Super Smash Bros. Wii U Review: Now Witness Its True Form
The Smash Bros. sequel we've been waiting for all along.
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Was it only a year ago that people were touting the Nintendo 3DS as the primary platform for this generation's version of Super Smash Bros.? How quickly things can change.
I don't mean to disparage the Nintendo 3DS version, which after all I liked very much back in September, but this is the version of Super Smash Bros. we've all been waiting for. It not only restores the solo modes so sorely missed in the Nintendo 3DS version, but expands on them while adding a host of unique content besides.
From the outset, it's striking just how much bigger this version feels. There are a large number of stages to choose from, with a host of old favorites from Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl making a welcome return after being absent on the Nintendo 3DS. Smash Bros. Wii U also takes the time to riff on Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. U, along with old favorites like Pilotwings, all with fantastic results.
Then there's the soundtrack—oh my god that soundtrack. Super Smash Bros. Wii U has hundreds of remixes, medleys, and classic tracks covering every series in the game, plus a few others that are there just for the sake of completionism. Hell, even Style Savvy: Trendsetters manages to make the cut. Following on from the equally impressive Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Smash Bros. Wii U comprises the most complete collection of Nintendo soundtracks ever assembled, making it a kind of historical document for videogame audiophiles (and yes, the stages can be customized to emphasize preferred tracks).
Graphically, Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U is an expected step up, but it's still worth noting how good it all looks in high-definition. Running at 60 FPS in 1080p, it's a surprise graphical showcase for the Wii U, which has played host to some phenomenally good looking games over the past year or so. Even with eight players—a surprise addition that further burnishes Smash Bros' credentials as a high-quality party game—it runs with barely a hiccup. Like its countpart on the Nintendo 3DS, the Wii version is an impressive technical achievement even by the standards set by the new generation.
Its graphical prowess is especially notable in this context because so much of its appeal hinges on everything feeling faithful to the games being featured, which includes not just the characters but the stages upon which they battle. Such attention to detail has been a hallmark of the series from the very beginning, and that continues to be the case in Super Smash Bros. Wii U, where stages like Punch-Out's boxing ring feature various amusing titles for each character on the jumbotron. These sorts of details are easily missed in the midst of the frenetic combat of Super Smash Bros., but they are nevertheless appreciated.
The gameplay itself is as expected—a fast-paced, occasionally insane, four- (or eight-) player fighter in which players navigate treacherous platforms while also trying to knock each other off the stage. As with the Nintendo 3DS version, it sits somewhere between the extreme speed of Smash Bros. Melee and the more plodding, but also more tactical combat of Brawl. I'm not among those who disliked the handheld version, but I'll admit to being relieved to play again on the GameCube controller, which is still the best way to experience Super Smash Bros. Worth noting is that the item balance seems to have been improved for this version; more importantly, it can be adjusted at will before a match, which is not the case on the 3DS.
The roster is identical to the Nintendo 3DS version; and as in that version, the best new characters are Greninja, Villager, Mega Man, and Little Mac, who join a host of returning characters to form the best selection of characters to date. Fan favorites like Link and Ness have also been buffed quite a bit since Brawl, with several picking up completely new moves. Such changes help make the roster of Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U feel fresher and more vibrant than it has in a long time.
Outside of the traditional one-to-four player (now one-to-eight) battles, which comprise the bulk of the enjoyment to be found in Super Smash Bros., the Wii U version beefs up the single-player content considerably, bringing back event matches and introducing randomly-generated challenges—both sorely missed in the 3DS version. Smash Run, meanwhile, is gone, but it's been replaced by the much more entertaining Smash Tour, which is akin to Mario Party, only with the minigames having been replaced by Smash Bros. battles. It may not end up replacing the traditional battles, but it's nevertheless a nice change of pace.
Thinking about Smash Bros. Wii U as a whole, it's been interesting to see the sort of passion the series seems to engender. I don't think that excitement can be chalked up to any specific feature; instead, it seems to encompass a wide variety of elements, from its fidelity to Nintendo's various properties to the fact that it's often really, really fun to play. Whatever it is that Smash Bros. has that seems to get people unreasonably excited about the series, the Wii U version has in spades. Even when I'm alone, I can barely put it down.
Of course, for as many fans as the series seems to have, I know a lot of people who can't stand Smash Bros. They are the ones who are quick to point out its lack of depth in comparison to "real" fighting games, or they simply don't like competitive gaming, and I doubt Smash Bros. Wii U will do much to change their mind. But as someone who remains partial to fighting games despite being left behind by the genre long ago, I've always had a soft spot for Super Smash Bros., and that continues to be the case for this version. Its a fun game, but its love for its source materials—its sincerity—is infectious. And on the Wii U, that sincerity finds its best expression yet.
