Bros. in arms

Nintendo puts nostalgia on Smash
By MITCH KRPATA  |  April 7, 2008
1.5 1.5 Stars

VIDEO: The opening of Super Smash Bros. Brawl

You think you had to wait a long time to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Scheduled for fall 2007 release, the game was pushed back to January ’08, and then again to March. For most people, that was the end of the delay. But for a non-negligible number of users, myself included, the dual-layered game disc was too much for the Wii’s puny disc drive to handle. Instead of hot brawling action, we were greeted with an error message.

The folks at Nintendo offered to repair the systems for free; they even paid for shipping. Mine went out on a Monday, and eight days later it was back in my hands. Nintendo gets a perfect score for customer service — even if I doubt the explanation that my Wii’s lens was merely “dirty” when, post-repair, it no longer emits a horrible grinding noise while loading data. But something happened during that week-long wait to sap my enthusiasm for Smash Bros. By the time I booted it up, I no longer knew what all the fuss was about.

For the uninitiated: Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the third in a series that features dozens of characters from Nintendo’s stable of characters beating the tar out of one another. Four characters at a time battle across stages inspired by classic games like Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. It’s nostalgia overload, bombarding you with immediately familiar sounds and visuals. If you’ve ever played a video game, chances are you’ve spent some quality time with at least one of these franchises. And now there are even such non-Nintendo luminaries as Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog to join in the fun.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the gameplay hasn’t evolved from past Smash Bros. titles — you may feel that nostalgia is the only thing Brawl has going for it. Not only are the Wii’s motion controls not used, it’s actually a better idea to plug in your old GameCube controllers and play that way. So why not just play the GameCube version? This time, you do have the option of on-line play, but Nintendo’s kid-friendly protections are so onerous that it’s hardly worth the time it takes to set up a match. Each player gets a unique automated 12-digit code in order to link up with friends — but, no, it’s not the same thing as your 16-digit Wii friends code.

Another new feature in Brawl is an expanded adventure mode called “The Subspace Emissary,” and I can say in all candor that it is truly terrible. As an add-on to the main game, it may be passable, but if you want to unlock all the characters to use in the main game without grinding through hundreds of traditional matches, then completing “The Subspace Emissary” is mandatory. There’s a story line that reads like fan fiction, slapping together characters and universes without any regard for logic or reason. Worse still, the levels are just boring and repetitive.

Nostalgia isn’t a bad thing. The problem with Super Smash Bros. Brawl is that it doesn’t give us any fresh insight or perspective on the worlds it depicts. It doesn’t expand the Nintendo universe; it exploits it. Instead of using our built-in love for gaming history as a jumping-off point from which to create new memories, it siphons them. Looking at the massive roster, you may find yourself wondering how long it’s been since Nintendo launched a successful new franchise.

But look — there’s Link fighting Bowser! Whoa!

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