The first thing that needs to be said is that this game is huge. It has a competent single-player experience as well as some modern additions to the multiplayer formula of old. That said, it's a mixed bag, combining the best of the old, along with some new. But not everything is roses.
But, honestly, who really buys this game for The Subspace Emissary? It's all about the multiplayer action and the fan service roster. And, as one would imagine, the game delivers the best multiplayer action on the console (and then some).
Now that we've gotten my problems with the control schemes that aren't a GameCube controller out of the way, let's get down to gameplay. Many have commented that the game feels slower than Melee and that a lot of the characters have been nerfed or altered. While I felt this same way immediately, after dumping many hours into the game and going back to the GameCube game, I didn't really feel like it was tuned down that much. That isn't to say there aren't balance issues, however.
Some characters, like Bowser, are just too ridiculously powerful. There are certain smash attacks that deal too much damage (Ike's side smash, Bowser's side smash for two hits and, still, Link's stupid down thrust from the air). These can deal upwards of 50% per hit and, for most combatants, that's half their life, if not more (Pikachu and Kirby get tossed really easily). Some things, however, have been tuned down for the better, like Samus's charged shot and Fox's laser beam (it no longer traps you like it did in Melee). Overall, though, there is an amazing balance between the fighters that means not one single character is usually favored over others in 4-player conflicts. That is, unless you're Snake, in which case everyone in the game is favored against you. Seriously, Snake's attacks take way too long to execute and leave him open the entire match. Sad, we know.
It's time we addressed the biggest problem in the game: Wi-Fi play. While online play was smooth when I played the game with Joystiq's Kyle Orland, now that the public has it, every 4-player match is filled with nothing but lag. It's really bad, actually, and keeps the fun local. Unless you have some friends for multiplayer in your house, don't expect to enjoy non-CPU competition on any kind of consistent basis.
Should Nintendo figure out what the issues with the online play are, Smash Bros. Brawl will have hopefully paved the way for future releases on the Wii to utilize, if not expand, the Wi-Fi features within it. It has status tracking for your friends, has a good lobby system for keeping the action rolling along (not kicking you out of the room after every match is such a good design choice) and allows users to share their own content. These are the steps Nintendo needs to take with future releases so that they aren't the laughing stock of the online console community.
Aside from the often boring Subspace Emissary and the buggy online play, there isn't much you can fault this game with. It has countless trophies and other collectibles to unlock, a wealth of information on past Nintendo franchises, trials of Virtual Console games, tons of characters to play as (uh, Sonic dude) and an incredible amount of replay value. This is going to be the best game on the Wii this year, if not during the console's lifespan (seriously, what other game can match the scope of Brawl?). Smash Bros. Brawl is every Nintendo fanboy and fangirl's dream come true. The only way it could be better was if it included Mega Man as a playable character.
Final Score: 9.5/10