Nintendo is picking up its gloves once again and ready to duke it out in another round of Super Smash Bros, it's second outing in the last couple of months. I originally stated in the review for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS that it would make a fine appetizer to the main course that was yet to come. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U proves to be more than a main course, though. It's a veritable feast, offering something for players of all stripes and experience levels. The long wait has been worth it.
Just as was the case with the previous Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo is offering a complete assortment of control options spanning previous console generations. This even includes GameCube controllers, usable through the new Wii U GameCube Adapter. Super Smash Bros. controls continue to feel as intuitive as before, moreso now that the second analog stick is available for use once again. The options are a wonderful addition, but it turns out that they're also somewhat of a necessity.
Nintendo acted generously in offering the GameCube controller as an option, but it turns out that nearly 15 years after Super Smash Bros. Melee first released, this remains the best way to play this series of games. The C-stick placement remains the most ideal on the GameCube controller, while the second analog sticks on the Wii U Pro Controller and GamePad feel unintuitive by comparison. The game is certainly playable with these different options, but nothing feels as smooth as the older-generation controller.
Aside from the control options, the rest of the game feels like a major step up from the floaty combat and oddly-proportioned Brawl. Character speed and handling feels closer to Melee, though still slightly slower. However, the randomized elements that made Brawl such an exercise in frustration are gone. No one will ever have to worry about sprinting in slow motion across a stage, only to randomly slip on the ground. The Wii U Smash Bros. is taking a page out of the past to its total benefit.
Eight is enough
The major drawing point for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the addition of eight-player Smash battles. This is great for massive parties that would normally have to deal with sending players in four at a time, but it can't be understated how much this freshens up the Smash formula. Having more targets to aim for or multiple people to wipe out with a Smash Ball is a truly satisfying feeling, especially when those other players are all within taunting distance. If free-for-alls prove too chaotic, there's the option to play in team battles of various combinations, like 4v4 or 2v2v2v2, providing more stable smashing
The lone issue with these eight-player battles is that the game's stages often aren't suited to it. Only a select handful stages are available for eight-player Smash, with a few more are available when searching for Final Destination-style Omega stages. The ones that make the cut all have some shortcomings. Stages like The Great Cave Offensive and Palutena's Temple are far too big, making it difficult to even find your character at various points. Meanwhile, levels like Onett are far too small, making combat all too cramped. Big Battlefield and Mario Galaxy are the best stages for eight-player sessions, offering the ideal stage size and layout, but I wish more stages had hit that same sweet spot.
Even if someone doesn't have seven other players to play with, Smash Bros. takes full advantage of the new max player limit in other ways. Classic Mode has been fully refined to give players multiple ways to complete its five stages. Players can pick one-on-one battles, the usual Giant/Metal battles, or jump into full-blown eight-player free-for-alls or 3v3 and 4v4 team battles. Event battles and Multi-Man battles will also utilize the new character limit, offering up to seven opponents at a time. It's Smash in a whole new light and one that feels distinctly different than its predecessors.
Then there's Amiibo, Nintnedo's entry into playable figurines. They also fill the eight-player void nicely, starting off as a level one character that can be customized unlockable moves or stickers that are fed to them. Watching the amiibo progress, however, was sadly remarkable. The Mario amiibo quickly learned from the opponents I matched him up with, including myself, and has grown to become a juggernaut, even without feeding him any sort of gear. Within days, I recruited two other players for a free-for-all, with the Level 50 Mario amiibo not only beating us, but crushing us each time. Amiibo figures make a surprisingly challenging addition to Smash Bros. and offers up some cool new ideas for Smash sessions, like using the amiibo for 2v2v2v2 tag battles against friends and their own figures.
There's so much to do in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U that the first time I booted it up, I sat agape for about 10 minutes wondering where to even begin. As mentioned before, the single-player modes have been revamped to include a new twist on Classic Mode. This feels a lot less linear and mundane than it used to, especially when moments like 'Intruder Alerts' kick in. These random events see a special challenger like a 'Giant' Donkey Kong horn in on a four-way free-for-all or a Metal Rosalina & Luma invade a team battle. Extra rewards are offered for beating these impromptu challenges.
