Smash Bros Brawl is no doubt the biggest game to hit the Wii yet, and if history indicates anything, it very well could be the best selling Wii game by the time the console retires. Such epic expectations seem daunting, though we know that many fans are already more than pleased with the results. With experience in all three games, videolamer’s Chrises explore the world of Brawl.
Christian: Alright Chris, we’ll get right down to it. As a “love letter to the fans”, how does Brawl stack up? Personally, I am impressed with the sheer amount of content, but am shaky on the execution. The music is abundant, but too many of the tracks are straight out of the game they came from, and the newly arranged tracks are often a little too conservative for my liking. Nintendo promised a ton of composers, but it is hard to see the fruits of their labor.
The roster is the biggest we have seen, yet the selections seem stacked in favor of certain franchises, likely in an attempt to appeal to the current likes of the Japanese fanbase. It pains me to see someone as recent as Lucario while Little Mac is still not a playable character. The stages on the other hand are fantastic, and combined with custom music choices I find myself having a hard time choosing just one. If you spend enough time trying to earn all the music, trophies and stickers, there is a lot of Nintendo history to discover. I wonder though if that is what I want, while some of the choices in roster make Brawl a little less than the definitive history of Nintendo.
Chris: I’ll address the character issue first: I’ve played four of the six Dynasty Warriors games, and I’m a rabid fan of the history (and un-history) behind them. I’ve been hoping they would add certain characters for years and am still disappointed. The thing is, though – once you reach about the 30 character mark in any game, it really starts to dilute things. Characters start to play very similarly regardless of how hard the creators try to make each unique. Similarly, when making Brawl, there were probably a couple of compromises made to appeal to a broader fanbase, but I’m glad they didn’t make every Nintendo character and their mother a playable character. The game remains fairly easy to pick up because of it.
To me the biggest “wow” factor came from the music – I’m still finding and enjoying tracks. I do have to agree with your point, though – the composer list is a “Who’s Who” of video game composers but each only arranged a few tracks, and some didn’t change the music much. Sometimes it’s a good thing, but more often I’d like to hear something different with a familiar core. As far as the stages are concerned, I like the variety but many of them feel overly random after playing Melee. Almost every stage has some sort of dire threat to the players. This was one complaint I heard from those who switched from the first game to Melee also.
Christian: I agree about not putting all the Nintendo characters large and small into the game. I still feel that a few of them are screwballs, and some series are represented too strongly. They’re still missing a few key faces. Moving on, you touch upon two different aspects, so we’ll take them on one by one. We’ll leave the topic of randomness until later, and first look at some of the general changes from Melee. I haven’t had much issue with tripping, and the modified air dodge is quite interesting. In Melee you could move around with an air dodge, and it was a great way to safely jump across a level (or make weapons like the Super Scope worthless), whereas in Brawl it dismisses directional movement in favor of allowing you to do it many times on your way to the ground. A big change, but one that gives you more chances if you screw up.
I’m not sure what to think about the damage modeling this time around. It feels easier to K.O. someone at low damage than ever before, with some characters getting knocked off the screen at only 120% damage. This makes it easier to turn the tides in a battle, but perhaps too much so. It becomes harder to dominate when a few stray moves might even up the score. Still, just like people adjusted to Melee, I think they will appreciate Brawl’s modifications after extensive play.
Chris: Melee’s air dodge really was too effective in my book. It allowed for a significantly large radius of movement – sometimes on top of air recovery moves. I liked the depth having air dodges added, though. Brawl’s is a significant change, and I’m still getting used to the new one, but I think I like it better. As far as damage modeling, I haven’t seen a significant difference but then I would often see characters KOed at 90% or lower in Melee. The larger difference I have noticed is that the game seems to run a bit slower – the faster characters no longer have the huge advantage they used to. I see this as a good balancing fix, and it might not be very noticeable except in tournaments and the like.
Christian: Now to discuss randomness. This is an element that has crept further into the game with each iteration. It is all part of Nintendo’s plan to make the series about fun over competition, perhaps at any cost. Thus we have stages like Wario Ware and Electroplankton, and the wild behavior of the Smash Ball. This has pissed off a lot of fans, especially the tournament crowd, and I simply cannot agree. I understand that Nintendo’s stance on “fun over fair” is almost as much of a saber waving crusade as the tourney kids who refuse to use items, but I can understand Nintendo’s strict and mothering ways. They have been like that for all my gaming life.
