Without a doubt Smash Bros. Braw is the most anticipated of the hardcore Nintendo titles hitting Wii thus far. We saw it unveiled at E3, we've watched and waited as daily updates hit the Smash Bros. Dojo, and now we're finally back from our first hands-on with the game. Our analysis: Brawl owns our soul.
At the Nintendo Media Summit here in San Francisco, CA, Smash is easily the top playable title. Lines for Brawl are filling fast as titles such as Link's Crossbow Training and even Nintendo's Mario Galaxy are put on hold for at least enough time for a few quick rounds of good ol' fashioned Nintendo beatings. For the demo today Nintendo has put together a list of 14 fighters and ten levels. Fighters include Mario, DK, Link, Samus, Fox, Pikachu, Diddy, Pit, Meta Knight, Fire Emblem's Ike, Peach, Yoshi, Sonic, and Bowser. As for the battlefields, there's the "Smash Battlefield", Delfino Plaza from Super Mario Sunshine, TP's Bridge of Eldin, the Halberd from Kirby, Yoshi's Island, Norfair (Metroid), Lylat Cruise from Star Fox, Pokemon Stadium 2, and Sky World from Kid Icarus.
Each of the levels of course incorporate random elements from their world, so the castle from Fire Emblem will blow apart as AI begins to lay siege to it, while random Pokemon interrupt the action in Pokemon Stadium 2. Aside from these chance elements the levels also morph, changing from full-grounded worlds to sporadic floating platforms or shifting levels of ground. Level evolution looks to be a huge focus this time around, and it works wonderfully, as our free-for-all fights were not only about person vs. person survival, but also a constant battle for an ever-changing position against a world that - quite frankly - didn't seem to want us there. My personal favorite as far as levels go has to be the Bridge of Eldin from Zelda, as it's a no-BS flat world that allows for the purist face-off I play the game for. Of course you'll still need to watch out for charging warthogs
As for the fighters themselves, we instantly went for a first taste with Sonic, Meta Knight, Link (with his new Twilight Princess skill set), and Pit. Meta Knight, oddly enough, is our favorite thus far, as he can unleash absolutely insane attacks, including a fully controllable whirlwind, and warping down attack (similar to Kirby's down special, but faster), the ability to fly for recovery, and a flipping slice up into the air, followed by a horizontal dash. Every other fight was extremely close, but when we moved to Meta Knight it was no contest. Four KO points, no defeats, and an easy victory in our first timed battle with the fighter.
Sonic is also an interesting fighter, as he has a ton of seeking moves. A regular special attack sends him spinning into the air at what seems to be the nearest character, delivering a combo of hits in the process. Pushing up and special will make use of the classic Sonic springboard, jumping off a randomly-appearing spring pad, pushing Sonic higher into the air than any other fighter we've seen in the Smash series. Link's new attacks lend themselves well to combat as well, as he can charge his spin attack to higher levels and pull players in with the boomerang, and he seems to be stronger overall. Since each character can also switch colors pre-fight, Nintendo took the opportunity to seamlessly include Dark Link as one of the character options. He fights the same, but looks totally badass, which is a must.
Rather than blab on about each of the new fighters (I'll leave a few for Nintendo Editor-in-Chief Matt Casamassina and Executive Editor Craig Harris), I'll move on to the new items and support weapons/characters we've seen thus far. Obviously the most coveted of items in our bouts has been the Smash Ball, which allows any fighter to pull off a devastating "Final Smash" attack. Whenever this floating item appears on-screen the entire battle shifts to take it, as a moment alone with it allows Samus to pull off a gigantic power beam, Pit to unleash a barrage attack of minions that fire from all angles of screen, or Link to initiate a fierce mid-air combo, slicing through an opponent with giant through a magical triforce spell. Pull this off on one - or multiple - fighters and you're bound to rise in the ranks.
Other attacks we've seen already include a floating Metroid that sucks onto battlers, a massive attack of multiple 2D Advance Wars sprites, various Pokemon, a dashing Drill Dozer attack, the Excite Bike attack (similar to the Advance Wars move), and then of course the fire flower, baseball bat, beam sword, and the like. There were multiple times within the fight where we got our butts kicked simply because we were captivated by nostalgia; priceless.
As for the control options, we were able to play with both the Wii-mote (NES Style) and Classic Controller. With just the Wii-mote you'll be working with just the d-pad, 1 and 2 buttons, B trigger, and occasionally A for taunting. This was my preferred control method thus far, as the Classic Controller isn't set up for d-pad control (only analog movement), but we've been told that the customization on any of the styles is endless, actually letting you move any button to any position on any control type. Sounds good to me.
And with that, I'll pass the hands-on to Craig and Matt. In just a few rounds of fighting I've again gotten hooked on Smash Bros., and with the promise of online I can already foresee many sick days (or at least unproductive ones) when the game releases. The itch is back in a big way, so be sure to look for me when the game launches: I'll be the one kicking ass with Meta Knight.
