Smash Bros. Wii U Review: Nintendo’s Home Run Blast

Game Reviews / Gaming / Nintendo / Reviews

A week of playtime and countless hours of fun later, our Smash Bros. Wii U review is finally here. It’s rare that a game can be released to universal praise from both critics and players, but that’s just what Super Smash Bros. Wii U has done – and it deserves every bit of the adoration it is receiving. A multitude of ways to play alone or with friends, beautiful graphics, a massive character roster, customizable maps and fighters, and a more focused approach to what exactly Smash Bros. should be about all combine to make a stunning video game experience at the top of its art form.

Gameplay

The core of Smash Bros. Wii U’s gameplay, the smashing, is some of the best in series history, with everything about it polished to an unbelievable degree.

Controls are smooth and make sense from the very first match. Even switching between multiple characters, it’s hard to feel completely lost after a match or two, leaving you open to try essentially any character you like without feeling too handicapped when playing casually against friends or one of the many single-player modes. As with past games in the series, each character has a deep layer of mastery involved if you want to ever be great at them, but they are always extremely simple to pick up and beat someone else over the head with.

Nintendo is notorious about keeping you on the straight and narrow in their games, but they have relented a bit in Smash Bros. Wii U. You are given more customization options than in any previous entry, letting you make individual brawl sessions as strange or as straight-forward as you want. A match where everyone is giant, metal, and can be launched 3x easier? Go for it. The Smash is your oyster.

Characters & Maps

All of the new fighters slip right into the game and feel well-balanced within the established ecosystem, yet change up the formula enough to keep it interesting. Little Mac, while extremely over-powered fighting on the ground, is nearly useless in the air. While Charizard, freed from the leash of being a fighter alongside Squirtle and Venosaur for the Pokemon Trainer character, gets to showcase a lot of his strengths and rock smashing ability.

It doesn

It doesn’t take long to unlock all the characters, and they are all revealed just through natural play for the most part.

As with the already established fighters, each new character’s move sets are both relevant to the combat and build off of the character from their original games. Bowser Jr. (and all the koopa kids), for example, are in the Koopa Klown Car just like big daddy Bowser in other games. To keep it in character, Bowser Jr. will take much less damage on his underside, where his vehicle is, compared to getting hit actually in the body. It’s one of many small touches that help characters retain their personalities even in the flurry of battle.

There are dozens of creative maps both new and repurposed from older games and they all work well. A lot of them have the same pitfalls and nuances as you’d expect, such as different things firing at you from off-screen, or other variables trying to knock you off the edge, but Smash Bros .Wii U implements a whole new variant – boss battles. On certain stages, such as Guar Plains and Pyrosphere, a villain will eventually fly into the battle and begin fighting among the players. Whichever player deals the final blow to the villain, whether it’s Ridley or Metal Face, gets to have them fight on their side. It’s gimmicky, sure, but in a party game environment it’s a lot of fun sort of teaming up with your opponents temporarily to land that final blow on Ridley and have the Metroid antagonist fighting on your side. It essentially makes those maps whoever defeats the boss, wins, as trying to beat someone who has Ridley on their side is an uphill battle.

Veterans of the Smash Bros. series no doubt remember sledging through the Subspace Emissary in Smash Bros. Brawl. While the cutscenes and the way it connected all the characters was fun, actually playing the mode was beyond terrible. Luckily, Smash Bros. Wii U has done away with all that and replaced it with a single-player mode that seems tailor made to work with Smash Bros. style of gameplay instead of against it.

Game Modes

The sheer amount of things to do feels daunting when you first jump into Smash Bros. Wii U. On top of the regular brawl, there is also now 8-player brawl, Classic Mode, All Star Mode, Special Orders, Smash Tour, Stadium, Events, Trophy Rush, and more. The end goal of the game for the most part, if you never plan to take your game online or with friends locally, is to collect trophies. Even after collecting dozens of them it still never gets old dropping into the collection and seeing the latest unlocked statue of some small obscure Nintendo character.

No no, you don

No no, you don’t understand. I NEED them all.

Classic Mode is the same mode that has been in Smash Bros. since the beginning with a small twist. Just like in all the previous games, you have to fight through a series of enemies to reach the final fight against Master Hand. This time, however, you are placed in a tournament-style setup wherein you pick your enemy or group of enemies to fight against and win prizes. Each group has a different selection of prizes, whether it’s a trophy, equipment or coins, so there is a certain level of strategy involved. You’ll mostly like just end up going after the groups with the most prizes while avoiding your rival to get bigger prizes at the end, but it’s a nice twist on the classic mode and it works well to inject some life into an aging game mode.

