Super Smash Brothers for Wii U Review - Nintendo Knocks it out of the Park

There are certain franchises in gaming that only seem to remain fun and interesting throughout if radical changes are implemented. Then there are those quality games that are simply so fun and entertaining, they are merely a case of, “if it ain't broke, don’t fix it.” The Smash Brothers franchise is of the latter category, and the most recent rendition for the Wii U, appropriately titled, Super Smash Brothers for Wii U, proves this point definitively. This game is the perfect medley of virtually all of the strengths of the prior Smash Brothers entries, and at the same time, it greatly improves upon, or cuts out the weaknesses of the prior games. It takes a formula that was already great in Brawl for Wii, and especially in Melee for Gamecube, and injects it with the glorious HD-infused Wii U powered steroids. It adds a plethora of new features, concepts, and collectibles guaranteed to burn countless hours of your spare time.

With a nearly overwhelming smorgasbord of unlockables and features, exciting and chaotic new levels, and a diverse lineup of 50 characters, this game is the absolute pinnacle of fighting games, and arguably the strongest Smash Brothers entry in the series.

Perhaps the strongest characteristics of this game is the sheer amount of depth and customization it provides. Starting with the control schemes themselves, you are able to use virtually any control method that is technologically possible on the Wii U, ensuring that there will be something satisfying for everyone. You can go the more traditional route with the pro or Gamecube controller, and you can even dust off that old Wii classic controller. You can keep it more modern with the Wii U gamepad, or if retro style or simplistic gaming is more your thing, you can even use a Wii remote on its own, provided you can deal with the awkward learning curve that goes with it.

The control mechanics of the game are smooth, responsive, and just feel great. It provides a nice balance between the more speedy Melee and the slower, “floatier” mechanics of Brawl. You’ll find it’s quite simple to bust out a shield, roll away from incoming attacks, and unleash a powerful smash attack, all in seconds, and with little hassle. Unless you chose to use an odd control method like the Wii remote - nunchuck combo or (god forbid), just the Wii remote, this game is one that you can pick up and play with relative ease, especially if you've played your share of Smash before. With that said, it is difficult to master even though it is easy to learn, but this characteristic is one that usually makes for a great game.

Like the control schemes, the game itself is of course chalked full of options, game modes, and even character customizations. Similar to a “hero” in Warcraft or games of its ilk, you can focus your efforts on a single character and unlock items that can help boost your stats, such as armor, and even more powerful special attacks. This concept is further explored by the use of amiibos, which act as a sort of cool looking memory card for custom fighters, allow for extra customization, and give you the ability to fight against or with your character, which in turn, will improve their abilities, making you a sort of “Smash Brothers sensei.”

Along with these additions to the fighters, there are plenty of new characters as well, some of which you will find simply awesome, some will give a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia, and some will just leave you baffled that Nintendo thought it was a good idea to include them (Wii Fit? Really?). With this massive lineup, besides the neat and seemingly endless options for different characters skins, are the strange implementation of mii fighters. It’s an amusing little novelty to see yourself fighting against Link or even your fellow mii friends in a Smash Brothers game, but I find that it offers little outside that brief amusement.

Then there are the stages, and wow, are they a lot to chose from. The levels cover the gamut of the memorable Nintendo franchises, ranging from the quirky to the epic, to the insane to the relatively tame. And while I found myself enjoying more of the revamped older stages like the Congo Jungle and the Bridge of Eldin, there were plenty of new levels that I quickly grew to love. In particular, I enjoyed the nostalgic trip that is the Duck Hunt stage, the beautifully vibrant Mario Galaxy level, and the revamped, epic-as-ever Final Destination.

However, certain stages I just found a little too crazy and distracting from the fights themselves.  Some seem to bear a resemblance to the stages found in the Power Stone games, in that they require constant action on the part of the player, but unlike Powerstone, many of these feel more like annoyances and less like action-packed intensity. Pilot Wings, Kalos Pokemon League, and the Great Cave Offensive come to mind. The new Star Fox themed level is particularly annoying and insane, and to add insult to injury, the original Star Fox classic, Sector Z, is nowhere to be found. While there are some creative quirks that certain levels provide, adding a new element to an already intense battle, some are simply overdone and unnecessary. If you find it difficult to like many of the premade stages however, there is the fun option of creating your own stage, which is surprisingly quite in-depth.

