The original Smash Bros. was a mind-opener for me. It (and its sequels) may still be, in its own way, my favorite multiplayer game; I’m admittedly not much of a fighter aficionado, but I haven’t seen anything else with quite its brand of chaos. (Well, maybe Power Stone 2 (and presumably its predecessor, which I haven’t played) matches it.)

Also, it had one gameplay feature that, in my opinion, should be standard fare for all competitive multiplayer games: automatic handicapping. When playing the game with friends, I’m usually better than they are (not that I have great skills, I’ve just played the game a bit more), but that’s no big deal: we turn on automatic handicapping, and after about 10 minutes, we’re all winning the same number of matches.

So of course I had to give the Wii version a try. Unfortunately, I’m not currently in the habit of inviting people over frequently to play video games, and Miranda wasn’t particularly in a Smash Bros. mood at the time. No problem, the game has a good-length single player mode, I’ll just give that a try: I’ll have some fun, and I’ll unlock all the characters.

Unfortunately, that mode (Subspace Emissary) isn’t very good. It’s a platformer, and a bad one: in particular, using up on the stick to jump works fine when fighting on a stage, but is lousy when exploring a level. And there was rarely anything particularly interesting about the level design; I was just slogging through levels, hoping to reach the end. Really, it felt a lot more like a vehicle for cut scenes than anything else; the cut scenes were fine, but not worth the gameplay that I had to put up with. (I played through most of it single player; I did a bit of it with a friend, and it was even worse that way.)

At least that’s the way I felt most of the way through that game mode. And then I got to The Great Maze; I’ve heard other people complain about it, but in my mind this is the best part of the mode. The reason why others complain is that it has you replaying sections of earlier levels, but they’re handled in a completely different way: rather than slogging through a long level to make it to the fight/cut scene at the end, it instead has snippets of short platforming sections, punctuated by fights against each of the different characters. (Plus a few enemy bosses.) The platforming is short enough to not grate, the maze design lets you do a bit of exploration, and you spend lots of time doing the core fighting gameplay. Also, you can chose your character, and I find the platforming a lot more pleasant with some of the characters (Kirby in particular) than others.

So I ended the mode feeling well-disposed to the game, much more so than I was the previous weekend. I had happy enough thoughts that I started poking through some of the other modes, and I’m glad I did. The game is certainly best enjoyed by having a few friends over and fighting against each other over and over again, but there are a lot of other options there as well. The Event Battles are a pleasant set of challenges (have I blogged about that aspect of Perfect Dark?); the Challenge Board is a good mechanism for focusing your game play, if you want suggestions for what to do or want help unlocking stuff. (I won’t go into it here, but there’s a lot of stuff to unlock.)

So: a pleasant single player game, seriously marred by the most prominent single player mode. I don’t want to mislead people who haven’t played the game, though: this is a great great multiplayer game, one which anybody with a Wii and friends should own. (At least local friends; I haven’t tried the internet play, but apparently it’s pretty bad.) The above talks about my recent single-player experiences with the game; that I can take or leave, but it’s largely tangential to what the game is really about.

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