I guess I'll start from the top and go through the motions of this review by taking everything one step at a time in terms of how I played through and experienced the game.
40 hours of gameplay ago, minus all characters, minus 200 stickers and trophies and songs, minus 85/128 challenges, I sat down with my girlfriend to play Brawl. Firstly, we ignored the instruction booklet. The cover looked pretty, but we had gaming to do. So, we started it up and went to setup controls and see how customizable they are.
As most people may know by now, four different controllers (styles) are available for use in Brawl. The standard Wiimote, the Wiimote+Nunchuk combo, the Classic Controller, and the traditional Gamecube Controller. I need to point out that while most people might be used to analog play, I had an issue with a dislocation of my left wrist and thumb when I was younger, so consequently I'm not able to hold a controller in the most orthodox of ways and my thumb doesn't move perfectly on analog (read as: I can still pop both out of place at will and sometimes on accident). I point all this out because when I first heard about the customization of the controllers, I was giddy with delight that I might be able to finally utilize a setup that would benefit me when playing some hardcore melees (read as: I sucked at Melee with the Gamecube controller).
The customization for the controllers is actually pretty nice, however the standard setup for movement cannot be altered. Which means my dreams of using the D-pad to move were quickly dashed. Sad face. Fear not, though! Everything else is customizable, including turning off the tap-jump (which I dread so very much). My girlfriend actively uses the Wiimote+Nunchuk combo and loves it, as do I for the most part enjoy the Classic Controller (again, I still suck with the analog, though not as badly). By and large, this is an awesome start to my gameplay experience and now it's time for me and the girlfriend to get to some Subspace Emissary. Awesome.
Or is it?
I liked Subspace for about the first two hours. Co-op or not, it is kinda fun playing an enlarged Adventure Mode. The problem is, it's too large. I really liked Adventure Mode because even though it was fixed in terms of stages, everything felt like it belonged from level to level. Subspace seems more like it was created to be a platformer arcade type game and I dislike it for that reason. I don't mind the Double Dragon/Streets Of Rage/any other type of platform fighter setup that SSE undertakes, except that it tries to incorporate awkward sets of jumps or hazards into every level that attempt to just outrightly steal a life or two from a player. The camera angle seems a little too focused in on the character (first player, never second) to allow you to get proper perspective on the things around you, and sometimes it isn't focused at all (scrolling levels). More than anything though, it's the sheer repetitiveness of the mode that turned me off to it. Almost seven hours of gameplay, and the last two of it was spent in The Great Maze, which is essentially a complete recap of every level you've already done with a less than pleasant Mega Man theme of bosses mixed in for good (or bad) measure.
All-in-all, Subspace failed to please me, though it was worth unlocking Boss Rush Mode. For people who want to easily access the secret characters of the game without spending a long time playing Vs. Matches, this is also a great way to get the job done in less time.
After Subspace, I did a quick bout of training on Pit and then ran through Classic Mode to see how it played out. Classic Mode really hasn't changed at all and is just as enjoyable as it was before. Twelve stages (and two bonus stages) this time around and a fair amount of variety between who shows up to the matches. The difficulties seem to be mostly relative to damage taken by enemies before they're dispatched and less focused on CPU difficulty (although it's clear that at harder difficulties, the enemies are functioning on Level 7-9).
Speaking of difficulty, the enemy AI is hit or miss. I did a few experiments on Level 1 and Level 9 CPUs to see how they functioned in handling one-another or even a dummy Player 1. With a 30 minute time limit and 99 stock, three Level 1 CPUs couldn't even manage to off an idle dummy Jigglypuff (still had 58 lives left)...in fact, somehow while I was out of the room, Jigglypuff earned a KO, which really boggles my mind. The Level 9 CPUs are fairly smart in terms of standard combat, but they strangely seem to try and find the lowest point on a given level to fight on (especially if there are edges of ledges to hug). In standard fights with a Level 9 (or multiples), they definitely hold up on most levels though.
Just to summarize a few other things mode-related, All-Star is actually themed now which makes it a pretty neat mode to run through. Boss Rush is quite fun, as it features all the bosses from SSE in an All-Star type of theme. You can co-op both of these modes, so it's definitely not so bad on some of the more ramped difficulties. Event Mode is difficulty-based as well now and supports a different set of co-op events. The usual Home-Run and Target Smash and Multi-Man Brawls are present once again, with the formermost and lattermost being co-op as well. Also, Adventure Mode is gone, so I cried a little inside. Let's face it, Adventure Mode was fun, and I'll long for a ressurrection of it in some non-SSE form down the line.