Other single-player modes include the chronologically-ordered All-Star mode, the returning Home Run Contest, the newer Target Blast (with three stages, as opposed to the 3DS' one), and the returning Events, which offer unique scenarios that players must complete with assigned characters. These all offer some variety to the standard four-player battles and is especially fun when played with a partner in co-op.
The Classic mode's boss Hands even get in on the fun this time around with Special Orders, which proves to be one of the best new additions to the game. Players can pay coins to play through Master Orders tasks that offer the opportunity for rare rewards, or they can pay a Crazy Pass for the more gambling-centric Crazy Orders. Crazy Orders tasks the players with completing as many tasks as possible before ultimately going one-on-one with Crazy Hand, with a loss meaning the player walks away with nothing. Crazy Passes are rarer commodities, making loot mean a little more in this game.
For multiplayer, Smash Tour offers a board game-like diversion, featuring boards of three different sizes. The idea is to collect power-ups and fighters for a massive final stock battle, in which the survivor is the winner. There are crazy power-ups that shake up the board, as well as checkpoints and stat boosts littered about everywhere. Bumping into other players prompts a four-way battle, in which players can use some of the items they've collected to kick off the fight with a boost or hinder opponents. Other game modes, like Target Blast and Home Run Contest are also tossed in to mix up the proceedings. The quirky randomness of each turn and the brisk pace make Smash Tour feel like a better Mario Party game than any of the previous Mario Party releases of the past decade.
If all else is exhausted, the Stage Builder makes its return from Brawl. The use of the Wii U GamePad to draw out stage designs feels far simpler and easier to use than anything Brawl had to offer. There's also the bonus of extra terrains and backgrounds to help stages stand out. The main issue I had with the Stage Builder, however, is the lack of a straightening tool. Shaky hands will end up with a lot of jagged edges and sloppy-looking designs and a tool to help flatten those edges would have been greatly appreciated. As it is, the Stage Builder remains imperfect, but a better effort than what was offered in Brawl.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U players are encouraged to play through every inch of this game, as indicated by the extensive Challenge board that offers individual rewards for each task completed. The Challenge board is both a great concept and a brutal one, since many of these tasks are borderline-unbeatable. I mentioned on last week's Chattycast that nobody will complete all of these Challenges and I stand by that. The problem becomes that there's no indicator on what reward is locked behind each Challenge. That could make it difficult for players to find all the "worthwhile" content, leaving them stabbing in the dark. For example, one of the game's stages (and characters) is hidden behind a challenge that I never would have guessed.
The online triumph
For many fans, the biggest concern for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was how its online component would function. Super Smash Bros. Brawl's online play was a major disappointment and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS sputtered out of the gate, though has progressed steadily over the past couple of months. However, the Wii U Smash Bros. will not need that kind of time window to see improvement. The online component for Smash Bros. is astonishingly smooth.
I was taken aback by how many clean online sessions I was able to participate in right out of the gate. The moment servers went live, sessions went off with almost no issues. There were a couple of lag hitches, but a large majority of online games functioned without incident. Games ran smoothly and controls remained responsive, the latter of which is most important for a game as twitch-heavy as Smash Bros. Response time is critical and this game's online component is able to account for that with practically zero trouble at all.
Nintendo has been slow to acclimate itself to wacky 21st century ideas like online play and patches. But Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's online component is a winner, which should allow fans to breathe a sigh of relief.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a true celebration of everything that Nintendo has ever been. It's evident in the game's roster that spans many of its greatest franchises, to the stages that do the same, and through the trophies that touch on just about everything else. It has numerous control options, dozens of game modes, variety unlike anything I've seen in another fighter, and the general local chaos that comes with playing with four or even eight players.
It's arguable whether this is the most polished version of Smash Bros., particularly compared to Melee. However, this is easily the most fun I've had with this series to date and one of the best games I've played this year.
This review is based on a Wii U retail disc provided by the publisher. A GameCube Adapter, GameCube controller, and Amiibo figure were also supplied for this review. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is available in retail stores and on the Nintendo eShop today, for $59.99. The game is rated E10+.