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Game Review

I often marvel at how incredibly realistic video games can be nowadays. After making my way through some virtual cave or jungle, I feel like I ought to dust the grime and cobwebs off my clothes. And the complexity of current interweaving gameplay is light-years beyond where it was during my Pac-Man salad days. But sometimes I long for the platforming, button-mashing ways of yore. And obviously, a lot of other people do, too.

Which is why Super Smash Bros. Brawl, for the Wii, has become Nintendo's fastest-selling game ever. The 2-D fighter moved an incredible 120 copies per minute in its first nine days of release, racking up sales of 1.5 million units. What's the draw? Well, I'd have to say, simplicity and variety.

The game gathers together scores of heroes and scoundrels from just about every Nintendo game you can remember—from Mario and Donkey Kong to Kirby and Zelda. And it throws them into quick-paced battles on levels designed to be reminiscent of the various characters' home worlds. For example, you might find yourself in a re-creation of the classic Donkey Kong with its elevator platforms and tumbling barrels, or on a Metroid-style lava-covered planet where the terrain is constantly changing.

And if you're more of a PlayStation or SEGA fan, well, Nintendo has decided to open ranks and include a couple favorites from those platforms, too. (Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog immediately come to mind.)

Breathing Fire in the Family Room
Gameplay is a breeze with only two attack buttons—one for normal smacks and one for special moves. And then, depending on how you tilt your motion-sensing controller, you can give a little extra zing to your offensive, including the smash that the game's title promises. For those old-school gamers who just want to flick buttons with none of the twisty-turny stuff, the game has a classic controller option.

There is some strategy that figures into the fast-action battles. Thirty-five different characters boast unique fighting styles, strengths and weaknesses. Learning how to protect your hero while taking advantage of an opponent's flaws is the key to victory. Items pop up from time to time to help out, such as a laser sword or spicy curry that lets you breathe fire. (Characters with gun-like weaponry, however, never use bullets.)

But in spite of the fine-tuned finesse that hard-core Nintendo gamers will want to bring to the table, Brawl is still simple enough that Grandma could grab a controller, mash a couple buttons and beat the young 'uns at their own game. Which makes this another one of those get-the-gang-together party games. In fact, this one includes team and tournament play that can ultimately allow up to 32 different players to take turns on a single Wii console. Now that's multiplayer action (and a really crowded family room).

Sonic Sings the Classics
If you're by yourself, you can still slip into Link's curly-toed shoes and play through some single-player levels. Classic, Stadium and Event modes let you run your character through sequential battles, complete specific objectives and minigames, and compete in timed events. There's more than enough here to keep you busy while Grandma's taking a breather. And when Star Fox comes up with a really cool move against Diddy Kong and his peanut gun, you also have the option to pause play and position your camera for a perfect screenshot or record the battle for a full replay later.

Still looking for more Bowser vs. King Dedede action? (Boy you are hard-core!) Well, there's always the adventure mode called Subspace Emissary. This story-driven game is a series of side-scrolling levels that contain the prerequisite bottomless pits, spiky traps and moving platforms that you would expect from yesterday's 2-D play. It focuses on a number of heroes and their separate story threads that all weave together to eventually face off against a big boss in the final level.

Oh, and gaming fans will appreciate the music, too. I couldn't help but smile when Sonic's perky now-in-stereo tunes started rolling out of my speakers. No rough-edged rap track here. Brawl duplicates a grinning nostalgia with 100 songs from all over the Nintendo universe.

First One to the Top Gets Knocked Down
This is a fantasy-world fighting game, so there are plenty of blows landed and magical lightning bolts unleashed. But the resulting violence is always cartoonish and never bloody. No one dies; everybody simply bounces off the staged area when defeated. The damage each character sustains is displayed as a numerical percentage. The higher the percentage rises the further the character flies when hit by a solid blow.

Besides the zany brawling, the only other reason I could find for the game's T rating is an anti-Mario character named Wario who gets a big hoot out of passing gas and has the unpleasant habit of biting enemies.

In a sentence, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is sort of like a family reunion with a bunch of brightly colored and competitive cousins and uncles who stage a free-for-all, winner-gets-to-eat-first game of King of the Hill in the backyard.

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