Super Smash Bros. Brawl

There's a new challenger! And he's gonna make a Super Sonic flan out of you...

Sonic. Sonic The Hedgehog. It's the ultimate battle between two of gaming's biggest icons. Sonic v Mario. Spin Attack v Spin Jump. In fact, if you travelled back to 1992 and showed these screenshots to kids in a playground, they'd probably spit their Dairylea triangles out in disbelief before declaring you a witch and stoning you to death with a lethal cocktail of conkers, pogs and Panini stickers. Perhaps it's best not to do that, then.

Announcements in gaming don't come much bigger than Sonic in a Super Smash Bros game. He is, or was, the anti-Nintendo, after all. Yet here he is, coming on all strong with his teetering-on-the-edge animations and his screeching-to-a-halt SFX, ready to 'run rings' (ahem) around Mario, Link and friends. This was the main story to come out of Nintendo's big pre-Christmas conference and, despite the fact there's room for more secret challengers (Captain Olimar's heavily rumoured at the moment), it was the one that got everyone talking.


Entering the fray
As well as confirming the online co-op mode, Nintendo finally - finally! - allowed us to get our busy hands on a playable demo of the game. Our verdict? It's absolutely brilliant. And with that concise critique of Smash Bros Brawl's gameplay hurdled, we can concentrate on telling you how it works.

As was promised at Brawl's big reveal 18 months ago, you can control your character using either the classic controller, the remote (on its side, Virtual Console style) or your dusty old GameCube controller. And even if you're picky, we've been promised that you'll be able to fully customise the buttons, so there's no excuse for not finding a control 'solution' that's right for you.

Not that much customisation is needed. Although there weren't any GameCube controllers lying around (which we maintain will still be the choice of champions), we found that even the most basic control method - the remote on its side - was surprisingly comfortable in practice. As you'd expect, it does struggle at times due to a lack of buttons: blocking on the trigger is awkward but surmountable, while the weapon-disposal function has been mapped to the useless minus button, so be prepared to get familiar with the Home menu. Nevertheless, it's perfectly serviceable and will, if nothing else, cut down on the cost of hosting an inter-family scrap.

Nintendo has circumvented the button drought dilemma by assigning normal attacks to 1 and specials to 2. Holding a direction down on the D-pad while pressing one of these buttons gives the Wii a sense of context, enabling, with some practice, fluid and easy control of your character (of which 14 were available for selection in the version we played, including a certain Mr S. T. Hedgehog).


New kids on the block
Having taken the reins of some of the new challengers, it looks like they'll all prove worthwhile additions. Meta Knight, for example, was an unlikely candidate for 'Best Newcomer'. He glides around the field as though he's wolfed down a hive of angry bees, and unleashes death upon colleagues via a controllable whirlwind attack.

Other newcomers such as Diddy Kong and Pit proved equally as nippy, but there were signs that certain manoeuvres of theirs (in particular, Pit's ability to flap up into the sky) will open up the kind of exploitative tactics that will have us weeping as soon as we get the thing online.

Our hands-on time confirmed that Brawl is little more than a refined version of Melee, but that's far from a bad thing, particularly in a game so rammed with classic Ninty characters that you're seemingly witness to a new magical experience every 10 seconds or so. Now all we need are cameos from the likes of Kyogre, Drill Dozer and That Girl From Sin And Punishment? Bring. It. On.