Discussion Review: Super Smash Bros. Brawl

SSBB_BoxArt.jpg So it’s been awhile since we’ve done a discussion review on a game. However, one as big as Super Smash Bros. Brawl deserves the type of review that we here at VGBlogger pride ourselves on (and hope to get back to more often under our newly revamped review format). With that said, Zach and I spent the past week chatting about our experiences with the game, just wrapping up our little discussion earlier today. So without further ado, hit the jump and read along as we delve deep into the world of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I think you’ll find our take on the game a bit surprising…

Zach: While SSBB has been out for over a month, now that all of the hype has finished and the initial novelty of the game has warn down a bit, I feel that I can look back at the game and give an objective opinion. Let me start by saying that, in most areas, it is the best game in the Smash Brothers series thus far. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s flush out what I believe to be the game’s weakest point: online play.

Nintendo had a wonderful opportunity to make Smash Brothers Brawl the pinnacle online fighter. It was definitely the part of the game I was looking forward to the most. Unfortunately Nintendo’s policy for keeping children safe has again trumped fun, and what I was left with seemed more of an afterthought than anything else.

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m a 26 year old software developer who works in a company of about 120 individuals, many of which are older than I and if I’m lucky enough to find a gamer out of the bunch, they’re more likely to play a 360 or PS3 because they feel that the Wii is too “kiddy.” Therefore I’ve only been able to add about three people to my friend code list. Yes, I said friend code list! Nintendo has once again gone with the friend code system to ensure that the local pedophile down the street isn’t playing with your child.

Anyway, online play can be thought of as two different beasts: “with friends” or “with anyone.” If you play with people on your friends list, online play is actually quite fun. You can setup different matches, pseudo-communicate via custom text phrases, and even do a little co-op as well. However, more often than not in my case the three people in my friends list aren’t playing and therefore if I want to play with human opponents, I’m stuck playing “with anyone.” This consists of two modes: 2 vs 2 team battles or free for all. That’s it. You’re forced to play 2-minute timed matches while the weapons and levels are voted on by all participants. And while you can add friends of friends to your own list of online pals, when playing with anyone human contact is strictly forbidden.

SSBB_4.jpg

Matt: I have to agree, Zach. The online model is very disappointing, and unfortunately it’s not the only area of the game that has let me down. But let’s get the online quirks out of the way since that’s where you started things off here.

If you don’t have any friends to play with, Brawl‘s online is essentially pointless. You can have a bit of fun at least knowing that you’re competing with other human players, but without the ability to tweak match settings or earn any ranking it’s just not that satisfying. Plus, I’ve had a hell of a time actually finding matches in the “With Anyone” mode. Most of the time I sit there at the character select waiting and waiting for others to join, ultimately finding myself giving up after 5-10 mins. It’s just not worth the hassle. I’d rather just play against AI in the single-player modes so at least I’m unlocking new content.

If/when you have a few buddies to battle with, the online is definitely a more rewarding experience, but still, Nintendo’s friend code system continues to hold back every online-enabled Wii game and it’s really getting frustrating at this point.

What about gameplay performance, you had any problems with that? A large percentage of the online matches I’ve played have suffered from noticeable lag or slow down, which is particularly devastating to a fighting game. Any lag whatsoever throws off your reaction time and attack timing, two things that are vital to winning in Brawl.

SSBB_2.jpg

Zach: Back when I was playing online more often that now, I did have some lag issues. I’m hesitant to blame the game however, since at the time my wireless router was having issues and after upgrading to a new one, the lag issues seem to have gone away for the most part. Though I have no credible way to back this up, I believe that the lag is caused by one person having a poor connection, because I would notice that usually when one individual would drop, the lag would disappear.

And also, I forgot about the whole rankings thing. Being a competitive player, I want to see how I stack against other individuals. Not being able to have any sort of ranking indicating my performance against other people was a little disheartening.

Having played Mario Kart Wii online for the past few days, it’s obvious that the two teams did not communicate with one another at all regarding online play. There are stark differences between the two and Mario Kart seems to be a much better package all around. Perhaps that’s not a fair comparison, since in Smash Bros. you can have a variety of settings and with Mario Kart you just race or battle with the only options typically being on where. So it might be that Smash Bros. just doesn’t fit as well into the same online model as Mario Kart.

