Super Smash Bros. Brawl: amateur night

, | Game diaries

Am I the only one that finds it surreal that one of the best fighting games you can play — a full-featured, hardcore enough, content-packed smorgasbord of licensed but shrewdly designed asymmetry that doesn’t even have dated graphics — is on the Nintendo Wii? I experience a niggling cognitive disconnect every time I click my TV’s switcher box over to the Wii, knowing that I’m about to fire up a fighting game every bit as good as Mortal Kombat, BlazBlue, Dissidia 2, and Soulcalibur IV.

But the comparisons are misleading. The defining characteristic of Super Smash Bros. Brawl (and Melee before it, which has been effectively obsoleted by Brawl) is that anyone can play. Anyone. Let me repeat that: anyone. I am convinced there is not a man, woman, or child on this planet I couldn’t sway with the charms of this eminently accessible gateway fighting game.

After the jump, the first hit is free

The secret to Brawl is that Nintendo makes it simple to keep it simple. However, to be fair to Brawl’s respectable level of complexity and challenge, you can’t just dump the average casual non-fighting game player into Brawl. A lot happens in the game, specifically with all the pickups and the crazy stages that aren’t the least bit shy about dumping you into lava or dropping you from a cliff. So when you’re introducing Brawl, you have to engineer a little simplicity by turning off most of the pickups and carefully choosing the stage. I’d also recommend keeping it to pairs of characters at a time, since Brawl easily gets busy enough to overwhelm the eye. “Which dude is me?” is a common refrain when new players are thrown into Brawl’s default four-player brawls.

But if you drop your new player into a relatively simple stage such as Pokemon Stadium and perhaps limit items to the smash ball and maybe the three spaceship pieces, then it’s easy for someone to learn a character. Beyond the usual punches, a character only has four special moves, plus his uber-move if he gets the smash ball. All these attacks are bound to a single button and a simple directional input. Furthermore, if you’re using the classic Gamecube controllers — you are using the classic Gamecube controllers, aren’t you? — you can set up the controls so jumping and smash attacks have separate inputs. This makes it easy to avoid frustrating players who keep jumping on accident, or who can’t quite master the timing needed to smash punch a damaged opponent.

The smash punch system is a great alternative to health bars, and it’s one of the many ways Brawl is such an accessible game. Ringouts are easy to understand — you’re either in the ring or you’re not — and they’re a lot more visually rewarding that watching a health bar deplete. Super Smash Bros. even introduces the idea of maneuvering skill as a way to circumvent ringouts. A really good player can come back from death (i.e. offscreen). Some characters are even built to cheat death, such as Princess Peach’s with her umbrella, Snake’s riding his personal hand-held helicopter, or Meta Knight’s innate flying ability.

And there are a ridiculous number of ways to play Brawl. It puts to shame pretty much any other fighting game. If you can name a feature in another fighting game, I’m pretty sure Brawl has some analog to that feature. Seriously, try to think of something in a fighting game. I’m 99% sure Brawl has that, too.

Although this is the one fighting game I would recommend without caveat to anyone, it’s not my personal favorite. The one I like better than all the others, and the one I’ve been wanting to talk about since starting this series, and the one that is also the most disappointing game of the year, will be along tomorrow.

Mortal Kombat review
BlazBlue: you are not ready
Dissidia 2: the real grindhouse
Soulcalibur IV: you’re wearing that?
Thursday: the worst best one