From the moment I tore the cellophane from the illustrious blue-packaging, my expectations were high for the latest instalment of Nintendo’s big brawler. Amidst the excitement, though, was trepidation: it had quite the act to follow. From the beginning, Super Smash Bros. had been brilliant, and with every new iteration of the series came more characters, more levels, improved gameplay mechanics – but for how long would tweaking the time-tested system be enough? So far, from console to console, it had worked, but would piling on the HD-gloss paint and adding yet more characters really make for a truly exceptional new edition of this title, or would the Wii U wranglefest be a case of ‘same-old, same-old’?
Round 1 – First Impressions
As if I wasn’t hyped enough, Nintendo knows exactly how to direct an opening video to tantalise the already-tingling fingers: as is now commonplace with a Super Smash Bros. game, an opening cut scene cannonballs its way onto the screen, immediately boasting its beautiful high-definition design, and giving the whole a game a sense of something truly epic. A mixture of in-game footage and promo-video footage, it introduces many of the faces you’ll later be pummeling across the screen, and revs the Wii U’s engine: as the title screen shatters into view, there’s no doubt newcomers and old fans will be readier than ever to enter the fray.
Though the main menu is reminiscent of the more modern Super Smash Bros. experiences, a refreshed backdrop of silhouetted characters and bold colours creates a sense of modernity, and again takes advantage of the console’s HD capabilities. From here, there was only ever one thing I was going to do: hit the ‘Smash’ option, and begin a four-way brawl! After selecting from the 37 starting characters (the most of any Smash game to date), I am met with a multitude of stages to play, varying from brand new locations from Super Mario Galaxy, Skyward Sword, and Yoshi’s Woolly World, to old favourites like Metroid’s Norfair, Starfox’s Lylat Cruise, and – oh yes – Temple from The Legend of Zelda. With over 40 to choose from (some of which require unlocking, as with the characters), there is no shortage of brilliance or nostalgia here. With my level selected – the new Orbital Gate Assault from Starfox: Assault – it was time to really get down to the important bit: how the game actually played. But, as first impressions go, Nintendo had done enough to keep things feeling both familiar and refreshed thus far – let the smashing commence!
Round 2 – Fist Impressions
As the classic countdown-from-three thundered from my television speakers, I poised ready to pounce. Armed with my Gamecube controller – the only real way to smash – I began the battle. Before I’d barely moved my character, I was stunned by the clarity and level of detail on not only the stage, but the character models too: the whole screen dazzled and danced before my eyes, and instantly set this version of the video game apart from those before it – 3DS included. As the fight broke out, the smooth fighter animation melded with the simply gorgeous backdrop and made for an immediate impact: this was how Super Smash Bros. was born to look! Nintendo’s fine attention to detail was not spared here, not even in the wake of the blistering brawling and crazed mania that we so often associate with a Smash title: facial expressions alter with every button press, each swing of fist or sword is matched with flawless facial contortion, and every kick in the jaw delivers an equally pained expression on the character’s faces. No corners cut, no expense spared – there is no laziness here, and this is testament to Nintendo’s quality and pride in their work.
The fight itself felt ever so slightly slower than in previous editions, but not enough to cause an old Smash-addict like me any qualms, and within minutes this felt completely comfortable and didn’t matter a jot. The speed felt matched to the game’s overall presentation and gameplay, and the faster characters on the screen still screamed around like lightning across the sky; the balance was perfect, as was to be expected from a well-refined series such as this. Even the stage felt like a step up from previous editions of the game, placing our brawlers in the midst of a galactic warzone where each ship you stand on to fight is under risk of attack. One of the most exciting elements of a decent Smash stage such as this (and many more in the game) is the interactivity between them and the playable characters. On Orbital Gate Assault, lasers ping from spaceship to platform, ships explode, and platforms come and go, all delivering damage to those unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of the ensuing engagement. As the match ended, I was left wanting to go again: a feeling that, even a week later, is yet to subside.
Round 3 – Going it alone
Sometimes, your friends are busy because they have stupid jobs or stupid school or stupid girl- or boyfriends to deal with, leaving those of us who deem the release of a new Super Smash Bros. as a time to unplug the phone, resign from work, and fake our own death to go it alone. Stupid real life.
