Super Smash Bros.
Japan's had it since February, America's been playing it since July, and now - finally - Super Smash Bros has arrived on the shores of Europe. A PAL release was by no means certain, but Nintendo have obviously been paying attention to the hundreds of you who responded to our 'We Want Smash Bros' appeal. With this and Donkey Kong 64, the last Christmas of the Millennium belongs to Nintendo's biggest characters.
But can a beat-'em-up starring Mario and friends actually work? When the original Mario Kart was announced for the SNES, some gamers tutted, shook their heads, and admonished Nintendo for even daring to cash in on Mario's success in such a manner. They were soon gobbling their hats, of course, when Mario Kart emerged as the most enjoyable racing game ever (until Mario Kart 64 arrived), but the same head-shakers are openly wondering if it's a such a good idea to shove our plumbing friend in a fighting game.
Read on to discover if their fears are justified...
When Wil flew to Japan for Nintendo's Spaceworid show, he witnessed a huge Super Smash Bros tournament in full flow. As a result, we leamt that Kirby is the character of choice among experts, presumably thanks to him being able to steal other fighters' abilities, making him effectively 12 characters in one. His 'Kirby Strike' (Up+B) is also a devastating special move that can knock even the hefty DK flying. So, if you're hoping for easy victory, think pink.
All the usual characters are waiting for a scrap in one-player, but there's also a bundle of characters that don't crop up elsewhere - such as the 30-strong Dummy Team of shiny purple robots. The final boss battle is with a giant glove, who - unsurprisingly - can punch you very hard indeed.
There are a fair number of averagely complex moves in Smash Bros, so Nintendo have helpfully included a training mode.
You can alter the arena, the speed of the game, which objects appear (if any), and the intelligence of your dummy opponent. Perfick.
The four secret characters in Smash Bros are yours if you complete the whole game with a specific character, or within a certain amount of time. The silhouettes on the title screen offer a due as to exactly who they are - although one's so obscure we had to ask Wil which game he comes from.
You're not restricted to fighting just one computer opponent if you're on your own - by dicking the small yellow icons on the character select screen, you can go up against up to three CPU fighters, and even form teams of two or three for a manic round of team fighting.
Arch! Real Monsters!
As Matthew Sexton from Bedford hypothesised in Mailbox in N64/34. Smash Bros' PAL delay was almost certainly due to Pokemon's October release on the Game Boy - Nintendo wanted to give time for Europeans to get used to Pikachu and friends before they showed up in Smash Bros. And there are loads of Pocket Monsters in the game, courtesy of the brilliant Pokeball power-up - Meowth, Snorlax, Butterfree, Beedril, Chansey and loads of others all burst from the red-and-white spheres.
Scrap! Scrap! Scrap!
- In the red corner: Metro id's Samus, replete with orange bio-suit and giant laser. In the blue corner: Zelda's Link, armed with swords, bombs and an attractive green skirt Let battle commence!
- Samus sneaks in an early shot on the Kokiri warrior. The young lady's futuristic gun can prove deadly - jumping or using your shield are the best ways to avoid a roasting.
- After a few blows have been exchanged, Samus has maintained the upper hand. This battle on the edge of a treacherous moving platform threatens to put paid to them both, though.
- Rejuvenated, Link goes on the offensive. Samus, momentarily confused, turns her back on the green-skirted fighter, giving Link free reign to move in with a bomb. This ain't gonna be pretty.
- The deciding moment. Link, at 99% damage, looks set to die once Samus' laser has finished charging - but dramatically, he's in a prime position to grab the health-restoring heart that's just burst from a box.
- Booml The firey explosion sends Samus flying into the heavens, and - at 111% damage - she won't be coming back down in a hurry. After a magnificent comeback, the first point goes to Link.
Games have a tendency to live and die by their central characters. This may seem like a dangerous claim - after all, we're continually insisting that looks don't matter' - but a loveable star can make a difference. For every wise-cracking Gex and limbless Tonic that's out there ruining a game, there's a swearsome Duke Nukem or crazy-haired Goemon who's helping to make a title a pleasure to play.
And so we come to Smash Bros, the best beat-'em-up on the N64 by miles, mainly - though not exclusively - because it's got Mario in. There's no common-or-garden high-kicking schoolgirl wearing a short skirt, nor a forgettable ninja master chucking fireballs all over the shop. Instead, there's Yoshi, laying eggs and making his trademark bleeting noise. There's Pikachu, harnessing the power of electricity to fry his opponents. And there's Mario himself, shouting in Italian and pulling off punches and kicks straight from Super Mario 64. Smash Bros is full of classic Nintendo characters using their classic Nintendo moves and, as such, comes with a ready- made aura of that Shigsy-style magic.