Another Take from Matt Casamassina
Super Smash Bros. Brawl is already an addiction, which surprised me. I hadn't anticipated that the latest demo of the game would draw me in so completely, but it has. And you know what? I actually like playing the fighter with the Wii remote held classic style -- more so, at this point, than using the classic controller. You can fully customize any of the four control schemes, of course, but this option wasn't available in today's demo. So I turned the Wii remote on its side, used the D-Pad to control my different fighters, which ranged from Samus Aran to Diddy Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog, and did my best to hold my own. I am a notoriously poor Smash Bros. player, as any of my coworkers will tell you, and I have over the years cheated with Pikachu whenever possible. Today, though, I decided it was time to start anew and really focused on developing my skills with Diddy Kong. Within minutes, I was very easily pulling off an arsenal of very intuitively implemented maneuvers and even dealing out the Final Smash without any notable hitches or issues.
We've posted a lot of Brawl media over these last several months, but none of the screens of videos do the game justice -- at least not completely. The fighter runs not only in 480p and 16:9 widescreen modes, but it does so at a spectacular 60 frames per second, never once disturbed. We've only been able to post a single video that shows off this fluidity in all of the time that we've been covering it, and you'll need to travel far back in our videos section to see it. Even when you do, you will not benefit, however, from watching it unfold on a large widescreen television. The title's exceptionally varied and clean, sharp environments are bombarded by never-ending particle explosions and other effects while characters jump around and animate flawlessly through the foreground and background. The result is stunning, especially given the scale of some stages.
Using the Wii remote to control the characters is easy. D-Pad moves them. Tap up to jump and down to drop through levels. The 1 button is used for standard attacks. If you press any direction with the D-Pad while tapping it, you'll get various strong attacks. The 2 button is used for specials. Neutral is, for example, Diddy's peanut gun. Directional pad left or right and 2 button will send Diddy jumping onto enemies, at which point he will grab and pummel their faces. If you press D-Pad up and 2 button, he'll rocket upward, slamming into anybody in his path. Meanwhile, D-Pad down will make Diddy drop banana peels. You can execute his Final Smash after gaining a Smash Ball by simply pressing the 2 button. Surprisingly, it works very well. The only issue I've had is using the shield, which is assigned to the B-trigger and a little uncomfortable.
Very quickly on, I was able to confidently use Diddy Kong, dealing out his special attacks, calculating strong attacks and even choreographing a Final Smash or two. That, coupled with Brawl's amazing visual presentation and the sheer number of options available to players, really has me hooked, and I can't wait to play more. Nintendo calls the game's delay to February of next year a means to "perfect" it. I'm all for that. The demo we got to play today still had bugs and was prone to crashing. I'd much rather the company take the extra time to really polish everything up so that all the play mechanics and (hopefully) the online mode match up with the quality of the visuals and options. Based on the still-far-from-finished demo, I can already tell this is going to be an outstanding fighter.
Another take from Craig Harris:
I really should have honed my Smash Bros. skills before hitting the Nintendo Media Summit today - Super Smash Bros. Brawl is here in force and it is good.
If you're fresh from the Super Smash Bros. Melee fight on the GameCube, everything that's in today's Super Smash Bros. Brawl demo will feel like home. This Wii version uses Melee as its foundation and builds upwards from there. The control and fighting mechanic hasn't changed a bit but every character has had their core attacks and abilities been balanced and fine-tuned. There are so many subtle changes to each character it's really hard to explain them without sounding like some sort of Smash Bros. snob.
What's fantastic about Smash Bros. Brawl is this whole new sense of discovery. Yes, a lot of the game remains the same from Melee, but there are so many new items and enhancements to uncover, including those Assist Attack capsules. In a fight I unleashed an army of Excitebike riders at the enemy in all their pixilated glory. The fat racer from F-Zero - whose name eludes me at the moment - leapt in to help out with another fight. Grabbing the Smash Ball has a different effect on all characters: my old-standby Yoshi sprouted icarus wings and could fly around blasting fireballs at the enemy. Sonic becomes Super Sonic, naturally. And controllable Giga Bowser? Hell effing yeah!!!
The big surprise: I actually like solo Wii Remote control. I initially clipped on the Classic Controller and played the usual analog stick way, but after a few fights confirming that Classic Controller mimics the GameCube control way perfectly, I disconnected and turned the Wii Remote on its side to play the D-pad way. Yes, you lose analog movement and the "blocking" is now on the B trigger, which is definitely an awkward button to use normally but it's definitely doable if you force yourself to learn. Tossing items away is now on the Minus button, so hopefully the designers will make sure that players don't accidentally hit the Home button in the heat of battle. But everything else, from the jumping and smash attacks, is handled really well in digital control.
The game is gorgeous, and hasn't lost a beat moving to the Wii. It's fully widescreen supported which definitely works to this game's advantage. It still runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, and all the characters look far more detailed than they did on the GameCube.
I'm disappointed that this game won't hit its promised Holiday 2007 release. But I'm looking on the bright side: it gives me four months to practice - jumping into a fight cold was a little embarrassing for someone who used to pride himself in his Smash Bros. skills.
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