Joey Caruso bested every foe placed in front of him, and was awarded the GameStop 'Smash Bros. -- Local Legend of Wreckage' trophy at the release party on Sunday morning.
Madison gamers flocked to retailers early Sunday morning for the midnight release of the third installment of the Super Smash Bros. series. Released on the Nintendo Wii, this is the first major game release of 2008, after being in development long before Nintendo's innovative controller took the nation by storm.
Super Smash Bros., for the uninitiated, is a game where classic Nintendo video game characters come together for over the top, intense, and often hilarious battles. Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, and even Pokemon enter an arena based on a Nintendo game, where in the object is to boot the other players from the stage. To assist or disrupt this process, random weapons, power-ups, and even more characters drop into the game unannounced. The last game in the series, Super Smash Bros. Melee, released in 2001, has sold over six million copies to date, and is the GameCube's top selling game. This follow up, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, is expected match that success.
Software, Etc. at West Towne Mall was participating in parent company GameStop's national midnight launch event. A simple midnight opening and sale would've brought out the hardcore on its own, but they'd also organized a tournament of the new game in the hours leading up to the 12:01 a.m. sale.
After signing up earlier, I got a call from an employee who told me the tournament registration would begin at 8:30 p.m., with actual matches beginning a half-hour later. Arriving at the mall early, I could see the crowd in the store was beyond what one might expect on a Saturday night. A dozen people crowded around the store's Wii demo kiosk, and many more casually browsed the Wii, Xbox, and Playstation game racks.
I should've expected to find some stiff competition. Super Smash Bros Melee was adopted for tournament play several years ago by Major League Gaming (MLG), and even casual players take their picks very seriously. With an available four-player battle, it's a known as a great party game. Many competitors came in groups, and discussed strategy and character selection, trying to guess how elements changed from the previous game might affect their performance.
After entering all of our names into the game's tournament set-up and selecting our signature character, the system organized a single elimination bracket with one-on-one 1-minute timed matches. The first match started and I was called upon as player 1. My opponent chose Link, from The Legend of Zelda series. Link is a very well rounded character; with not only his Master sword in hand, but a bow & arrow and bombs, he can toss to knock you back. I picked Bowser, a larger and slower character, best known as Super Mario's ultimate adversary. I felt comfortable, knowing I'd always done well pushing back faster characters in Melee and causing damage using Bowser's claw swipe and fire breath.
But it only took seconds for me to realize: I didn't know how to play this game! Brawl's release on Wii meant using the Wii remote and Nunchuck, a far cry from the old Gamecube pad I'd become so comfortable with. The very control that makes swinging a tennis racket or golf club so easy is completely alien when it comes to moving the giant King of the Koopas, a horned dragon with a spiked turtle shell on his back. The arena was brand new as well, with a gap in the center where a player could fall to their doom. Smash Bros characters typically have several maneuvers that will save them from such a fall, but my unfamiliarity did me no favors and after a few quick strikes, Link pushed me over the edge.
The 30-plus strong crowd, seeing the game played live for the first time, were ecstatic to say the least. Howls and catch phrases such as "Epic!" and "Owned!" filled the air, but I held my head high, knowing I'd be at least somewhat vindicated as subsequent players adjusted to the new gameplay. Caleb Goessling, a long time Nintendo fan and Smash Bros player, had a friend record his match with a video camera and scrutinized the replay for things he missed that he may be able to use in future rounds.
As the event went on, the quality of matches and intensity of the fights escalated, turning into quite the spectator sport. A few were even so daring as to select brand new characters to the series, such as the Pokemon Trainer, Mario's twisted double Wario, and Pit from Kid Icarus. These players were eager to get their hands on the game and see how the new additions stacked up against old favorites.
One such player, Joey Caruso, chose the Fire Emblem character Ike for his first time in Brawl. Ike's abilities closely match those of Super Smash Bros Melee favorite Marth, which Caruso used to great success. He bested every foe placed in front of him, and was awarded the GameStop "Smash Bros. -- Local Legend of Wreckage" trophy.
I spoke with Caruso as he cooled down outside the store after the event, still waiting for the midnight sale of the game he'd been crowned a champion. At 18 years old, he's hardly a newcomer. "I started playing with the original on N64, which was when I was nine," he said. "But Super Smash Bros. Melee was the competitive game for me."
Of the new controls, he said he looked at pre-release information online enough that he got it down and was able to jump right in. "This is Melee with so much more," he told me. "Even with all the things they took out, it's better for tournament play." Caruso produced his receipt for the game from his pocket and proudly told me he'd has his copy reserved for months.
I told him how I planned to stay up late to get a handle for the new game at home, and he said he'd be doing the same, but on a Wii console borrowed from a friend. "I still don't have one!" he declared, his exasperation not unlike many other players dealing with shortages of Nintendo's fifth home console.
The Wii Kiosk stayed busy the rest of the night, with impromptu tournaments and freeplay continuing as a line formed to pick up the game where plans to meet up later in person and online were made.
After getting home and digging into the single player game for a while, I ventured online to challenge the likely hundreds of thousands of players fighting for the first time using the internet. In my first match I picked Bowser again, but this time, I wouldn't let the pressure of the crowd get to me.