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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

Next 16
 

Super Smash Bros. Brawl   Wii 

Yeah, I said it: Episode V    4/5 stars

The Super Smash Bros. series has possibly had the most influence on my life of any video game franchise to date. Were it not for the original entry in the series on the N64, I can’t help but wonder what my life may have been like in college. Playing the original was the main draw to my particular dorm room for most of my friends, and played a huge role in my meeting people and making friends my first semester in college. It turned out that playing this game constantly in my basement in high school, alone, served me pretty well as I was able to compete against the guys who’d been playing against better, human competition before I even arrived at college. It’s not because the computer was good, (it was actually quite terrible at the game) but because I played it SO much. Who’d have known.

When Melee came out, we didn’t miss a beat. I would estimate at least 10 hours of Melee got played a week in my own dorm room, usually with four people. The VS. match count on my system (i.e. not counting the matches played on anyone else’s console) now stands at 5844 matches and 492 hours, 39 minutes of VS. play time. Add on another 105 hours and 46 minutes of single player time to that. The “power count” for the game is 974, which I assume means the game was booted from that particular memory card 974 times. 974 times, someone sat down and played the game from that memory card.

FYI - the game keeps all these stats for you, and I wonder what life would be like if ALL games kept stats for us like this.

I say all this to make clear the point that I dearly love the Smash Bros. series. My friends and I, those same friends I first met playing the original in the dorms, have moved on to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and while we’ll never be able to log hours like we did when we all lived down the hall from each other playing Melee, our appetite for this game hasn’t wavered after nearly a decade of combat.

Then Brawl came out, it was a glorious celebration of everything I loved about Smash Bros.

And a hideous reminder of everything about Nintendo that bothers me.

There’s a huge cast of characters, and you have to wonder if Nintendo is going to start finally generating some new franchises just so they can have more characters to put in Smash Bros. games. The biggest news here is the addition of non-Nintendo characters Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog. Aside from saving Nintendo from the groans sure to resonate up and down the internet when they annouce ANOTHER Pokémon or F-Zero driver being added, their presence gives me renewed hope that my favorite character from a non-Nintendo game, the girl in the half-time cutscenes from Tecmo Super Bowl, may soon join the fight. Sadly, there are several other characters that ended up not making the trip from Melee, one of whom was Mewtwo, a character I actually enjoyed using.

Aside from WHO constitutes the cast of the game, there are a few more issues worth mentioning on the topic of the game’s roster:

1. I think it’s safe to say that all the “important” people have made the list. Further versions of the game would be expanded simply for the sake of expansion, not for improving the game. Let’s not put a character on the list unless they’re actually of note, okay Nintendo? The instant a Smash Bros. game is released, an army of 14 year-olds goes to the nearest gaming forum and starts a thread called “Who should be in the NEXT SSB game???” These threads are all the proof you need that the well is pretty much dry, because they end up serving the opposite effect they are intended to. After reading, you’ll see there really are NOT any remaining Nintendo characters that actually need to be in the next SSB game. Except Ridley.

2. It’s high time Ganondorf stops being merely a clone of Captain Falcon. This may be just me, but it seems like Nintendo managed to cook up enough content from driving games for the good Captain, so there should be enough material from one of Nintendo’s oldest and most popular villains that we can treat him with a little dignity.

3. This is a game where Nintendo would truly benefit from the ability and/or desire to update/patch the game. The roster of characters is impressive, but not all the characters are fun/functionally useful in even medium-level play, which isn’t surprising considering the size of the cast and extreme variety of play styles. A balance patch or two would have gone a long way to improving this game; this is part of a larger problem with Nintendo’s handling of the game that I’ll get into later.

The gameplay is quite familiar to anyone who has played previous games, so I’ll focus on the changes.

