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May 27, 2012 / jwaxo

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Project M)

The next title in the series will be named “Kerfuffle.” Possibly “Fracas.”

When I first played Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I was home from college for Spring Break, and my wisdom teeth had been removed the day before. My gums bleeding, my head swimming with pain pills, my face still somewhat recovering from being numbed, I played for probably eight hours straight.

I sometimes wonder if my altered state of mind affected my opinion later of what would soon to be quite the dividing game.

The gap between Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl was seven long years. Seven years during which Melee dominated get-togethers, tournaments, and birthday parties. Melee took what was already seen to be super-awesome from the original Smash Bros (which I’ve talked about before) and expanded it exponentially: way more characters, way more stages to play on, way more items, and far bigger single-player modes. It was seen as quite the tight little game, with a rather steep learning curve toward the end of the mastery scheme, many different techniques to master, and a much faster fighting system. While it’s pretty up-in-the-air as to whether Smash Bros counts as a “fighter” in the same terms as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, it couldn’t be denied that Melee required quite a bit of skill and precision to play expertly, and its fights were exciting to watch and take part in.

Meanwhile the only thing people can agree with about Brawl is that it is, generally, slower and “more floaty.”

We’re not even clear if “brawl” is an escalation of “melee”.

I must admit that, when I was first playing Brawl, something about it felt “off”. Similar to the same way that, after driving the same car for a decade, suddenly being tasked with driving your friend’s truck to the airport can throw you for quite the loop. Everything is where it should be, but accelerating takes longer, and the steering wheel feels funky. Brawl felt that same way: grabs took forever and were mushy, jumping felt strange, and every move seemed to take forever to recover from.

All of this was quickly attributed to my recovering from surgery, and, by the time I was over it, Brawl felt quite natural to me, and I never looked back. I returned to college, my friends and I put several hundred man-hours into playing Brawl, I entered a tournament or two, and the subject was dead, to my eyes. Brawl was the new standard.

But, out in the internet, there were whispers of dissent from many different corners. The slower pace of the game, for instance, supposedly took away from the required skill to be good at the game. The forced removal of certain techniques from Melee (wave-dashing the most prominent) were seen as direct spitting in the face of more “serious” players. Several balance issues with various characters were mentioned, eventually leading to the outright banning of certain characters from tournament play. And the insertion of randomness was probably the most complained about, the new system that occasionally causes characters to trip the most obvious offender.

Hurrrr!

It is from these complaints that Project M arose. In short it is a fan-made modification of Brawl that makes it play more like Melee, but it also inserts many different changes to the game that are not Melee-inspired, but were instead made for balance reasons. For the past few weeks, my partner-in-crime and cohost of our podcast JD and myself have been playing Project M, and, after this long introduction, here’s my take on it.

The first thing you’ll notice about Project M, assuming you have played vanilla Brawl recently, is that it is much more fast-paced, and character movement feels smoother and more liquid. This is in keeping with the overall idea of Brawl playing like Melee, and it shows that they’ve accomplished this goal. On that same note, lots of old things from Melee return: wave-dashing is back, tripping is gone, old combos with specific characters are back in full force, and many other tiny tweaks. In fact, my review of old characters and moves can pretty much end there: if you go from playing Melee to playing Project M, you should feel right at home. Probably the most welcome of these changes is with Link, who in Brawl was changed from a mid-range, mid-speed character to a slow powerhouse. He’s back on many rosters.

The best parts of Project M are the “Melee-izing” of new Brawl characters, and how they’ve been interpreted by the Project M team. My most prominent example of this is Lucario, who has been completely revamped for combos and move flow, called “magic series”: from light attack to strong attack to special all in one form, finally releasing one of several new “special moves.” Sonic has been revamped to be able to keep up a full-on offensive, while other characters like Wario (my personal favorite) and Pit have had one or two of their specials changed to either be more effective or less: no more motorcycle riding from Wario, and Pit now has a much-less-powerful third jump.

I hate drawing Wario. Hate it hate it hate it. Never again.This sight is sadly missing.

The final main difference with Project M is in the stages. Many Brawl stages are still there, unchanged, along with a lot of the classic throwback stages in the vanilla game. But there are also some that were either completely cut, some that were changed to be less punishing for players, and even a few new stages, made from a whole cloth by the Project M team: one based on Castlevania, taking the place of the Luigi’s Mansion stage, features a simple wide base, rearranging platforms, and a dark and gritty background. The famed Hyrule Temple stage is still there, but it has also been revamped to a Skyward Sword-based stage, complete with Loftwings soaring through the sky. It’s nearly unrecognizable, and it’s pretty impressive that these all-new setpieces and props have been plopped into the game.

I guess that’s my final conclusion about Project M: that it’s impressive. I’ve never agreed with most of the complaints that were leveled at Brawl through the past few years, mostly based on my own observations: the people who were good at Melee eventually were at the top of Brawl‘s leaderboards, my own skills maneuvered back into the “mediocre” standings, and all of us played it happily for quite a long time. I can comprehend the complaints, I suppose, but I have trouble understanding them. And so this throwback doesn’t seem very necessary, or at least the direction the throwback went in: balancing moves and individual characters is understandable, but the switch back to Melee-style doesn’t seem very necessary.

My own experience has taught me that it doesn’t matter the speed of the game and the techniques necessary that tell you the overall skill of the player, merely how well they do when stacked up against other people. And, in that way, any good players of Melee should be able to become just as good at Brawl, or at least at Brawl‘s style of game.

All of this is moot, I suppose, as the creators of Project M have wildly succeeded at their goals. Despite the fact that it’s fan-made, the feeling of the game and its trappings feel professional, as if Melee has been brought to life with a fancier-looking engine and new characters and stages. And since I can’t think of a single player that prefers Brawl over Melee to the point of abstaining the latter, but do know many people who flat-out refuse to touch Brawl, it’s definitely a nice compromise, even for an unfinished project.

And JD and I are all about compromise. But he’s not a crazy Melee-obsessor.

By the way, this post is part of a two-part post about Project M. The second half is where JD talks about his take on the Project, which you can read on Press Start to Start, our blog/podcast/video channel, here.

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