It would be worth playing through Subspace Emissary just to see how HAL Laborotories can manage to tie characters as disparate as Samus, Link, Yoshi, Sonic and Pikachu into a single storyline – it’s all very spurious, yet all oddly wonderful. However, there are actually some beautifully designed levels to be played through, full of the sort of imaginative touches we used to look for in Nintendo’s classic 2D games. What’s more, it’s only by ploughing through Subspace Emissary that you’ll unlock all the playable characters. It’s a shame that the mode outstays its welcome with some dull chunks as time goes on, but the fact that you can play through the whole thing with two players, the second dropping in and dropping out, helps keep the action flowing. Bundle in a more traditional stage-by-stage battle mode and a set of challenge scenarios, and Brawl is an engaging way to waste your time away, even if you’re on your tod.
To shine, however, Brawl needs additional players. The good news is that, unlike most fighting games we can mention, it’s perfect for playing with family or less game-obsessed friends. The reason is simple. At first, Brawl is a bewildering experience. With four characters fighting simultaneously, interactive events happening in the backgrounds, weapons and power-ups dropping all over the place and platforms shifting position while the camera pans and zooms, there’s an awful lot to take in. However, get stuck in and the combination of simple controls and very straightforward game mechanics makes it all come together very quickly. And while there’s plenty of depth to be found if you study the characters and work out their special moves, it’s still possible for a novice to win just by mashing buttons like their life depends upon it. In other words, Brawl rewards you for just taking part, and it’s not a game that can easily be dominated by smart-ass players who like to rub their experience in the faces of others. What’s more, the sheer number of characters helps to balance things out. All have their obvious types (heavy, speedy, good at range attacks) and clear strengths and weaknesses, but with so many to choose from, no one hero or villain can dominate for long.
As a result, Brawl is a loud, brash, blast of a game when played in company – though it helps if your fellow players are inclined towards mindless violence, slapstick humour and silliness. I’m afraid that some people just won’t get the point. Luckily, even if that’s the case in your household, Brawl has something new to bring to the table. Hook up your Wii to the Nintendo WiFi Connection and you need never be without a decent scrap. It’s easy to find 1-to-3 players to battle it out with, and while I have experienced some painfully laggy matches, I’ve also had some very slick little melees. You can practice with virtual punchbags in the lobby while you wait, and it’s possible to hook up with friends or strangers via invite and match-making facilities. The online play isn’t quite as well integrated as it is in Mario Kart Wii, but it’s still relatively painless and transparent.