I really enjoyed the new Super Smash Bros on the 3DS. Besides the novelty of finally having a portable Smash Bros, it’s just a very smartly put-together game, packing a ton of content into a small package. It runs smoothly, the circle-pad controls are easier to get used to than I anticipated, and overall it’s a tighter, faster game than Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii. That said, it has some limitations. The selection of stages in the 3DS version isn’t as robust as I’d like, and keeping track of all the action on a portable screen can be challenging at times. It’s clear that Smash Bros is pushing the absolute limits of the 3DS hardware—the console must reboot itself after you quit the game. I’d love to see how the New 3DS handles Smash Bros when we finally get the upgraded console here in the states, but for now it feels like Smash 3DS is outreaching its grasp just a bit.
Smash Bros on 3DS is exactly what it needs to be: a perfectly serviceable, portable version of the 15-year-old fanservice phenomenon. But if you want the full experience, you’ll need a Wii U. After a shaky first half of 2014 for Nintendo’s flagship console the Wii U has had a succession of uniquely fun titles, and Smash Bros is closing out the year with an undeniable killer app. Smash Bros shows off the console’s deceptively robust graphical muscle, demonstrates the versatility of its many control options, and even has an ingenious (if subtle) use for the GamePad.
If you’ve played the 3DS version, you can expect the Wii U game to play almost identically from a technical standpoint. That is, it retains some of the solid “chunkiness” of Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii, but overall it is tighter, faster and more balanced for tournament play if need be. Brawl seemed to be preoccupied with throwing as much Nintendo history fanservice at the screen as possible; this ultimately felt a bit disorganized and cumbersome, and in the process the game traded speed and control for comical absurdity and needless prat-falls. Smash Bros has always been a slapstick fighting game series, but the Wii entry was going for that casual appeal and to a certain extent the game’s idiosyncrasies felt like series creator Masahiro Sakurai was tweaking the noses of his longtime fans.
Smash Wii U retains the goofy sense of fun from its predecessor but has clearly been refined into a well-oiled machine to satisfy more serious Smash players. The character balance in particular feels closer to Smash Bros Melee on the GameCube, and with only a couple exceptions all fighters feel powerful and potentially deadly. Of course some require a more skilled hand to master than others; Ness is still tricky to use effectively, and Jigglypuff as always is the quintessential joke fighter that tournament players will delight in using to brutal effect.
Zero Suit Samus has seen a brisk upgrade, with a true third jump and attacks that hit harder. Those jet-powered heel springs were a wise choice—maybe Samus hangs out with Chell from Portal? The only legacy character who feels off is Link; he’s still too slow, heavy and doesn’t catch enough air, but his cel-shaded Windwaker counterpart feels more like the Link we know from Melee.
My two new favorite characters on 3DS—Pac-Man and Little Mac—are even better on Wii U. Pac-Man is a pretty weird fighter who seems predisposed to horizontal movement, but the Namco fanservice that’s packed into him is used surprisingly well. He takes some skill to use effectively but Russell Archey was using Pac-Man to kick my butt during some review testing, so the yellow dot-eater is certainly dangerous. Little Mac is the opposite: easy to start with but difficult to use against experienced players. As a boxer he’s an absolute monster in close quarters, but all that muscle makes him pretty heavy so he doesn’t jump very well and recovering is difficult. If you get sent flying as Little Mac, it’s going to be hard getting back to the arena. The only new character I’m disappointed with is Palutena from Kid Icarus. Her godly powers are just weird and hard to get a handle on. I’ve only played as her a few times though so I’m sure there are some nuances I’m missing; perhaps she’s like Ness and takes some extra time to figure out.
The character customization from Smash 3DS returns on Wii U, but it feels more natural and intuitive. I was able to import my 3DS Mii fighter but sadly you can’t edit imported characters, so I just made a new one. I was able to construct a pretty fearsome swordfighter Mii, and the ability to drop into a level and test your new fighter on the fly really helped me fine-tune my Mii. I’m excited to unlock more equipment and costumes, that’s for sure. Once again you can apply the custom moves and equipment to base characters too, rebalancing their stats and swapping out their specials. This might be one way to change fighters you still aren’t happy with, for example making Link lighter and faster on his feet. Naturally you can’t use custom fighters in tournaments or if you have “omega” rules activated, but it’s still a cool and surprisingly deep feature.
While these aspects are more or less identical to the 3DS game, the Wii U has several advantages over its portable brother and in turn feels like a much more complete, fleshed-out game. In addition to the basic Smash mode, the Classic, All-Star and Stadium challenges return with some upgrades. Classic mode plays out with trophies on a board; you move your player and bump into groups of other trophies, picking the order in which to fight multiple opponents at once. There is also a rival player on the board who gets stronger after every battle; you can choose to take them out early, or defeat them when they are powered up for a much bigger reward. All-Star and the Stadium modes are basically the same as you remember from Brawl and even Melee, with the addition of the box-smashing Trophy Rush and sandbag bomb-blast modes.
