Only one game lets Mario, Sonic, Mega Man and now Pac-Man beat the living snot out of each other, and it’s the latest version of "Super Smash Bros." We went hands-on with both the Wii U and 3DS versions of this long-awaited fighter at E3 2014, brawling with fellow showgoers as some of the game’s new characters.
We started our first match in the Wii U version as Capcom mascot Mega Man, whose inclusion in the game made a big splash last E3. The Blue Bomber’s default attack is a single shot from his iconic blaster, and his special moves include launching his famed Metal Blade from "Mega Man 2" and calling on his robo-dog sidekick Rush.
With plenty of long-range and defensive options, we see this classic character finding a niche with Smash competitors who like to keep their opponents at a distance.
We entered our next match as the Villager, who became our immediate favorite. The Villager's shovel, net, axe and slingshot are used to perform everyday activities in Nintendo's "Animal Crossing" life simulator, but in "Smash," they become hilarious instruments of extreme pain.
With a nice mix of ranged and up-close attacks, as well as the ability to summon a pair of balloons for an aerial escape, we can see a lot of players humiliating their friends as the seemingly harmless character.
The latest "Super Smash Bros." feels immediately intuitive if you've played previous games in the series, especially if you stick with a Nintendo GameCube controller (you'll be able to use one on Wii U using an adapter due this fall). As with previous installments, performing different moves is as simple as pressing the attack buttons in conjunction with different directions on the control stick.
"Smash" makes a much-welcomed leap to the high-definition era on Wii U, with stages and characters that are more detailed than anything we've seen in the series. We were delighted by the vibrant "Pilotwings"-inspired stage, which has you and your opponents duking it out atop a propeller plane that soars over seas, cities and mountains.
We also spent some time with the 3DS version of the game, trying our hand at the "Smash Run" mode exclusive to Nintendo's latest handheld. "Smash Run" puts a platforming twist on the famed fighting game, as you and up to three friends embark on a bite-sized side-scrolling adventure that tasks you with defeating as many CPU enemies as possible within five minutes.
This mode lets you utilize wild power-ups that you can't access anywhere else in the game, such as the powerfully purple Horizon Beam that decimates any baddies in its path. You'll also collect items that boost stats like speed and health.
Even if you're working with friends during a Smash Run, that all goes to hell once your five minutes are up. Each Smash Run culminates in a one-minute free-for-all, in which all players have access to all the power-ups and bonuses they discovered during their brief adventure. It's a unique mix of cooperative and competitive gameplay, and gives "Smash" diehards a reason to try out the game on 3DS.
While "Super Smash Bros for 3DS" has the same accessible control scheme as its Wii U big brother, the gameplay doesn't feel quite as tight using the 3DS' small buttons in lieu of a GameCube controller. We also found the character models to be a bit too small, which is a shame considering that most of the game is nicely detailed with rich colors.
Regardless of which version of "Super Smash Bros" you pick up later this year, you have at least one more classic gaming character to look forward to trading blows with. Arcade icon Pac-Man will chomp his way into the game's all-star cast, as revealed by Nintendo after its "Super Smash Bros." tournament exhibition at E3.
Based on his reveal trailer, Pac-Man will be able to morph from his modern design with arms and legs to his classic "yellow circle with a mouth" form. Some of his attacks involve summoning 8-bit sprites from classic Namco games, and the 3DS version will feature a dedicated Pac-Man stage based on the familiar blue maze that just about every gamer has waded through.
"Super Smash Bros." has a far bigger presence than any other Nintendo game at E3, and save for a few issues on 3DS, this long-awaited sequel is shaping up to be the Big N's killer app. The 3DS version will hit stores Oct. 3, while the Wii U edition is still slated for a vague holiday 2014 release window.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.