Super Smash Bros. Brawl felt frenetic. To me, it seemed like too much was happening on-screen to play with precision. But apparently people wring ever moment of control out of this fast-paced game. Just not the first time they play.
In my games, Brawl always had a lot going on. A power-up poured out 2D sprites lifted directly from Advance Wars. Another caused a Nintendog to briefly paw playfully at the screen, for no reason other than to annoy us. I just laughed at the puppy as I was knocked off the platform to my loss.
I like my fighting games with more of an immediate sense of cause-and-effect and without this power-up focus. But I could see the appeal of Brawl. It had so much happening that I was always entertained. And the sense of humor and strangeness -- Mario versus Sonic in a fighting game -- also hooked me.
At Nintendo's press event, my fellow journalists were most excited about trying the controls. We were able to play with the Wii Remote by itself (encased in its silicon shell), or with the Classic Controller. The Wii Remote, held like an NES pad, felt simpler initially. But executing all of the moves required more complicated button combinations, like B with an attack button to grab.
Even I wanted more options, quickly opting for the Classic Controller and its additional dedicated buttons. With that pad, Brawl plays almost the same as on Smash Bros. the GameCube. (Note that GameCube controllers will also work with Brawl natively.) I tried the right analog-stick for smash attacks and began to appreciate the chaotic pace.
Nintendo stressed that Brawl will have fully customizable controls that will be saved to user profiles. Even such annoying Brawl conventions as pushing up to jump will be able to be remapped however a player wants. This feature wasn't demonstrated, but Nintendo imagines that expert players will craft crazy schemes that may give a small advantage.
I thought the actual gameplay held a light tone, which was good with its constant chaos. Power-ups were comical and damaging. And the deep Nintendo references, like a perfectly pastel Yoshi's Island level, kept me amused.
I'm looking forward to playing more Brawl to see what the Smash Bros. fuss is about. Our one-system, four-player matches were fun, and gamers will be able to connect four-player games online, too. (Some sort of online, user-generated content sharing was also mentioned, although Nintendo gave no specific details.)
Maybe I'll find depth within the Smash Bros. pace after the February 10, 2008 release. But even if I never get full control over the fighting, I'm sure the surreal design will keep me engaged.