When a new Smash Bros. game comes out, it's not just a cause for celebration. It's an excuse to call in sick, get your friends to call in sick, and then get together to play it for several days. Now with the third installment in the series, Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii, you'll need to come up with a lengthier affliction in order to free up some time to discover all its immensity.
A lot has been added this time around, and, boy, do we mean a LOT. There are several new fighters joining the traditional cast, who manage to keep up just as well as the veterans. Sonic the Hedgehog, for instance, has an effective speed dash and enough attacks to keep up with his former console adversary Mario. Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series is a cool addition as well, especially when you discover his Final Smash (more on that in a second) and get into targeting mode. Other characters fit right in here, including Kid Icarus' Pit, Metaknight from the Kirby series, and the hotness that is Zero Suit Samus, among others.
It's not just the fighters that are new, however. Several additions to the series are introduced here. Final Smashes are scattered throughout, floating through each stage in the form of balls. You and your friends will be doing mad dashes for these, as possessing a Final Smash pretty much assures you a victory. Brawl also includes a new Trophy Assist system, where you can assign a number of secondary characters to help you out in the middle of a fight. It's a shame we can't control these characters directly as playable fighters (especially Mac from the Punch-Out!! series), but, really, the game's jam-packed enough that you won't mind.
User-created content is a huge new addition here, and leaves the door open for the "next step" whenever a new Smash Bros. game rolls around. You have the ability to create your own levels with a limited number of tools, and then submit them for Nintendo approval through WiiConnect 24. Certain levels that make the cut will be made available for users to try out for a limited time. This feature wasn't fully operable during our playtime with the game, but it provides yet another reason to make Brawl part of your daily gaming regiment. Anyway, other options include generating game replays and snapshots, along with modifying rules and soundtracks for each match to your liking. It's a deep, intricate system that changes the course of each and every fight. We love it.
Speaking of stages, we just have to talk about a few of our favorites. The Metal Gear stage, where a huge walking droid bursts through the wall as you fight, is awesome. So is the Wario Ware stage, where you must contend with on-screen obstacles along with your opponents. You'll see when you're fighting in the middle of StarFox's huge space battle, watching ships blow up in the background and there's also something charmingly old school about seeing Sonic's Green Hill Zone stage, with a loop sitting in the background.
Overall, the visuals do pack a punch. The player textures, explosions and animation are very smooth, even in the thick of battle. The game as a whole manages to run sixty frames per second with hardly any slowdown, although there is a little loading time before the start of each fight. The overall appearance of the game does seem a little bit like Melee 1.5, where everything and the kitchen sink is thrown in for good measure. No matter â€“Nintendo's still made a hell of a good looking game.
Something should also be said about the game's soundtrack, featuring a number of contributions from several composers, including Koji Kondo and (YES!) Yuzo Koshiro. It's simply divine to listen to the background music, thoughtfully composed and completely stirring over the course of each fight. Some of it's pretty nostalgic as well, hunkering back to Nintendo's old school days. The sound effects are also spot-on, including sound bites from each character (Mario still sounds like Mario, for better or for worse) and thunderous explosions and makes fine use of your audio equipment. Crank it up.
As for gameplay, Nintendo's Brawl team knows how to please its audience. The game supports several controllers, although some work better than others. The best way to go is obviously with a GameCube controller or a WaveBird, as you'll nail down the feel of your fighters with traditional controls. The Wii remote and the remote/Nunchuk combinations also work, along with the Classic Controller. However, the game just feels best using a controller you're most familiar with, rather than a thin remote control or the stiff Classic pad. No matter what you choose, though, you'll have no problem getting into the game's uber-addictive fighting action. You'll pull off combos and Final Smashes in no time flat, whether you're a Smash Bros. veteran or a newbie discovering the goodness of the series for the first time. The fact that the game is so approachable â€“ and yet allows you to map your buttons any way you see fit â€“ is meaningful to the cause.
Brawl has a strong single-player component, thanks to the numerous missions available in the Subspace Emissary, the thoroughly entertaining Classic Mode and a heaping amount of unlockable content, along with tons of stickers and trophies. However, the game stays focused on multiplayer. The local four-player offline play is as awesome as it's always been, as you can take on your friends in the comfort of your living room (or office or whatever). However, for the first time, the series introduces online play through the Wi-Fi Connection. It runs very smoothly in online battles, although you have to go through the trouble of entering Friend Codes in order to enlist new competition. Real-time chat would've been excellent here, especially when passing along a post-Brawl victory speech or grumbling in defeat. Instead, we just have a few quickie virtual taunts, although they're better than nothing. Overall, this game satisfies whether you're online or off â€“ but it obviously works better with friends than by yourself.
At the very least, we can say, "Thank you, Nintendo" for giving us the most thoughtful Smash Bros. entry to date with Brawl. Yeah, the graphics don't really go too far forward, the online options could've been less strenuous, and the load time could've been cut back. Regardless, there's still far greater good here than we could've ever expected from the game. The gameplay options and customization features are very user-friendly; the presentation (for the most part) is marvelous; and the barrage of single-player and multiplayer options will keep you playing for weeks, months, even years. Enough talk â€“ get yourself a copy and get ready for some of the best fights of your life.
Oh, and AOL GameDaily crew, you're on notice.
Our Score: Excellent 9 out of 10
Super Smash Bros. Brawl Game Guide