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Game Review

OK, so you want a rock-'em, sock-'em combat game but would rather avoid ripping out digital spleens and splashing the scenery with a crimson tide? Well, the gamemakers at Nintendo have dreamed up an option. And, hey, it even comes packing Pac-Man!

Super Smash Bros. is one of those quirky Nintendo variants where tons of distinctly dissimilar characters from, oh, some 30-plus years of games are all dumped into a single roster. In fact, if you've ever played and loved any Nintendo game in your life, you'll likely find something about it referenced here.

There are 49 different male and female characters ready to jump and bop around, in fact. There are the expected ones, you know, like Mario, Bowser and Princess Peach. But also more obscure avatars like Pikmin's Olimar, Captain Falcon, the Duck Hunt dog, and even a workout gear-clad Wii Fit trainer. Each character has his or her or its own set of strikes, kicks, flips and blocks, and even some special game-related tricky moves tucked up a sleeve or down an elbow-length opera glove. The Duck Hunt dog, for instance, flaunts clay pigeons and explosive barrels.

To be honest, there are so many moves and tucked-away possibilities with this parade of battlers that figuring everything out is probably the biggest challenge gamers face. So when the inexperienced first jump in, it's pretty much a case of mashing various buttons until something happens. (Up to eight players can choose characters and face off using everything from the Wii U GamePad to Wii Remotes to the classic GameCube pad to even a Nintendo 3DS as a controller.)

Fortunately, if they stick with it, even befuddled younger players can find a number of different game modes to help them master what needs mastering. Event mode, for instance, offers a series of colorful and fun solo or co-op challenges. Here are a couple: Mario is sent in to duke it out with a couple of archenemy heavyweights, Sonic the Hedgehog takes on a gang of speedy foes, and Captain Falcon must keep a troop of parachutists from touching down. They're all relatively easy missions that teach dodge, speed attack and aerial skills.

Of course, once you get down to the chaotic bim-bam-boom core of things, this is a pretty serious fighting game ... without ever having to see Donkey Kong filleted into piles of gorilla meat. Kirby cuties and Pokémon paladins do battle it out for king-of-the-hill bragging rights, but things always stay cartoony clean.

Lightning bolts and balls of fire-breath fly around. Swords are swung and combatants whirl, pounce and zap. And through it all, no one is physically hurt. A damage meter simply fills up until one battler is bested and falls from the screen ... then springs back for the next round. The most severe penalty? In some modes, earned bonuses or equipment are abandoned with a loss.

Cute, creative and colorful or not, of course, you're still fighting here. So parents should consider that fact as it relates to how much time kids spend doing it. And that's a task that'll be harder than the grown-ups think. Because the most difficult thing about Super Smash Bros. is figuring out how to walk away on a school night from just one more round!

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