For the uninitiated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting franchise in which Nintendo's cutesy mascots beat each other up. Mario kicking Pikachu. The Princess smacking Zelda with a frying pan. Etc. When SSB came out roughly ten years ago, other fighting games were convoluted Street Fighter clones--press a joystick 100 directions, then hit a three-button combination, and your little guy/girl might do some anime-styled move. What worked for Smash Bros. back then was that you didn't have to memorize a technical manual's worth of codes and moves to play. You had two buttons to attack, you could jump, and you could throw stuff. Simple. Get to kickin' ass. Plus, four people could fight at once, making it a good party game next to its N64 sibling Goldeneye. The series wound up becoming one of Nintendo's biggest worldwide properties.
The newest version, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, somehow reached my hands before its hyped release on Sunday, and I'm already hooked. I'm the target market, though--this is a game heaped with gaming nostalgia. Kid Icarus' Pit shows up to whoop an ass. Wario farts to make foes dizzy, then runs 'em over with a motorcycle. And the playground Sega/Nintendo debate is revitalized by this game's Sonic vs. Mario duels...hopefully a Pogs resurgence isn't soon to follow.
But this game isn't meant for the Wii. It proudly boasts that you can use a zillion different controller types to play it, and that's because the Wii's default controls barely have enough buttons for this game. There's no motion control--you won't swing your arm to smack anyone, though the game has a hidden "wrist flick" option. And most importantly, the simple game ain't Wii Sports-simple. The pick-up-and-play core is still intact--wear your opponent down, and instead of draining energy like Street Fighter, you eventually launch foes off a floating platform. But there are tons of other little bits and pieces to the game, strategies to learn and items to make sense of, and the game doesn't do much to ease outsiders in. Other than a brief how-to video, it's either trial by fire, or, ugh, study the game's 36-page manual.
Doesn't bother me, but I'm the target market. If you ever played and enjoyed Smash Bros before, you shouldn't even question buying it--SSBB is a perfect mix of refinement and new blood for the series. (My only knock so far is that the series' first-ever online mode stinks. Though it may be a temporary issue, my online play so far has been full of lag; making fights all kinds of herky-jerky. At least it's not a paid service.) And I don't think Nintendo should worry about this game specifically; you look at the box, covered in angry-looking game mascots, and you know whether or not it's your bag. Nintendo's proud about this game's niche, and judging by the way the game has played for me so far--the spit-shined balance and variety of different fighters, the dozens of little modes, the, um, nostalgic Nintendo virtual sticker-collecting mini-games (I got an Eggplant Wizard sticker this morning, and I'm sad to admit that I was thrilled)--they're serving their diehard nerds right.
But Nintendo's got a problem with scheduling and with serving all niches. Where was last Christmas' Wii Sports-style game, complete with crossover appeal and super-simple, super-fun motion gaming? That's right--none came out, and grown-ups who dug the Wii (and actually managed to find one) have to wait until May for Wii Sports' heir apparent, Wii Fit--the fitness game that comes with a weight-sensitive balance board (think skiing, yoga, and, er, hula-hooping). It'll be a welcome weird game, but Nintendo had years to work out a strategy, to really make the most of their crazy Wii, and as of right now, they really haven't. I enjoy playing games w/ outsiders; Wii Bowling with my mom is easily my #1 gaming memory, and as good as SSBB is, it's not something I'd ever expect to play with her, my girlfriend, or a lot of non-gaming friends. And as a grown-up gamer with shit to do (aside from, er, collecting virtual nerd stickers), I think it's a fair criticism.