Super Smash Bros. Brawl addresses the same universe-merging urge as Alan Moore's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This fighting game for the Wii mashes up elements from nearly every Nintendo game into the kind of cross-property bouillabaisse that keeps licensing departments up at night. It's a toy-box mentality, one that can't be bothered with segregating characters, weapons, and playsets. "Fight 'em all," the game says, "Let the players sort it out."
Matches play like a Destroy All Monsters mêlée, with up to four players duking it out until the last man, or Pokémon, stands. This free-for-all attitude frequently puts beloved characters in situations that would otherwise tarnish their family-friendly reputations. Imagine a droog-like Pikachu clutching a baseball bat, poised to crack Princess Peach on the noggin. Mario, who usually favors fireballs, isn't adverse to grabbing a laser rifle and shooting from the hip.
There's a jaw-dropping array of personalities and implements of peril in play. And with Super Smash Bros. Brawl's variety comes nearly endless potential for surprise. Still, the game shows welcome restraint in its controls. Fighters have become increasingly complex since the days of Street Fighter II. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is simplistic, shifting the focus away from the memorization of arcane button combos. The brilliance is that every character controls identically; only the actual character moves vary wildly. Familiarity and strategy trump twitch-reflexes in the best way possible. Some may call it button-mashing, but the sane, accessible approach to virtual combat makes Super Smash Bros. Brawl the best way to pummel friends and strangers.
Beyond the game: Still can't find a Wii? They're only going to get scarcer with this killer app on shelves.
Worth playing for: Two non-Nintendo characters drop into the roster: Snake from Metal Gear Solid and Sonic The Hedgehog.
Frustration sets in when: The game's online matches don't support any kind of chat. That's probably why God created Skype. Tuckered players can spectate at random online matches, though. The ability to bet on these anonymous horse-races is surprisingly compelling.
Final judgment: A kitchen-sink battle royal.