Recently questioned about his Smash philosophy by Ninty pres Iwata, Sakurai explained that he approaches each new instalment as if it were the last. Sounds like glum fatalism, doesn't it?
Thankfully Sakurai is no glass-half-empty fellow; he simply takes this as motivation to make his declaration of Ninty-love as potent as possible. If he's going out, he's going out with a bang, and if he's going out with Brawl, he's going out with the mother of all bangs.
An empty arena. Four fighters enter. They bash one another to ramp up damage. The greater the damage, the further they fly when hit. Hitting them from the arena wins the fight. That's Smash Bros.
Has been since the N64 original. It's a fighting game unlike any other: where the focus isn't on panicked health depletion, but a spiralling of damage; where you're as able to hide as fight; where you're only ever dead for four seconds before you're back in the fray; where everyone who's had their ass handed to them by Street Fighter can come and feel safe.
Or rather, feel safe if they want to feel safe. Want to tackle Brawl as a technical fighter? You're more than welcome to. Shields, evasive rolls, smash attacks and all manner of items add layer upon layer to potential strategies, until you're left with an experience just as suited to championship level play as your Soul Caliburs and Tekkens.
With each new instalment come a few tweaks here and there, putting the devout Smash fans on edge as they prey for no game-breaking additions. Deep sigh of relief, then.
Brawl is a nippy experience. Any one second can see Fox McCloud firing across the screen as Peach leaves light trails with a searing beam sword, and Pikachu and Mario arc off your telly after a close encounter with an enraged Bob-Omb.
Close your eyes for a second - an unwise strategic choice - and when you open them you'll see Fox struck with a Peach-lobbed sword, while she gobbles up health restoring snacks, oblivious to the lightning strike a respawned Pikachu is about to release on her.
Snap, crackle and pop
Hectic? Absolutely. But it's more visual clutter than unneeded gameplay fat, with blame resting mainly on new items. Take the smart bomb, for example. Creating an ever-growing flaming orb - great for group attacks - it can frazzle unwitting fighters before they even know its been lobbed.
Then there's the cracker launcher - the first Smash Bros weapon you can manually aim. Firing flowering fireworks, it can be hard to see what's hitting what, but it's no great price for pursuing a flying foe with a stream of aimed hits.
Interestingly, what looked to be a guaranteed game-muddler in Sakurai's website write-ups has turned out to be great focusing device: the final smashes. Yes, in action these uber-attacks are complete visual bullies - the camera zooms in to your flaming form to indicate that the 'you show' is just beginning and, for the other three players tuning in, a whole world of pain awaits.
Pikachu turning into a screaming electro-ball or Fox driving the Landmaster Tank not only show off Brawl's most extravagant visual excesses, but see even experienced players buffeted around like a kitten in a tumble dryer. How, then, do these moves tighten things up?
It's all in the chase. A final smash is yours for breaking the final smash icon: catnip for Brawlers. So beneficial are these moves that all fighters gun for them. Dash, leap, pummel, throw, kick; whatever you do, get to it first.
It's as close to an in-game objective as Smash Bros has ever had, and the results are comic brilliance. A heaving pile of Nintendo mascots chasing such an innocuous item reminds us of madcap Looney Tunes; and with a heavy shunt dislodging the icon out of the successful grabber, the silliness doesn't abate until the move is activated and a 15ft Bowser or super-charged Diddy Kong are tearing everyone a new one.
Disappointments? The stages, slightly. Visually? No complaints. Whether weaving through intergalactic dogfights or soaking up the cool ambiance of Animal Crossing, these are artistic delights.
It's the lack of sizeable or 'concept' arenas that irks - like Melee's rotating Brinstar Depths or the Big Blue. In fact, Sakurai's inclusion of such original Melee stages only draws your attention to the lack of innovation elsewhere.
A clump of three platforms floating through Ninty sights may please the fanboy in us; the fact that stage-specific tactics pay the price worries the Smash fanatic in us.
And then there's the roster. The 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach to development pays off brilliantly elsewhere, but has left a bloated cast that struggles to hide the basic character types each fighter boils down to.
Signature moves aside, it's hard to see where Dedede differs from Bowser, and if Link, Ike and Pit weren't programmed by the same guy, we'll eat our sword flurry.
In fairness, a few neat hybrids impress. Pit combines the ferocity of Link with Peach's awesome flight range, and between his three 'mon the Pokémon Trainer delivers the greatest hits of Kirby, Bowser and Yoshi.
