For creative gamers, Brawl has a simplistic stage creator that lets you assemble levels out of predetermined pieces. There isn’t a whole lot of component variety, but you can throw in some neat obstacles and hazards, and set your stage to whatever music you desire. As a bonus, you can share your custom stages with friends over Wiiconnect24. I’ve already seen a few pretty clever stages, so the potential for artistic flair is definitely there.
In terms of characters, Brawl is probably the most creative entry in the Smash series, although whether that’s good or bad depends on how much of a purist you are. Brawl retains many of the old standbys from Melee and all of the characters from the original, but many have been tweaked for balance and some of the brand new characters blur the series’ conventions a little.
I was somewhat surprised by how similar the characters played when I jumped into my first couple of matches. Link and Samus are just a bit slower and heavier, Kirby kicks ass again after a rather weak showing in Melee, and Mario is just as balanced as he’s ever been. After more extensive play, I noticed that a few of the characters have been scaled so they play nice with the newcomers—Peach, for instance, doesn’t jump nearly as high as she used to. Small balancing issues aside, Brawl’s gameplay fits like Mario’s cartoony white glove, and is so much like Melee that some gamers might complain that the developers didn’t change enough. Spend some time with the new characters though, and you’ll see that they shake things up.
Pit of obscure Kid Icarus fame finally returns to a Nintendo console. His moveset and special attacks are similar to other blade-wielding characters, but his aerial abilities make him unique and capable of standing off against Link or Marth. King Dedede is an appropriately goofy counterpart to Bowser, and Wario’s crude, awkward attacks and prancing animations make him the latest oddball. Meanwhile, Captain Olimar and his Pikmin brigade are the new Jigglypuff—strange and awkward to control, but fiendishly effective for players who put in the time to master him.
The real newcomer stars are of course Sonic and Solid Snake, both of which are probably the most “different” of the new characters. Snake’s play style was kind of disorienting at first; he’s decent in hand to hand combat, but is far more effective at setting traps and using projectiles. Sonic is the fastest of the characters but as a result is difficult to control, and his attacks don’t hit as hard as the heavier players. Both character’s signature stage, Shadow Moses Island and Green Hill Zone, also bring some new things to Smash Bros.
Of course, the one element that updates all of the characters (and is simultaneously the most notable new item) is the Smash Ball. This little trinket will float onto the stage at random, and at that moment the brawl will descent into abject chaos. Everyone scrambles to beat the crap out of the glowing sphere and unleash their Final Smash, a Hadouken limit breaker unique to each character. Several of these are quite creative—Luigi’s acid trip dance, Bowser’s transformation into Giga Bowser, and Samus shedding her armor to reveal her weaker but more agile Zero Suit from Metroid Zero Mission. Others, like Sonic’s, are just plain cheap and imbalanced, while some are cloned just like the characters; Fox, Falco and Wolf all jump into a Landmaster tank. I found the Smash Ball to be a welcome addition that made Brawl stand out, but the gratuity of some Final Smashes can make a battle instantly lopsided.
On the whole Brawl has the best set of characters in the series, even if there are some glaring omissions (Mega Man, and I still think the Harvest Moon farmer would be terribly ironic). Even if there are a few clones and throwaways, Brawl wins by sheer numbers: 35 characters in all. With characters, items and stages combined, Brawl at least qualifies as a massive expansion pack for Melee. There are two additions—adventure mode and online play—that justify Brawl as a full sequel.
Brawl’s healthy array of solo modes, from the classic sequence of fights to the stadium contests, is all playable in co-op. The biggest addition is The Subspace Emissary, a story-drivel adventure through mismatched Nintendo history, which has characters like Samus and Pikachu teaming up against an encroaching foe. Alone or with a friend, you travel the lands of each major Nintendo franchise, battling trademark villains and platforming your way to the final conflict.
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