Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a game that brought me full circle. I played titles this year that made me think, laugh and even get choked up, but I never had a purer sense of enjoyment as I did when three friends and I spent hours beating each other up as our favorite Nintendo characters -- much as I did over a decade ago with Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Nintendo GameCube.
The latest installment in this beloved fighting-game franchise has more than nostalgia going for it. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U gracefully guides the series into the new generation of consoles, complete with a massive character roster, gorgeous HD arenas and an overwhelming amount of game modes and unlockables. It's one of the Wii U's best titles, and is simply some of the most fun you can have playing a video game this year.
As with its predecessors, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a multiplayer brawler that has adorable characters from all over the Nintendo universe (and beyond) beating each other mercilessly for no apparent reason. This is a game of hilariously implausible scenarios: Mario can throw Donkey Kong off a cliff, Animal Crossing's seemingly cute Villager can chop up Yoshi with an ax and Pac-Man can literally devour a Yoga trainer from Nintendo's Wii Fit exercise game.
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The game retains the series' simple-yet-refined fighting gameplay: You'll dole out most damage with quick taps of the attack and special buttons, and whoever is the last fighter (or team) standing, or has the most knockouts after a set amount of time, is declared the victor. You can have a good enough time mashing buttons manically until you've knocked your best friend out of the arena, but mastering the game's mechanics exposes an impressive layer of depth.
You'll need to perform well-timed attacks, blocks and dodges to be a successful Smasher, as well as to have full mastery of your character's close-up or projectile specials. At a high level, Smash becomes a speedy ballet of last-minute escapes and wild knockouts. At a casual level, with four friends crowded around the TV trying to figure out which button shoots Link's bow and arrow, it's a ton of unpredictable fun.
With a whopping 49 fighters to choose from, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has something for everyone. Characters range from the old school (Mario, Samus, Pac-Man, Little Mac) to fan-favorite sword-swingers (Fire Emblem's Lucina, Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles) to downright hilarious fighters (tongue-scarf-wielding Pokémon Greninja and the droopy dog from Duck Hunt).
Weapons of Choice
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U can be played with myriad peripherals, including the tabletlike Wii U GamePad, the more traditional Wii U Pro Controller, the rectangular Wii Remote (with its optional Nunchuk add-on), and, via an adapter, Nintendo's classic GameCube controller, which is the go-to accessory for many devoted Smash heads.
In my opinion, the GameCube controller's ergonomic shape and asymmetrical button layout make it the ideal weapon for beating up your buddies. However, if you can't get your hands on an adapter, the Pro Controller makes a worthy substitute, and I found the oversized Wii U GamePad to be surprisingly comfy.
You can also use Nintendo's portable 3DS console as a controller, so long as you have that system's version of the game. It brought back the same cramped control issues I had with the portable version of Smash Bros., but the ability to use a 3DS with the Wii U game is a welcome solution to the all-too-common problem of not having enough controllers for your group of friends.
The heart of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U lies in Smash mode, which consists of highly customizable battles between you and up to three other human or CPU opponents. Want to set up a wild free-for-all filled with Pokéballs, Fire Flowers and laser swords? Or would you prefer to turn off items for a tense, one-life team battle? You'll have the freedom to do either here.
After getting your bearings, you'll likely be tempted to try out 8 Player Smash, which doubles the amount of on-screen combatants for the first time in series history. Playing Super Smash Bros. with eight characters is as chaotic as you might imagine, and the game's frame rate managed to stay impressively smooth even with twice the amount of Nintendo mascots beating the snot out of each other. While I prefer the focus of four-player bouts, 8 Player Smash is definitely worth experiencing -- especially if you've got a big group of friends over.
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Exclusive to the Wii U version of Smash is Smash Tour, a board-game competition that brings Mario Party to mind. Playing as a Mii, you and up to three friends move around a game board, collecting fighters and power-ups that come into play whenever you run into another player. Smash Tour offers a nice diversion, and there's a small bit of strategy in terms of accumulating power-ups for battle, but the mode's random and long-winded nature kept me from coming back often.