By far, the biggest change to the essence of Smash Bros. is the creation of the Smash Ball. This little floating wonder grants whoever destroys it the ability to perform a super-move that can do anything from incapacitate your opponents to area-of-effect damage over the entire arena to instant kill to anyone directly in front of the player and so much more. It’s a fun way to add a bit more personality to each character, and bring in more elements from their previous adventures, furthering the tribute to their respective games that each character stands for. They do a fun job of changing the pace of a match as the status quo breaks down and players dash like madmen to try and get the power for themselves.

Sadly, these powers are as unbalanced as the characters themselves. Some characters were blessed with moves that can truly decimate the entire arena. Other characters are cursed with special moves that are easily avoided. It’s a shame the play testing didn’t reveal how bad some of the Final Smashes (as they’re called) really are. It’s like the testers just played with their favorite characters the whole time instead of testing the entire field, because how that selection of moves got past QA is beyond me.

The next most influencial change, and by a WIDE margin the worst decision made when designing the game, is known as “tripping”, “prat falling”, or “slipping”. Essentially, when the control stick is pushed quickly to the left or right (which happens quite often in a 2D fighting game) there is a chance the character will simply fall over as if they’d tripped over their own two feet. You’re not reading that wrong, and it serves no other purpose than to interfere with your ability to play the game. I’ll come back to this later.

There is also another attempt at a single-player story mode. And as the single-player options in Melee greatly expanded on the original, Brawl takes a similarly large leap again, returning much of the content from Melee and adding a true story mode with an actual story and the option of co-op play. Called “The Subspace Emissary”, this takes all the characters in the game on an adventure to stop an extra-dimensional army bent on interfering with as many possible video game universes as possible. This “tour” essentially of every character in the game was a worthwhile addition to the game that fit right in with Nintendo’s theme of “Hey, remember THIS game?!?” for Brawl as a whole. With the exception of a needlessly complex maze near the very end of the game, I can say I enjoyed this.

Finally, the last major “addition” to the series in Brawl was “online” play. There’s no way for me to really indicate this by mere typing, so I’ll just have to tell you that the previous sentence should be read as sarcastically as possible when you’re reading this in your head. Or outloud, ‘cause maybe that’s your style. The game’s online offerings were as meager as they possibly could have been while still allowing Nintendo to write “Take the fight to distant friends as you brawl with up to four players over Nintendo WFC.” without being struck by lightning by a vengeful God who disapproves of their deceitful lies. The fact that online play was added to a primarily multiplayer-focused game for the first time and it’s the 4th biggest change on my list should tell you all you need to know. The input lag is terrible, even on a match I tried to play between Lincoln, Nebraska, and Omaha, Nebraska. The vast options allowed people for local play simply VANISH when you take it online, and the game types are trimmed down to the bare minimum.

Here we find the first major issue I had in mind when I wrote that “... hideous reminder of everything about Nintendo...” blah blah blah line above. Nintendo had a chance to do something really special here. Reach out, grab a market they didn’t really have any influence in, not embarrass the countless fans who did their best to defend the ridiculous name “Wii” when it came out, make good on their promise to expand the online play aspect of their business, and so on. This could have been a game whose online community stayed alive for a decade and did for Nintendo what Halo 2 online did for Microsoft: build a respectable online gaming community, keep fans attached to the game for 10 times as long, and give Nintendo another bullet point for the slideshows they like to open press events with when talking about how great their business is doing.

This was a HUGE missed business opportunity for Nintendo, and instead further perpetuated their image as the only international electronics mega-company who thinks the internet is just a fad.

Also, this rolls into my comments above about not taking advantage of the ability to update the game. Multiplayer-focused games are rebalanced CONSTANTLY by developers, and fighting games are some of the most notoriously rebalanced as the “hard core” community play tests the game to a level a developer can’t even dream of. Making the roster and attacks more balanced does nothing but make the game better, but there’s been no effort by Nintendo to do it, despite several home-brewed patches to balance the game having been made, illustrating the obvious desire and market for that sort of thing.

Keep in mind before lampooning me for caring too much about online play that:

1.) You have not played and enjoyed more local games of Smash Bros. than I have. In fact, you’ve played and enjoyed far fewer. So your attempt at a lecture about the merits of local play would be less like that old “Preaching to the choir” cliche and more like “Preaching to Jesus Christ himself.”

