We've played it, and we're going to have a hard time waiting to play it again. Check out our slightly updated impressions and new video!
The star of Nintendo's booth at E For All was undoubtedly Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Nintendo set up a central grandstand where people could stand in line to compete in four-player games for a chance to duke it out on a big screen. For those not wanting to wait in such a long line, two-player stations were set up behind the bleachers. The majority of our time with the game was spent at the two-player stations, not only because it gave us more time to experiment with characters and items and whatnot, but also because it was the only place to play the game with the preferred (at E For All, anyway) Wii Classic controller. Read on for more details about that.
The following video is just about everything interesting we could shoot in the best possible quality we have it in. Nintendo has asked that we include the physical action of someone playing the game, and that also we limit our video to a length of five minutes. We respected Nintendo's request and can now bring you our Super Smash Bros. footage. Think of it this way: you can pretend you're the one holding the controller and playing the game!
I felt like Brawl played like a leaner, meaner version of Super Smash Bros. Melee. It was a bit faster and a little more crazy in some places, thanks to the inclusion of the assist trophies, smash balls, and a few new items. Some of the new characters and stages also helped to make Brawl a definite upgrade over the GameCube game. I'll get into greater detail about the overall feel of the game at the end of these impressions, but since there's so much to cover, I'll take it one section at a time.
The demo on offer had fourteen characters (fifteen if you include Zero Suit Samus), including Sonic, Pit, and Ike. Sonic's move set and insane speed, which have been staples of the gaming world since the Genesis days, are perfect fits for the Smash Bros. universe. If you've played a Sonic the Hedgehog game in the past and played Smash Bros. before, you can pick up the controller and start smashing with Sonic immediately. I can honestly say with a straight face that Brawl is going to be the best Sonic game in a long time; everyone should be excited by that prospect.
Ike from Fire Emblem plays something like a combination of Roy and Marth from Melee, but is more of a power character. He has some speedy attacks, but for the most part he'll try to club you with his big sword. His special move set is very recognizable, and it includes the combo and counter moves. The Up special is a little different—he throws his sword up into the air, jumps at it, grabs it, and slams downward--but people familiar with the Fire Emblem characters in Melee will need little time to adjust to Ike's style of play.
Metaknight's quick swordplay and quicker special moves made him an early favorite amongst the showgoers. His gliding attack is easy to control, but not as easy to connect on other players. The fact that he can fly around for a few wing flaps doesn't really make him as invincible as you would think that would be; Kirby and Jigglypuff (who were not playable in this demo) have had the ability since the original Smash Bros. The same thing goes for Pit. While the flying characters gain in mobility, they lose in attack power. At least, that's the theory ... at times, Metaknight seemed to be as powerful as the original Super Smash Bros. Kirby. Leave it to Sakurai to be a total homer. I'm hoping that gets balanced out before the final game is out.
Diddy Kong was, in my opinion, the worst character available to play as in the demo. With his speedy but weak attacks, it looks like he is supposed to be the polar opposite of Donkey Kong. After I played a couple of rounds as him, I didn't want to play as him again, and to be honest, I didn't see many other people pick him much. Then again, when the other new characters are five times cooler (especially Sonic), why would they?
There were a few noticeable changes to the roster of returning characters. Samus and Peach both felt a lot floatier than they were in Brawl. Also, Peach has added a tennis racket to complement her frying pan attack. Fox is even faster this time around, and feels really good in Brawl. His reflector move, however, can make him float in the air for a really long time with repeated activations. [Note: Upon further investigation and as seen in the above video, this appeared to be caused by the wind effects of Pokémon Stadium 2.] I don't know if I want to see it act this way in the final game. Yoshi has a different jump than he did in Brawl, going at a kind of parabolic angle with increasing speed upwards. Mario, Link, Bowser, Pikachu, and Donkey Kong play pretty much the same as they did in Melee.
Most importantly, you'll now have six different color options to choose from when selecting a character. There are some special color palettes we noticed: Samus can don the colors of the fusion suit, Peach can look like Daisy, and Link can go bad-ass as Shadow Link with bright red eyes. As far as we can tell, these are just basic palette swaps so there are no new textures here as there were in Melee. This could change for the final game, of course.
The Smash Ball and Final Smashes
The smash ball adds a new dimension to the battle gameplay. During our two-minute demo fights, they appeared at the rate of about two or three a match. The frequency increased a little bit from the first day compared to other days of the show, which makes us wonder if their appearance frequency can be adjusted. When one appears, it's not just a simple matter of grabbing it for an instant attack. Instead, it lazily floats around the level, including up into the air, until someone bashes it enough times to take its power. Once collected, the player that nabbed it will glow. The player can then activate the power by holding down the special attack button.
Just from this one addition, a whole new level of strategy becomes available. Whether or not to go for the smash ball exclusively or try to get some free hits on your opponent who is going for it is a decision you'll need to make quickly, and probably one that will change just as quickly. It all depends on where the smash ball is floating to. It's a brilliant addition to the game, in my mind, and it will make for some amazing competitive moments.
That's not all with the smash balls, either. Just because someone gets one doesn't mean it's all over. If a smash ball carrier is hit with enough damage, the ball will pop out and can be collected by someone else. The ball can be affected by environmental damage too, so if a bomb explodes nearby the ball, it can be destroyed without anyone getting to it. This creates more potential for strategy in that if you can't get to a smash ball, then you can make sure no one can by lobbing a bomb item in its general area. You might take out a few people in the process.
Once someone has the smash ball power-up in their possession, that's when the other players should start worrying. Every character has a different kind of smash attack, whether it be one that affects everyone on screen or just concentrates the whole attack onto just one person. You've already seen the smash attacks like Mario (a slow, field-clearing fire wave), Yoshi (he sprouts wings and pushes people off the stage with rapid-fire fire breaths, which is more effective than you think), Bowser (Gigabowser, which is friggin' cool to see in person), and Diddy Kong (with his peanut-launching rocket pack, which doesn't work very well).
Ike's and Link's smash attacks both require that someone be lined up in front of you to connect with it. If this condition is not fulfilled, the smash attack will miss. If you do manage to land it, chances are the damage you inflict during the multi-hit combo attacks and the force created by final blow will get you a K.O. Metaknight's smash attack is kind of the same way, although you only need to be in the vicinity of people to land it on anyone nearby. His attack causes the screen to black out completely, after which time three hard slashes inflict damage to everyone.
Sonic and Pikachu also have similar final smashes. Upon activating, you can take either character and float around the stage at will, trying to make contact with other fighters. The hard part is anticipating where people will move to in a bid to try to avoid you. If you can make contact, you'll hit them with a constant stream of big damage. A few hits worth is enough to send them out for a re-spawn.
The most ridiculous final smash, other than Peach's make-everyone-go-to-sleep move, is Fox's landmaster tank. When I first saw this it looked like the most ridiculous thing in the world. I was playing in one of the smaller stages, the the tank barely fit on the platforms. It hovers, meaning you can't fall off the stage, but it seemed easy enough to dodge that instant-K.O. front cannon by ducking in front of the tank or standing on top of it.
However, as I saw other people play I discovered the strategy behind the tank. If someone wants to hide on top of the tank, all you need to do is to hover straight up into the air, high enough so they'll be pushed off the stage. If they want to avoid that, then their only option is to jump off ... right into the path of the canon. More than a few people met their end in this way. I think it's amazing that people are already figuring out how these new moves and attacks can be best applied, especially since this is the first time people have played the game. Just goes to show you how intuitive it all is.
There is one more thing to say about the smash ball. We all know that if Samus grabs a ball, she'll fire a giant shot from her beam cannon. Doing this, however, will turn her in to the armor-less Zero Suit Samus. This begs the question. What happens when Zero Suit Samus uses a smash ball? She'll do a crystal flash from Super Metroid. When the light clears, she'll be back in her suit. We only managed to do this once (two minutes is not a lot of time to get two smash balls), so we didn't see if this move caused any damage to nearby players. It didn't do anything to someone on the other side of the screen, that's for sure.
