Games Review: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U, 2014)

The Wii U’s most hotly anticipated title is finally here. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has been a very long time coming indeed and for fans of the series keen to beat their friends up all over again, it’s everything you ever wanted from a Smash Bros title and much, much more.

The Smash Bros series is now as revered as any of Nintendo’s storied franchises but when it first debuted on the N64, it was considered a bit of an oddity. A fast, bare-bones fighting game with only Nintendo characters seemed like a weird pitch. When you actually played it with a few friends though, it became clear that you were witnessing the start of something really special. Nintendo iterated on the concept with Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Gamecube. Melee featured detailed graphics, a wide variety of new deployable items and levels and a far more refined gameplay experience that struck a perfect balance of speed and strategy. It’s still used for competition play to this day.

In 2008, Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. It featured a number of surprise new characters and introduced a number of new gameplay elements, like a tripping mechanic and a fully fledged single-player campaign called The Subspace Emissary. Though many seem to feel that Brawl featured slower-paced gameplay it was the experience of my friends and I that it was actually faster than it’s predecessor, so much so we actually struggled to control it properly. Brawl didn’t last very long in our house and it was with sadness that we felt like our time with Smash Bros might be over.

Yesterday we picked up Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. We grabbed the version with the Gamecube controller adapter and one of the lim ed Smash Bros GCN controllers to replace one of our worn out ones. Let’s start the review there. Huge props must be given to Nintendo for recognising that the Gamecube controller is the only way to properly play Smash Bros. Anything else is a functional-but-inferior alternative. Accept no substitutes.

The new controller feels exactly the way your old Gamecube ones did, except that it’s probably not worn out from two different versions of Smash Bros. The cable is also much longer than the original’s which is, frankly, an extremely thoughtful and very welcome change. Remind me to buy you a beer for that one, Nintendo. Seriously, good work. The Controller Adapter allows you to dig out your old Gamecube controllers and plug them in for use on your Wii U. How it’s functionality will be incorporated into other games remains to be seen but for now it works exclusively with Smash Bros.

The central hook of the game remains the same as ever – pick from an array of characters from Nintendo and video game history, decide on the match rules (timed, stock, which items), pick from a number of levels inspired by those games and characters and then beat the hell out of each other. To the victor go the bragging rights.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has more in common with Melee than it does Brawl, and this is, in general, a good thing. Things like the trip mechanic from Super Smash Bros. Brawl have been removed, and a refining of the overall pace makes the whole experience flow much better. This felt somewhat slower and more precise than Brawl to us but, as I said earlier, Brawl has been criticised by fans as being too slow, where we found it blindingly fast, so make of that what you will.

Many of the in-game items you remember from previous games, like Brawl’s Smash Ball return, for better or worse, but there are a number of items that are new to this iteration as well like the universally detested Blue Shell from Mario Kart.

One area that has been improved enormously is the amount of content available from the jump in terms of characters and maps. There’s still plenty of characters and levels to unlock, but it’s far less of a grind than in previous editions. Playing 100 matches in multiplayer Smash mode (no mean feat) will unlock every hidden character in the game and digging into the challenging Event mode will unlock new levels from completing specific tasks (actually a mean feat, some of these are really hard). It’s great to see the devs taking the idea that people don’t want to plow through thousands of multiplayer matches or endure a pointless and needlessly long single-player campaign to unlock new characters to play with. Indeed, there’s no single player campaign in sight, outside of the Classic and All Star modes. Small mercies. Now we can all agree to forgetting Subspace Emissary ever happened and never bring it up ever again.

Speaking of levels, the variety on offer here is wide and extremely varied. Regular levels have never been more hostile to players, with some featuring massive creatures that block the board, attacking everyone. Players can team up to beat the hell out of these life ruiners to make them go away. With the addition of items, the whole thing quickly descends into the most enjoyable kind of pandemonium. The levels are a great example of Super Smash Bros for Wii U’s polished design. They create opportunities for mayhem and ensure that no two games are ever the same. The other addition is that every level now has an Omega variant. This is basically a flat-plane version of each level designed specifically for pro players who want to minimise distractions and architecture getting in the way of their brutal DPS barrage. Fantastic.

There’s many modes from previous Smash Bros games that make a return as well – as mentioned earlier, Class and All-Star and Event modes reappear. Modes debuting in the Wii U version are 8 Player Mode (which is exactly as chaotic and wonderful as it sounds but almost requires you play on a 100” television in order to still be able to see everything), Smash Tour and Special Orders. Smash Tour is a board game style mode that sees players build a team of fighters and compete for power-ups like Speed or Strength in a bid for supremacy. Special Orders is a series of challenges set by series villains Master Hand and Crazy Hand and is a great way to earn rewards if you’re good enough.

Online mode has been given a reworking and is all the better for it. Getting into an online match is fast and surprisingly lag free. It’s clearly been a major focus for the devs and they should absolutely be commended for it. I would love to see them extend this Online focus into other areas like DLC characters or community-driven map support ala LittleBigPlanet. Things like that will extend the life of Super Smash Bros for Wii U dramatically and I hope they get on board with it.

As mentioned, there are a wealth of characters to choose from from the jump, with more to unlock. There’s been a lot of solid work put into each character this time around in terms of balancing and viability. Heavier characters have been tweaked for better balance against faster characters, the introduction of ranged magic characters like Robin from Fire Emblem and Palutena from Kid Icarus: Uprising add a brand new class to the game that we’re calling Utility. They all work really well together and adjusting your by-now ingrained playstyles to deal with these new and different threats is a big part of the experience and is a real and unexpected treat.

You can also create unique, customised characters this time around using badges, upgrades and buffs gained as rewards from various modes. Combining this with Nintendo’s new amiibo range allows you to easily take your brutal AI character to your friends house and start beating on them immediately. It’s a great start for the amiibo range and it works an absolute treat. We’re going to go down the rabbit hole hard on that one.

The Level Editor is also back, and is more effective than ever. Using the Nintendo Wii U Game Pad lets you draw on the screen to create specifically shaped architecture and landscapes for truly different level design. There’s also a swath of customisable buildings and items that you can use to decorate your level or make it even deadlier. These are a simple and powerful set of tools that will get a lot of use from the more creatively minded Smash Bros player and will extend the life of the game immensely.

Visually, this is one of the most impressive games on the Wii U. Character models are highly-detailed and have some really lovely animations. Like a lot of Nintendo releases, it’s brimming over with charm and character and it’s a big contributor in making the game so damn likeable. We only noticed the frame rate stutter noticeably once or twice, but other than that the frame rate holds steady, even on some of the truly massive 8-player levels when havoc is going on all around.

I tried really hard to find something I didn’t like about this game. I really did, and I’ve got nothing. There is literally no downside here. If you don’t have a Wii U already, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U should be the reason you get one. Super Smash Bros for Wii U is the game you wanted Brawl to be, a multiplayer-focused brawler with immense staying power that honours it’s rich history, even as it demands you beat the crap out of it. I challenge you to find a game with a higher lols-per-minute ratio.

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Perfectly balanced, heaps of content, an absolute joy to play
Lowlights: Some stutter and longer loads after extended play
Developer: Sora Ltd. & Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: November 29, 2014
Platform: Nintendo Wii U

Reviewed on Nintendo Wii U