The Smash Bros hype is such a trip sometimes

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

Anyone who’s ever signed up to the rollercoaster of hype knows what they’re getting themselves in for. You’re wishing your life away, waiting for this next big game or film to come out. If you’re particularly masochistic, you might even be hyped up for your wedding day. When the release day is still months away, and when you’re in your quiet, unguarded moments, you’ll revert back to being a child and making yourself almost sick with how much you want this thing – this thing that, in time, will become passé. That is until the next shiny object gets teased and the cycle begins all over again.

There’ll even be days just prior to the momentous occasion when some treacherous thoughts begin entering your head and you start telling yourself that maybe it won’t be as good as you’ve cracked it up to be, that there’s just no way it can live up to the massive hype. You’ve just got an insight of how I felt in the leadup to Super Smash Bros Brawl for Wii.

Here’s the problem – the first Smash game on Nintendo 64 was a bit of a surprise hit. Well, alright, nothing with Mario’s inflated mug on the cover ever comes as a surprising success, but you know what I mean. As I recall it, there was some moderate hype for Smash Bros Melee on the GameCube, but the little purple box couldn’t make even the tiniest dent in the PS2’s wave, so Melee’s release wasn’t a landmark event. Of course, it still went on to be one of the great multiplayer games to this day, becoming a system seller, and appealing even to those who would otherwise have Sony logos in their blood.

So when the Wii became a runaway success from day one, with millions of consumers and their grannies wanting a piece, everyone wanted to see what was next for the Smash series – it could only improve from here, surely. And when the first trailer for Super Smash Bros Brawl arrived, which for my money was one of the great video game trailers, and it showed off a third party character for the first time in Snake, the hype had already reached dangerous levels.

Just to stoke those flames a bit, an official new website dedicated to delivering daily updates related to Smash Bros Brawl was launched. You need to remember that this was in 2007, before the cancer of Twitter, YouTube and any other place for people to misinterpret bite-sized news snippets really came about. So you’d jump on the Smash Dojo for the daily update, and it might be a nonsense update about how to recover your character back onstage if they got launched off. Or, it might just be the other 3rd party character that sent the internet into frenzy, Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s strange to think that someone like Sonic could have been added to Smash without any fanfare. No trumpets blaring, no pre-rendered cutscene, no dedicated Nintendo Direct, nothing.

Millions poured onto that website every day, and it’s still online and archived if you want to have a look. Fantheories buzzed, screenshots were put under the microscope, every single piece of translated English was heavily scrutinised. When Lucas from Mother 3 was announced, the text stated “there’s been a character called Ness in Smash Bros up until now”. Even just the words ‘up until now’ prompted a million 10-year-olds (not that I was much older) to go into online meltdown. That was the power that this site had, and Brawl would definitely have to be considered one of the most hyped games of all time.

But when something is hyped so much, it easily crosses into overhyped territory and in the end, the anticipation and wait for Brawl was probably better than the game itself, if that makes any sense. I wasn’t to be told of course, and being in trendy Europe I was facing the prospect of having to wait three months longer to play it than my US colleagues. Imagine not having an near-simultaneous release for major Nintendo games now? It really was a different time.

This was also a blessed time before games were fully leaked. Some leaks did take place of course, but you didn’t have any of this data mining nonsense, and videos still weren’t altogether easy to share, so all you’d have were unverifiable rumours.

Either way, I couldn’t open myself up for getting the whole game spoiled, nor could I wait those extra three months since I was already on the verge of exploding with desire for the game. So I did something I’ve never done before, or since actually – I imported the game, and because it would have been an NTSC game on my PAL machine I also bought something called a Freeloader disc to make my Wii region-free.

I was planking myself in case the whole setup didn’t work – this was my equivalent of a dodgy box for illegal TV – but it did, and I nearly squealed with sad joy as I played. And played and played and played; I think I put in ten hours straight on my first day, getting as much done as I could, and all on my lonesome as well.

I know it’s a bit ridiculous me saying this, having put an eventual 200 hours into the game, but on reflection I’d have to say that Smash Bros Brawl was quite good, but not great. It made some heavy changes from Melee, supposedly to make the game a bit less centralised around those pro gamers – a wise move, as they all turned out to be sex attackers. But then you have some weird things going on, the most baffling of these being tripping: every so often, your character will just go on their ass if you try to break into a run. It was even more annoying than you might think, and obviously you couldn’t turn it off.

Brawl’s one-player adventure mode, the Subspace Emissary, also got some polarising reviews. It plays like an even worse version of Kirby, a side scrolling adventure that would have been a lot better, I feel, if it employed game- and series-specific enemies and levels. Think something like the Melee Adventure mode or the Smash Run on 3DS, rather than the drab designs used in Brawl. It gets boring and repetitive does the Subspace Emissary, but it tells a good story, bringing most of the 36 characters together and the cutscenes look great.

Masahiro Sakurai, the poor stooge in charge of the Smash games, has been on record saying that they haven’t attempted another story heavy adventure to this day as he felt disheartened by the fact that the cutscenes all just get uploaded to video sharing websites immediately after release. I don’t happen to buy that, and I imagine and hope we’ll see another Adventure mode soon, if only to see Captain Falcon unleash the biggest Falcon Punch of all time.

The soundtrack was probably the most impressive part of Brawl. Melee’s was great, some excellent orchestral stuff with about 30 or 40 tracks. Brawl ups that tally to over 300 tracks, a lot of which are entirely new mixes. Musically, it was a hell of an ambitious project, and so many great composers from video game music history lend their names to Brawl, and indeed subsequent games in the Smash series. 

There you go then, a Smash game that should have been great, since it added all kinds of bigger and better things following on from Melee. Instead, it’s probably the lowest rated of the series, or perhaps second-last before Smash 64. I wonder why? Perhaps the reason is that we had already all but played the game before it even came out. That’s the problem with hype, isn’t it? By God, you have to live up to it. And if you don’t have the minerals, or more accurately if you’re slower, less balanced and you trip and fall all the time, then you’re gonna flatter to deceive.

30 July 2021

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