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As Super Smash Brothers Melee was the biggest selling game on the Gamecube, Nintendo have taken their time to get the follow up right. Accordingly, Super Smash Brothers Brawl (SSBB) was released a good year into the life of the Wii, and to much applause.
Fighting games traditionally pit two players against each other in a restricted environment. Players aim to land or block a variety of hits, kicks and throws. These moves are performed by either memorizing complex button combinations, or through millisecond perfect timing.
Although on first impressions these game can look chaotic, the better examples (Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Street Fighter) have a consistent play mechanic that invites the player to hone their performance. So much so that many have developed large communities that compete in yearly tournaments.
SSBB is an unusual fighter in that it greatly simplifies the controls. Character moves are determined by their surroundings as much as the button being pressed. It is also unique in being able to draw characters from Nintendo's impressive back catalogue of games. This is further exploited by a range of power ups and special moves that will be familiar to fans of these old games.
The game's other unusual aspect is the damage system. Rather than simply depleting your opponent's energy until they die, SSBB has you whittling away their resistance to being knocked off the map. Once you have suitably weakened them, you can toss them baseball-like from the arena. This is an interesting decision that has the side effect of avoiding characters dying on screen. Not only that but it also creates some fascinating show downs as players become increasingly cautious as their vulnerability increases.
SSBB delivers high impact action that can create fun and laughter for a range of ages and abilities. The tension rises as your characters vulnerability rises with each hit, and you try and knock the other players from the arena. This sort of edge of the seat game play, available right from the off, makes it a game that is best when played by a group of players in the same room.
SSBB improves over previous editions of the game by introducing new characters, environments and power ups. It also features a new final smash finishing move, not to mention a comprehensive online mode that allows you to play over the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. This allows players to arrange contests, spectate matches, take snapshots and record videos as well as compare their performance against their friends.
SSBB sessions are best played when you have a group of people that can play together for a good hour. It takes a little time for new players to acclimatise to the pace and tactics of the game. Where time permits, these sessions can easily be extended into the small hours of the morning.
Although some of the unique features of the game sound complex, they really do make game more accessible to novice players. The sheer exuberance and activity on screen, as up to four players battle it out, is great to watch and even more fun to play. The direction plus single button attacks mean that pretty much any age of player can take part, provided they (and their guardians) are comfortable with the cartoon violence involving a full gamete of bats, clubs, guns and missiles.
Whilst this move towards the mainstream has potentially made the game less attractive to the hard core fighter fans, SSBB still attracts an expert gamer following. These players develop their skill through their fast reaction times and knowledge of each character rather than the traditional fighting game techniques of memorization and timing.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: