I totally lost, by the way.
The game looks absolutely brilliant, even blown up hugely on a projector. In fact, I kind of want to get an enormous projector now (and a lecture hall) just so I can play this. The graphics are easily the Wii's best, with reasonably detailed character models and gorgeous stages. The colors pop. The crazy flourishes that go along with a Final Smash are both hilarious and amazing.
I picked Snake, of course, and set about trying to figure out how to play as Snake in the middle of a tournament. Snake's moves are very unconventional for Smash, with so many of his Smash attacks (not just his specials) launching weapon fire in unexpected ways. Snake takes a lot of getting used to! For example, his down+B attack sets C4. Then you somehow have to remember where your C4 is so you can use it effectively -- or in my case, not mash down+B again immediately afterward. We were playing on Snake's stage, which is just claustrophobic enough to make it pretty likely you'll blow yourself up. Like I did with the Bob-Omb, also.
A fierce battle ensued over a Smash Ball, and since I was the underdog (i.e. loser), the crowd started to cheer me on as I vied tooth-and-nail for the ball. Then -- yes! -- I got it! And I didn't remember how to activate it. Again the crowd helped out, and soon I got to da choppa. Another Smash Ball showed up soon after -- items in general didn't seem as frequent (by default) as Melee, but two Smash Balls in five minutes is significant. Fighting over a Smash Ball is, in fact, important enough to be labeled an entirely new gameplay element (in addition to giving that status to the Final Smash attack), because it immediately shifts the focus of the whole game. Even after my Final Smash, I lost, but not by running out of lives. I had the smallest stock when the time ran out, triggering a three-way sudden death.
Brawl is Smash Bros. but just bigger. The Final Smashes and the mostly smaller stages are designed to create tension and excitement. They work. I was frantic, the crowd was frantic, and the five-minute match left me sweating bullets. I wasn't even that excited about the game, but now? Day one. The ease of operating tournaments and the character profiles are going to make this the multiplayer game of 2008.