39. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Developers: Sora, Game Arts, a few other people they grabbed off the street
The handy thing about doing this list in reverse order is that games get better. Unlike films, the sequel tends to be better than the prequel because developers learn from their mistakes and technology improves. But that doesn’t always happen, so here’s the third Super Smash Bros. quite a while before we talk about the second Super Smash Bros.
SSB, for those who don’t know, is Nintendo’s fighting game series. Except it ain’t what you’d call normal. It draws its cast from Nintendo’s various series – Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Star Fox etcetera. Indeed, the series sprung from the brain of Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai, which is possibly why Kirby is shamelessly overpowered. And rather than a basic one-on-one brawler, it’s designed for four players to go at it at once. Rather than a health bar, you get a percentage – the higher the percentage, the further you go flying when hit. Get thrown off the screen altogether, and you lose a point while the player who knocked you out gains one. Then you spawn back in with a 0% and start fighting again. The fights last two minutes, and whoever has the most points at the end wins. Oh, and there’s all sorts of weapons being dropped onto the arena, and the levels tend to change about and maybe kill you, and EVERY DAMN THING EVER IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME.
You can change all of that – one of the main things about the series is customising it to the way you want to play – but that’s the main gameplay mechanic. It makes no sense at all when you start, but gradually you get the hang of it and realise it’s actually quite simple. But then you start to see the mechanics underneath the explosions and realise there’s a pretty complex game going on, with dodges and counterattacks and hidden moves and all sorts. Takes a while to get there, mind, but it’s very satisfying when you do.
Anyway, as mentioned, Brawl is the third in the series and it’s hard to define it without comparing it to Melee, the second. Brawl’s a tiny bit slower, you can’t dodge after double-jumping, all sorts of things you won’t notice unless you’ve played Melee a lot. But I have, and they bug me. Also, the AI is ridiculously biased against you, so if you start a four-player free-for-all with one human and three bots, they will spend most of their time concentrating on the human. And there are times when you’ll kill yourself by accident, and the game’ll give a point to your opponent when they really didn’t do anything, which is astonishingly annoying. And while the single-player game has been largely improved, there are some minor points – namely the Target Test minigame has been ruined, and the big old 1-player mode, the Subspace Emissary, is quite simply terrible. And the combat arenas largely aren’t as interesting as Melee’s.
But enough whinging! Brawl is still a superb game, and it’s just a shame it had such a mighty big brother to live up to. It’s utterly gorgeous and slickly programmed, the soundtrack – a mix of original themes and remixed or rewritten pieces – is astounding, easily one of the best soundtracks ever made for a game. Multiplayer is glorious, with the internet play holding up surprisingly well (admittedly I’ve only tried that a few times). There’s an absolute ton of stuff to unlock – I’m resigned that I’ll never get 100%. But best of all is that Nintendo opened the roster up to some non-Ninty names. Konami proffer the superspy Solid Snake of the Metal Gear series, which is a delight. But Nintendo’s longtime rivals Sega do better than that by handing over none other than Sonic the Hedgehog, finally letting a thousand playground arguments from the 1990s be settled – Mario or Sonic?
(It’s Sonic. Sorry, but it is. In this game at least, he’s much more fun to play with than Mario, even if he can’t match the plumber for general game quality.)
MAGIC MOMENT: Mario vs. Sonic, innit? Alternatively, the fact that if you play as Snake on his level you can access hidden conversations where he asks mission control about the characters he’s facing, which are hilarious. “There’s a kid here with wings!”