Packed with beloved icons catapulting across jostling screens as they engage in bloodless grudge matches, “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” explodes onto the Wii at the top of its game. With more characters, more tweaks, more multiplayer options, and a sprawling side-scrolling story mode, it’s a grand love letter to everyone who played the last two “Smash Bros.” games and an irresistible invitation to anyone who hasn’t. Nintendo may be mining an utterly familiar lode, but “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” is such a pitch- perfect crowd-pleaser that it’s certain to secure a place as one of the year’s best sellers.
Now almost a decade old, the “Smash Bros” franchise mixes unpretentious smack-around action, quirky minigames, and nigh-inexhaustible customizable content into a stew that’s unlike anything on any other system — and hence quintessentially Nintendo. This is where gamers go to see “Pokemon’s” Pikachu slap Mario around or Princess Zelda knock out “Metroid’s” Samus.
Though there is an intimidating community of hard core players, “Smash Bros.” games have always been relatively welcoming to a broader audiences thanks to their nonrealistic violence and fairly simple controls. Unlike other fighting games with dozens of complex button combos, each “Smash” character has only a handful of moves that are comparatively easy to learn, if not master. “Brawl” adds a few motion sensing options via the Wii-mote, but most players will find it more comfortable to use traditional controls.
All the classic “Smash Bros.” modes are back in “Brawl,” including randomly generated matches and the option to play in up to 62 “events” with conditions like finishing within a time limit or executing specific moves against an opponent. A dramatically expanded adventure mode called “The Subspace Emissary” folds a series of side-scrolling levels into a wordless story that lets players gather new characters and play cooperatively or with the computer in an attempt to thwart something called the Subspace Army and its leader, the Ancient Minister. It’s not much of a story, but it’s a great way to train, battle enormous end-level creatures, or just run hypothetical “what if?” scenarios like pitting Donkey Kong against Mario’s rogue’s gallery of waddling mushrooms and hammer-tossing turtles.
“Brawl” looks no better than the 6-year-old “Super Smash Bros. Melee” did on the GameCube, but it’s not the sort of game that’s either slow enough pace-wise or vain enough gravitas-wise to invite such scrutiny. In fact, the only noticeable problem lies with its controls, and then only for hardcore fighter wonks who may judge them a little loose and occasionally inaccurate. Turning instantly left or right, for instance, is a snap for the computer but essentially impossible for players, culminating in too much time punching air.
In addition to all the Nintendo mainstays and a few newcomers, “Brawl” ushers in third-party icons like Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake from Konami’s “Metal Gear.” While they’re more interesting for novelty’s sake than their predictable signature abilities, pitting Snake against Yoshi or Mario’s sweetheart Princess Peach against Sonic at least qualifies as uncanny. Some players may find this only spurs their imaginations further, however, as they ponder the possibilities if “Final Fantasy” maker Square Enix or even Disney got in on the next sequel.