Super Smash Bros. Brawl

For many video game enthusiasts there is simply no bigger game than the Smash Bros series. What started as a low budget effort by Nintendo to produce a four player variation on the popular two-dimensional fighting game genre, has exploded into one of the most highly anticipated and wildly popular game series in history.

The reasons for this are clear. Nintendo took a winning concept and blended it with characters, locations, and other details from dozens of its other properties, and created a single, unified work. Nintendo is well known for its stable of reliable series. By populating this game series with the faces of its best known works, the success of the series was virtually assured.

The Art

By blending media, Nintendo, and to a larger extent the games designers such as series creator Masahiro Sakurai, was able to invoke incredible art design drawn from myriad sources. The locations within the game are all set within various games. An example is the Bridge of Eldin from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which is a stone bridge across a chasm. The backdrop of the bridge is Hyrule Castle and behind it a warm sunset. The stage depicts all the flavor and style of its source, and stands true through the raucous action of the various characters. Other stages are extremely faithful to their source– such as the Game & Watch stage, which is obnoxiously two-dimensional, or the WarioWare stage, which features some series-inspired micro-games to buff the feel of the otherwise non-descript background.

The inspired design doesn’t stop with the scenes. The characters, which are all largely recreated from their own games, are expertly drawn and rendered. Some of them have never existed in three dimensions, such as Lucas or Pit, and needed to be reimagined for this game. Pit is an excellent example of this sort of upgrade. At right, bottom, is his original appearance in the NES title Kid Icarus. He was then reengineered to look as he does at right, top. He was given halos around his wrist to give him an angelic quality, as well as a pair of blades which can retrofit into his signature bow. His appearance in this game is supposed to play up his dual Greco-Roman and Christian inspired design, and to depict him as older (teenaged) than his cherubic appearance in earlier games. To an uninformed observer, Pit’s abilities and powers make total sense. To them he invokes cupid, angels, and doesn’t require lots of information to use him. This might not be so with a character like Mario– an overweight Italian plumber who can apparently throw fireballs from his hands.

The Music

Sakurai jokes in his blog and in interviews with Smash Bros co-creator and Nintendo CEO and president Satoru Iwata, that he went way overboard on music with this game. The game’s soundtrack has more than 300 recordings measuring out to sixteen hours of music, written by dozens of the industry’s greatest composers, including Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda composer Koji Kondo, who is widely considered to be a legend in game music composition. Most of the music is sourced directly from games. Some of it is meant to sound exactly as it did in the source material, others are remixed to provide an updated sound. Some of the music is original, but is at least partially inspired by some of the related game series.

Many tracks are amazing, taking some of the most inspired pieces from the source material and reworking it into 2-minute versions which add a tremendous punch to the experience. They range from quirky digitized techno-remixes to fully orchestrated masterpieces with vocals. This versatility highlights the broad appeal of the game, as it appeals to fans of the literally dozens of games which inspire this collective piece of art.

The Flipside of Story, Competition, & Tradition

One of the original marketing angles for the first Smash Bros game was to play up the angle that this collection of Nintendo’s finest heroes were clobbering each other just for the joy of it. A famous commercial featured actors in oversized Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Pikachu costumes hitting, tripping, and throwing each other. That brought people to the show, so to speak, but it isn’t what kept them there. The game, up until now, had a distinct lack of story. The strength of this series was, and remains, its smooth physics, well balanced game play, attractive graphics, excellent music, and awesome sense of humor.

To say that Smash Bros., titles are repetitive is moot. They are by definition variations on a theme, as are, for that matter, the Olympic Games. What changes is who plays and how, and the location of those events. Like the Olympics, these games inspire competition in the name of continued dialogue. Participants represent their specific franchise, using its theme music and emblem as their own badge, as would an Olympian have his or her national banner and anthem invoked upon victory. Sakurai and others have implied this was designed to be the final entry in the series, but acknowledge that anything is possible. However, moving beyond the kind of simulacra the series is known for may be a mixed blessing.

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