How does one start off a review for what is quite possibly the game of the year? A game that sold 2.7 million units in March of 2008 in the United states to be the number one seller, 2 million more units than the runner up, and over 4.85 million units world wide? A review that, unlike most reviews around here at the ‘Cola, I had to compete for the honor of writing? What can I say that hasn’t been said? How can it be said in a way that offers a new perspective? I would like to start off by thanking Zach for making the competition to write this review exciting and by dedicating this review to him. We both write for GameCola because we love to play videogames, and I’m sure we both did our time on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but in the end, only one of us gets to review it.
First impressions of the game are 10s all across the board, and I could easily bore you to tears describing how everything is top notch, from controls to audio, with the aid of my trusty thesaurus. The game does falter slightly here and there, but overwhelmingly this is a title everyone should own and is accessible to casual gamers, stays true to the series for the hardcore gamers, and balances play between the two so everyone can enjoy playing together. This core concept is what Nintendo and ultimately what the Wii brand is all about, and the game pulls it all off exceptionally.
The play concept here is simple. It’s primarily a 2D fighting game. Pick a character, fight alone or with friends, and customize the game to your heart’s content. The cutscenes offered up in the one player mode are visually stunning, and the only downside to them is that they’re too short and you can’t get enough of them. The most impressive thing about the art style is that it seamlessly blends genres and art styles together so when Princess Peach and Princess Zelda are standing next to each other, it doesn’t look like a crappy sprite comic. The same goes for most if not all of the characters, regardless of where they originate. Outside of the cutscenes, textures are crisp and vivid on all characters; animations are fluid, smooth, and extremely detailed; and never once is there a drop in frame rate, even when all four characters are battling on the screen. The stages match the characters in vividness and there is little that isn’t visually amazing. The graphics here are probably the most sophisticated to date for any Wii title.
The sound is no exception. With numerous tracks available and unlockable from every title where the characters originate, they’re all recreated in a lush, full presentation that almost makes you feel like you’re listening to a classic whether the song is old or brand new. The sound effects are the same as in previous titles, but they have been polished up to keep up with the soundtrack. The audio never gets annoying or repetitive, and while you will probably never wet yourself with excitement when you unlock a new track, it’s always a treat to pick up an old classic or discover a new tune.
The controls of Smash Bros. titles have always felt a little unconventional to me, and I was absolutely sure I would be sticking to the GameCube controller. While the GameCube controller accurately and acceptably performs the duties, the Wii remote and nunchuck combination does the job equally well and I find more comfortably, since it does not force your hands to be brought together. Using the Wii remote sideways or using the Classic Controller are other options, but neither matches the comfort and functionality necessary for the core group of players. Still, the control scheme itself is unique and can be disorienting to players not used to the game or gaming consoles in general, and it may make for an elongated learning curve. However, with such a wide variety of balanced characters, learning curves can be as long or short as you make them.
There are more than enough modes to keep any one person occupied for a fair amount of time, especially with the Subspace Emissary adventure mode. This mode alone will take you several hours to play through on your first attempt and offers several different difficulty modes to match your abilities. Even if one player mode gets old, and there are several different one player modes to choose from, you can take your battle to the Internets. For the first time, a Smash Bros. title has online multiplayer capability. The online interaction is gimped compared to what XBL users are accustomed to, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a round of thrash-the-stranger, even if most of the customization options are relegated to friend code matches.
So what keeps the game from being a 10? The Subspace Emissary with a second player is unbalanced and a little boring. The camera only stays focused on Player 1, leaving Player 2 to get easily left behind and even die due to off-screen issues. The levels themselves are a little bland from time to time and the forced scrolling rarely works in the game’s favor. Some of the characters do not adapt well to the side-scrolling genre, and some of the enemies and bosses seem arbitrary and irrelevant. The majority of online matches I played were very fluid, but occasionally there were some lag and connection issues. The unlockables are great, but ultimately the sheer volume of them is somewhat overwhelming for the type of player who likes to collect everything. This can be a very daunting and frustrating task since some rewards require a high skill level to unlock. The sticker system, which is used to beef up your characters in the Subspace Emissary, is very cool but far too expansive for the limited usage it sees.
Conceptually, there are just too many characters from the same games or series. While this title does make some strides in adding interesting new characters like Sonic, Pit, and Solid Snake, we see a lot of additions from the same titles that already have characters to represent the series. We have more characters from Star Fox, Fire Emblem, Kirby, and Pokémon, which feels unnecessary. Compared to a game like Jump Super Stars, the lack of different series represented is slightly disappointing. Although there is a random user-made stage chosen every day for online play, being unable to play your custom stages through the online play is somewhat disappointing, and the lack of downloadable content is a missed opportunity.
Overall, these issues are marginal, and while they make the game slightly imperfect, the overall experience is exceptional, even though your mileage may vary slightly. While the game does a lot of new things, it carries a lot of the elements that made the predecessors successful. This is sort of a mixed blessing. While it can leave the experience stale, I’ll be the first one to rant when a developer strays from a formula that wasn’t broken in the first place. There is no reason not to own this title, and honestly, if you own a Wii, I’m most likely preaching to the choir.