Super Smash Brothers Brawl dissection

2008, March 24th 2:30 PM

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

Developer: Nintendo

Completion level: Beat Subspace Emissary

This is going to be an extraordinarily short one.

I wasn't even sure I would write on this topic for a while. What do you say about SSBB? It's got standard Mario-style graphics (I touched on this in the Mario Galaxy dissection), it's been painstakingly balanced to a knife-edge, and it's hugely popular. I was originally just planning to note that, yes, I played it, and really didn't have anything to say about it. They don't do anything particularly notable extraordinarily right, and they certainly don't do anything wrong. So there we have it.

But there's one thing I decided I wanted to say.

SSBB has a single-player mode called the Subspace Emissary. In this mode, Mario and Co team up to defeat the Bad Guys. Most of the missions include a rendered cutscene at the beginning and the end, showing the interactions between the characters and the inevitable action-movie-esque "Hey! You really are on our side!" moments.

The cutscenes are fantastic.

They're funny. They're entertaining. They're beautiful. They do a phenomenal job of setting the stage without ever actually interfering with the player's enjoyment of the game. There's no Final Fantasy "okay, go get a snack, you're going to be here for twenty minutes" moments. There isn't a single cutscene that becomes boring. They're just all excellent.

And they're done almost entirely without dialog.

I think Snake says something when he shows up for the first time. That's all, though.

The interactions are shown with body language – and considering that we're talking body language between an anthropomorphic fox, a mobile pink marshmallow, a monkey, and a lot of robots, this is a nontrivial task. These aren't even simple interactions. There's betrayal, there are turncoats, there are characters whose motives are unclear and contradictory in the beginning . . . and all of it is explained by the end. Nonverbally. It's really incredibly impressive, and if you don't plan to play the game, I actually recommend watching them. 1 2 3 4 5 6. Yeah, that's about an hour of video. If you don't want to watch that much, at least check out the Donkey Kong/Fox arc – 6:00 to 7:30, 1:50 to 3:40, and 7:55 to the end.

You'll notice that this clip is in Japanese. You'll also note that it doesn't matter. The only thing you miss is what the names of the various characters are. Even with those short Japanese clips, you get a reasonable idea of their personalities and interactions.

That's damn impressive.

I think, in my next game, I'm going to try hard to make the game's plotline understandable with dialog removed. I do plan to have dialog – but I'll add the dialog after the game makes sense without it.

And that's really all I have to say on this game.

Yeah. I just wrote a page about Super Smash Brother Brawl, focused entirely on the cutscenes in Subspace Emissary mode. Deal with it.

  • Malimar

    2008, March 24th 6:48 PM

    Are you talking about Super Smash Brothers Brawl, or Super Smash Brothers Melee? You switched from one to the other early on.

  • Stiltskin

    2008, March 24th 8:00 PM

    Oh yes, this has been taking up quite a bit of my life lately. It's funny, it seems you have a knack for choosing games that I like for these dissections. Then again, most of them have been high-profile Nintendo games, so maybe that explains it.

  • Zorba

    2008, March 24th 9:11 PM

    Malimar: Brawl. I seem to have written the wrong name in several spots. Dur. It's funny, I proofread these thoroughly and the stupidest things still sneak through. Thanks for telling me :)

    Stiltskin: In general, I only have time to play games that I think I'll like. That means that, in general, the games I play are ones I like – I know what I'm looking for and I know what out there is good. It's pretty uncommon for me to pick up a game and not enjoy it immediately on some level. Although the next entry is going to be about a game where exactly that happened, so stay tuned!

  • Ninwa

    2008, March 24th 11:08 PM

    I'm surprised you don't have much more to say about the game. Maybe I'm a little biased, but Brawl is one of the only games my friends and I can repeatedly enjoy together. It is hands down the most fun, creatively interesting, balanced, and beautifully designed fighting games that I know of.

  • Ninwa

    2008, March 24th 11:11 PM

    I have to quickly add, by Brawl I meant Melee. Looks like you're not the only one mixing them out. That said, I haven't played Brawl yet, I just simply assumed it would be much better than it's predecessor.