The appearance of Pika should be a clue that Smash Bros isn't just another outing for the eight regular Mario Kart/Party/Golf players. Instead, this game features a 'Greatest Hits' collection of past Nintendo favourites, including Fox McCloud, Link, and Metroid's Sam us Aran. This is undoubtedly a good thing - unlike Peach, Toad and co. (whose 'one strength, one weakness' nature means they only differ from each other subtly), the fighters in Smash Bros' are totally individual, with moves ranging from 14-hit punches to devastating laser shots. There aren't as many moves as, say, Tekken has, but there's still more than enough variety here to satisfy all but the most hardcore of fighting fans.
The fighting itself is typical of Nintendo, refusing to follow the rules of normal beat-'em-ups. There are no power bars, no finger- twistingly complicated combo moves, and no booming 'Round One... Fight!' announcements. A point is won by simply wearing your opponent's strength down until they're weak enough to be kicked off the 3D arena to their 'death' - at which point, they simply reappear for another go. There's no break in the fighting until the timer runs down and the scores tallied; until then, it's nothing but fast, free-flowing fighting, which -thanks to the open arenas, varied moves, and up to four players simultaneously smacking each other to bits - is never anything less than gripping.
The 12 arenas in Smash Bros, just like Mario Kart's tracks and Mario Golfs courses, are exquisitely designed. They're not particularly detailed - which thankfully means there's no chance of losing your character against the background - but they're firmly in the Nintendo mould, with each based on a single character's 'world'. Each also offers a different type of fight -Yoshi's small, multi-platformed screen makes for fast scrapping with barely a moment to think, while Fox's huge flat arena creates a more tactical battle, where there's room to retreat and contemplate your next attack.
As you'd expect from a game with The Big N's name stamped on it. Smash Bros isn't in the habit of allowing beginners to be pummelled senseless by experts. With relatively unrestricted arenas, power-ups popping up all over the place and a complete lack of guaranteed match-winning special moves. Smash Bros' fights veer this way and that in a superbly unpredictable way. Just as a lightning strike could turn a Mario Kart race upside-down, the sudden appearance of a lightsabre or Pokyball power-up can give even the most downtrodden pugilist a glimpse of victory. Experienced Smash Bros players are still likely to win, but with a small number of moves per fighter, there's no excuse for anyone not knowing at least one character inside-out.
And it's when everyone playing is familiar with their character that Smash Bros reveals its true beauty - an unexpectedly tactical heart beating beneath its cutesy, arcadey exterior. If you're serious about winning, you'll need to work out the best time to use Mario's 14-hit punching combo, find the perfect place to launch Pikachu's lightning strike attack, and time jumps to avoid Link's brutal longshot attack. As a consequence, you'll develop your own style of play, and some of the best moments will come from expert-mentation under pressure - such as managing an extended triple-jump back into the arena after a particularly hefty kick into space, or throwing a fireball in someone's face from a screen-width away.
There truly is never a dull moment. There's the odd frustrating moment, where the analogue controls make it difficult to move between platforms, or the camera zooms out so far to fit everyone on screen that the characters are nothing more than dots in the distance. But there are simply so many neat touches - the knowing homages to retro Nintendo titles, the heart-rending cry of 'Pikaaaal' as the yellow mouse sails to his doom, the freeze-frame pause mode - that you'll forgive Smash Bros all its minor faults. Within a few minutes of playing for the first time, you'll have chosen a favourite character, a favourite arena, a favourite power-up - all classic signs that you're playing a top-notch game.
So, undoubtedly, this is the best beat-'em-up on the N64. If you're looking for a more traditional fighting game, Imagineer's excellent Fighters Destiny (or the upcoming sequel) is probably more to your taste. But Smash Bros is as unique and essential an experience as any Mario game - especially as its multiplayer ranks up there with GoldenEye's, Mario Kart's and Quake 2's. The fact that Smash Bros is still an office lunchtime favourite, almost a year after we first got our hands on it is testament to its greatness. Do not miss it.
Download Super Smash Bros.
Mario gets what's coming to him!
That Mario. He's a smug little git, isn't he? Always jolly, making victory signs and squealing with delight like a rotund Anakin Skywalker. If you've ever felt that the portly plumber has been begging for a good kicking for quite some time, then you'll be ecstatic at the thought of Super Smash Brothers.