I do not understand why randomness is bad in Smash Bros. I understand it is a competition, with wins and losses and all sorts of stats. But I do not care about any of this in Smash. My old college buddies are a highly competitive bunch with most games; for example we compare kill to death ratios in Call of Duty 4. When we used to play Melee, it was all about getting drunk (or stoned) with items at maximum and watching the hijinks ensue. Smash Bros. excels at a certain kind of chaos that few games can replicate, and extra randomness makes it even crazier.
Basically, my approach to all of the Smash games is to have fun, no matter what that means. I don’t care about winning. I know this sounds like the most foreign concept in the world, but it changed my view of the series completely. Smash is not the place for competitiveness, and this is coming from a fighting game nut. And really, that is what I would recommend to the hardcore Smash crowd. They are so worried about its competitive integrity, but I feel like telling them to go take their discussions of frame counts and priority and apply it to a Street Fighter. This is a series that started off as a random experiment, that later added Nintendo characters to development, made by the guys who made the Kirby platformers. All of these aspects mean that Smash has close ties to platformers and their own randomness, as well as a very unclear motive or purpose. I think this should be embraced, rather than judging it so closely to the rules of the fighting genre.
Chris: While I agree that Nintendo’s changes are Nintendo’s decisions, I’ve seen a bit of the tournament crowd and there really is a lot of depth to Melee. Part of it is due to engine quirks and less obvious techniques – Wave-dashing and L-canceling being the primary ones, but air-dodge and grabs were more effective as well. All have been changed or (for the former two) removed entirely from Brawl.
I’m really divided on this issue. I like the structured approach to more competitive play (even if it’s still a 4-person free-for-all with items off) – I found it every bit as refreshing as when I played Counterstrike way back when. But then, I can appreciate the random craziness in the game as well. Melee did a good job of both, and I enjoyed each in different situations. It’s almost like playing two entirely different games. Many in the hardcore Smash crowd aren’t too happy about Brawl because (perhaps unintentionally) Melee was good for competitive play. I don’t like other fighting games much at all, so I can’t say how other games compare in depth, but I do know it’s still amazing to watch two people who are really good play against each other on even terms. Different players enjoy different styles of play, and I don’t see competitive Melee any differently from competitive Halo or Pokemon.
I think Nintendo / HAL might have seen two roads they could go down, and they decided to expand more along the lines of casual than competitive. The competitive players will cope – they’ll either go back to Melee, find another game, or find ways to break down the randomness for tournament play. I’d guess most already have. To some degree I sympathize with the hardcore crowd, but I think the decision has more or less been made for them. For better or for worse, Brawl is more random than its predecessors. It’s better for party games that way, but it does turn some players away from the game.
Christian: Understood, and ultimately that is the topic where we’ll take different stances. As a hardcore fighting game fan, who has seen what the genre has offered, I don’t understand why some players would want to take those competitive skills and apply them to Smash. I have seen videos of high level players, and for me it simply doesn’t compare to a good video from Street Fighter Third Strike or Alpha 2. Smash is the fighter that, at this point, anyone can play and enjoy. This “everyone is a winner” mentality may seem insulting, but it also has its purpose, considering just how much Smash is played in a party environment. In addition, interviews with people responsible for the series indicate that it was a huge experiment, and even through Brawl they have often winged it. Trying to classify how the games “should” be is not easy or even necessary.
Ultimately, we tread into dangerous territory thinking so hard about the game. It isn’t perfect, no, but it is Nintendo’s fandom and nostalgia, as well as its corporate bloat and conservatism rolled into one. Gamers can and will argue about it for a long time coming, but I know that I will never go back to Melee or the original, not when I can make Sonic punch Mario in the face while a drunken friend tries to fly around with Diddy Kong’s jetpack. That’s entertainment that I cannot find anywhere else, and sometimes I think we all need that.
Chris: Brawl does the frantic fun better than Melee did, that’s for sure. I think that overall it’s an improvement, and I don’t think I’ll be going back either. With a lengthier single-player, online play, and stage editor, Brawl adds a good amount on top of its predecessor while tweaking the balance a bit. Is it perfect? No, but no game ever is. It’s fun, and that is what’s most important. When it comes to multiplayer, at least, Brawl is a hard game to beat.