The arrival, too, of a few wildcards equally baffle and delight - we have no idea if Olimar is the best thing since sliced Pikmin or a total crash-landing of a character. Shame, though, to find the ranks of hard-fought-for secret characters populated by clones, or for the Melee faces that didn't make the Brawl cut.
A perfect formula?
Moan, moan, moan, eh? Don't get us wrong, from our very first fight we knew that Brawl was the Wii's premier multiplayer - it reveals just how much crap we've been taking from Mario Strikers all this time - but we wanted to see if it could be more.
Something different. Repetition is Brawl's only real crime, but this is the curse of Smash Bros. After all, how do you revolutionise what is, arguably, a perfect formula? The answer is beyond us, and it would seem, slightly beyond Sakurai.
If you were going to make the mother of all changes, surely they would arrive on the console that is the mother of all hardware changes? Instead we find Smash Bros stubbornly sitting on Wii, only really making use of enhanced graphical power and a handful of Wi-Fi options.
Wi-Fi has so far eluded us; the humble Wii throwing a fit every time we try to squeeze a Japanese link-up through the USB dongle. We managed to boot up the spectator mode - where you watch another online game and bet on the outcome - but were put off when our 'sure thing' Samus got well and truly pwned by Olimar. What a gyp.
In your hands
Controls are an issue, too. Vertical remote is no substitute for classic controller or - our pad of choice - the GameCube pad. The D-pad is no match for an analogue stick and the button-starved design means that no matter how you calibrate, a key action will be relegated to the unreachable minus button.
The nunchuk and remote are button-friendlier, but the lack of a second analogue stick removes quick access to smash attacks - powerful hits performed with a quick directional jab paired with the attack button, wisely mapped onto the C-stick in Melee. And maybe it's the muscle memory from playing Melee, but for the first time on Wii, hands apart just doesn't feel right.
Hardware aside, the grandest innovation is undoubtedly the Subspace Emissary - a standalone single player experience. Ever seen Cannonball Run? In it, 15 then-famous actors dash across the US.
It's a narrative mish-mash and bloated as hell. We're pretty sure Subspace is a remake. Mother's Lucas pairs with Pokémon Trainer, Diddy Kong gets punched in the face and we'll leave you to find out what fate befalls Olimar's beloved Pikmin in a laugh-out-loud encounter with someone's boot.
Its strengths? Barking mad cutscenes and some lovely retro boss battles - even though these scraps feel like reskinned versions of the classic mode's Master Hand encounter. As a platformer it's not great.
He may have left HAL, but Sakurai's days as Kirby's dad are felt in the dull level design and unnecessarily tricksy warp door antics. Kirby's platforming smarts never matched Mario's; Miyamoto should have helped with these bits.
Also, using as it does the control mechanics of the fights, you have to manoeuvre tricky platforming segments with controls designed for arena combat. Bad idea.
Are we looking a gift horse in the mouth?
They didn't have to give us Subspace, and it's not like anything was removed to make room for it. And at eight hours it's quite sizeable - though the second half cheekily regurgitates past levels.
And there's an undeniable thrill from seeing these Nintendo legends interact in this bizarre manner - though this is a tad undermined when the true hero of the piece is revealed to be of non-Nintendo origins. This 'legends' angle leads us nicely to the ace up Sakurai's sleeve: the element that best reveals his 'last Smash Bros ever' philosophy.
We've never seen such a comprehensive shrine to one company. Brawl is an archive of Nintendo wonderment that you unearth by playing an immensely satisfying fighter. The iconography of Nintendo is cemented in the characters, the stages, the collectible trophies (hundreds), the stickers and the retro demos.
And the sounds? You cannot imagine the effort that has gone into this: experimental compositions of classic themes, orchestral revivals of forgotten tunes and pieces you've never heard before that win you over in an instant; you could purchase Brawl as a music album and be perfectly content.
Brawl is everything that makes Nintendo culture great: the characters, the humour, the heritage. Want to show someone why you've stuck by Ninty all these years? Show them a portly plumber chasing a green dinosaur with a massive hammer.
But Brawl also represents Nintendo as a company. Returning to your stock franchises guarantees games a heritage like no other; likewise it shackles you to old ways. Brawl is sublimely tuned and inexhaustible in its attempts to make you happy, but it's not new. But this is by no means the end of the world. Sakurai is saving his masterpiece for that one.