Stage Builder is pretty neat. Three sizes of stages to create, three different backgrounds, a multitude of songs to choose from to represent your levels, and some basic parts to work with...along with some more once you've completed a couple challenges. Stage Builder is something I really enjoy, but it falls short in a couple respects. Firstly, part limitation. I mean this in both types of parts you can use and the TOTAL number of parts allowed per level. On the largest level, just using standard 1x1 blocks, you run out of parts room with four straight lines of blocks and some change. That's not even close to 1/3 of the level's full space, so such a limitation greatly inhibits the ability of the creator to put their complete effort into a level. In terms of the parts you can use, there is a fair selection, however the structures section is somewhat lacking in its usefulness. They're generally designed with a space surrounding the ends of the objects (a 2x2 tunnel might be 2x4 because it needs two 1x1 blocks covered on either side of it)...so it's pretty much impossible to link said objects to one-another or copies of themselves. So unless you're planning on just setting those structures on top of things to take up space, they're pretty worthless. Hopefully there might be some DLC available for new parts. While they're at it, they can take care of the second problem, which is a lack of backgrounds (and consequently, themed parts). There are only three backgrounds...I do admit, they look good...but when one wants to play a bunch of custom stages, seeing the same backgrounds does kinda get old.
Challenges are pretty much straightforward. Some of them are ridiculously hard and some are pretty easy. As a greedy gamer, I'm glad that the challenges for unlocking levels and other cool things are on the simple side. From a logical gamer standpoint, it's kinda upsetting at the same time. I'm all about having some really difficult challenges, but if I beat All-Star on Intense difficulty, I DO NOT WANT A TROPHY as my reward. I want the most awesome level ever that's going to blow my mind, drink my milkshake, and have twenty garage sales all at once. I want the level to be cooler than Contra and Phantasy Star 2 combined and I want it to play Blaster Master theme music all the way through it. NOT A TROPHY. Still, Challenges are a nice touch.
Speaking of sound, all the people whining about sound can go home. Seriously. I'm at over 200 themes/songs/whatever unlocked and I'm still a ways from getting every sound available. The fact that they're customizable in My Music (select what themes play on a sliding-bar scale) makes them awesome at the very least, but they've gone ahead and brought in some amazing classics. Balloon Fight? Green Hill Zone? THE ENTIRE KID ICARUS MEDLEY? The only thing that could really make me feel better would be to somehow hear Blaster Master themes show up, but then my head would explode, so I'll have to be content with just A LOT OF AWESOME.
Masterpieces seems like a waste to me. They don't cover all the games for all the characters and the demos are ridiculously short. 30 second demos are not going to appeal to me EVER. At least set it at 2 minutes so I can get some short fix.
Levels are magnificent. Sure, everyone always wants more levels, just like they want more characters, but clocking in at 41 characters, we're not exactly short on levels, especially if you consider the stage builder itself. A fair share of Melee stages came back, as well as some nice new spins on character-themed levels. They even took out the Ice Climber stage and replaced it with Rumble Falls, so ALL OF YOU ICE CLIMBER LEVEL-HATERS CAN GO HOME. At least I thought that level was fun.
And of course, the characters. Let me start by saying that I heard a lot of speculation on the character roster that showed up. I've been wanting Pit since N64 Smash Bros. came out, so my year was already made when I heard he'd be arriving. Then people were up in arms with the arrival of would-be clones in the form of Lucas and Wolf. I understand where people are coming from, but "clones" couldn't be any further from the truth concerning the characters in this game. Lots of revamping and lots of new feels for several older characters. I had no idea how I'd feel about Wolf until I jumped into a Multi-Man Brawl with him to find out just how very different he plays then Fox or Falco. They definitely took things an extra step in terms of fleshing out the feel of characters in this game, and I applaud them for such a great effort. About all that's missing is the inclusion of Mega Man (yes, everyone including me wants him in) and Arthur (I want the Ghouls N' Ghosts version!) and the reappearance of Mewtwo. Somehow, I won't be missing Pichu and I don't really feel too bad about the loss of Roy...because Ike rocks my face off.
Since I haven't said anything about it yet, let me just state that Vs. Mode is just as cool as it ever was and also adds in (via unlocked Advanced Rules) STOCK TIME LIMIT. Sorry, I just had to mention that, because I was hoping for something like this to show up. Other than that, yeah. Vs. Mode definitely rules.
Finally, online play. I have already dealt with a fair share of Wii Code errors due to router issues, but once I got things tweaked, I've got to say that it was nice to be able to play friends without having to go anywhere. Being able to brawl on the With Anyone setup is very fun, especially since skill levels vary from fair to hardcore expert. I've spectated a few matches (Spectator isn't thrilling, but a great way to get stickers) and have seen several styles of play and skill that are all over the board. Of course there will be the usual gripes about Friend Codes and Wii Friend listings and the error codes...all are understandable. Still, if you can get things fleshed out and running fine, online can definitely make for an awesome experience overall.
So, if you've read to this point, you've probably seen that I've had few gripes with the game and are probably expecting some mid-level rating. WRONG. 9.5/10. That -.5 goes to SSE, as the rest is stuff that is either superfluous addons that I can live without or stuff that can easily be forgiven or even REMEDIED (yay, DLC for stage builder please!). I indulge this game fully and it definitely will be my game of the year. In fact, the only reason I'm writing this review right now is because my girlfriend is busy playing online with people.
Shameless plug of my Wii Code and Friend Code in case you want to play me sometime below.
Wii Code: 2670 2363 7852 1578
WFC#: 2964 8269 2808