The first publicly playable version of Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii was available to sample during Nintendo's media event in San Francisco, giving those on hand a chance to check out the next evolution of the franchise. While some headline characters were unavailable for hands-on play—Snake from Metal Gear Solid, for example—many newcomers to the series were featured, including the recently announced Sonic the Hedgehog. Limited to only two minute time battles, up to four players, we didn't get to experience portions of the game that hardcore fans are surely looking forward to, but did have enough time to become familiar with the varied control options. Plus, we saw some new, unannounced aspects.
Nintendo had two control options available, one using the Classic Controller, the other using only the Wii Remote in the NES controller position. While many will probably opt to use the Gamecube controller, given that millions played Super Smash Bros. Melee on that system, I found both control schemes quite workable. Using up on the D-pad for the latter control method proved harder than expected, especially after becoming familiar with the Classic Controller's dedicated jump buttons, but for those with only Wii-motes, they should find the control serviceable. The only other quibble? Reaching the minus button for grabs. It can be challenging in the heat of a frantic SSBB battle.
The roster in the demo—and the one I assume will be available at Nintendo's booth at E For All—featured the following characters: Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, Fox, Pikachu, Diddy Kong, Pit, Meta Knight, Ike, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Sonic and Bowser.
Levels included the unannounced Norfair from Metroid, Smashville, the Super Smash Bros. Battlefield, the Bridge of Eldin from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and many, many more. Given the multiplayer environment, most matches opted for a random draw, with me cursing under my breath every time Norfair was selected.
Only a handful of features not already revealed by the Smash Bros. Dojo were present, including new assist trophies from Advance Wars, Peach's Final Smash—which, simply sees dozens of giant peaches rain from the sky, curiously putting other fighters to sleep, giving Peach a chance to eat or wail on them—and a variety of alternate colour schemes for each character. Diddy Kong, for example, can employ a palette swap that borrows from Waluigi, while a Dark Link from Twilight Princess provides stark contrast to the brightly colored tunics available.
Gameplay should be intimately familiar to anyone who spent time with Melee. Not much has changed here. The real draw for those interested in the sequel comes from new features like Assist Trophies, Final Smashes and new item types. The new character roster will also be a draw, with the selection screen featuring plenty of room for further additions, even without confirmed characters like Zelda, Lucas, Wario and Snake selectable.
As expected, Super Smash Bros. Brawl looks great in 480p, running at a flawlessly smooth frame rate, only slowing down for dramatic effect when intended. Load times for four-player battles were longer than expected, but given that the game is still some four months off, we could have had access to a build that hasn't been optimised.
We didn't get to try out the new Wi-fi Connection multiplayer mode, unfortunately, nor did we have access to the single-player and cooperative adventure modes. Since most players will most likely spent the majority of their time playing multiplayer battles, I feel fairly confident saying they're going to like what's included in the Super Smash Bros. Brawl package. A massive variety of characters, stages, items, trophies and options ensure that Super Smash Bros. fans feel like they've been given a lot of value for their cash, even if the series hasn't evolved much in the gameplay department.
Wii owners should be in store for frantic fun come February 2008.