Welcome home, Super Smash Bros.
I have to apologise for the lateness of our review, seeing as our loan copy only arrived less than 12 hours launch, but on the other hand we're talking about Smash here. If you have some friends and spare controllers, you already know that you're guaranteed a good time.
So let's make it official: Super Smash Bros. For Wii U really is sensational and a step up from Brawl in almost every respect. Building on the success of the excellent if limited 3DS version, this brand new brawler brings the action home to where it truly belongs: the big screen. Even if there are a couple of annoying omissions and quirks to contend with.
Just in case you're not familiar with the premise -- perhaps because you're an alien visitor or a time traveller from the 1800s (if so, you should be making better use of your time) -- Smash is a jubilant celebration of Nintendo history disguised as a multiplayer brawler. A huge roster of classic characters battle each other in crazy evolving 2D arenas, the objective being to damage your opponents before smashing them out of the level bounds like a supercharged mix between MMA and Sumo Wrestling. Only with fewer loincloths and more Kirby.
Each character uses the same selection of responsive analogue controls, but offer totally unique attacks and abilities, making for a delightful deconstruction of the fighting game genre that's easy to pick up yet provides a robust platform for competitive play.
While the 3DS version was very capable in a hand-cramping eye-straining sort of way, and will still remain relevant every time you leave the house, Smash Wii U is the definitive edition. Though not quite as pretty as Bayonetta 2 or Mario Kart 8 in this reviewer's opinion, it's still a crisp and deeply handsome game, running at a fluid 60FPS and making the most of a gorgeously vibrant colour palette. More importantly, though, the action feels at home on a big telly, while the analogue controls are much more accessible and accurate on a GamePad, Pro Controller, Gamecube peripheral or Hori Fight Pad. This is the way Smash is meant to be played.
The all-important character roster is the most varied, versatile and balanced that it's ever been. Mainstays like Mario, Luigi and Kirby rub shoulders with brilliant niche sidelines like Xenoblade Chronicles' Shulk, the Fire Emblem: Awakening cast and the Duck Hunt dog, while special guests like Mega Man, Pac-Man and Sonic round out the with unique abilities and play styles. Crucially there's a range of characters to suit any taste or ability level, with easy to chuck about brawlers like Luigi and Little Mac on hand for beginners, whereas more advanced or nuanced fighters such as Roselina, Bowser Jr., Animal Crossing's Villager, Captain Olimar and Palutena suit more experienced players with more situational attacks. Big boys like Bowser and Donkey Kong hit hard, but nimble combatants such as Zero Suit Samus, Pit and the Wii Fit Trainer can run rings around them if you let them. If that isn't enough for you, you can even create your own Mii fighters and customise the existing brawlers too!
Because the basic controls are shared between all characters, getting to grips with a new fighter is a cinch, even if mastering their moveset takes time and practice. If you choose to enable them, an outrageous smorgasbord of power-ups, Assist Trophies and weapons make for an even more versatile and plain bonkers battle royale.
As always each character offers their own stage, unique from the 3DS versions, and I'm delighted to report that there some absolute corkers here. Though die-hards will flock to the level playing field of Final Destination, for me the unpredictable stage gimmicks and shifting hazards of the more esoteric arenas make for a more enjoyable experience. The Mario Kart 8 track tilts and evolves with karts zooming along walls and floors, Lylat Wars' Orbital Gate Assault challenges players to keep their footing amidst an eye-popping space battle, while other arenas even add bizarre gimmicks such as pitch black sections or legendary bosses appearing to punish unwary players.
With a neat mix of small stages and larger sprawling multi-level affairs up for grabs, I'm delighted to report that each battlefield feels different, and pleasingly features few vertically-or-horizontally-scrolling levels versus the 3DS version. The Stage Builder tool allows you to design your own battlefields with touchscreen controls, even if it's slightly awkward and restrictive to operate.
I do miss Edge Hogging. For me the ability to deny an opponent a lifeline while leaving yourself vulnerable was a form of high-level arena control that perfectly suited the core gameplay, and it's a shame that it wasn't included as an option in custom matches, especially since matches now last a lot longer. Seeing as Smash Wii U also removes the hateful randomised tripping mechanic, mind, I can't get too annoyed.
For me Smash is best enjoyed in local multiplayer, aptly provided here with either straightforward Smash battles or tweakable Special Smash custom bouts, but the online options are satisfyingly robust for those who enjoy showing off their prowess on the global stage. Once again you can fight 'For Fun' or 'For Glory' depending on your tastes, while time-sensitive conquest modes let you vie for global domination using preset characters. I'm also delighted to report that the spectator mode is fantastic fun in and of itself, with the ability to bet, win and lose coins on the winner of each match. Though the netcode is still a little shaky and can lead to a few dropped connections, I haven't experienced any serious lag and have found the online experience to be seriously solid.
The core Smash gameplay is utterly superb, then, but the lack of a true story mode is disappointing. For the record I found Brawl's Subspace Emissary to be a tedious slog, but its great cutscenes and crazy crossover story showed enough potential to be worth improving in future games, not cutting outright. Especially seeing as there still isn't a tutorial mode, and a story campaign could have easily pulled a double shift. Everything rests, then, on whether the other extra modes can measure up.
Eight-player Smash is stupid. Brilliantly, wonderfully, magnificently stupid. So long as you have enough friends and controllers (it's local only, I'm afraid), you're in for the most bonkers, outrageous and chaotic multiplayer experience on the market. Yes, the distant camera and crazy visual feedback makes it almost impossible to see what's going on. Yes, it's a ridiculous kerfuffle that will never become a competitive standard. But frankly it's also going to going to guarantee you one of the best Boxing Days ever.
Classic Mode never disappoints, and Smash Wii U offers an interesting new take on the formula. You'll still battle through different waves of enemies in a quest to defeat Master Hand, earning new trophies and coins on the way that are modified by Kid Icarus' brilliant Intensity System (i.e. you can spend coins to increase the difficulty and potentially increase your payout... if you can hack it), but this time you'll move a game piece around a board while a rival does the same. Though drab in terms of presentation, this new setup gives you much more choice about which fights to enter and a greater variation of themed/team battles, plus a surprisingly thought-provoking decision about when to engage your rival. The longer you leave them on the board, the stronger they'll get, but the better the rewards when you beat them.
It's a great new take on a grand old mode, and there are a few more options on hand for solo players. Special Orders, Crazy Orders and Event Mode let you take on challenges for extra coins and trophies, while character customisation, trophy browsing, challenges and other extras provide some meaty content.
It's a crushing shame, then, that most of these modes are buried away in a horrible interface that doesn't support GamePad touchscreen controls (FOR SHAME, NINTENDO!), and are eclipsed by the new Smash Tour mode that gets its own splash screen button. And doesn't deserve it in the least. The concept is solid, a streamlined version of Mario Party that sees four players moving around a game board, collecting upgrades and fighting each other to win characters for a final showdown, but the execution is dire. Limp bite-sized bouts, annoying downtime, reliance on RNG and hopelessly unbalanced final battles make this a pale shadow of Smash Run on 3DS, and frankly I wish that Classic Mode had taken its place.
Still, it's one of the few sour notes in an otherwise comprehensive package, and you'll still get some serious bang for your buck.
If you own Super Smash Bros For 3DS, you can sync up your handheld as an extra local multiplayer controller via an option on the splash screen. It's a simple process that also lets you transfer customised fighters between the two versions, but it's a shame that you can't just use the 3DS as a controller in regular matches as opposed to a dedicated mode.
Otherwise, that's your lot. It works well, the controls are identical and you'll find it a handy replacement if you can't find one of your controllers in a pinch.
Super Smash Bros acts as the lead platform for Nintendo's new Amiibo figurines, which function much like Skylanders or Disney Infinity courtesy of their in-built NFC chip and the GamePad's onboard NFC transmitter. However, I'm not convinced that their functionality really makes the most of this new Golden opportunity, even if it's a totally unique idea that stands apart from Activision and Disney's established brands.
Effectively they're a cross between a virtual pet and an evolving AI combatant. After touching your figurine to the GamePad, you can enter their respective character into fights as an AI opponent, then customise their appearance and movesets in the character creator. As they battle, they'll gain levels, improving their stats and earning new skills in the process. My Mario figure can actually give me a run for my money, somewhat embarrassingly.
It's a fun feature and one that younger players will love, but definitely not an essential purchase by any means. We'll have to wait and see how Amiibo is implemented into future releases before being able to definitely say whether the new toy line is truly a success.
- Mechanically excellent and visually impressive brawling
- Massive and utterly sensational character roster and stage selection
- Great Classic Mode, extras and in-depth customisation add serious value
- Robust online multiplayer and surprisingly brilliant spectator client
- Smash Tour is rubbish, superior modes buried under messy interface...
- ...with no GamePad touchscreen support outside of Stage Builder)
- No true story mode or tutorial
The Short Version: Super Smash Bros. For Wii U brings brilliant brawling back to the big screen. Though Smash Tour and the lack of a true story mode are disappointing, the exceptional character roster, great stage design, handsome visuals, addictive extra modes and timeless fun factor make for a guaranteed good time. Just add mates, whether online or on the couch.
Smash Bros has come home. A fitting end to a great year for the Wii U.
9 – EXCELLENT: Only the exceptional need apply here. There might be one or two slight blemishes, but overall games that score a 9 are genre-leaders: must-have titles with perhaps the odd imperfection. You won’t be wasting a single penny in buying a game that scores this high. A few games of this calibre will make it worth spending hundreds on a console or powerful enough PC. Killer apps, indeed.
Platform: Wii U