The Super Smash Bros. series has always been the premiere fighting game for anyone who didn't want to spend their weeks trying to learn complicated button combinations and advanced aerial combos. It's an easy game to learn and a harder one to master. There aren't any worries about quarter-circle turns or dragon-punch directional pad movements--you just grab the star wand and smack a bitch around for a little while.
So with a tremendous amount of fanfare the newest installment of the series, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, has dropped for the Nintendo Wii and a horde of video gamers have rushed into the stores to get their grubby, Carpal-ridden mitts on it.
Overall, the game has tried to improve itself in every way possible. There seems to be an attempt at balancing the characters while also expanding on its gameplay themes. Stages, too, have gotten the royal treatment. While there are the more boring flat stages where nothing interesting happens, there are now more visually interesting and gameplay-influencing stages that delight the senses. There is a level that uses a design based off of the original Donkey Kong arcade cabinet as well as another stage that bases itself on the Nintendo DS's Pictochat. If people refuse to play on the diverse stages, smack them upside the head because there'd be too much creativity going to waste.
As with any fighting game, the real focus is on what kind of characters are actually in the game. With a fully unlocked roster of 35 characters, most play styles are going to find one of them enjoyable. Fast and furious fighters will want to use Fox, while fans of slower and more controlled matches will probably find Snake (from Metal Gear Solid) and Ike (from Fire Emblem) to suit their play. Most of these characters have wildly different movesets from the rest: Snake will blow his enemies across the stages with a well-timed attack while Fox will use a blistering assault of laser blasts coupled with fast attacks to keep his opponent in check.
Newbies will immediately go for classics like the aforementioned Fox, who seems still to be one of the most powerful characters in the game; people who want an intriguing character to learn will find themselves looking towards characters like the sword-swinging Metaknight or the always second-fiddle Luigi.
The major addition to the game is the smash ball item. A long-touted feature by both Internet reviewers and press, it is almost always an instant kill move when performed correctly. It does tend to cheapen the game and mess with the dynamics of the matches, as some of these moves are incredibly cinematic and impossible to avoid. With the item enabled, it makes the inevitable rush to get it vastly unfair. It's not a real gripe but more the annoying reality of the gameplay balance. There will always be characters who are better than others, but with the smash ball in play, it becomes viciously clear who'll win. Thankfully, it can be turned off when it gets too aggravating.
With the almost begrudging move to the Internet for Nintendo, Brawl is one of the premiere games to get players connect over the 'Net. Friend codes are an annoyance of the highest degree. If you want to play with a dude from Bumbleweed, Alabama who has been talking shit to you on a forum, you've got to put in that friend code. If you want to play your best friend who lives across the street but is too lazy to come to your house, expect to put in that bloody friend code. It's a major aggravation that can disrupt the flow of fun very quickly, despite the ability to have two-minute matches against anonymous strangers the world over.
One thing that has been frequently complained about by the critics is the lack of voice chat. Honestly, it's not a big deal: being called all sorts of crude, nonsensical and unprintable names wasn't fun while playing Halo 3 and won't be fun while kicking some kid's ass with a flying pink ball.
The last thing to note is the adventure mode. While it's an improvement over previous games--it has a story--the level design pretty much sucks. It's an exercise in antagonizing the first player, heaven forbid there being a second player. Long, trap-laden hallways and enemies who are way too powerful fill these levels. It's an improvement, but when you have to beat the game to unlock some characters, it's just obnoxious.
Despite those complaints, the game is built for one thing: multiplayer brawling. It delivers it in spades and just for the multiplayer experience alone, the game is worth the $50 to pick it up. Just because it has an adventure mode annoyingly tacked on that provides a sparse amount of entertainment, doesn't mean it's a real detraction from the game. It's the hairy mole on the prom queen's back. It's there and it kind of detracts, but she's still the belle of the ball.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl is in stores now.