Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Game Developer's Review: Super Smash Brothers Brawl

Time for my review on Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Nintendo Wii. I am going to keep the same format I used on my Assassin's Creed review. I'll start with a brief introduction of how much of the game I've actually played. Then I will pick out 3 things I think the game does right, and 3 things I think the game does wrong. To finish it off, I'll wrap it up with a nice conclusion.

Intro
Super Smash Brothers is the third installment of the popular Super Smash Brothers series. Its a competitive 2.5D fighting game that mashes up characters from the Nintendo universe, and now recently characters from other game universes. Personally I've completed the single player Sub-Space Emissary mode, unlocked all 35 characters and 41 levels, and have had about 15 online matches.


WHAT WENT RIGHT
1. GameCube Controller Support
This is huge right here. The fact that Nintendo provided an option to use the GameCube controller instead of the wii-mote. The wii-mote is not good for fast, twitchy fighting games. The GameCube controller is comfortable, proven, and keeps the game familiar for returning players. I tried out the wii-mote controller for a few rounds and it was just too hard to pull off the exact timing for running, jumping, and pulling off moves. It could be quite interesting that the best selling Wii game is one that better without the wii-mote.

2. Depth/Replay
Unlockables galore and fantastic local multiplayer will keep you coming back to play. Many things were removed from Melee, namely wave dashing, changing up how air guards work, and slowing down the game. Its more inviting to a casual audience, but its still packed with depth. 35 characters and 41 stages provide plenty of variety. Yeah some of the characters are garbage and unbalanced, but its not so blatant that it will deter you from playing the game. If you not a tournament player, I'm sure the unbalances will be less obvious to you. The addition of the Smash Ball is cool, if unbalanced at times, but it adds depth. Every character has a "super move" now and it can be executed if they acquire the Smash Ball. The ball appears randomly, so you really can't plan for it.

Also the plethora of unlockables will keep you playing as well. Soundtracks, trophies, and stickers are all worthy of collecting. Particularly the soundtracks, there as so many to get and they are fantastic.


3.
Visuals
Everything from has received a nice visual bump from Melee. The game will not knock your socks off, but it does run at a very smooth frame rate. I haven't noticed any slowdown at all when playing, this is key for all fighting games. The levels are rich and vibrant, and the characters are all easily identifiable.

WHAT WENT WRONG
1. Online Play
Epic fail in this category. No leader boards, no match making, no voice chat, difficult to use friend codes, and lag. Lag I cannot fault the developer Game Arts too heavily for. Fighting games and online lag have a ways to go, because fighting games are all about split second reaction times. When planning moves down to a few frames of animation, lag can make or break a match. We just have a ways to go until we acceptable online lag for fighting games.

The lack of leader boards, no intelligent match
making, and no voice chat are what really hurts the online. Leader boards are not hard to pull off, just track some data, store it on the server, and post it. The idea of "we don't want to hurt players' feeling because they may think they are really good, but find out they are not" is fucking bullshit. I want to see my wins and losses at minimum. Also, the fact I cannot friend people I have played with is short sighted.

The lack of intelligent match making is unforgivable too. I am fully aware of the amount of work it takes to create an online match making system, but this is a big flagship title and nothing should be skimped on. Only ONE game mode for playing with randoms who at random skill levels? If you play with random players, you can only play 2 minute brawls. No stock matches, no coin matches, and it seems like the level is selected at random. Playing with friends is better. Its like playing with someone locally, you have all the options, but don't forget you need their TWELVE digit friend code before you can play them. Lets just use some sort of gamer handle system, Nintendo!

No voice chat is short sighted as well. I have to use my cell phone to talk to my buddy while I play? I've even heard of people of starting private matches in Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 on Xbox so they can chat through their headsets. Its ridiculous that Nintendo didn't incorporate chatting. Talking trash and chatting up is part of the online experience. Nintendo could have at least allowed voice chat in the friend-only brawls.

2. Sub Space Emissary mode
This is essentially the single player mode of Brawl. Its an adventure mode, where you travel from location to and travel through each local like a beat'em up. Characters are discovered and unlocked along the way. Sub Space Emissary starts out strong, but becomes rote and mundane quickly. By the end you just want it to be over and move on. Maybe if it was 4 hours instead of 7 hours it would be tolerable, and the only real reason to play is to unlock characters and trophies.

3. Tripping
Probably one of the dumbest things they could have done added to the game. You randomly trip if you are dashing across a stage. If it was predictable and took player skill to avoid, I might be okay with it. The fact that is totally random is bullshit. Why should something randomly happen that makes me totally vulnerable to an opposing player? It should not happen, that's what!

Conclusion
In the end Super Smash Brothers Brawl is a solid title. It does not deviate too much from what made Super Smash Brothers Melee successful. Maybe the game is becoming a repetitive and played out. You have to ask yourself if the game would be as good if it was just a random intellectual property and not Nintendo characters. Even still, the characters are solid, fun.

Brawl does fall flat on its face in the online category. What could have been a home run for online play is abysmal. Brawl could have been the Halo 3 of Wii online play, but lack of leader boards, match making, and game modes hurt it.

Do not let the poor online play, deter you though. Brawl is a solid title, that will be fun for years to come, and should be in your in your Wii's library of games.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Quick Update

I've been kind of a ghost lately. I've been busy with work, delivered a milestone last week. Things that I plan to get out soon, hopefully this weekend, is a Super Smash Bros Brawl review and soon to follow that a Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 review. An idea I've been kicking around is waxing some design philosophy in my posts. I have a few topics I want to hit and share my thoughts on.

In other news, My NCAA Tourny bracket has done well, but the best I can finish in the office pool is 2nd :(


I also wonder, does anyone read this stuff :-P