My curmudgeonly review of Super Smash Bros. Brawl is now up at thephoenix.com. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, like my Wii cheerily glowing blue to indicate a new message from Nintendo HQ that threatens my life, this post will probably be the last I have to say about it.
For all that I've already written about Smash Bros., I think the end of the review comes closest to the core of what I'm trying to say. The game derives all of its appeal from classic Nintendo games, but it doesn't give anything back to those games. This may be the sort of distinction that's clear only within my own mind, and makes no sense to anybody else. I'll try to explain, one last time.
When I play a game, especially a good game, I want to surrender myself fully to the world it depicts. I want to play make-believe for a few hours. In a strange way, Hyrule, Zebes, and the Mushroom Kingdom live on in my memory as places I've actually been, where I did things that actually mattered. This isn't to say that I can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, only that the experience of playing a great game is one of displacement. Smash Bros. pops that bubble.
The obvious objection is that Smash Bros. is intended to be played multiplayer, which is true. But online play without headsets may as well be single-player. These days, I can't necessarily get a group of living, breathing people together to play on short notice. I did play two-player Smash Bros. with a friend of mine, though, and we had a pretty good time. The question I always ask my critic self in these situations is this: Am I having fun because I'm spending time with my friends, or because we're playing this particular game? It's usually the former.
I am willing to accept that I'm probably just off-base in some fundamental way on this game, and that's okay. It's not something like Mass Effect, where I'm pretty sure I'm taking crazy pills. I'm glad so many people are playing and enjoying Smash Bros., because anything that gets people playing and discussing games is a net positive as far as I'm concerned.