  • Zorba

    2008, March 24th 11:19 PM

    Honestly, in a lot of ways that's why I don't have anything to say about it. It's a fantastically built game. They did a huge number of things right and balanced the hell out of the game. I don't really have much more to say about it than that simply because I don't know the game well enough to talk in-depth about how it's balanced, and I probably never will (I'm a casual SSB player.)

    Some things are easy to talk about. Others, not so much. SSB balance falls firmly into the latter category for me :)

  • Albert

    2008, March 24th 11:21 PM

    I think it's entirely reasonable to get the two mixed up. Brawl almost feels like more of an expansion to Melee than an actual new game. Balance tweaks, some new characters, some new levels, a bunch of new random stuff falling from the sky, but fundamentally the very same game. This is not particularly a bad thing.

  • Ninwa

    2008, March 24th 11:27 PM

    That's fair. I guess I am just spoiled by your last couple of posts being so long. I always enjoy seeing a dissection in my RSS queue of things to read. What game do you have planned for next?

  • Zorba

    2008, March 24th 11:34 PM

    There has been more than one franchise spoiled by the designers deciding to make an entire new experience out of it. Sometimes the classics are the best – honestly, the classics are what I'm most interested in and what I plan to make. (I may not be entirely unbiased when I encourage people to enjoy the classics, obviously.)

    I'm not going to say which my next one is. It is always a surprise! This is completely unrelated to the fact that I've re-ordered dissections several times in the past, I promise.

    There actually might be a bit of a drought in dissections after the next one, I've run out of games I'm playing at the moment. I suspect these things will come in waves.

  • Stiltskin

    2008, March 25th 2:47 PM

    @Ninwa
    "It is hands down the most fun, creatively interesting, balanced, and beautifully designed fighting games that I know of."
    Brawl is even more well-balanced. Quite simply, there are no Pichus in Brawl. If you liked Melee, you'll love this.

    @Zorba
    You should read the Iwata Asks interviews on Nintendo's site. Iwata interviews his own employees, and it gives a good amount of insight into the development process, and the people who develop them. (At least to someone like me, who who has no real-world experience with game development)
    Here's the Brawl one:
    http://us.wii.com/iwata_asks/ssbb/vol1_page1.jsp
    An interesting fact from it: the fine-tuning of the characters' attributes was handled by Sakurai alone.
    There are many other interviews, and they span most of Nintendo's more popular releases. I enjoy them very much.

    The biggest thing I have to worry about this game, I think, is that it's going to be nearly impossible to top it, especially since Sakurai is not going to be working on another Smash Bros. game after this. The series has reached its peak. But that's a worry for the future, not the present.
    Of course, there could always be some sort of new technology that shows up that changes everything. Who knows what Nintendo's planning for the next generation?

  • Ninwa

    2008, March 30th 4:26 PM

    @Stiltskin

    Now owning the game and having gotten to play it quite a bit, I think there is plenty of room for improvement in the future. I don't think the game balance needs to change much, but there are always new interesting characters that could be added as new franchises emerge and now that we've already crossed console boundaries (e.g. Snake.) Also, I think that they really lost out on online play. Sure, it's there, but to me it all feels very held back. I understand it might have been a part of the philosophy, keep the simple game simple, but it has so much potential (e.g. online tournament play, chat, different mode-types, etc.)

    All of those things have to be facilitated by third parties over the internet instead of being accessible directly through the games interface, and it's inconvenient.

  • Stiltskin

    2008, March 30th 6:32 PM

    Yes, the online play could be fixed up, and new characters could be introduced, but what I'm saying is that it's so full of content that it'll be difficult to bring something new to the table in the next iteration. Already Brawl has been criticized from some outlets for being too similar to Melee, though that's usually quickly followed by "but hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it". This is the culmination of the Smash Bros. series (at least in terms of the gameplay, online play is a whole different issue) and unless they change the core gameplay up a bit, the next game will be accused of being "Brawl with better online and new characters". Of course, in changing it, they risk ruining the game we love.
    Perhaps, then, it's time to put the series to rest. IMO, a trilogy is a good way to end a game series. Maybe, rather than ending it, they could give it a rest for a generation and then bring it back once people are nostalgic enough.

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