The Wii has long been one of my most underused consoles. I got it on launch back in late 2016, played its party games and finished Twilight Princess and Mario Galaxy, and then not much happened. I dabbled in Red Steel and the Wii port of Bully, but the machine soon began collecting dust. Then, in mid-2008, a game would release I would play almost weekly for the next few years. Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Like the games before it, Brawl is a competitive 2D fighting game, starring a cross-over cast of various Nintendo franchises. Players can pick from a total 37 characters once everything is unlocked, including many returning favorites alongside new faces. This game also started the trend of characters outside of Nintendo joining in, with Snake from Metal Gear Solid and old rival Sonic participating as well. Other new faces include Meta Knight, Captain Olimar, and the Pokémon Trainer from Gen 1.
The game has a healthy list of stages and includes several of the best ones from Melee. Among the new stages are highlights like Warioware Inc. where players must complete mini-games between the fighting and the Bridge of Eldin where players fight as King Bulblin lays siege to the bridge. The fighting is further enhanced with a selection of new items, including new Pokémon and the all-new assist trophies, which summon allies from different games.
The controls have remained largely the same and still favor simple inputs that allow for a lot of tactical play. The game is slowed down compared to Melee, once again opening it up to a more casual audience. I do recommend a classic controller, because this is still an intense game and I find that the Wii Remote and Nunchuck are awkward input devices for this style of game. On top of that, I have to say that Brawl is a little too random in a lot of its subtleties. Characters can randomly trip while you move, crates and items can explode when struck, and hammers can randomly break and leave you vulnerable while you just swing a stick around.
Several modes are made available, including versus battles that players can fine-tune in many ways, event matches that have the player win specific scenarios, and an All-Star Mode. All-new, however, is that the old Adventure and Classic Modes have melted together into something kind of insane. The Subspace Emissary is a story mode in which all the Nintendo heroes gradually team up with one another to battle an enigmatic foe who is placing bombs that cover entire areas in darkness, all while villains like Bowser, Ganondorf, and Wario are cooperating by defeating the heroes and turning them into statues.
This mode is mostly a 2D platformer where players work through areas that incorporate mechanics from various Nintendo games. You’ll be dealing with familiar Mario enemies, hopping into barrels that launch you away like in Donkey Kong Country, and navigating non-linear labyrinths for the way forward like in Metroid. Enemies and traps combine to try and stop you, but this mode also has 1-on-1 battles and boss fights thrown in. It’s bombastic and quite a long mode, but also interesting because it tells a cinematic, almost epic storyline, all without anybody ever speaking.
The mode, like the adventure mode before it, is however held back by the fact it’s a platforming game trying to get by on mechanics meant for a weighty 2D fighter. While I loved seeing the adventure proceed, Subspace Emissary was often frustrating to play through. The enemies are aggressive and often very cheap, able to rack up large amounts of damage in seconds or knocking you out through cheap tactics. Random death traps are often thrown in just get a cheap kill and familiar tactics like jumping on Koopas don’t always work, because now those Koopas can sometimes do an upwards attack and damage you. I often just had to stop playing in the middle of stages because a lot of tiny frustrations and annoying enemy AI was getting to me.
However, one other new addition to the gameplay would fundamentally change the dynamic of Smash Bros., namely the inclusion of the Smash Balls and the Dragoon. Each match in Brawl has a chance of spawning either or both. The Smash Ball will fly around the stages and require players to damage it. Whoever lands the final hit can perform a Final Smash, a powerful move capable of instantly knocking out many opponents when applied well. Meanwhile the Dragoon drops in 3 parts and whoever collects all of them (by violently extracting them from opponents) can target it anywhere on the screen and launch it; anybody struck takes a massive amount of damage and is almost sure to be knocked out.