Smashing Alone and Online
Smash Bros. for Wii U offers plenty of solo content, including the arcade-style Classic and All-Star modes, as well as mini games such as Home Run Contest and Target Blast. My favorite of the bunch is Event mode, which has you play through specific (and often hilarious) scenarios.
Some examples include Zelda battling Peach for the title of ultimate princess, Mario taking on his oldest foes in Donkey Kong and Bowser, and all of the game's Pokémon engaging in an all-out brawl. Event mode won't fill the void for those hoping for a true story mode, but I appreciated having a bit of amusing narrative to go with each battle.
If you can't get friends to come over for an all-night Smash session, you can take on the world in the game's robust and fairly reliable online mode. Online mode is split into two parts: For Fun mode throws you into an unranked free-for-all and team battles in which all items and stages are enabled, while the tournament-style For Glory mode consists of ranked showdowns with items and stage effects off. If you've got friends online, you can set up private matches with them just as you would in-person.
Fortunately, the majority of my online Smash sessions were highly playable across private, ranked and unranked play. I did run into a few instances of game-slowing lag, and playing online rarely felt as smooth as playing locally, but these hiccups didn't stop me from having some enjoyable brawls in For Fun mode or getting absolutely stomped in For Glory mode.
Sights and Sounds
The Wii U is nowhere near as powerful as the Xbox One or PS4, but that doesn't stop Super Smash Bros. from being one of the year's most gorgeous games. Character models are more detailed than they've ever been, and the rich colors and lighting of stages like Kalos Pokémon League and the revamped Final Destination show that the franchise's leap to the full HD era was well worth the wait.
Speaking of stages, the arenas in Super Smash Bros. are every bit as memorable and charming as the game's playable characters. Standouts include the Star Fox-flavored Orbital Gate Assault, which has you duke it out amid an explosive space battle, and Mario Circuit, in which your fighters hover throughout the twists and turns of a chaotic Mario Kart 8 race.
Most of the game's arenas transform in shape in the midst of battle, and some -- such as the Metroid-themed Pyrosphere and Mega Man's Wily Castle -- feature massive boss characters that switch up the flow of combat significantly. Competitive purists can use Omega Mode to turn each stage into a flat, symmetrical arena, but I had more fun when each stage shifted, spun and exploded around me.
The action in Super Smash Bros. is complemented by an appropriately addicting soundtrack, which includes plenty of remixes of classic tracks from Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda and other franchises. You can control which songs play for each arena, and can enter Vault mode to kick back and listen to your unlocked tracks.
Extras and Amiibo
Rounding out the insanely stacked package that is Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is Stage Builder mode, which, well … lets you build stages. Using the Wii U GamePad's touch screen and stylus, you can whip up your dream arena by simply drawing lines to create platforms and dragging in interactive objects such as springboards and lava pits. I was able to craft a fairly playable battlefield in just a few minutes, and there are enough tools present for devoted level designers looking to get intricate.
Super Smash Bros. heralds the launch of Amiibo, Nintendo's new interactive NFC-enabled toys that can "enter" your game when you tap them to the Wii U gamepad. Amiibo figures become computer-controlled "figure players" of their respective characters (the current lineup includes fighters like Mario, Link, Villager and Marth), with whom you can either fight against or on the same team.
Figure players become stronger the more often they fight, and you can customize your fighter's strengths, weaknesses and special moves using power-ups unlocked throughout the game. Owning an Amiibo (they cost $13 a pop) is far from essential to enjoying the game, but I became pretty addicted to leveling up my Link so that I could toss him in my bag, go to a friend’s place, and have him help me beat on the competition.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U offers such a wealth of fun things to do, it's hard to keep track of them all. Whether you're engaging in a chaotic eight-player brawl with friends, playing the game's addictive solo modes to unlock its trove of collectibles, or crafting your own fighters or stages, the latest version of Nintendo's flagship fighter is the series' most fun and feature-rich yet.
Factor in its gorgeous HD arenas and solid online play, and Super Smash Bros. is essential to any Wii U library. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a few scores to settle.