A ‘Smash’ hit

A plumber in a red hat is busy chucking fireballs at a small electric rodent, while behind him a boy in green prepares to strike with his sword, only to be sucked into the mouth of a flying pink puffball. Suddenly, a glowing ball appears and floats across the screen, and it’s a mad dash to see who can break it open first.

What does it all mean? Nintendo’s long-awaited Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii console has finally hit American stores, and its impact on the gaming community has been phenomenal as players rush into battle with Mario, Pikachu, Link, Kirby and a host of other video game mascots old and new.

The game continues the tradition of the popular Smash Bros. series by pitting Nintendo’s most iconic characters against one another in frantic cartoon combat, often with bizarre and entertaining results. Sword-wielding Link from The Legend of Zelda may find himself dodging missiles from Metroid‘s bounty hunter Samus Aran while Pokémon‘s cute and cuddly Pikachu goes toe to toe with Donkey Kong. Gamers were so thrilled to make these symbols of the video game industry beat the stuffing out of one another in hectic multiplayer battles that the previous title, Super Smash Bros. Melee, has sold over 7 million copies since its debut in 2001, according to a Nintendo press release.

Brawl seems to be no exception to this rule. The game’s January release in Japan totalled over half a million units in first-day sales, with 1.4 million sold by the time the game reached the U.S., according to the-magicbox.com. Local sales on March 9, the stateside release date, showed enthusiasm for the game as well, with stores seeing lines of 20 to 30 people waiting for a copy.

“We opened up three minutes early, we’re really nailed down,” said Adam Gibson, a cashier at the GameStop on East Fowler Avenue, who was working the register on launch day. The store was so crowded with customers hoping to purchase a copy of the game that Gibson and other employees could not spare time for an interview.

“We’re a little too busy to talk right now, especially considering the new release,” Gibson said.

The store’s assistant manager described it as “Christmas all over again,” and reported selling about 100 copies of the game that day, around three-quarters of their inventory.

It comes as no surprise that sales figures are high, as the game received a great deal of hype in the months prior to its release as fans speculated over new characters and features and debates were spurred on by daily updates at the game’s official site, smashbros.com.

But with all the hype, the question is whether Brawl can live up to its expectations. Deon Blackwell, adjunct professor in ceramics at USF, believes it can. He purchased the game the morning after it came out, and voiced his opinion during a gaming party at his apartment Wednesday.

“I played the last Smash Bros. way too much, so I’m assuming that since I just got this one, I’m going to play this 10 times more,” he said. “I’ve had it for three days now, and I’ve probably put in 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. It was definitely worth the hype.”

Blackwell said his biggest draw to the game was the option to play online, allowing him to match thumbs with gamers from all over the country.

“It’s a lot bigger than the last one,” Blackwell said. “More characters, more stages, more moves, more items. It’s just a bigger game.”

Josh Jennings, an international studies major at USF, also attended the gathering. “This is really the first Smash Bros. game that I’ve ever played, and yeah, it lived completely up to all the hype that I heard,” he said.

Jennings said he decided to buy the game when he heard that one of his favorite video game characters, Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series, would be a playable character.

“As soon as I heard he was going to be in the new Smash Bros. game, that was the decision to buy it right there,” Jennings said.

With all the increased content, one may wonder: Just how big is this game? For starters, Nintendo has provided gamers with a generous roster of fighters, 35 in total, each with his or her own special moves, so everyone is certain to find a character of preference. Also available are dozens of stages pulled from the collective history of Nintendo’s games. And with up to four people on screen punching, kicking, jumping and scrambling to grab power ups like giant hammers and wind-up bombs, gameplay can be intense.

However, potential players shouldn’t feel threatened by the game’s depth. For all its content, Brawl is remarkably simple to play. Because players only need to know two or three buttons in order to perform most of the characters’ moves, the game is highly accessible to those with little or no gaming experience.

“The commands aren’t really difficult to pick up on,” Jennings said. “And you can go into the menu and customize the commands for something that fits the style of what you’re used to.”

Leann Blackwell, Deon Blackwell’s wife and a mental health counseling student, agrees on the ease of play. Despite not being nearly as dedicated to the game as her husband, she still managed to feel comfortable playing it.

“I enjoyed it because it was easy to pick up, and after about two seconds of instruction, I could use the dreaded button-mashing technique to kick other people’s butts – it was fun,” she said.

As a game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl leaves very little to be desired. The multiplayer brawls are fast paced and fun, while the expansive single player adventure is just as engrossing and addictive. The game is also a musical masterpiece, with an orchestrated soundtrack of nostalgia-filled remixes arranged by nearly 40 of the video game industry’s top composers. The simple controls and the option to choose from four different controllers make learning and playing the game a pleasure rather than a chore, and it is extremely satisfying to watch your character pull off impressive special moves with the press of a button. Brawl is also one of the most visually exciting games out there; the constant mayhem means there’s never a dull moment.

Jennings summed up the game best: “With all the content that’s in the game, it’s easily worth the 50 bucks,” he said.