These are powerful new tools that, while fun to use, can lead to some frustration. Both items favor the weaker players, with the Smash Ball deliberately going towards them and the dragoon parts being more likely to drop when hitting a player who is in the lead. It can be obnoxious for that player when the Smash Ball just won’t break or an enemy they keep hitting never drops their dragoon part. Of course, if you prefer the game to be balanced and fair, then you have the option to disable these items. Personally, I find their inclusion more of a benefit than a nuisance. The final smashes are neat and the sudden appearance of a Smash Ball plummets any battle into chaos as people haphazardly give chase. It’s hilarious.
Gameplay score: 6/10
The intro video for Brawl kicks off by showing you this fantastic shot of the characters transforming from their old Melee designs into the new aesthetic for Brawl, which is a little nicer in terms of models and detail, but also uses more washed out colors. Somebody mentioned that the more “realistic” style of graphics was used to accommodate Snake, a sort of middle ground where the Nintendo characters could still look like cartoons without Snake seeming out of place. It works, but does mean that graphics-wise Melee is the more colorful game and not far behind in terms of visual detail.
However, with all the new items and the dynamic nature of the stages, this is a more active game than ever before. You can have 4 players going at it, attacking each other, using unique taunts, and summoning Pokémon and Assist Trophies to help them out where needed. This can be a much busier game than Melee, despite the slowed down gameplay. The music is also crazy. There are so many tracks in this game, both by default and unlockable. The new theme song is a beautiful and overwhelming song with Latin lyrics, which feels special and is surprisingly fitting for the story of Smash.
Presentation score: 7/10
Welcome to the vault
While you unlock many of the heroes this time around by playing through the Subspace Emissary, Brawl still has many secrets to uncover. A large wall with squares will chronicle your progress in the game, breaking open tiles as you complete its objectives and unlocking the stages, songs, and content behind them. It’s a great checklist to point you towards what else needs to be done and you can use a few hammers to bypass the tougher ones. Choose wisely how you’ll spend these, though.
Trophies return and there are more of them than ever before. These still act as museum pieces that give you bits of lore and history while being fun to collect all on their own. Instead of a slot machine that you fill with coins in the hopes of getting new ones, there is now coin launcher. Coin launcher is a game where you aim and fire coins, taking out enemies and collecting trophies by hitting them. It’s more interactive, but difficult to guess which trophies are new and worth firing at, and which ones will take a lot of effort just to get a duplicate.
Diluting the collectibles a fair bit are stickers. These are like trophies and depict characters and things from various Nintendo properties, but they don’t have any lore and aren’t as interesting to look at. Instead, these can be added to a page belonging to your character to power them up, which just confuses me. I am not sure when the power-ups apply, nor do I understand how they work. I had stickers to give Link which would boost his weapon damage or stickers that boosted his “Arms” damage. I experimented a bit with both and couldn’t notice a difference either way. It feels like a big waste of time and I don’t like the idea of buffing the power of characters in a fighting game like this.
The vault also contains a treasure trove of other features. Demo’s for various classic Nintendo games can be played before purchasing them on the now-defunct Eshop, there is a limited level editor that can be experimented with, and there is a chronicle of Nintendo games to look through.
Extras score: 7/10
Brawl was in development for a long time after being first announced as a launch title. While I played it a lot when we finally did get it, going back to it now is kind of rough and makes me suddenly appreciate Melee that much more. It’s worth trying out if you have access to it already, but don’t fret about it if you happen to already have Melee or the fourth title in the series.
- A strong selection of characters.
- Subspace Emissary is an epic storyline without a single spoken word of dialogue.
- Great music and a fantastic main theme.
- The Vault.
- Fantastic new stages, Pokémon, and items.
- Final smashes are a neat new addition to the game.
- Too much random chance in matches.
- Subspace Emissary is long and plays terrible as a platformer.
- Only a minor visual upgrade over Melee.
- Slowed down gameplay.
- Stickers are a confusing addition that gets overshadowed by the existing trophies.
- The classic mode is still there, but much more downplayed.