Despite playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U for nearly twenty hours just on the weekend of its release, I have taken months to digest it, collect my thoughts, and write about it in a way that masks the foam forming at the corners of my lips. I must confess; Smash Bros. still makes me a giddy 12-year-old boy even as I clock in on my third decade. In case you don’t know already, Super Smash Bros. pits characters from various Nintendo franchises together in what is best-described as a platforming fighter dunked in a coat of Nintendo paint. While play is deceptively simple, it rewards both those who master it and those that just want to keep the fun going. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U continues this franchises’ history of party game excellence.
What is on offer for the main gameplay of Smash Bros. is much the same in this new iteration. Here is a brief explanation of Smash for the uninitiated; each character from an all-star cast of Nintendo greats (think Mario, Kirby, Samus, Link, Fox, and Pikachu, to name a few) has moves to help them out-smash the competition when used to the best of their abilities. By successfully landing hits on opponents, damage percentages increase. As damage percentages go up, opponents are flung farther and farther by hard-hitting moves. The ultimate goal is to launch other players outside of the screen’s boundaries and into oblivion be it up, down, left, or right. It is like playing a sumo-wrestling match but in outer space, in the mouth of a volcano, in an ancient castle, or in Mario’s old stomping grounds.
Time for the new; spoiler: there is a megaton of new content. The Smash Bros. roster has reached 49 characters once they are all unlocked, the largest of the series’ history. Many mainstay characters are true to their past iterations with minor balancing tweaks throughout. This makes the formula feel fresh, even with a character that one has played for hundreds of hours in past iterations. For a select few characters though, some more drastic changes have been made, and rightfully so, in order to better balance the game. While Brawl seemed to add more clones than fresh characters, Smash Wii U’s new characters (with a few exceptions) each bring something new to the game. Rosalina and Luma of Super Mario Galaxy fame form a dual character that can perform moves independently of one another. The Villager from Animal Crossing can store an item from the field in his or her pocket for future use. Little Mac from Punch-Out!! packs an incredible amount of damage on the ground, but fails miserably at aerial and recovery moves. From outside of the Nintendo universe, Sonic has returned and is joined by Mega Man and Pac-Man, additions that add to the breadth, richness, and move complexity of the Smash Bros. universe. Another option is to create a Mii character of which there are three iterations. While it may be a bit silly, it is a ton of fun to fight off Mario and the gang as yourself. There are plenty more additions and no game in this series has felt more rich with play variety. It may just be nostalgia, but no series does it better; watching these characters from wide-ranging genres and universes come together and have it work so well is just magic.
New items added to the game create hazards in ways previously unexpected. The Gust Bellows will blow people off-screen and even bugs from Galaga may come down and hoist players off to their demise. Again, these small innovations to the series keep the tried-and-true experience of smash fresh once again. New levels in smash also change up the formula but, admittedly, some excel while others fall flat. Jungle Hijinx includes a separate background and foreground to fight on but Gaur Plain offers too little ground space. Orbital Assault is a chaotic, ever-changing, action-packed stage but Paulentina’s Temple and The Great Cave Offensive are frustratingly large stages that will have players squinting at their 60-inch television screens. On top of this, there is a heavy reliance on stages from the past and while some are must-have classics, others are puzzling choices. Other additions to the level formula are bosses. In a handful of stages, bosses will come out and act as allies, villains, and all-around nuisances while one tries to beat up their competitors; I like the experimentation, but it works better with some (Ridley) than others (The Yellow Devil). All that said, Smash for Wii U offers a Final Destination mode for each level so that flat, stage-hazard free games can be played with a variety of backgrounds and soundtracks. The levels are a mixed bag that can be sorted to each player’s preference.
The best game modes remain the Time and Stock game matches wherein players struggle for more points and survival respectively. However, for the first time in series history, up to eight people can fight each other at once in a match and the result is absolute chaos. Only some stages are available in this mode, but I experienced little to no slowdown even with trophies and items being hurled across the screen. While I don’t think the mode is preferable, it is certainly a novelty, and Nintendo has offered up a variety of controller options, including Gamecube controllers and 3DS consoles as controllers (but only if you already own Super Smash Bros. for 3DS). In fact, I doubt there is any game on a home console with more controller options than Smash Wii U. Classic and All-Star mode have made a comeback but allow for a cooperative two-player experience which makes earning trophies all the more fun. Choosing a difficulty has become more interesting in Smash Wii U as well. Instead of choosing a difficulty and stock count, players must wager their own money. The more one risks, the harder the battles and better the rewards. It makes choosing a character and difficulty all the more exciting. Challenges, the trophies or achievements of this franchise, have also made a comeback and unlocking them all is the biggest hurdle the game has to offer.
Nintendo has forgone the “story-driven” Subspace Emissary mode from Brawl in this newest game and it is certainly for the better. That said, I do miss some of the cutscene interactions with characters from that mode. Smash Wii U has introductory videos for some of the new main characters which were shown online and are available on-disc, but they are so gorgeous to view that perhaps players could have suffered through a single-player campaign for more scenes of Mega Man tossing saw blades at Mario. In lieu of a story campaign, there are special levels that revolve around a theme such as fighting off all the other Link clones as the original. There are many to play and there are separate, original hoards of these levels for both single and two-player gameplay. Another new mode is Smash Tour, which is a rather confusing game played on a game board wherein each player picks up characters and power ups to help them in a battle that will ensue once the game is over. While this may be a fun distraction, I think it just keeps players from the main appeal of Smash longer, which is battle after battle of action-packed fun.
Since Nintendo has finally made the jump to HD with the Wii U, the series has never looked more vibrant than with this entry. While there is something to say about advancements in making games look as realistic as possible, seeing an impossible world realized in vivid color has the edge in my opinion. Each corner of the menu screen is packed with content. I haven’t even had the chance to mention all the things possible: music selection, level creation, Master Orders, Crazy Orders, character move variation and customization, Target Smash, photo sharing and drawing options, Amiibo integration and training, trophy rush, and the list goes on. It is a veritable and seemingly bottomless toybox. Online play works best with friends with reliable internet connections and does not allow chat during matches. Usually I just put up a google chat while playing with friends, and it is awesome to feel as if you are playing with someone on the couch next to you, even alone. Playing with strangers is more mixed and sometimes has slowdown, but the options to play competitively and for fun will keep the online community going for years to come. You can even just watch other players and bet on their chances of winning with in-game currency.
I can’t say enough about this game. It is so much fun to play and I think that the roster is unparalleled. Nintendo can continue to balance characters as-needed now that they can update the game, and I look forward to the possibilities that DLC and updates will bring as this game’s long play-life continues. That said, I am disappointed with some of the stages and I find that there are made modes and additions that will fall by the wayside as players focus on the game’s core play. I may write about Smash Bros. for 3DS separately, but the portable version is a blast as well. All that said, if you haven’t played Smash Bros. before, now is a better time than ever to grab onto a friend and start smashing the virtual crap out of them.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames