Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (2014)
The series' undisputed champion…
Smash returns in all its glory on Nintendo's struggling console.
Developed by Sora, Ltd. and Bandai Namco
Published by Nintendo
Released on Wii U
Although fighting a battle on two fronts against the original PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, Nintendo’s third home console, the Nintendo 64, was as fun to play as it was popular. While the PS1 was the sales champion of the fifth generation of consoles, the critical success was the N64. With revolutionary games like Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, people who went with Nintendo could always count on the fact that they’d have something not just good to play, but oftentimes something great to play.
One of the most defining hits of the N64 arrived in North America on April 26, 1999. Although made seemingly on a whim by developer HAL Laboratories’ star developer Masahiro Sakurai, and originally intended for release only in Japan, its huge success in that country ultimately prompted an international release. The game was a unique fighter that had its own, unique set of rules and featured many of Nintendo’s most classic characters duking it out. It was known as Super Smash Bros., and it went on to sell nearly 2 million copies within Japan, and an additional 3 million copies in North America.
Super Smash Bros., or “Smash” as it’s lovingly referred to by its fans, has gone on to become one of the premiere fighting games of the last few console generations. Its first direct sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee, is commonly found at fighting game tournaments like EVO, and is generally considered to be the best that the series has produced. Seven years after that game was released, Super Smash Bros. Brawl hit the very popular Wii console, becoming one of the absolute best selling titles of the entire seventh console generation by selling over 12 million units. After six years and a console generation’s transition, the time has come for a new iteration of Smash, and the excitement for it has easily made it one of the most anticipated titles of the year. 2014 has actually brought two new Smash games, the first being the handheld-based Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, and the second being the brand new Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
The new title has a lot riding on its success, not the least of which being the fate of Nintendo’s latest home console. Can it possibly save the Wii U singlehandedly? Let’s dive in and find out.
Presentation and Design
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is, by far, the most visually stunning game in the entire Smash Bros. series, and in some cases actually outclasses a lot of Xbox One and PS4 releases by running at a native resolution of 1080p, along with a native framerate of 60 frames per second. This is true even in more intense game modes, including the title’s 8-player fighting mode (that can only be described as “pandemonium,” but we’ll get to that later), and it managed to maintain its graphical performance in every tested scenario throughout the entire review period. To say that this is the best looking, most fluid game on Wii U is actually rather high praise, considering that the console’s best examples have all been very beautiful in their own right. Before Smash, the system’s most visually impressive title was Mario Kart 8, which introduced a more realistic lighting scheme into the fantastic environments and characters that Nintendo is primarily known for.
Smash manages to outdo even that game’s visual fidelity just by virtue of its immense wealth of content, and its generally more varied environments and very diverse movement animations and cast of different characters that showcase different art styles (Pikachu, for instance, has a rather different design philosophy from Fox McCloud or Samus Aran). Historically in a game as graphically intense as this one, taking that frenetic gameplay experience and putting it at the mercy of an internet connection could prove problematic, but online play in Smash for Wii U is just as smooth, as long as you have at least a decent broadband internet connection. If you’ve called yourself a fan of Smash at all over the last fifteen years, then you’ll likely look at this new offering in awe if you catch the beauty of the game’s trademark combat on a big HDTV, with the undeniable pacing and control scheme fully intact.
Even before going into the gameplay element, there’s already a lot of customization available well before you jump into your first match. Controls are entirely customizable for individual players, and can be saved under each user’s chosen name if enough of your friends have differing variations in how you actually play. The game’s soundtrack is also customizable, and you can choose from a bevvy of tracks on each of the game’s stages. Each stage contains music from across the series that the stage is associated with, including originals from the actual games, newly composed remixes premiering in Smash for Wii U, or music from previous Smash games either on GameCube or on Wii. You can even customize the menu’s music, choosing from previous games’ menu tracks. Not to mention the fact that Smash Bros.music, like a great deal of Nintendo games’ music at large, is generally awesome.
All of these things are great by themselves, but the element that truly makes this a Smash game is its impeccably specific attention to detail. You’ve likely heard that some of the special guest characters included in this iteration of Smash are two of video games’ most defining characters: Capcom’s Mega Man, and Namco’s Pac-Man. These are two characters in particular that have millions of devoted fans the world over, with a lot of idiosyncrasies that will be scrutinized in order to see if these characters’ appearance in a game from another developer and publisher can be actively authentic. Everything from Mega Man’s unique and somewhat inelegant shuffle, to Pac-Man becoming his classic two-dimensional sprite for his “Final Smash” attack and devouring his opponents on-screen.
The authenticity also obviously extends to the other characters: Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog is the fastest character on the ground in the game, Mario exhibits his trademark-yet-baffling extreme acrobatic skill in his jumps, Samus Aran’s moveset consists of her classic morph ball and charge shot, and Link brings his unique combat intensity as he can call on the power of the Triforce. Game director Masahiro Sakurai and his staff of designers and programmers have obviously paid attention to all of the unique attributes of every character in the very expansive roster (the biggest of the series), and fans of each of these characters will likely find their favorites fun to play, and aggressively authentic to the ones that they know so well.
All of these details and features are great, but of course the main thing that everyone will look at the most, and the element that will decide the game’s eventual longevity, is its gameplay. Thankfully, this is another element where Sakurai and his team have spent an obscene amount of time and resources on, and in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, it definitely shows: this is an almost ridiculously polished experience.