In a shocking reversal of Nintendo's usual policy of non-violence. Smash Brothers takes a bunch of Nintendo heroes and invites them to cave each others' faces in. It's not exactly Mortal Kombat - you certainly won't see a bloodied Luigi cackling with glee as he stands over the smashed corpse of his brother and holds aloft a length of dripping purple intestine - but despite this it's still the best beat-'em-up on the N64. Admittedly, this does say more about the pathetic state of the N64 fighting game market than it does about Super Smash Brothers' brilliance, but never mind.
All the combat in Smash Brothers takes place on ledges and walkways. Victory is achieved by grabbing hold of the other fighters and chucking them into the void, in contrast to other fighting games, where the aim is simply to batter your opponent into submission. This is made harder because all the fighters have prodigious jumping abilities that allow them to leap back to safety, even if the only thing under their feet is thin air!
Smash Brothers doesn't have any energy bars as such. What it has instead is a hit gauge, which starts at zero and rises every time a character takes some punishment. Once it passes too, the character starts to tire and takes longer to recover from attacks, which is when the other fighters can move in and throw them to their doom. It's a unique system, but it works.
There are several famous faces in Smash Brothers, as well as a couple that are less well-known. The usual suspects like Mario, Link, Donkey Kong and Pikachu are all present, joined by Yoshi, Fox McCloud, Kirby and Samus Aran (in what, sadly, looks like it will be her only N64 appearance). There are also four hidden characters to uncover. The battles take place in skinnier versions of familiar Nintendo locations - Mario's home arena is on the ramparts of Princess Peach's castle. Donkey Kong invites challengers to a rumble in the jungle, and Fox McCloud faces off against his enemies on the hull of the Great Fox out in deep space, complete with Arwings performing strafing runs on the fighters during each round!
Up to four people can fight each other in multiplayer games, and it's possible to pit yourself against three computer- controlled fighters if you're playing alone. The fairly small size of the arenas keeps everybody close together, but if they move too far apart, the game helpfully flashes up arrows over each character to remind you who's controlling what.
The pace of the game is extremely fast - at times almost too fast. This is very noticeable in four-player games, where the screen zooms in and out to keep all the characters in view. Because everybody can zip around the arenas so quickly (never mind when they actually get blasted off into the distance like a cannonball) the screen almost becomes a blur of action, and it can get quite hard to keep track of where you are and who you're fighting. Mind you, the controls are simple enough that you just need to keep bashing A to stand a good chance of lamping somebody.
Poke a Pokemon
Each fighter also has a small arsenal of special attacks, which are related to their appearances in other Nintendo games. Mario can throw fireballs, Yoshi swallows opponents and farts them out as eggs, and Pikachu lets rip with a variety of electrical attacks.
The only thing that's really wrong with Super Smash Brothers is that, like so many N64 titles, it's quite easy to complete. The most challenging thing in the game is opening up all the secret characters, but the actual gameplay is not particularly tough. Hardcore fighting fanatics won't be that impressed by the comparative lack of characters and moves, either.
These are fairly churlish complaints, though, because Super Smash Brothers achieves exactly what it's meant to do - provide straightforward gaming pleasure. It's a great multiplayer title - it's one of those games where more is definitely merrier - but it's still highly playable even for just one person, because there are enough hidden extras and strange quirks to prevent it becoming predictable. The only question is, why has it taken Nintendo so damn long to release the game over here?
Want to punch Pikachu? Flatten Fox? And Kick Kirby? Then pick up a copy of Smash Brothers!
All of us at one time or another have probably wanted to seriously slap a videogame character. Whether it's Mario as he misses a vital jump and falls to his doom for the umpteenth time, or Link as he dies once again at the sword of Dark Link, the effect is much the same - immense frustration and a sudden urge to do nasty things to the main character, or foiling that, the game cartridge. Of course, the real person we're annoyed with is ourselves, but it's for easier to transfer the blame onto someone or something else (a bad workman blaming his tools and all that).
Let us not forget the videogame characters that some people take an instant dislike to the moment they lay eyes on them. These ones are usually small, cute, cuddly and make potentially irritating noises. Like Yoshi, for example. Or Kirby.
Well, for all the narked N64 gamers out there, a therapeutic answer has finally arrived. Smash Brothers is the ideal cure for anyone afflicted by these kind of frustrations.
It's - A Smashing!
Smash Brothers is, ostensibly, a beat'em-up. It pits the combative skills of a variety of instantly recognisable videogame personalities against one another, across a variety of themed landscapes. However, unlike most beat 'em-ups the object of the game isn't just to beat the other person up until they fall down. Instead, the object of Smash Brothers is to knock the other person off the screen.