There two new modes and one returning mode that add a lot of replay value. Event matches will be familiar to veteran Smash players: you take on a series of objective-based battles with variable difficulty and special bonuses. This mode was excluded from the 3DS but On Wii U, however, it is structured a lot like the adventure mode in Soul Calibur, with a grid-based playing field that unlocks new events and rewards based on how well you did in the previous battle. This mode is quite deep and very challenging, with a lot of unique and creative objectives to try for, and it reminded me of the Quest mode in Hyrule Warriors.
Smash Tour is an exclusive mode for Wii U and blends in some elements from Mario Party and Wii Party U. Four players move around a boardgame field collecting bonuses and items, and they do battle when they bump into each other. Each player starts with a set number of fighters to use, and can actually steal fighters from other players by defeating them. At the end of the game all players duke it out in a stock match, using the powers and bonuses they collected along the way. It’s an interesting idea and forces you to play as a variety of characters, but in practice I found Smash Tour to be kind of clunky. There’s too much downtime between fights, especially if you get KO’d early, and the interface is a little confusing. I really would have preferred another co-op story mode like Brawl’s Subspace Emissary.
Special Orders is probably the strangest new mode in Smash Wii U. In this mode the player receives difficulty-ranked tickets from Master Hand or Crazy Hand, the classic bosses of the Smash Bros series. Master Hand offers pretty basic challenges with difficulty-based entry fees and coin payouts, so the player can pick each fight at their own skill/comfort level. If you lose one match it’s not a huge loss. Crazy Hand goes all-in, however. To play Crazy Orders you need a special rare ticket (awarded as a prize in other modes) or a ton of coins. You do battle in an endless series of smaller matches, racking up damage and rewards as you go. You can keep fighting as long as you please, but if you die even once you lose everything you gained up to that point, and the ridiculous entry fee. When you feel you’ve accumulated enough coins and rewards you can enter a final HP battle with Crazy Hand, and your amount of HP is determined by how much damage you’ve accumulated. Crazy Orders is all about risk versus reward, a mode for expert players who want to bet it all and really test their skills.
Of course, nothing beats 8-Player Smash. The best new mode exclusive to Wii U, I like to refer to 8-Player Smash as “manageable chaos.” Considering how disorderly Brawl could get, I’m amazed that this mode works at all, let alone well. This mode isn’t available in online play and the more fighters you add, the more normal stages get locked out. With a full eight fighters in play only the biggest stages are open, but getting that many opponents together is really something to behold. Gigantic levels like Hyrule Temple finally have a reason to exist, and in these massive levels smaller skirmishes develop in each corner, especially during team battles. Of course you can just fight computer players, but if you can wrangle enough controllers you can indeed have an eight-way rumble with all human opponents. If you buy two GameCube adapters and use them to take up all four of the Wii U’s USB ports, you can indeed have eight GameCube controllers hooked up at once for the ultimate retro throwdown. The feeling of having that many people playing at once, with those old school controllers, is hard to put into words.
Speaking of controllers, Smash Wii U supports a truly staggering number of control options. You can play with the GamePad, Pro Controllers, Wii remotes, and Classic Controllers connected to Wii remotes, but the best option is always the GameCube controller. Accept no substitutes. For many players this classic pad is the only way to play Smash, and its inclusion via the USB adapter is a godsend. I’ve thoroughly tested the adapter and one of the new, Smash-branded GameCube controllers and I’m happy to report that both work flawlessly. The adapter is even compatible with my old Wavebird wireless controllers. This USB adapter is well worth the $20 and if you can get your hands on the $100 bundle that includes the game and a controller, pull that trigger. I just wish the adapter worked for games besides Smash Bros, as I’d love to take a GameCube controller into Mario Kart 8. Hopefully this functionality is patched into the Wii U firmware soon, because limiting this near-perfect controller to Smash Bros would just be wrong.
In my opinion the biggest step up from the 3DS to Wii U version of Smash has to be the stage selection. The 3DS game had some memorable levels but the whole stage roster was a bit lacking. Thankfully Smash Wii U has a veritable feast of excellent arenas to do battle on, from classics going all the way back to the N64 and GameCube like DK Jungle and Yoshi Island, to brand new ones including Mario Kart 8 Circuit and Delfino Plaza. The dynamic stages have more interesting, less annoying hazards than the levels in Brawl. For example Ridley will swoop down in Metroid’s Pyrosphere and can even be defeated and subsequently enlisted as an ally. The Star Fox Orbital Gate Assault takes place during an all-out space war and transitions between various Corneria and Aparoid starships, with Arwing platforms literally being blasted out from under your feet. WarioWare’s “Gamer” level, familiar to people who played the Wii U Game & Wario, has a creepy mom who will sneak into the room and catch the combatants mid-fight, dealing massive damage with her horrifying parental gaze.
While the whole level selection is probably the best-balanced and most exciting in the Smash Bros series, the Wii U version’s level editor pushes it over the top. Brawl had a stage creator, but it was pretty rudimentary and forced you to build levels with predetermined shapes and sections, ultimately leading to some rather uninspired levels. On Wii U, this is where the GamePad really shines. With the stylus you can trace any kind of level you want, and it will instantly become a landform. Basically, any shape you can imagine can be a level. The editor is surprisingly robust, including moving platforms, cannons, and even the ability to paint any area with hazardous lava. You can drop into your level and test it with a computer player on a second’s notice too; no loading times whatsoever.
