All new characters set to ‘Brawl’

“Super Smash Bros. Brawl” is by far the biggest game to hit the Nintendo Wii, in every sense of the phrase. No other title has been so hotly anticipated. No other title has had such phenomenal sales (in the first week, “Brawl” sold at a rate of 120 units per minute). And no other title has managed to cram such a ridiculous amount of content onto a single disk. Not on the Wii. Possibly not on any system.

The 2-D fighting game features almost three dozen characters from 17 of Nintendo’s most famous and beloved series. Fifteen of these characters are brand new to the “Brawl” installment, such as Captain Olimar from “Pikmin” and Pit from “Kid Icarus.” For the first time in the series, “Brawl” also includes second-party characters like Sonic and Solid Snake.

The game features an almost overwhelming amount of game-play and competitive modes and options. The deeper you delve into the different sub-menus, the more you realize just how much stuff is here.

In the Vault players can view hundreds of Trophies and Stickers that they collected in the game, each of which shows a character or item from Nintendo’s history. Also in the Vault is a section called Masterpieces,

a collection of demos of the original Nintendo games in which the “Brawl” characters appeared, like the original “Donkey Kong.”

The Chronicle section is a massive library showing all of Nintendo’s systems and the notable games that each system had. This is likely more than you would ever care to know, but for the die-hard Nintendo fan, this is the ultimate anthology.

The audio and visual quality in “Brawl” is greatly improved. The sound effects of the players’ attacks are satisfying, and the attention to detail in visual effects like fire and water is better than anything seen yet on the system. The visual upgrades are especially noticeable in the sweeping background scenes of Final Destination.

Multiplayer in “Brawl” has all of the same options as in previous titles, with a few additions and changes. For Special Brawls, players can now combine multiple special scenarios to have light, fast and mega brawls. “Brawl” also introduces a rotation option for those times when you have more players than controllers. And most notably, “Brawl” finally introduces online play with friends and random matches.

The game also includes a slew of new items, led by the Smash Ball. The Smash Ball is by far the most important new item in the game, because breaking it allows a player to unleash their overwhelmingly powerful Final Smash. When a Smash Ball appears, all players immediately start scrambling for it, knocking each other out of the way in the race to obtain the ultimate item. This item is so unbelievably strong that when item appearance is set to “high” it almost ruins the entire combat system by nearly negating the need for traditional attacks. If you want purely skill-based matches you’ll want to turn off the Smash Ball.

Solo play in “Brawl” has also received some changes and additions. Event mode has 62 new events, some of which are designed for co-op.

But the biggest news from solo play is The Subspace Emissary, a story-driven campaign that replaces the lame Adventure Mode from “Melee.” The side-scrolling adventure has dozens of levels that can be played with a friend, and it takes a good seven or eight hours to complete. The game pits all 35 playable characters against a slew of brand-new enemies (called the Subspace Army) in a hack-and-slash platformer.

This is easily one of “Brawl’s” biggest draws. A credible solo campaign is something no other “Smash” game has done.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t talked about the actual gameplay yet, it’s because there isn’t much need to. The game uses the same tried-and-true formula of knockout-based fighting that has made it a phenomenon. Matches seem to have been slowed down a lot from “Melee,” but this isn’t a bad thing. It just means you’ll be using more deliberate actions and more planned-out attacks, as opposed to the rapid thrash-fests of “Melee.” The best thing about “Brawl’s” gameplay is that the characters are extremely balanced, even more than in previous entries. Yoshi and Kirby actually feel useful, and Marth has been cut down to size. Sorry Sheik and Fox users, you won’t be dominating this time around.

A few minor issues keep “Brawl” from perfection. The carefully-designed, character-specific Break the Targets levels have been replaced by five cookie-cutter stages. Beating these stages is required to unlock content, but playing the same level over and over again is boring and tedious.

Also, the time limits of the Masterpiece game demos are frustratingly short. Forty seconds for F-Zero didn’t even allow me to finish a single race.

Finally, load times on “Brawl” are annoyingly longer than in previous entries.

But these miniscule problems do little to dim the shining beacon of Nintendo glory that is “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.” With awesome new characters, innovative levels and valuable additions like online play, the stage builder and a full-fledged single-player campaign, “Brawl” is one hell of a game.

I’ve been saving up for months to buy an X-Box 360. But after playing “Brawl” for a few days, I might be spending my cash on a different next-gen system. It’s that good.