Second Opinion, Bob Mackey
I have to admit, Smash Bros. for 3DS had me feeling like a complete killjoy. It's a technical marvel on Nintendo's modestly powerful portable, and contains the same meticulously crafted design that made Sakurai and his team famous, but nothing about the long-awaited return of Smash Bros. really grabbed me. After going six years without playing a single match, this latest installment left me cold and my thumbs achy—damn the shape of that non-ergonomic 3DS.
Where the 3DS game feels like the best possible version of Smash given the limitations of its platform, Smash Bros. for Wii U can't be called anything but the optimal form of Nintendo's popular fighter. As with the last two console installments, I find myself constantly pausing the action to check out details on characters, animations, and backgrounds that would otherwise fly by in a second—like Ness' yo-yo, which has the words "SUPER NINTENDO 2014" printed on it for some reason. Graphics typically don't make or break a game for me, but I've always felt Smash Bros. trafficked in spectacle. The dozen-or-so visually crazy things happening on the screen at any given time don't really translate well to the 3DS' small size, but on my living room's TV, everything suddenly makes sense again.
I should say, though, the best way to play Smash Bros. on the Wii U involves an additional investment of $19.99, and possibly more if you haven't held onto those GameCube controllers for the past 13 years. Admittedly, the idea of hooking up a wired, circa-2001 controller to a current-gen console initially struck me as bizarre, but there's no other way to have the ideal Smash Bros. experience. Nintendo certainly deserves credit for coming up with what I'm loath to call "controller solutions," and I'm also impressed the 3DS can also double as a Wii U controller—not that it's a good idea or anything. Still, for as poorly as the GameCube controller worked for many other games, there's something about it that just feels so right for Smash Bros. And that something can be found in the little, yellow C-Stick, which makes those essential smash attacks so much easier to perform. Frankly, I don't know where I'd be without it.
Outside of looking and feeling great, Smash Bros. for Wii U excels in terms of single-player content. Yes, it's a game designed to be played with friends in the room, but if you're an adult who can only plan get-togethers every so often (and don't want to get absolutely schooled in online matches), this version of Smash has plenty to offer. The Events mode features plenty of specifically tailored challenges with non-standard objectives, while the Master and Crazy Orders modes let you pony up coins to participate in tough battles that yield worthwhile rewards. As someone who doesn't get to play video games with other people too often—at least in person—having content to sink my teeth into matters a lot. Though I do wish they'd drop Master Hand and Crazy Hand entirely for a brand-new boss—these characters don't seem too relevant since the series dropped the "But they're actually toys!" premise sooo long ago.
Admittedly, I'm still feeling hints of "been there, done that" with this version, though you can probably chalk that up to my age and experience with the series. Having to unlock these characters all over again, though, really wears on me—especially since I can already play as all of them on my 3DS copy of Smash. The process to make these fighters available only involves fighting a certain number of matches, and with social media being the way it is, we already know the full cast weeks before the game actually ships (despite Nintendo's wishes). So why can't I play as Duck Hunt Dog as soon as I load up the game? Unless Nintendo can really, truly keep hidden characters a secret, I don't see the harm in opening up the whole cast from the very beginning.
Ultimately, I know I won't be playing Smash Bros. for Wii U nearly as much as Melee, but after the Wii's disappointing Smash Bros. Brawl, it's hard to find more than a few legitimate reasons to complain. If you have a Wii U and know enough game-savvy people to fill a mid-sized couch, Smash Bros. for Wii U comes strongly recommended, especially if you invest in a few extra GameCube controllers. And you'll want to hold onto them, too: something tells me Nintendo'll find a way to make these ancient input devices work on whatever Smash Bros. experience they have in the works for 2020 (or thereabouts).
VisualsThe leap from 480p to 1080p is a big one—Super Smash Bros. is simply stunning in high-definition. All of the little details found in the stages and characters pop in a way that they haven't until now, and the action runs at a consistent 60 frames per second.
SoundSuper Smash Bros. on the Wii U features probably the most comprehensive collection of Nintendo music ever assembled. I could probably spend all day just listening to the beautiful, operatic Fire Emblem theme or the various Mega Man mixes.
InterfaceBuy a GameCube adapter and a controller or two, because that's still the best way to experience Super Smash Bros. The menu layout is simple and easy to navigate.
Lasting AppealEven after the large amount of solo content is exhausted, Super Smash Bros. is the sort of game that can be pulled out time and again at parties and other events, granting it basically infinite replayability.
ConclusionAs a tribute to all things Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. can hardly be topped. The attention to detail afforded to its characters is matched only by the comprehensive nature of its soundtrack and stage selection. On top of that, the Wii U brings with it a huge amount of single-player and multiplayer content, putting it a notch above its similarly strong handheld counterpart. Running through Classic Mode and the like to unlock characters can be the tiniest bit tedious, and the Amiibos don't stand out as a particularly worthy addition, but there's otherwise very little to complain about in this excellent high-definition update of Nintendo's much-loved mash-up.