomerang or Mario’s fireballs), and a screen- clearing super move activated by catching the bouncing Smash Ball dropped randomly onto each stage — the variety of combat can be surprising. You’ve got heavy hitters like Donkey Kong, who can rely on slow but powerful strikes; nimble fighters who focus on hit-and-run tactics, and trickier warriors who can use surprise tactics to force their opponents off screen to their doom. The core gameplay of the series remains: wail on your foes until they’re in the red, then knock them off the edge or into the stratosphere to take them out. The dozens, or maybe hundreds, of items like laser guns, power mushrooms and health boosts that flit about the field can switch the tempo of the fight on a dime.

Brawl takes the series to the new generation of consoles with an impressive dose of features. In addition to the solid multi-player and single-player tournament brackets we get stage editors, mini games, sticker and trophy collections and a moderately deep single-player adventure mode in the “story”- driven Sub Space Emissary. The SSE concept is a middling affair, though. It’s a hybrid fighter/platformer, as the Tekken series attempted years back, that does neither particularly well. Jumping controls aren’t responsive enough to make the platform elements worthwhile, and the fighting seems oddly tacked on with arbitrary enemy placement. For the most part it’s inoffensive (until you reach the stupid amount of backtracking of the Maze stage) and the rewards (character unlocks, new collectable items and the like) make it worth the hours required.

The big kahuna here is online multiplayer. Brawlers can connect to the Nintendo WiFi net and challenge random opponents or friends (using the Wii’s friend codes) or watch match replays. Unfortunately the wait time for random opponent matching can be obnoxious and the lag vacillates between mildly annoying and “oops you’ve been disconnected.” Scuttlebutt suggests that these problems are launch-day jitters and that when Nintendo’s servers shake out the matching and severe lag issues may quell.

Despite these flaws, Super Smash Brothers Brawl is an ambitious fighter that aptly explores the Wii’s capabilities. While it might never achieve the heights of multi-player excitement that a Halo 3 does, Brawl is certainly no slouch. Group play is crazy fun and there is enough depth and hidden treasure to keep lonely Wii fiddlers glued to the little white console for days. AGlenn Given