Upon entering Classic Mode you are also giving the option of a difficulty slider. On a sliding scale of 1 to 10, you can choose just how hard you want the fights to be, and in turn are required to pay more gold to enter. Higher difficulty settings will net you more gold and prizes but it’s much easier to lose it all being that the difficulty gets ramped up so much. Especially on the final fight with Master Hand.

Master Hand brought along his insane friend this time, in the form of Crazy Hand. These fights have always been my least favorite thing about single-player Smash Bros. and the Wii U version is no different. The fight it tedious, and depending on which character you use, feels downright unfair at times. Not difficult, just unfair. It does mix it up a bit in harder difficulties by ditching the hands quickly and letting you fight a new enemy, which feels even more unfair than the hands do. It all eventually boils down to what character you use. If it’s one with a weak air attack, just flail around and hope you win. If it’s someone with a strong air attack, just spam it until you win.

The two new modes, a game reminiscent of Mario Party in which you collect fighters and battle after each turn and All Star are both welcome additions.

Smash Tour is a lot of fun if you enjoy board video games such as Mario Party or Fortune Street. Similar to Fortune Street, the board game aspect of Smash Tour revolves around you running around a board and collecting powerups. Also like Fortune Street, you get a bonus if you collect all the suits on the board. Other than the final fight, you have the choice to let the computer fight for you, which I’d actually recommend. Without doing this, the fights just because who is better at Smash Bros. and kills the point of finding all the stat boosts and items on the board. By letting the CPU fight, it turns the game mode into an extremely simplified version of the amiibo or even Pokemon. You travel the board, gather your fighters and boosts, and let them duke it out. There’s a nice balance to everything and, if you enjoy board games, it’s a fun little mode to pick and play once and a while. If not, you can easily ignore it and you will never even know it was there.

The other new mode, All Star, feels like another variant on Classic Mode. In it, you are required to fight every character in reverse-chronological order of when they came made their debut. You’ll fight characters from 1991-1993 such as Sonic, Kirby, and Wario in one group, then move onto the next from a few years earlier. You are granted one life, so it’s all or nothing each round, but it’s a lot of fun trying it with different characters to beat your own high scores. Another mode that, if you find you like it, you’ll probably love it but if you don’t you can ignore it and not miss much of the game.

Another new mode, Special Order, tasks you with complete unique challenges for prizes.

Two other new modes, Master Orders and Crazy Orders, take you with completing unique challenges for prizes – at the risk of losing precious gold.

Trophy Rush is only for the most hardcore of trophy hunters. Similar to those real life cyclone machines that pump money and give you a certain amount of time to play them, Trophy Rush gives you the chance to collect mounds of trophies if you can break enough boxes and bombs without dying too many times by paying for a certain amount of play time with your hard earned gold. There’s literally no other purpose to this mode, but it’s fun enough if you’re really into getting every trophy you can.

Not really a game mode, but the game’s Shop section lets you straight buy trophies for gold. It really builds into the collection addiction in that you get to check the store every day and see if a trophy you are missing has popped up. My only issue is there doesn’t seem to be a real way to tell what trophies (if any) are rarer than others. This little side-mode misses out on some cheap thrills if one out of every few boxes had some kind of big rarity that you’d be lucky to find. Similar to getting a legendary in Hearthstone or finding that rare collectible you’ve been trucking to Toys ‘R Us the last few months for.

The various “Stadium” game modes are mostly forgettable. The Home-Run Contest is as fun as it has always been – damage the sandbag and blast it as far as you can, but the Target Blast mode is lacking. It basically boils down to a cheap Angry Birds clone, where you hit a bomb and try to knock out targets. But, unlike Angry Birds, you aren’t hitting a structure so there’s no satisfying collapse. You’re just trying to hit targets in the air and occasionally knock an unconnected wood beam or stone corner out of the way.

No matter what you are doing, the game always come back to just playing Smash and fighting. No forced story, no tedious overworld. Just pure, Smash Bros. fun. And that’s where the game shines the brightest.

Gambling Is Fun

All the best parts of the game’s single-player stem from gambling your gold to win more prizes. If anything, Smash Bros. Wii U has shown me that I would have a major gambling problem if given the opportunity to frequently do it. Putting your own skill and gold up against difficult challenges to get more trophies is a constant thrill, and it never feels like you have nothing to do. If doing random brawls or feeding equipment to your amiibo starts to get stale, All Star will be calling: or you’ll finally have enough gold for a Trophy Rush run then the whole cycle starts again.