Of the four possible control configurations that Brawl will support, only two were available for us to try out: the Wii Classic controller and the Wii remote held on its side in the classic position. We brought nunchuk controllers along to test out, but Nintendo wouldn't allow us to use them. Naturally, that didn't stop us from plugging one in really quick and seeing if it was functional. It turned out that yes, we were able to make menu selections and move our characters around during gameplay. Alas, we can't report to you about how the game plays using the nunchuk style, because Nintendo stopped our little scheme immediately. Suspicious, don't you think?
What Nintendo was doing was really pushing the Wii remote-only control option at the show, because it wanted to give everyone a feel for what it would be like. This was, in my opinion, a horrible idea. Although every function that needs to be there, is there, the killer is the D-Pad. You only get eight-way movement control, which makes it extremely difficult to move through the air or aim weapons where you want to. Another oversight is assigning the throw command to the Minus Button. You can already see the accidental hits of the Home Button ruining a spirited match.
The Wii Classic controller was easily the better option to play with. The buttons were configured pretty much like they were on the GameCube controller. The left control stick moves your character. The D-Pad directions each perform one of four different taunts. (Here's something interesting about the taunts: one of Fox's is a feint of his fire fox (up) special move. Sneaky!) The right control stick does automatic smash attacks (yes, C-Stick smashes are in Brawl). A and X are the jump buttons. The B Button performs regular attacks. The Y Button does special attacks. The L and R triggers are for shielding, and the ZL and ZR Buttons are for throws - which are terribly placed. Of course, the final game will have fully customizable controls, so you'll be able to fix anything you don't like once you have your own copy.
Playing with the Classic controller was strange at first. After all, it felt weird holding an SNES-shaped controller after we were all so used to playing Smash with a GameCube controller. However, the more and more I played the game with it, the more I began to get used to it. I personally don't care for the Classic's small profile, but it grew on me enough that I didn't mind it. If you don't have a GameCube controller, I don't foresee any long-time issues with using the Classic to play the game. However, I think playing the game with the Classic controller and the Wii remote options only made me want to play the game with a GameCube controller even more. There aren't any particular advantages or improvements with the Wii controller schemes (though we don't know about the nunchuk and remote combo yet). Why should we need to change what we're comfortable with? My Wavebird's batteries are already charging.
Items and Assist Trophies
Super spicy curry is my favorite new item. When you pick it up, your character will glow with fire and shoot out fireballs in front of him. The first few times I saw this I didn't think much of it. That was, until I stopped moving to take a closer look. What I saw was my character dancing in place as if he was desperately looking for water. It was absolutely hilarious.
That's just one of the new toys to play with. Another new significant item is the smart bomb from Star Fox. It's just as powerful as a bob-omb, except the explosion radius persists for a while, and slowly grows larger in size. It's not something you want to be near, and even when throwing one you'll need to be far, far away to use it safely. Another new item is the banana peel, which is more devious than it looks. If you step on it, the peel will fly out from underneath you, causing you to stumble forward. If you're not extremely careful when you get back up, you may find yourself slipping on it again ... and again ... and then again.
Regular items have had a few upgrades, too. Regular crates and barrels are still in the game, but every so often you'll see one that's clearly labeled as explosive. I didn't see if there was still a secret exploding regular crate, but now at least you'll know which ones are going to blow up on your and plan your strategies accordingly. Fire flowers have been tweaked to allow you to move around while using them. We also came across the bumper during our gameplay. It hasn't changed much since the original Smash, but it's good to see it back.
