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'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' is a love letter to fans

Image: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Diddy Kong and Bowser, characters from Nintendo games past, join forces in “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” to sandwich a stray Pokemon between their epic blows.Nintendo
/ Source: contributor

When a video game company delivers a game tailored specifically for its fans, reviewers often call it a "love letter." Well, Nintendo sealed "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" with a big, fat kiss.

This update to the top-selling game for the Nintendo GameCube gives fans of the fighting game more than they could ever hope for, including 35 different heroes from Mario to Princess Zelda and 40 different stages pulled from the Nintendo library of hits. And to cap it off, "Brawl" even offers an online mode so scores can be settled on the Web.

In case you sat out the Nintendo 64 or GameCube era, the "Super Smash Bros." series is a four-player bruiser that pits classic Nintendo characters from popular franchises against each other in fast-paced fights.

All the big stars are here, such as Donkey Kong, Yoshi, and Link from "The Legend of Zelda," but "Brawl" really combs the catalog and gives bit players a taste of the spotlight. Pit, the little angel from the NES classic "Kid Icarus," returns. Olimar and the Pikmin show up. Several popular Pokemon play a role, too, such as Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Lucario. (If those names don’t mean much to you, just know that there's a ten-year-old with a big grin on his face when he reads them.)

"Brawl" is the first "Super Smash Bros." game to introduce fighters from outside the Nintendo universe. Sega's mascot Sonic the Hedgehog joins the action, allowing you to settle that age-old “Who would win in a fight between Mario or Sonic?” question.

Konami's Solid Snake, the hero of the popular "Metal Gear Solid" series also books an appearance. These are cool nods, but it's too bad there are not more cameos. Where's Mega Man or a hero from Square Enix's "Final Fantasy" series?

The game is far more accessible than other fighting games like "Street Fighter" or "Virtua Fighter" thanks to a casual-oriented control scheme. Nintendo wanted non-fighting-game fans to be able to pick a favorite Nintendo hero and just have fun without needing to memorize a bunch of complex commands. You can mix it up with only a basic knowledge of the game's two attack buttons.

However, if you are a dedicated gamer, you will discover an incredible amount of depth in "Brawl" as Nintendo took great pains to balance out all the fighters and give them special moves that are merciless in the hands of a master. Hardcore "Super Smash Bros." fans that sunk hundreds of hours into mastering the GameCube edition will be happy to know the game supports the original GameCube controller as well as the Wii Remote and the Classic Controller.

In "Brawl," you don’t have a health bar to keep an eye on. Instead, each character has a percentage that goes up as the fight wears on. Each hit adds more percentage points. The higher the percentage, the greater the chance of being knocked completely off the screen by a devastating attack. For example, at only 25 percent, you could probably weather a few fireballs from Mario without a problem. At 250 percent, a slight breeze might be enough to send you flying.

Just in case you don't have three friends on the couch with you, "Brawl" does support online play. Getting online and playing a match with strangers is easy, but in order to duke it out with pals, you must use Nintendo's frustrating Friends Code system. (You must actually call or email a friend to get a twelve-digit code and then input it in your Wii. It's painful compared to the breezy Xbox Live interface.)

Fights seemed relatively lag-free, but this could change as the service gets busier in the coming weeks, just as it did when players jumped online with Nintendo's "Super Mario Strikers" last summer. "Brawl" does not have a voice chat option either, which is a bummer, but at least there are text chat options for sending brief messages to friends. Voice chat is simply something Nintendo has to bring to the Wii — it's considered a standard feature for online play by this point.

The star attraction in "Brawl" is the four-player fighting action, but solo players can dig into the Subspace Emissary, a story mode that really makes zero sense, but serves as the main place to unlock all the cool stuff in the game. While plowing through side-scrolling action stages and fighting off huge monsters, players earn trophies for a gallery and statistic-boosting stickers that can be applied to characters.

The stickers and trophies are awesome for long-time Nintendo fans, as they draw on games from the entirety of Nintendo's history. You'll see small characters from 1980s games, side characters from DS cult hits like "Elite Beat Agents" and "Electroplankton," and items from classic Mario adventures.

"Brawl" is simply the best-looking game to appear on the Wii thus far, but what really astounds here is the soundtrack, which offers some beautifully orchestrated renditions of dozens of classic Nintendo themes.  Hey Nintendo, how about an album to go with the game?

There really is so little to complain about in "Brawl" that you almost worry if from this point on, Nintendo has nowhere to go but down. Besting this achievement — and the stellar “Super Mario Galaxy,” will be a tall order for the company.