Second Opinion: Brawl Is The Only Good Smash Game

And Tripping Is A Good Mechanic

This is not a series about games you haven’t heard of.  This is a series about games EVERYONE has heard of.  Games that everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they’ve played them or not.  Games whose actual qualities have been buried in a narrative, whether good or bad.  Games that everyone always makes the exact same comments about.  Games that are in desperate need of…a Second Opinion.

Hi, everybody.  Normally I’d introduce myself as Doctor I Coleman, PhD in throwing it at him, not me, but this week I’ve got to be careful about using my real name.  You see, this week I’m going to be giving a second opinion to Super Smash Brothers Brawl and not only will I be explaining why it’s a good game, but I actually want to explain why it’s a better game than any of the other Smash Bros., including Melee, and the last time a games critic dared to offer an opinion on that, he got swarmed with so much hate you’d’ve thought he was a female ghostbuster.  That would be Destructoid’s Jonathan Holmes, who I admire very much, and people were so angry at his claim that Melee fans were “impatient control freaks” that they…completely proved his point.  Let’s try not to do the same thing here, yeah?

Brawl versus Melee.  It’s a debate as old as time, or, at least, a debate as old as 2008, which is kind of the same thing.  If you’re somehow not familiar, it goes like this: Super Smash Brothers Melee came out in 2001 for the Nintendo Gamecube and was considered in every way superior to its uninspiring predecessor, a game which was banking on the novelty of watching Nintendo characters beat the hell out of each other overcoming its tiny roster, hideous graphics, mediocre gameplay, and controls designed for a mysterious race of three-handed aliens.  Melee not only sold well enough to become the number one game you played at your friend Kyle’s house, it also inspired a small but dedicated competitive scene who would play the game for money.

Then, in 2008, Nintendo followed it up with the third game in the series, Super Smash Brothers Brawl.  At the time it did very well, both critically and commercially – in fact, it’s still the best-selling game in the whole series.  But then the aforementioned competitive fanbase began to speak out against it, complaining that the game wasn’t competitive enough because of its random mechanics, poor physics, and slower speed.  Eight years later, and Brawl is mostly seen by the hardcore Smash Bros fanbase as a complete failure, while the mainstream media and casual gaming community have mostly written it off as a flawed effort surpassed in every way by its sequel, Super Smash Brothers for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.  (Jesus, what a name.  It’s almost as bad as calling a console entirely different from the 3DS the “New 3DS”.)

Let me present my credentials. I’ve played Melee a lot.  I mean a lot.  Mainly because of where I live.  In the lounge in my building, there’s two TVs for Melee and one TV for Project M, the mod that makes Brawl into Melee.  I’m certainly no tournament contender, but I understand terms like “Wavedashing”, “L-canceling”, “Multishining”, “Wobbling”, and “Respect Your Elders”.  No one could accuse me of not knowing the game, even though I’m sure a whole bunch of you already have.  But at the same time, I don’t find Melee all that fun.  I only play it because friends want to.  And as much as I enjoy Super Smash Brothers for the…aw, jeez, Smash 4, if I had my druthers, I’d still be playing Brawl.  Every time.  Because Brawl is the only good Smash game.

It comes back to something we’ve talked about before on the show.  Most people think that a game can only be good or bad – if you enjoy it, it’s good, and if you don’t, it’s bad.  But proper criticism takes a more nuanced approach: first, what was this game intended to be?  Was it something that was made for me or not?  And secondly, did the developer succeed or fail at what they intended to make?  And Smash Bros was never intended to be a competitive game, as the series’ creator, Masahiro Sakurai, has said many times, usually to much mocking from Melee players.

But think about it.  Other than the fact it’s the only game that lets Mario, Pac-Man, and Megaman team up to beat the sin out of Sonic, what is it that makes the series so good?  Even hardcore fans will mostly say the same thing: it’s easy to pick up and play.  The games have an incredible amount of depth that can be explored, but unlike other fighting games, which require you to learn complicated series of combos to do anything cool, in Smash Bros anyone can pick up a controller, wiggle the C stick, and perform the most powerful move in the game.  Does that sound like a particularly competitive game design?  Not really.  You know what it does sound like?

A party game.

Think back.  How did you first get into Smash?  Chances are you played with friends.  I know that’s how I got in, and like I said, that’s still the only reason I really play.  Melee got big because it became a dorm room staple.  Everything about the game – from its colorful graphics to its simple controls to the fact that you can play a game quickly, lose, shrug, and hop right back in to another game with minimal load times – is designed for sitting on a couch with your friends and playing a couple quick rounds.  And keeping in mind that that’s the point of Smash Bros, no game in the series did it better than Brawl.

There’s a lot of reasons for this.  First, the game had the largest and most diverse roster of any Smash game.  Okay, sure, technically, Smash 4 finally has more characters now, but that’s only if you’re willing to buy all the DLC.  You don’t get points for forcing me to pay extra for the amount of content the game should have had at launch.  Besides which, Smash 4 is full of characters who are basically the same as existing characters, like Dark Pit, or Marth, buff Marth, girl Marth, magic Marth, fire Marth, and dragon Marth.