2.) Since Smash Bros. Brawl has no tolerable online play, I really don’t play ANY game online consistently, so trying to label me as some online gaming addict like that Modern Warfare 2 junkie you enjoy making snarky and pretentious comments about falls pretty flat. Honestly, I don’t know how much I’d play Brawl online. I’d simply like it to not suck, in the event I WERE to boot the game and give it a go.

The amount of OFFline content in the game, on the other hand, borders on ludicrous. My favorite is a pretty serviceable level creator (though you can ALWAYS make that sort of thing bigger and better) where you can make your own arenas, share them with friends, and then duke it out in your own creations, using any of the music tracks in the game as stage music (of which there are MANY). There are unlockable levels, unlockable characters, unlockable items for use in-game, MORE unlockable music, challenge stages, the old “Break the Targets” game... the list goes on. It would truly be an enormous undertaking to try and break down all the stuff there is crammed on the game disc, so just trust me... there’s a lot. For all the effort that DIDN’T go into the online play, just as much went into creating this over-the-top amount of offline content.

The graphics for the game are just about right for the type of game being played. All the developer-made levels look fantastic and have tons of little touches from the games they’re pulled from and are joined by suitable music from the games as well. The character models all look good and the attacks for everyone match their “style” (if that’s the proper word, even) and are flashy and exciting. What's also impressive is taking dozens of characters from different games created by different artists with different artistic styles and somehow making them all "fit" in the same game while still being true to the source material. Watching any character on-screen is entertaining, and four-player matches can turn into some good-natured chaos that can be wild and zany without ever bordering on the types of sensory-overload you’ve seen from a game like Geometry Wars.

That wild and zany gameplay sometimes comes at a cost of predictability. Here lies the final issue I referenced when I mentioned things that frustrate me about Nintendo. Why does every multiplayer game Nintendo makes have to boil down to a dice roll (no offense, Mario Party)? Why does every game need to eliminate any advantage a “skilled” player may have just so my non-gaming aunt or sister can have a chance to win a game too?

I’m tired of hearing that games are more fun when anyone can win. Games that continuously reward the skilled seem to do fairly well around the rest of the video game community, (StarCraft II, Call of Duty, Madden, Halo, Gran Turismo, Team Fortress 2, etc...) regardless of how many times grandma has won, so why does Nintendo feel the need to insist that this is “more fun”? Whether it’s Mario Kart races thrown into chaos by blue shells and lightning bolts or tripping/prat falling inserted into Smash Bros., Nintendo can’t seem to get away from this notion that enjoyment of competitive video gaming exists only by REMOVING as much true competition as possible and inserting random chance in it’s place. It’s the video game equivalent of giving EVERYONE a trophy just so no one feels bad for not getting one.

What to say in closing about this game? The real tragedy here is that you've probably detected a fair amount of scorn in my tone as you read this review. Rest assured that this scorn comes because of my intense love for the series, and the fact that I so badly want these games to be great. Only a few aspects of the game drew my ire, and really only because I was disappointed that Nintendo could and should have done so much better. This game is a B+ when it so easily could have been an A+.

When all the parts are working together, the game borders on perfection, and playing four-player games is honestly some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing video games, a theme all Smash Bros. games seem to have in common. The game captures so much of what makes games great: fun with your friends, strong replayability boosted by a huge amount of variety, and a perfected approach to the ever-elusive easy-to-learn-difficult-to-master element.

And what's really shocking is that all the parts of this game that don't work were MADE that way.

Tripping wasn't an accident. That was intentionally inserted in the game.

Bare, bare, bare bones online wasn't an accident. Nintendo could have made it big and robust, but instead made it SMALL.

A console with no ability to patch/update a game in a genre that demands it isn't an accident. That was Nintendo's CHOICE.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl is one of a few games whose only real flaws were actually the perfect implementation of terrible design decisions made by the developer.

Yeah, I said it.

 

 


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