There is a hard limit to how much you can throw up on screen, but the amount of memory allotted for each custom stage allows for some pretty creative, or crazy, designs. You can even select the background scenery, the individual texture for each platform, and the music for your level. I’ve only made a few levels to start with but I can only guess at what the fan community is going to create. At the very least, it will allow them to make decent approximations of older levels that weren’t included in the main game’s stage roster. The GamePad might not feature prominently in the core gameplay of Smash Wii U, but this level editor is an absolutely genius use of the tech and an example of a feature that is only possible on this console.
Of course, I’d be remiss without discussing Smash Bros’ use of Amiibo, Nintendo’s entry into the toys-to-life market. Amiibo definitely work with Smash, but the integration isn’t quite as seamless or as extensive as I would’ve liked. While Skylanders are complete idiot-proof plug-and-play, to use an Amiibo you must first register it to your Nintendo Network account on the Wii U menu, and then activate the figure in Smash Bros proper. This links the figure to your Nintendo Network ID, so any progress you make with it is updated there—your NNID and any Amiibo compatible games will recognize your figures automatically after that. I guess it’s cool having a personal claim to your figures and their progress, but it makes setup a bit of a hassle. There are no setup instructions included with the Amiibo figures; surprising, considering the plethora of paranoid “health and safety” pamphlets that seem to come with every Nintendo product.
The way Amiibo work in Smash Bros is a little counterintuitive. You don’t play as Amiibo, but rather they function as a personal ally that you train by fighting with and against them. As they battle, they will learn and pick up your personal play style and combat mannerisms. If you’re an item-grabber, don’t be surprised if your Amiibo starts nabbing assist trophies and pokeballs before you can. Is your fighting style heavy on projectile attacks, or do you jump right in and start brawling? Expect your Amiibo to emulate your behavior. Cultivating a well-balanced fighting style not only makes you a better player, it makes your Amiibo better too. During any match you can scan in your Amiibo as a computer player, just as if you were adding a random bot to a match. It’s pretty satisfying to get KO’d, only to watch your level 46 Amiibo polish off your opponent by dishing out your own personal style of revenge.
If I have one complaint about Amiibo in Smash, it’s that their use is sort of tucked off in a corner. It’s a cool concept, but I don’t think it’s being used to its full potential here. I keep going back to Subspace Emissary, and how cool it would be to unlock new characters in the story by scanning the figures in, or calling them into a particularly hairy boss fight. That got me thinking—Subspace Emissary might work great as a standalone spinoff game, focused entirely on the Amiibo. Only time will tell if Nintendo has something like that in the works, but I get the sense that for all the publicity the Amiibo are getting for their inclusion in Smash Bros, Nintendo is just scratching the surface of these figures’ potential.
Whether you’re battling Master Hand solo or tagging in your Amiibo during an eight-way nostalgia bloodbath, Smash Bros looks and sounds incredible on Wii U. This was my first chance to see some of my favorite characters like Samus, Star Fox and Kirby in HD, and the level of detail here is just phenomenal. I took several minutes to gape at each character, marveling at the polished shine of Samus’ power suit, the subtle denim stitching on Mario’s coveralls, and the intricate ceremonial carvings on Zelda’s Hylian armor. The sheer quantity of explosions, effects and general mayhem you can generate on one level is a riot as always, and the Wii U handles it at a rock-solid 60 frames per second without breaking a sweat. If anything, Smash Bros clearly shows just how powerful the little Wii U can be in the hands of a capable developer.
Smash Bros also has a gigantic catalog of sound effects and music, much of it sampled from the previous Smash games and the far reaches of Nintendo game history, but a lot of it is new stuff too. There’s a more consistent quality to the music this time, without the generic butt-rock versions of classic Metroid pieces we endured in Brawl. Thumbing through the sound test, I’m sure any Nintendo fan, no matter how obscure their favorite game or series is, will find some referential piece of music to make them smile.
Sadly, the one aspect of Smash Bros Wii U that I wasn’t able to review was the online multiplayer. As of this writing, Nintendo has yet to enable the mode with a patch; from what I’ve heard, people playing Far Cry 4 and Halo Master Chief Collection are enduring similar unfortunate delays. Hopefully Nintendo will have online modes up and running by the end of November 20th as promised. I wish I could’ve test driven the online capabilities as that was the one aspect of Brawl that was really disappointing, and it has the potential to make or break Smash on Wii U.
While the online multiplayer may be up in the air for the moment, you can be sure that the rest of Super Smash Bros for Wii U is not. This is hands down a fantastic game. It fixes everything that felt sluggish or cumbersome in Brawl and it is positively overflowing with content in its own right. Fans will be exploring, unlocking and discovering this game’s secrets for years. I still miss Brawl’s expansive co-op story mode and the Amiibo functionality feels like the tip of the iceberg for the figurines, but those are minor flaws in this fine-tuned masterpiece tribute to Nintendo history and gameplay. Go round up your friends. Super Smash Bros for Wii U is the ultimate party game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile