Simply a smashing, jolly ol' good time.
It's pretty remarkable to think about how far the Super Smash Bros. series has come since it debuted on the Nintendo 64. After its memorable first launch in 1999, three succeeding titles released on every major Nintendo console, each heightening the level of detail from the last and improving the overall experience. The latest installment in this legendary series, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, carries on this traditional progression, enhancing the experience with an expansive roster of over 50 classic characters, a collection of well-designed arenas based on the trademark game series, a wealth of customization options, and enough new and exciting game modes to keep you playing for hours on end.
Speaking of new and exciting game modes, it'd be a crime to not lead with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's sensationally chaotic eight-player battles. When this feature was announced one month prior to release, it was obvious that it would make for some hectic fights, but after actually playing it, you'll find the fun is exponentially increased when simply adding more fighters. These brawls can only be taken to several of the larger arenas, which still hardly contain all of the side-smashes, special moves, and bodies flying across the screen.
No matter how good you are at roll dodging, shielding or evading, it's nearly impossible to not be caught off guard during these skirmishes, leading to some unpredictable outcomes. Hopping from one mini battle to the next and finding the opportune moment to strike is incredibly satisfying, especially when you see how many KO's you racked up in the post-game menu. It's a shame that this mode isn't available for online play because it one of the most enthralling multiplayer experiences ever created.
Just because smashing with eight-players is the crème de la crème of all smash experiences, it doesn't mean other game modes should be overlooked. There are a handful of other gems to partake in ranging from classic to new. Special Orders, for instance, is immensely gratifying in the sense that you receive better rewards for taking greater risks. These challenges, assigned by Master Hand and Crazy Hand, are fast, addicting, and usually result in unlocking cool content upon completion. Similarly, classic mode rewards you with tons of swag. You'll have to spend gold to increase the difficulty, but it's worth it because more desired unlockables come from fighting harder battles.
All-Star mode is an intriguing new addition, pitting you against every fighter in backwards chronological order. Likewise, Smash Tour is just as interesting, placing four players in a Mario Party-like board game where they move around the board and collect fighters and power-ups to assist them in the final battle. Making a strong return is Event mode, challenging players to perform a wide range of tasks like fighting off duplicated enemies or using a final smash multiple times. When tired of brawling, Home Run and Target Smash challenges are back and as enjoyable as ever, proving to be serviceable diversions from the fast-paced, high intensity tussles.
Notably, no matter how cluttered, rowdy, or riotous the battles become, the frame rate never takes a hit during local play, running at a smooth 60 fps on beautiful 1080p display. However, the same cannot be said for online play where on multiple occasions the game lagged too much to be playable. Even with its hindrances, it's still the best performing online multiplayer in the series. Lagging occurrences, though present, are few and far between, and the matchmaking makes up for them by speedily setting up fights.
Playing with friends allows you to set the rules and choose the level, while playing with anyone comes with a set time limit and randomly selected stages. The "For Glory" option is a ranked mode where all items are turned off and battles are only fought on Final Destination. This is a great addition for hardcore smash players as it is a true test of skill where all battle stats are recorded.
Although "For Glory" is for the more hardcore Smash Bros. crowd, the controls are so intuitive that anyone can easily compete. This game handles beautifully whether you're playing with a GamePad, WiiMote, GameCube controller, Pro controller, or 3DS. Sure, it takes time and patience to master timing the perfect smash or dodging enemy blows, but the controls are so easy to pick up on that a novice can become a competitor after a few bouts.
Each character is unique, gorgeously detailed, and equipped with a different move set or given different attributes to set them apart from the rest. Sure, Fox and Falco are similar, as are Ganondorf and Captain Falcon, but after playing a few rounds with each, you'll see differences in terms of speed, power, and move timing. Every brawler has trademark moves they may have performed in their respective video games. Mario still ejects coins out of opponents with his up B move, and Jigglypuff still lulls foes to sleep with her down B. Newcomer Pac Man changes form to his arcade animation and chomps enemies across screen, while other newbie, Duck Hunt Dog, has an arsenal of clay pigeons and exploding cans at his disposal.
The stages these moves are performed on are just as well-designed as the characters that perform them. You have your pick from a litter of arenas ranging from flat ones like the aforementioned Final Destination, to mobile ones like Pilot Wings. The creativity and detail in each of these stages is awe-inspiring, from the vivacious yarn-made backdrops of Yoshi's Wooly World, to the rounded and gravity-defying Mario Galaxy. Some feature extreme hazards, specifically Pyrosphere where Ridley relentlessly attacks any participants that don't beat him into allying with them. Of course there are a few stages that fall short, but with so many great options to choose from, they just go unnoticed.
When it comes to choices, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, offers more customization than any game on the market. Along with the return of the stage creator, players can also individually level their favorite characters and alter their move sets. Mii fighters are a welcomed addition, allowing players to insert their likeness into the game to duke it out with gaming legends. It's also the first game to incorporate Nintendo's amiibo action figures, but since the character customization tool is already so robust, these just serve as good tools for transporting fully-leveled fighters to a friend's house to watch as they wreak havoc on your comrades.
Simply put, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is... well... smashing. It's by far the ultimate Super Smash Bros. experience, mainly due to the fact that it has so much to offer. There are so many unlockables, challenges, and gameplay options that gamers can play to their heart's desire and still end up with something to do. The character customization tool itself can suck you in for hours at a time while you carefully personalize your favorite fighters. Throw in the improved online features, along with the insanely enjoyable eight-player smash mode, upgraded visuals, and responsive controls, and you have a strong favorite for game of the year.
This game was reviewed with a retail copy for Nintendo Wii U.
Images courtesy of Nintendo.