Perhaps the biggest glaring addition of Smash Brothers for Wii U is the ability to play with 7 others. While you might think this would prove to be too chaotic and difficult to focus on your poor fighter who is likely getting beaten to a pulp, it works surprisingly well for the most part. Many of the new levels accommodate this increase in players and activity with their larger size, providing a nice balance of intensity and simplicity. This is where the game, for my money, shines most, as it provides the feel of an adrenaline-pumping arcade experience from your living room, and ensures that there is rarely a dull moment to be had throughout your lengthy 20-stock brawl.

Touching briefly on the random new game modes, I found these to be hit and miss. The new-and-improved all-star mode is a fun new angle for a single player experience, and pretty clever to boot. Instead of just getting random characters thrown at you, you now fight them in reverse order from their original Nintendo debut, forcing you to battle your way down the Nintendo timeline with only a single life.

If for some reason you hate miis, or find it amusing to beat up waves of actual friends represented as miis, multiman Smash is your game. It is essentially Smash for Wii U’s version of the fighting polygon teams of old, as hordes of weak, but hostile miis swarm at you, and your goal is simply to survive, or to kill off each one, depending on which subset of this mode you play. It is amusing for a bit, yet, much like the mii characters themselves, the fun wears off somewhat quickly for this one.

There is also an Angry birds - esque mini game where you smash bombs into targets and random structures placed throughout. Almost mildly amusing little game, but nothing special. The home-run contest, and the new game that collectors will love, trophy rush. And speaking of games for collectors, the “special orders” mode is a fun way to quickly earn some coin and unlockables, as you take on various missions that eventually lead to an intense battle with Master Hand. Event mode makes a return from Melee, and I found it to be a fun and unique diversion from the Smash Brothers norms. You are thrown into random battles as a character not of your choosing, faced with strange circumstances or amusing themes throughout, that you must fight your way through. This is yet another enjoyable way to snag money and unlockables, though it would be a blast even without these abundant rewards.

One addition I couldn't quite get into, even when attempting to play it with friends, was the new “smash tour.” The set up is somewhat reminiscent of a Mario Party board game, but unlike in Mario Party, the actual action seems to take awhile to get to, and the gameplay is convoluted and dull at best. While it brings some new and interesting concepts to the Smash Brothers table, it is, for the most part, a dud that didn’t need to be in the game.

Much like the floaty mechanics in Brawl, the other major improvement from its predecessor is the online mode. Gone are the seemingly endless wait times in the boring lobbies, the constant lag hiccups, and the limited features. This game provides a much smoother and far more flesh-out online experience, almost to the point where you’d think you were playing this on the Xbox 360. You can team up, play solo, engage in the more hardcore ranked mode, and even watch others fight and bet your coins as if you were kicking back in Vegas. Out of the countless hours I’ve burned playing both friends and strangers online, I’ve only encountered a few instances of connection issues, and for a Nintendo game in particular, that is pretty impressive.

In addition to the solid multiplayer, and vastly improved, ridiculously addictive online battles, the highlight of this arcade-fighting gem is the improved classic mode. Unlike the more linear approach of prior games, you are now given the option of various potential battles that are mapped out ahead of time, adding a nice touch of strategy and freedom to your single player experience. Would you rather take on the Mario Brothers with a teammate? Or duke it out in a frantic 8 player free for all? The choice is yours! There is also a killer new feature that is sneakily injected into the higher difficulty modes, which I would liken to a micro Subspace-Emissary with a ghoulish dark twist.

My only issues with the classic mode are as follows: For one, after you've spent your only two lives, you are in turn forced to crank the difficulty down for that round, should you chose to continue where you left off. While it ensures your next attempt will be easier, it also adds a subtle element of aggravation, not to mention a dash of shame. My other main gripe is that there seems to be quite a dropoff in difficulty after crossing over from the 8’s to the 7’s. This is because the final-post boss stage that I alluded to earlier, I found to be frustratingly difficult, but if you are playing with a difficulty in the 7’s or lower, this nail-biting experience is absent, making the game suddenly much simpler.

Factoring out the minor blemishes, like the occasional jarring level, the couple of unnecessary and dull mini games, and the two minor grievances of classic mode, Smash Brothers for Wii U, is nearly flawless in almost all other regard. This is not only Wii U’s best game, but it may even be the best of this generation thus far. It provides an incredibly robust and enjoyable multiplayer, and the best Nintendo-brand online experience you will find. This game absolutely crushes it out of the park. Smash Brothers for Wii U surpassing the charm of the original N64 classic, outdoes the plethora of features of Brawl, and even outshines the superb gameplay and mechanics of Melee.