No, there's nothing substantial in Brawl that wasn't already in the last incarnation of the series, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Fighting is still primarily accomplished with two buttons and a joystick -- one button for special attacks and another for ordinary attacks. Depending on the direction the joystick is pointing and the force with which it's toggled, characters ranging from Mario to Wario blast at each other with arsenals of outlandish fighting moves unique to each fighter. It's a simple formula that does away with the multi-button combinations that most fighting games require players to press with rapid precision. It keeps the action frenetic, and guarantees that 6-year-olds will have no problems annihilating their parents.
An addition Brawl brings to the Super Smash Bros. universe is the fighter Snake, who is a character owned by the Konami corporation. His inclusion, along with Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog, points to one of Nintendo's recent shortcomings as a company: No, they don't have any new mascots to bring to Brawl. A few in-game extras have been derived from Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, Hotel Dusk and Electroplankton, but none of those games (wisely) merited an inclusion in the roster of fighters. Making Nintendo seem even more imaginatively impoverished is the lack of Wii-exclusive technology in this Wii-exclusive game. No, Brawl is not the Wii-defining game that players have been anticipating since the system's release. It's possible to shake the Wii Remote to initiate a "smash" attack, but the entire game can also be played with an old, motion-senseless GameCube controller.
Brawl's most notable new feature is online play, meaning that opponents needn't share the same TV in order to battle. Also new is the ability to customize fighting characters, boosting attack, defense and other statistics as players see fit. The graphics themselves are slightly more sophisticated this time around, particularly the lighting -- characters cast sharp shadows on the ground in whichever direction the stage's illumination sends them. But Brawl isn't a revolution in the Super Smash Bros. series. It's simply a refinement. The battle system can't be enhanced too much without losing the simplicity that makes Super Smash Bros. a series of fighting games for people who otherwise might not enjoy fighting games. It's fast, furious, cartoony and, yes, a lot of fun.
THE GOOD: Players can design their own battle arenas. Characters can be enhanced and personalized with bonus stickers. Soundtracks can be tweaked to the player's preference. None of this makes the game deeper, but it does make it more durable.
THE BAD: A single-player adventure brings the numerous Nintendo characters into a unified storyline, and offers solo fighters something more substantial to do than battle the Wii in brawl after brawl. But the lengthy adventure becomes repetitive as it tries to transform the game's unified set of battle challenges into a strung-out sequence of obstacles.
THE BOTTOM LINE: No new notable goodies, but with almost all of the old ones freshened-up, Brawl makes a reliably fun addition to the remarkably fun line of Super Smash Bros. games.