Thursday, March 13, 2008

Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Subspace Emissary, part 1

My brother and I completed Subspace Emissary mode in Brawl yesterday, so it is time for my thoughts. I actually really liked the inclusion of a fully-fleshed out story mode in the game. While Brawl is built around its multiplayer versus mode, the adventure mode does add a lot to the game experience. However, I don't think Subspace Emissary is perfect in its execution.

My brother and I played through the entire Subspace Emissary mode using the 2-player co-op option, and my biggest complaint is that the implementation of this was sometimes shaky. In Subspace Emissary, the second player is limited to playing a helper character, while player one is the main character. This is obviously based on a similar mechanic in Kirby Super Star. However, unlike in Kirby Super Star, where the helper controlled by the second player is completely disposable, since it can be easily regenerated by Kirby, the second player character in Subspace Emissary uses the same extra-life count as the first player. So if the helper dies three times, the first player has no extra lives left for himself.

What this means is that, unlike in Kirby Super Star, the two players are a lot more even in expendability. There are four real differences between player one and player two: the screen is always centered on player one, player two can warp to player one's position at any time, only player one can open doors, and the game ends if player one dies and the team has no extra lives, but not if player two dies. Now then, the last one is particularly annoying. There are points in the game, such as the meat-grinder of a final battle, where I might have had a shot at winning the battle if I could have kept fighting after my brother (playing as player one) was eliminated. However, the game arbitrarily prevented that possibility, even though my brother did get to keep fighting a boss after I was eliminated. That experience just feels unfair and pointless.

The camera always being centered on player one was also annoying, particularly when it resulted in my character's death when my brother accidentally ran too fast. While the warp gets around most of these problems, it still prevents player two from fighting enemies or collecting items too far away from player one. Game code that controls the camera zoom and position to accommodate multiple players is used all of the time in versus mode, so making some allowances for the second player to move independently of the first player should have been technically possible.

Anyways, the biggest problem in Subspace Emissary is that it has a lot of very tricky platforming elements involving bottomless pits and deathtraps in a fighting game. While there is a lot of jumping around in battles, many of the characters in the game, particularly the heavy-weights, were simply not built to handle the challenging jumps that sometimes appear in Subspace Emissary. Since there are over 30 characters in Brawl, each of whom has different jumping capabilites, there is no way to balance every trap for every character. As a result, my brother and I lost more lives to bottomless pits than to the battles in the game, which doesn't seem right. Since Super Smash Bros. is primarily a fighting game, it might have been better to make the adventure mode more of an old-school brawler, like Final Fight. The parts of the game that focus on those elements more flow better than the platforming ones.

I have to admit that I like the team focus of the game, where extra lives represented other characters coming in to reinforce the fighting team. It gives the players more chances to play with different members of the game's considerable cast. Breaking the characters into teams for most of the story also worked very well. However, I guess that I will cut this post short, and talk about the story, writting, and directing of Subspace Emissary in my next post.

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