If you’re making the transition from Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS to the version created for the Wii U, then from a gameplay perspective you’ll find a lot of familiar elements. Our review of the 3DS version described the gameplay this way:
Most of the changes to the new Smash Bros. in regards to how it plays are minute, but still very important. This feels like the most balanced Smash Bros. game to date (with the exception of one or two characters), and really does seem to be the 15-year culmination of the series thus far. Each movement is precise, and for every character’s attack, it seems like every character has a parry or counter that you can then use. While it’s very easy to see that certain fighting games require a special brand of skill, the skilled Smash players of the world are certainly some of the most skilled gamers that I’ve ever seen, since the game mechanics are sufficiently deep.
All of that also applies to the overall game mechanics of the Wii U version of the game, with one very important distinction: the controls. Where we had to dock the 3DS game some points because of the relative difficulty of playing such an intense fighting game on the small and tightly packed control area of the 3DS handheld, the Wii U version has no such fundamental difficulties in front of it. In fact, the control options are so vast that it should be nearly impossible to find an input device that won’t work for you. One of the stronger aspects of the Wii U console is that it supports the vast majority of its predecessor’s peripherals.
As a result, this iteration of Super Smash Bros. has the widest control options available. These include the Wii Remote Plus, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the Wii Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro, along with the Wii U GamePad and the Wii U Pro Controller. Also, Nintendo has manufactured a special adapter for the Wii U that allows Nintendo GameCube controllers, the device of choice for many professional Smash players for the last 13 years, to be used with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (though its proving difficult to find in stores). If you own a Nintendo 3DS as well as a copy of Smash for that system, then you can even connect your 3DS console with the Wii U version of the game, and use that system as yet another controller. While I wouldn’t personally recommend that given the overall criticisms for the 3DS controls on the handheld game, having the option is certainly a nice and interesting addition to the overall repertoire of options available with which to play the console version.
If there are any options in the new Smash Bros. that could be considered “limited,” it likely rests solely on the single player game modes. Single player isn’t limited in the sense of gameplay modes available, as much as its limited in the various lengths of the respective play modes. When you access the solo game mode menu, your options include “Classic” (where you choose a fighter, move across a “board,” and battle CPU fighters until you encounter the boss team of Master Hand and Crazy Hand), “Special Orders” (where you accomplish certain objectives handed down from the Hands in order to win prizes), “Events” (fighting under certain conditions to obtain rewards), “All-Star Mode” (where you battle every fighter in the game in reverse chronological order with one life), “Stadium” (play minigames with your fighter), and “Training” (which is pretty self-explanatory).
That sounds like a lot of options, right? Well, it is and it isn’t, depending on how you choose to tackle each one. If, for instance, you went through each of them with only one character, and the only difference between multiple playthroughs was in the pre-set difficulty, then it could be over pretty fast depending on your skill level. If, though, you decided you’d want to beat every mode with every character, then it can start to stretch out into being a long process. Of course, your other single player options include an endless amount of exhibition matches with anywhere between 2, 4, 6, and 8 players/computer opponents, but if you buy Super Smash Bros. for Wii U with the express purpose of playing in single player, then you’d definitely be in the overall minority.
The true life of any Smash game rests in multiplayer, where the pre-existing game modes can obviously add up to infinite possibilities among up to seven additional players locally, and three additional players online. Local play is always going to be a tense situation when playing with friends over the couch, and indeed I’m all too familiar with salty feelings and even broken friendships resulting from intense rounds of Smash on every console its been released on. Its uniqueness also extends to that experience too, and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U absolutely continues the tradition of fast-paced, high octane action that the series established exceedingly well back on the Nintendo 64.
One of the ways in which the old formula has been refreshed is in a solid revitalization of both online and offline play. For online play, you can choose to play “For Fun,” or “For Glory.” When playing “For Fun,” your online win/loss ratio isn’t counted, and your exhibition matches are strictly for your own enjoyment. Playing “For Glory,” however, adds you to the global ranking for Smash players worldwide, counting your wins and losses and directly comparing them with other players. If you’re a more casual player, then playing “For Glory” may not be for you. For traditionally competitive players, though, this will likely put even the most skilled players to the ultimate test. The reason? Players that are good at Smashare often very good.
Offline, the action increases exponentially by allowing up to eight players to compete in a single match. In order to make this game mode feasible, a few maps have seen their size increase so that they can contain the utter craziness that’s possible under an 8-player match. Even six players all at once is a bit nuts, and you definitely have to keep your skills sharp if you don’t want to surrender to the absolute madness that can ensue when that many players get involved. When this game is ultimately introduced into some professional fighting game tournaments, it’ll be really interesting to see if a bracket would be created for this kind of match. That would definitely make for some crazy entertainment.
The fact that we’ve seen two Super Smash Bros. games in a single year, let alone within a month and a half of each other, is a huge treat for franchise fans and newcomers alike. While the Wii U seems to be picking up steam among consumers everywhere, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will likely be the biggest system seller of 2014, if not one of the holidays’ hottest games.
From a slew of new characters, impeccable balance adjustments, incredible attention to detail for all characters, and a simple-to-learn yet difficult-to-master control scheme, the latest iteration of the powerhouse Nintendo franchise should be more than enough to keep the series alive for years to come. Solid work, Mr. Sakurai. Well done.
This review originally appeared on a website I served as senior editor.
A copy of this game was provided for reviewing purposes by representatives of Nintendo of America.