From what we've seen in the two-minute matches, assist trophies showed up about once a game. Most of the ones I saw didn't bring attacks that were at the level of most Pokéballs. Instead, they were more of annoyances. I spotted Little Mac (who is actually very little!), Knuckle Joe, Advance Wars, Lakitu, Excitebike, Andross, Nintendogs, Mr. Resetti, Metroid, Dr. Wright, Hammer Bros., and others. When Lyn from Fire Emblem appeared, she didn't seem to attack anyone until someone walked in her line of sight. Devil moved the screen around, and was actually a very annoying assist trophy.
All of the characters in the assist trophies were indestructible, unlike some Pokémon. Oh, and speaking of that, Goldeen is back with a vengeance. This time around, if you're unlucky enough to hatch one of those floppy fish, not only will you get the annoying "Goldeen Goldeen Goldeen!" taunt, it'll give you a little insult damage if you make contact with it.
The demo at E For All had eleven stages, including the previously unannounced Norfair from the Metroid universe. Judging from the screenshot updates at the Smash Bros. Dojo, most of the stages looked as if they'd be simple copies of each other. Thankfully, this is not the case, as many of the levels in the demo had some variety.
Norfair is a lava-filled stage and like Brinstar Depths in Melee, lava will occasionally rise, making players seek higher ground. The lava doesn't just come from the bottom, though. Some times a "lavafall" will take out either side of the stage, and a giant lava wave will come towards the fighting platform from the background. When that hits, everything will be taken out, except for a single random platform that transforms into a safety zone. It's initially blocked by a wall on either side, which must be whacked a few times to get it to open. The potential for mad scrambles and near misses here is high.
Metaknight's Halberd also has a lot of action going on. It starts off as a basic stage in the hangar bay, but eventually you'll be ejected out of the ship altogether, finally landing back on the main deck. Once there, you'll need to deal with the ship's grappling arm and main cannon situated in the background, which will occasionally lock on to a position and fire.
On the Bridge of Eldin, King Bulbin and his ox mount will charge across the bridge from time to time. If you don't avoid this hazard, you can be pushed off the side of the level, kind of like how you could stray too far from the action in Mushroom Kingdom in Melee. The occasional destruction of the the bridge does offer some interesting gameplay decisions, particularly whether or not it would be worth risking getting smashed down the pit to cross over to the other side. Then again, the appearance of a smash ball may make that decision for you.
Skyworld is an interesting stage in that the destructible stone floors are completely solid. Until they are broken through, you won't be able to drop down or jump up through them. This also means that if you get hit with a big smash that would normally send you sky-high, you'll just bounce back off the underside of a platform if you were under one to begin with. The cloud platforms that are exposed when the stone platforms break away function like normal Smash Bros. platforms, except that if you stay on them for too long they'll disappear.
Lylat Cruise was my favorite stage. The platforms have a simple configuration, but it's what's going on in the background that'll make you giddy with excitement. In the first section, an Arwing fighter is shooting lasers at asteroids in the background, clearing the path for the stage's travels through space. After a quick warp jump, you'll see Arwings in the background taking on Team Star Wolf. Castle Siege has a similar multi-area configuration, but it rotates through different parts of the castle and with different platform patterns. I actually don't like these transitions, since they happened very near each other. It may have to do with Nintendo wanting to cram everything into the two-minute demo battles, but I would not like a stage I have chosen to change every 30 seconds.
After playing several matches of Super Smash Bros. Brawl over three days of E For All, I'm satisfied with what I saw. Truth be told, I was expecting a lot more from the game, especially with all of the hype that the Dojo has brought with it. Perhaps I was expecting a little too much. The game was still fantastic fun, and playing as Sonic is as good as it sounds, but there was something not quite there. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn't playing the game with a familiar GameCube controller. Maybe it was the fact that we couldn't really hear the music while battling. It could also be that I wasn't used to the finer nuances of the newer characters.
But right now, that doesn't really matter. I saw so much cool stuff while playing Brawl and watching others playing it that when everything is put together and the game is released in February, complete with single player mode, online features, and the full roster of characters, it's going to be something special. All I know is that right now, I want to play the game again, and play it with all of my friends. I really do.