For the solo smasher, Super Smash Bros. Wii U offers the obligatory Smash mode, where you can fight against up to seven computer-controlled players in one of three modes: time, stock, and coin. Time battles give you a time-limit to fight under, whereas stock battles give each character a set number of lives where the winner is the last man/woman/hedgehog standing. Coin battles are different all together: when hit, each player will bleed money all over the course, which other characters can collect and add to their total bank balance. The winner here is the player with the most quiche after the allotted time, which feels a little bit too much like real-life for my liking, but it does offer an interesting twist on the usual formula. Standard brawls such as these certainly give the game plenty for the solo player, but after a while the computer players don’t always offer the same satisfaction that having friends over to play does, so what else is there?
As with every Super Smash Bros. game, the solo selection offers the usual gameplay modes such as Classic, All Star, and Stadium. Each mode is slightly varied from previous games in the series, but offer a similar experience. Replacing Melee’s adventure mode and Brawl’s ‘Subspace Emissary’ comes the most peculiar addition to the Wii U’s platter: ‘Smash Tour’. Offering a board-game-like central hub, players roll a dice and move about the map, collecting fighters and stat boosts which, ultimately, set each player up for a final battle in which a winner is decided. Upon first playing this mode, I felt well and truly bamboozled; despite giving you a quick run through of the rules, the speed of the game does have a penchant for confusion, even on the second or third go. Though it does offer a totally distinct and separate experience to the standard game modes, that doesn’t necessarily make it a ‘good’ thing. Certainly, when compared to the previous ‘adventure’ modes (and even to the thoroughly enjoyable 3DS’ ‘Smash Run’, which I was sad not to see return on the Wii U version), this mode lacks the excitement and energy we’ve come to expect from the series…after all, it’s basically a glorified board game…
In spite of this blip, one-player still offers so much for your money: unlockable features, a challenge board, and collectables alone offer hours of replay value, and I haven’t even mentioned the return of Event mode, or the new Special Orders option.
Round 4 – Room for eight more?
Truly, Super Smash Bros. is and always has been a multiplayer affair: nothing quite beats meeting up with three of your mates (whom, secretly, you want to punch in the face), choosing your favourite Nintendo character, and kicking the living snot out of them on the screen. The game lends itself to hilarity and memorable moments of pure madness, due simply to there being so many elements to each battle – but I digress… For the first time, Super Smash Bros. Wii U offers a ridiculous eight-player mode, because Nintendo knows just how much people still enjoy inviting friends over to play video games – clearly taking the idiom ‘the more the merrier’ rather seriously. And it’s in the multiplayer modes that Smash truly shines as we all hoped it would. Whether it’s just two of you, or eight barbarians crammed onto one three-seater sofa, the game gleams with glory and unprecedented joy as more players plug in and pound each other from pillar to post. Yes, the online mode is actually pretty good and offers both ‘For Fun’ and ‘For Glory’ modes, but who wants to battle anonymously online when you can scream victory in the face of those who fall in the plethora of group modes?
In a pleasant twist, not only can you play standard Smash with friends, but most of the one-player modes can now be played in co-op, which actually gives them all a new lease of life; even the somewhat unsteady Smash Tour has its charm when you’re playing against your mates. But, to go back to the EIGHT PLAYER SMASH option… sweet sweet eight player!! Often, even a four-player battle can become too manic to follow, but with eight fighters falling about all over the screen, the hilarity becomes frenzied, and its more addictive than you could imagine. What could have been a tremendous road accident of an inclusion actually breathes new strength and appeal into the game, paving a newer, crazier road for Smash fans to test drive their skills on. And it’s just golden!
Final Round – Judges’ Decision
For all its new modes, old modes, highly defined graphics, and Nintendo nostalgia, does Super Smash Bros. Wii U actually smash it out of the park? With its winning formula of fun, challenge, and collectible goodness, there was very little chance of the game really being a flop: Nintendo don’t often fix what isn’t broken, but instead, make the machine even more well-structured and modern. Super Smash Bros. Wii U is a fine example of that: it takes the good from the game’s past, blends it with modern features like online battling, a stage builder feature (which uses the Wii U Gamepad to its utmost extent), and the Skylanders-esque Amiibo figurines, and delivers a stunner. Whilst these new features aren’t things you even necessarily need to utilise to enjoy the game, their additions alone show Nintendo’s understanding and acknowledgement of today’s zeitgeist, which can mean only positive things moving forward. It is a shame they omitted the adventure mode, and the loading times in the game can get a bit lengthy on occasion (with the odd transition from gameplay to menu juddering a little), but these issues aren’t enough to harm the general polish of this masterpiece.[review]