Matt: Yeah, it’s always hard to pinpoint for sure whether lag is a problem with a game. I just know I have a pretty good connection and rarely suffer any connection problems with other games I play online, so the regularity of the lag I’ve experience so far with Brawl leads me to believe it’s an issue with the game’s online model. I’d be a little more forgiving if this was around launch date when performance issues are expected due to the sheer volume of people all trying to play at once, but I am only just beginning to play the game so I don’t think it should be as bad as I’ve found it to be.

SSBB_1.jpg

But enough of the online, let’s dig into the rest of the game, because man oh man is there is a TON of content in Brawl. Its greatest asset, in my opinion, is without question the sheer quantity of, well… stuff (for lack of a better word) that’s been crammed into this game. The online play, the packed lineup of offline multiplayer options, the stage editor, and the surprisingly robust single player experience, not to mention the mass volume of new characters, stages and rewarding unlockable content like trophies, stickers, music tracks and even short timed demos of some of the classic games that have inspired the Smash Bros. experience. I always loved the unlock system of Melee, but Brawl takes it to a whole new level. It’s just so rewarding to always feel like you’re progressing and gaining new toys to play around with. I even love the new coin exchange game for gaining new trophies and stickers, being like a coin launch arcade shooter of sorts rather than the previous gumball machine-type system of Melee.

As much as I’m blown away by the staggering amount of content Nintendo smashed onto the disc, it may come as a surprise that I’m actually quite disappointed in the gameplay. Shoot, I know I’m surprised to even hear myself saying that, but sadly it’s the truth. For whatever reason, something about the fighting just doesn’t feel right to me anymore. I pulled out my copy of Melee to see if I could pinpoint exactly what is rubbing me the wrong way and found two very subtle but very important differences. First and foremost is the camera. In Brawl it zooms out WAY too far when you get into four-player matches, so far that most of the time I can hardly tell what the hell I’m even doing. Most of the stages are so much more expansive and elaborate that when the camera zooms out I find myself getting lost and confused as to what’s going on, and it’s really frustrating.

My other issue is with the controls. To me they just don’t feel as tight as in Melee. Characters have this slight slipperiness to their movements that bugs the shit out of me, and I also seem to have to fight too much to get my character to change directions, so I’ll wind up attacking in the opposite direction than I intend to at an aggravatingly frequent rate. These quirks are so subtle and thusly kind of hard to fully elaborate on in print, but in playing Brawl back to back with Melee there’s something with the way Brawl plays that just isn’t jiving right for me.

These problems really only bug me in the head-to-head fighting modes. In The Subspace Emissary — the game’s solo story campaign — the game basically plays like a classic Nintendo-style 2D action/platformer, so the camera never has to zoom out from the action and the slipperiness to the character movement isn’t that big of a deal since precision attacking isn’t nearly as important as it is when competing in frantic multiplayer brawls. Honestly, the Subspace Emissary has been my favorite mode in the whole game, and it’s like eight hours long, which is crazy for a fighting game. Though of course the last like three hours of that is a long, winding maze that has you replaying the same levels and bosses you’ve already completed, but even still I must say it’s the best single-player mode I’ve ever played in a fighting game.

SSBB_5.jpg

Zach: I believe the control issue that you’re referring to is the fact that all of the characters seem to “float” more in Brawl than in Melee. I’m not sure of a better way to explain it, but the action in Brawl is somewhat slower due to everyone’s airspeed being drastically reduced. It also feels like I have about 50 helium baloons tied around my character every time they leave the ground. While this makes things like edge guarding more interesting, seeing as how it’s somewhat easier to get all characters back to the level’s edge after jumping off, on those levels where you can’t fall off (like Snake’s Shadow Moses Stage for example), the action is almost in slow motion when compared to Melee.

The single player mode of Brawl is at least one shining point like you mentioned. I hate to do this again, but having played Mario Kart Wii so much recently it’s another stark comparison. Once I’m finished playing the single player portion of Mario Kart and have all of the karts/characters unlocked, I see myself playing exclusively online. Brawl is the exact opposite. I want to avoid its online mode like the plague but can’t stop unlocking new songs or achievements, regardless of how mundane the task. For example, participating in ten brawls on a given stage might unlock a new soundtrack to listen to. Though it may seem like a waste of time, Nintendo has done a great job egging on that completionist inside me, mocking me by knowing that there’s always one more trophy or sticker to collect.

I’d have to say the best part about Super Smash Brothers Brawl is its single-player campaign mode. The Subspace Emissary surprisingly had a great story that actually made sense. This is a particularly hard compliment to obtain considering that there is absolutely no spoken dialogue in the cutscenes, and you have characters from a variety of series interacting with one another. I also liked how you could unlock every character in this single player campaign, instead of having X number of matches. This allowed me to obtain all of the new characters within eight to nine hours of starting the game to see if I could use one of them as my main. One of the problems with Melee was that it took so long to unlock some of the characters, by the time you could play as Mr. Game & Watch or Mewtwo you already performed well with someone else. Considering that I’ll probably be playing Brawl in tournament in the future, this is a great step forward.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Brawl has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to. Nearly all of the tracks are recognizable updates to classic gaming music from all of Nintendo’s systems. Heck, they even had “Sonic Boom”, the title track from Sonic CD which I’ve had in my CD case since I was 12 or 13. I’d even go so far as to say I’d spend money on the soundtrack alone, unfortunately I can’t find anyplace to purchase it.

SSBB_3.jpg

Matt: The character movements definitely have a floaty quality to them and do hover in air much longer, as you said, but I still come back to the characters feeling “slippery” as my main complaint. When moving around, characters continue sliding forward once stopped to change directions due to their momentum. Now that’s realistic, sure, but I’m not really looking for realism in a game like Brawl.

I’m glad you brought up the soundtrack, as I’m in absolute 100% agreement with you. Brawl‘s got one of the best, if not THE best, gaming soundtracks ever composed. But that shouldn’t come as any major surprise given the talent Nintendo pulled together to work on it. Musicians and composers from Metroid, Kingdom Hearts, MGS4, Xenogears, Wild ARMs, Mario, Zelda and many other past and present classic game franchises have all contributed to the soundtrack. I’d say it’s a milestone achievement in video game music.

Oh, and Nintendo should totally release the soundtrack by itself. I’d buy it in a heartbeat. It’d have to be some multi-disc compilation though I’m sure, as there are simply too many tracks to even count.

I guess since we’re talking about the audio and just about to wrap up this review, it’s probably a good time to touch on the graphics. Not much to debate here I don’t think. Brawl is far and away the best looking game I’ve played on the Wii so far, proving that the platform is capable of some impressive visuals when the time and effort is put into getting the most out of it (I just got Mario Kart Wii and it looks so dated compared to this). The characters are all painstakingly detailed, appearing as if they were pulled right out of a CG cut scene. Many of the stages are downright breathtaking as well, and actually contain a lot of cool interactivity in the way of destructible set pieces, platforms and backdrops that are both visually appealing and directly impacting on the gameplay.

In closing, I’m unfortunately going to have to end things here on a sour note because as I said earlier I’m overall rather disappointed with Brawl. In terms of the presentation, single-player campaign and content, this is the best game in the Smash Bros. series yet, but the multiplayer (online and off) and core gameplay seemed to have deteriorated just a bit since Melee, and sadly those are the two most important elements. As crazy as it may sound, to me Brawl isn’t quite worth the must-buy verdict I was fully expecting to give prior to playing it. Unlike most games that I get in review copies for, I bought Brawl on my own, and now that I’m done with the story mode and not too keen on the online play, I don’t see myself playing very much anymore. So in all honesty a rental was probably all I needed.

Matt-TryIt.jpg

Zach: I would have to agree with you. Going from the original Super Smash Bros. then onto Melee, I was fully expecting Brawl to top it by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, it’s been merely a month later and I’ve stopped playing the game altogether without the motivation to start playing it again unless I get very bored. Like you mentioned, the online play that I was most looking forward to was very poorly implemented and, unless you have 30 friends with the game, isn’t very fulfilling.

For the majority of people, I would say rent this title before purchasing. The only way I could see purchasing it is if you already have a lot of friends currently playing, you plan on competing in quite a lot of tournaments, or you have a lot of parties in which you would use the multiplayer aspect more than just once a month.

Zach-TryIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Top-notch soundtrack and graphics
+ Subspace Emissary is quite possibly the best single-player mode ever in a fighting game
+ Staggering amount of play modes, stages, playable characters and unlockable content

Cons:
– Disappointing online implementation
– Floaty, slippery character movement feels imprecise
– Camera often zooms so far out that it’s hard to tell what’s going on
– Overall, the core fighting mechanics just don’t feel as tight and balanced as they were in Melee

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 3/9/08
Genre: Fighting
Players: 1-4

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!