Brawling with Expectations

Mar 26, 2008

I came into March unexcited about Nintendo’s big release for the month, Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  The concept — use one Nintendo character to knock another Nintendo character senseless — is sound and simple enough.  I like Metroid.  Mario is a close buddy of mine.  Make them the main characters in Rock’em Sock’em robots.  Surely, that’s a game that  I should enjoy.  But I wondered about a lot of things.  Almost all of these things were bad. 

I wondered if Nintendo’s attempt at an online service and arcane rules meant to “protect the children” would serve as too much of barrier to online play.   I wondered if I could find suitable opponents in a world where the gap between button mashing (my young kids) and jedi master (the rest of the Internet) often appears nonexistent.  I wondered if a lonesome guy like myself could find something on the disk to play when my far away friends couldn’t visit. 

Maybe I was rationalizing in the hope that I wouldn’t do the inevitable.  Maybe I hoped that I wouldn’t purchase another Nintendo branded product for my little white console that’s simply starving for decent games.  I’m not surprised that I could ignore these rationalizations at the checkout counter.  I am, however, a little surprised that I was so right to wonder.

Right now, I’m wondering why I bought it.

Calling Nintendo’s online service an attempt sounds charitable in retrospect.  It’s simply broken.  Public matchmaking doesn’t appear to work.  In a scene that is perhaps symbolic, it’s an exercise that consists of petering about in an empty room alongside a lonely white punching bag waiting and hoping someone swings by to visit.

Private matches, which requires the exchange of a 12 character code to merely begin the convoluted process, have their own set of problems.  The ability to play games with friends is segregated into its own little corner of the menu.  It’s difficult to determine who is online right now, much less coordinate a match without any real form of communication.  This is a system that damn near requires an actual telephone to work. 

What Nintendo has is a game that demonstrates that they barely understand what this whole online gaming thing is about.  Adequate would be a step up.  I’d settle for functional. 

What I have is something that is surely a great party game without the party.  I should have seen this coming. 

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