In a weird way, the game feels like a mobile free-to-play game without the incentive to get you to spend money. If those games were made with the player in mind and not just a way to squeeze money out of you, they would be a lot like Smash Bros. Wii U. There are ways to earn gold, and even quicker ways to spend it, so you are always working towards something.

But with that said, if the gambling or collection aspects do not sound like a good time to you, a lot of the appeal may fall flat. In the end you are really just playing to collect things and beat high scores, but it’s varied enough that the large majority of people will always have something to enjoy in the game.

Online

I am far from a Smash Bros. pro, so keep in mind that this coming from the perspective of a casual-at-best skilled player. In general, online is quite the disappointment. It’s an upgrade over the abysmal experience in Smash Bros. Brawl for sure, that isn’t saying much. For starters, there does not seem to be any sense of matching making with the game’s For Glory mode, particularly in 1v1 where it would make the most sense. Being that you can be paired with a speedy and skilled Diddy Kong player one second and a slow unskilled Mario player the next makes it really hard to gauge just how good or bad you are online. There’s no sense of progression or a ladder, so you really just end up jumping from battle to battle aimlessly, which also brings up another issue.

Going between battles is a pain. Maybe I’m off base, but if you’re playing random 1v1 you likely don’t want to play the same person over and over again. If you are both taking the game seriously, it would probably be battles with the same characters repeatedly and your win/loss record would get pushed dramatically one way or another depending on your skill level against them. In any sensible online game you would finish the game and be matched up against a new opponent, but Smash Bros. Wii U does not do this. Instead you need to back out and go through the online menus again until you populate into a new game. It’s a fast enough process at least, but not one that needs to exist.

All of this is moot if online doesn’t function well, and it least in my experience, it doesn’t always do so. By a rough estimation I’d say that 75-80% of matches were lag-free where the rest were either unplayable or had lag spikes at crucial moments. Being that you get a 10-minute penalty if you try and enter a new game after leaving, you are forced to stick it out through these unplayable lag fests until one of you mercifully dies or just commits seppuku by jumping off the edge twice. In an age where almost every other game and developer has online play down to functioning science, it’s always a shame to see that Nintendo still can’t quite get it right.

Graphics & Sounds

It gets said for every single first-party Nintendo game but it’s worth saying again, the level of graphical and sound polish in Smash Bros. Wii U is outstanding. Everything from the opening menus, to the tiniest details on fighters has been meticulously thought out and it blends perfectly.

Graphics

Character models are incredibly detailed and they are all fast and beautiful at a crisp 60 frames-per-second. If you’ve played previous Smash Bros. games, it’s the same art style, but brighter and more beautiful than ever. Not even Smash Bros. Brawl’s great visuals could overcome the fact that it had to go through the Wii and its lack of HDMI output. But now that the series is on the Wii U, it is absolutely gorgeous.

For your friends that are stuck on the couch not in matches, there are always a lot things going on in the background of matches. It goes perfectinly in line with Nintendo’s desire to make Smash Bros. the ultimate party game in that no one will ever be bored. Whether combatants are flying around in a Pilot Wings stage, or floating above the town in Animal Crossing, the background environments are bright and engaging, but never detract from the battle. A few of the stages that take place on top of planes (Orbital Gate Assault in particular) get a little confusing with the background visuals, but other than that it is always obvious where the actual stage is, reducing cheap deaths from confusion.

Sound

Smash Bros. Wii U spares no expense when it comes to the music in the game. Every fighter has their game’s music represented in Smash Bros.’ massive soundtrack.  The ability to mix and match music on a per-stage basis or on the menu is a welcome addition. Animal Crossing’s docile tones are some of my favorite in the series. The calm and happy tunes juxtaposed to Donkey Kong repeatedly bashing Wario in the teeth is just amazing. And of course, Sonic the Hedgehog’s classic “Escape From The City” is present.

Loop this song all day every day.

Loop this song all day every day.

That great announcer from the Smash Bros. direct and the recent commercials is also the main announcer for the fights and menu options.

Overview

Overall, Smash Bros. Wii U is an absolute hit. It nails everything it tries to do, improves on an already fantastic formula, and makes the Wii U a must-buy console all its own. I’ve spent around 30 hours with it as of this writing, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon. Online functionality, as with every Nintendo game, could have used some more polishing. It’s getting to the point that it’s unforgivable, but still doesn’t take much away from my score. Absolutely every other aspect of Smash Bros. Wii U is pure gaming bliss.

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