This can be done in a number of ways. The arenas for the game are set on platforms of varying size, with gaps at both ends. The most obvious way to win is to knock your opponent off either side of the platform so that they drop off the bottom of the screen. The problem with this technique, however, is that all the characters have fairly well-developed aerial skills. They all have a doublejump ability which is usually enough to get them back onto solid ground, and some of the characters (Kirby, for example) have a multiple jump/float ability which makes it practically impossible to get them to foil.
Yoshi Must Die!
To take care of awkward opponents -particularly those like Kirby with his VTOL capabilities - other techniques must be used. The simplest way of defeating opponents is to wear them out. Each time you hit someone, his or her hit percentage increases. Once the percentage tops 100, the character's performance begins to wane. They begin to tire and slow, their recovery time increases and once this happens it becomes possible to knock them to the bottom of the screen because by the time they've recovered from the blow, they've fallen too far to make it back up again.
So that's one way to win. The other way is through a variety of powerful special attacks. Each character has these and when used they hugely increase the hit percentage. Better than that, once an enemy's hit percentage reaches a certain level, the special moves can be used to knock them into orbit - which they won't be able to recover from, no matter what their flight abilities.
So, rather than being a beat-'em-up, it's probably more accurate to describe Smash Brothers as a 'knock-'em-off'! (Not to be confused with a knock-off.)
The one-player mode differs from the standard beat-'em-up format too. The first level is fairly straightforward - a simple one-on-one slug-fest with Link, that popular elf-like chap from the top adventure Zelda. However, that's about the only ordinary one. Each level has its own unique features. Reach Yoshi Island, for example, and instead of a head-to-head battle with Yoshi you are accosted by an absolute island-full of the cute little dinos.
When you face Mario on his stage he brings his brother Luigi along, so the CPU generously supplies you with a team-mate which it controls. It's actually possible to win on this occasion without hitting anybody - just let your CPU partner do the work. Similarly, on Donkey Kong's jungle stage you are confronted by a huge Donkey Kong and so to even things up you get not one but two CPU team-mates!
Each level has something slightly different, something a little out of the ordinary for a beat-'em-up. There are a few other one-on-one matches after Link, but in general they're a little more unusual.
Give'Em A Big Hang!
This theme of taking ordinary beat-'em-up conventions and ignoring them carries right through to the final boss, which is a huge flying glove that looks remarkably like the central character in Glover. Compared to the other characters this guy is huge and has the added advantage of being able to fly, thus making it impossible to knock him off-screen. Instead, the boss has hit points which you must reduce through constant pummelling while the huge hand tries to slap, punch, thump, squash, flick, poke and generally batter you off the edge of the play area.
While the one-player game is unusual, the four-player mode is unique! Smash Brothers is certainly the first fbur-player beat-'em-up on the N64, and at time of writing no-one knew of any on any other home entertainment systems! (And before all the wrestling fans write in, yes, we know wrestling games support four players, but most people don't consider wrestling part of the beat-'em-up genre - ifs a genre all of its own, a hold-'em-down.)
The four-player mode is just mad! The amount of power-ups, including baseball bats, laser guns, Pocket Monster eggs and Mario's automatic hammer from the original Donkey Kong, increases the variety of the battles and the different abilities of each of the characters makes for some crazy matches.
The only problem with the multiplayer is that it's often very difficult to work out what the hell is going on, as the screen zooms in and out to keep all the players in view. As many of the characters have some very pyrotechnic special moves and with all the fireworks going off, it's often difficult to tell who's decking who!
Super, Smashing, Lovely, Great!
All in all. Smash Brothers is a very amusing, immensely fun cartoon-style beat-'em-up. It might not appeal to beat* 'em-up fanatics - you know the sort, the ones who spend hours locked away in their rooms mastering all 3,000 Tekken moves - and it has to be said that it is fairly easy to run through.
However, the amount of variety of the one-player levels and the absolutely frantic multiplayer mode make this a game that's fun to come back to again and again, even when you've unlocked all the secret characters and unearthed all the hidden levels. Although Smash Brothers would be well-suited to younger gamers, it also makes a great game to get your mates playing when you come back from the pub!
2nd rating opinion
If you want a hardcore beat-'em-up, look elsewhere. If you want a fun multiplayer game that isn't wrestling, this should be just fine. Like many Nintendo games, longevity may be a problem, but it's entertaining enough while it lasts.