Playing the original Super Smash Bros. on the N64 and its sequel, Melee, with my good friend when I was younger are some of my favorite gaming memories. When Brawl was released I enjoyed the game quite a bit, but something felt off about it. Character movement and attacks seemed slower than Melee which felt like an odd decision. The Subspace Emissary mode was truly enjoyable and added a much more fleshed out single-player mode that I didn’t think would work well. Fast forward from 2008 to today and the fourth console game in the series has been released with the terribly titled Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Luckily, the game is much better than the title.
For those unfamiliar with the Smash Bros. gameplay formula, it consists of a large cast of Nintendo (and some third party) characters fighting on a 2D battlefield with normal attacks, smash attacks and specials along with ridiculous game changing items and stage hazards. What sets apart the Smash series from being incredibly intimidating like many fighting games out there, is that it is very easy to jump in and pull off flashy attacks making you feel like you can get in there and still feel powerful. There are no quarter-circle joystick movements or complex combos. Smash attacks are carried out by pressing one button either up, down, left or right. The same goes for special attacks with a separate button. Then there are buttons for shields and grabs and those are the basics. There is definitely room for complexity with different advanced techniques such as Wavedashing, Jump-Canceling and Triangle jumping to try and get ahead. But the beauty is, if you have a mix of players with different skill levels, the items are the great equalizer being able to turn a fight upside down (sometimes literally).
This iteration has added a ludicrous twist on this formula by being able to double the player count to eight players in a single battle. The first couple of times I played it, this seemed like it was too crazy to ever work with me constantly losing track of my character in the midst of Falcon Punches, Mario Fireballs and Kirby swallowing people left and right. And even now I feel like it can be a bit too much at times. Luckily there are bigger maps custom made for eight players which do a good job of spacing out the action. These can be chaotic in a good way if you have eight people in the same room screaming at each other, but the online mode does not support eight players most likely for latency reasons.
The gameplay itself feels like it falls in between Melee’s super speedy and Brawl’s slightly lethargic movement leaning more toward the Melee side of things. The fast characters in this game are really fast. In my first match with Little Mac, I almost dashed off the side of the stage so be careful your first time trying out a character. Speaking of characters, there are 14 new ones not including the three variations of the Mii Fighter. And I have to give kudos to the diversity of franchises they come from. There is Palutena from Kid Icarus, Villager from Animal Crossing and Wii Fit Trainer from, obviously, Wii Fit. Overall there are 49 characters, again, not including the Mii Fighters. Mewtwo has been announced as DLC for early next year to those who purchase the 3DS version of Smash as well.
Arguably the biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of unlockable moves for each character. Each character will begin with their four default special moves but additional moves can be unlocked in separate modes. For example Yoshi’s normal side special is an egg that rolls quickly back and forth dealing light damage to enemies. However, I unlocked a move that I can replace that with which is a much slower but heavier version of the attack dealing more damage. Many of them change the moves more drastically such such as changing Palutena’s up special Warp, where she disappears and reappears far away, into a rocket jump which doesn’t lift her as high, but leaves a small explosion by her feet to damage enemies. These open up possibilities for players who might have a favorite character but not like their moves to completely change them up into a play style that they would enjoy.
From a mode perspective, this is definitely focused much more on playing with others rather than by yourself. The most obvious example of this is the lack of an extensive single-player mode like Brawl’s Subspace Emissary. This was pretty disappointing as someone whose friends don’t live particularly close to be able to come over all the time. Smash Tour seems to be the replacement with it being so prominently displayed on the main menu and . . . it’s okay? Up to four players play as their Miis on a game board with pickups that increase the players’ stats for a final battle with a set number of turns. However, players don’t fight as their Miis but fighters that they start off with or can be picked up on the board. Fights will break out when two players bump into each other on the board involving everyone with the chance for the winner to take the final character his or her opponent were using when KO’d. Think of every battle like stock mode but the stocks are different fighters. Overall it is interesting if not an entirely successful party mode, because everything is explained in quick splash screens that overload you with information too quickly. The idea of everyone rolling and then moving at the same time speeds up the mode which is great, but there doesn’t feel like an incentive to play this over regular Smash.
Other modes include the traditional stadium fare such as Target Test, Home Run Contest and Multi Man Smash as well as All-Star mode. There is a trophy rush mode allowing you to wager coins you earn to increase the time you can spend to mash trophy boxes as they fall from the sky while avoiding hazards. Arguably the most fun modes (outside of normal Smash) are the Master Orders and Crazy Orders. Master Orders are three randomly created challenges of varying difficulty and battle rules. You can see which game franchise your reward will come from and is fun for random challenges. Crazy Orders, on the other hand, introduce a twist. You still have the three random events to pick and choose from, but you only have 10 minutes of in game time total. And to keep the rewards that you earn from each challenge, Crazy Hand must be beaten. After you complete the first challenge, you can go on to that final battle at any time. So it is an interesting mode where you are trying to balance getting the most challenges completed as possible while leaving enough time to defeat Crazy Hand and retain your prizes.