And even the characters who did manage to make it to Smash 4 (rest in peace, Ice Climbers, Snake, and viable Dedede) have had a lot of their personality scrubbed away.  You can see this most notably in the final smashes – while once you’d have things like Chef Kirby or Dedede’s Big K Dance, now they’re almost all variations on either Ike’s or Samus’ final smashes.  They’re the most balanced, sure, the most useful, but they’re also not as much fun, and that’s what should really matter in a party game for children.

Which brings us nicely to the biggest problem people had with Brawl: tripping.  In Brawl, you have a one in one hundred chance of falling every time you go from a still position to a dash or a roll, a chance which increases on icy or wet terrain and which a few characters can cause with attacks, like Diddy Kong’s ridiculously spammable banana peel ability.  It’s not hard to see why this mechanic would be controversial, as it means that you might, through no fault of your own, suddenly be in a position where you can’t do anything to stop an oncoming attack.  People complain that tripping takes the game out of your hands, and I get that.  From Dark Souls to Devil Daggers, we like games that are difficult because when we lose we know it’s our own fault, and not the game’s.  But Smash Bros isn’t supposed to be difficult, it’s supposed to be fun, a stress-relief party game you play with your friends.  Brawl is that.  Melee isn’t.  In my building we have friends who want to play Melee with us, but can’t, because they get immediately stomped in a game whose central design philosophy is that anybody should be able to pick it up and play.

Another of the most common complaints with tripping is that it allows less skilled players to get the upper hand on better opponents and win tournaments.  But that’s a good thing.  The pool of Melee “Gods”, the people who are considered the best players in the world, has been stagnant for awhile now, and watching them play professionally just isn’t fun.  It’s watching the same three characters on the same six stages do the exact same thing over and over again (unless you’re watching Westballz).  I prefer games that have an element of randomness to them, because that’s how life is.  Imagine if this same obsession with  balance existed outside of eSports.  If, say, baseball players were equally annoyed by the idea that a traditionally unskilled player could overcome their “more skilled” rivals, we wouldn’t have gotten the hypest, most exciting baseball game of our lifetime when the Cubs won the World Series this month.  That game was full of bizarre and exciting turns of events, which is what made it fun to play and fun to watch.  Meanwhile, the ideal in eSports – be it Melee, DoTA, or Starcraft II – is two people doing the exact same meta until one wins by doing it slightly faster.

And you know what else isn’t competitive?  Super Smash Bros. Melee.  Competitive games don’t have ridiculously unbalanced character rosters, where only about five ever actually do well in tournaments and one is objectively far superior to all the others.  Competitive games don’t have straight-up unfinished characters, or mechanics that come from exploiting the broken physics engine.  Competitive games don’t have PokeFloats.  As much as the hardcore Smash community likes to deny it, it’s time for you to face the truth, nerds – when you play Melee at a competitive level, you are not playing the game the way it’s meant to be played.

And that’s fine.  Because it’s videogames.  As long as you’re having fun and not, like, eating the disc, there’s no wrong way to play a videogame.  But Melee fans made up their own rules for the game and then complained that the sequel wasn’t a sequel to their made up ruleset, but was instead a sequel to the actual game.  And you don’t like Melee because it’s the most competitively balanced, because that would be Smash 4 – you know, the game that had actual balance patches, and has more than one top-tier character.  You like Melee because it’s what you grew up with, it’s what you learned to master despite all its many flaws, it’s what you played with your friends, and then after developing an attachment to it, you attacked every other Smash game for not being exactly like it.  You like Melee for the same reason people say Second Stage Turbine Blade is the best Coheed and Cambria album – it’s what you liked when you were in college, and you remember college as being the best days of your life, even though your roommate always smelled like cup noodle and The Afterman has a far superior tracklist.

Friends, we’re talking about videogames for children.  Please don’t send me hate over videogames for children.  I know this feature probably didn’t change anyone’s mind, and maybe you still like Melee the best.  That’s fine.  I’m not asking you to not like Melee, to not play Melee.  Heck, I’m probably gonna go out as soon as I’m done recording and play some Melee myself.  But that doesn’t mean people who prefer Brawl or Smash 4 or, heck, even the original have any less valid opinions than yours.  Some of us like playing full-item free-for-alls on Warioware, Inc., and it doesn’t mean we’re bad at the game, it just means we’re playing a different game than you are.  And if we’re talking about the core of everything Smash Bros. was intended to be, well, Brawl is the best execution of that vision, by far.  And that’s my professional opinion.

But on the other hand, f**k “The Subspace Emissary”.

I. Coleman
I Coleman believes that videogames are the most important, most fascinating, and most potentially world-changing entertainment medium today. When not saying dorky, embarrassing crap like that, I is a game designer, science fiction author, and former reviews editor for the now-defunct with years of experience writing for and about games.

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