Whew. Lastly there are two more single player modes: Events and Classic. Events mode presents individual challenges that provide little bits of context to what you are doing. For example in one of them you play as Jigglypuff and have to put three child characters to sleep on a stage where a mother is walking by, and each one has an extra reward for special victory conditions. Then there is the new Classic Mode. Instead of a series of battles and occasionally a mini game, the player now moves a trophy of their character around an open area where groups of other character trophies are. You can pick and choose which groups to take on with one of them having an arbitrary rival to take out. What’s nice about this is that you can see whether or not fighting a group could yield a trophy, upgrade part or coins. Beyond the ability to choose which fights to pick, not much has changed besides the fact that you can play this with a friend.
But what ways can you play all of this? Well there are a myriad of control schemes to choose from. Originally, I was going to be picking up the Wii U Gamecube Controller adapter and a few controllers until I discovered that the adapter is as easy to find as the Wii was in 2007. Because of that, I have primarily used the Wii U gamepad and have come to like it more than I thought. Of course you can use the Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remote Plus, Wii Remote Plus with Nunchuk, Wii Remote Plus with Classic Controller Pro or if you have the 3DS version as well, you can use that as a controller for the Wii U version . . . because why not? Needless to say where there is a will to play Smash, there is a way.
The stages that you control these characters on are good but not great. There are a fair number of new stages that are fantastic such as Mario Circuit from Mario Kart 8, Garden of Hope from Pikmin 3 and Gamer from Game and Wario to name a few. But there are more stages that just aren’t too much fun to play on including Orbital Gate Assault from Star Fox, The Great Cave Offensive from Kirby and Dr. Wily’s Castle from Mega Man. That last stage is flat out bad. What is cool is that there are exclusive stages for the Wii U and 3DS versions based on games that appeared on each.
Playing online on these stages is a mixed bag. While the online functionality is better than Brawl was since it actually works sometimes, it doesn’t all of the time. After playing several matches online, it was about 50/50 whether or not the game would have a good connection or not. In 1v1 matches, I never had an issue with the gameplay feeling like I was facing off against someone sitting beside me. However, when it came to four players there were times where it was beyond unplayable. Nintendo has definitely evolved over the past several years to try and improve the online aspect to their consoles, but they simply aren’t there yet. But it worked well enough most of the time. Besides, Smash is meant to be played on the couch with friends.
Visually the game looks fantastic. In general, this year I have been very impressed by how great first party games on the Wii U have looked. Nintendo is definitely proving once again that fantastic art design can be just as impressive as pure technological horsepower. Character models all look detailed and clean with fluid animation that truly encapsulates the personality of each one. This beauty extends to some of the stages as well with the standout to me being the newest version of Final Destination with some epic cosmic events happening in the background while the fight is going on.
From a sound perspective, Nintendo knocked this out of the park as well. According to an article on Kotaku, there are 437 songs in the game . . . what. That is insane and you can customize each stage to play songs more often than others which is a great feature. Many of these songs I have never heard as I didn’t grow up as a huge Nintendo guy, but oftentimes I can guess what any franchise a track is from even if I’m simply listening to it on its own. If you buy both versions of Smash then you will get not only the Mewtwo DLC mentioned earlier but also the soundtrack for free.
However, the final thing to talk about is the amiibo functionality. When these were first revealed at E3 this year, my reaction was negative looking at them simply as a money-making gimmick to challenge Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Now that I have bought one to try out for this review, they are actually kind of neat. When you scan one in, it is a computer controlled fighter that starts at level one and can progress all the way to 50. As you fight your amiibo, it learns and becomes much smarter. The pattern of attacks that I commonly used against my amiibo eventually stopped working when it knew what I was doing forcing me to change up my playstyle. They eventually become super powerful if leveled all of the way. But definitely have them fight against real people and not the computer. I trained my Donkey Kong amiibo against seven level nine computer opponents until it hit 50. However, when I pitted it against my friend’s level 40 Samus whom he had fought against the whole time, DK stood no chance.
The biggest complaint I have about the amiibos is that they can only be used in offline multiplayer Smash mode. You can’t take them online against friends and you can’t even bring them with you as a second player in Classic mode, Trophy Rush or All-Star mode. The limited functionality holds the amiibos back from being great.
All in all Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic package. From the multitude of ways to play, the improved gameplay from Brawl and the overall presentation, thisis my preferred multiplayer game of 2014. It is obvious how much love went into this game whether it be the detailed characters, the hundreds of collectible trophies (my addiction to collect them all is real) or the soundtrack, this is a polished and substantive project. The Wii U might not have much third party support, but wow the first party games make this console worth owning.