Review: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Smash it up!

The release of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS was one of the most highly anticipated Nintendo events of the year, but naturally, the arrival of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is what everyone was waiting for. It’s not without good reason, either; much of what has been said about the Nintendo 3DS game, which by its very nature held to some compromises, can still be applied to the home version, though the latter manages to go above and beyond in most of the ways you would expect it to.

It isn’t without its faults, either. Many are nitpicks, while others can be mildly aggravating, yet nothing a good patch shouldn’t be able to fix.

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I don’t normally go on about graphics very much, but it must be said that those found in this title are nothing short of gorgeous. The art direction feels like it’s taken a slightly different turn, offering up brighter colors which shine with the high definition visuals. Everything is brilliantly detailed, from the designs to the animations to the backgrounds, and perhaps some other things I’m not even thinking of. True to how director Masahiro Sakurai has treated the series, it practically feels like a world all its own.

At the same time, it feels different. The example which sticks out to me most is in Mario, a relatively simplistic, flat-shaded cartoon character who gets a bit of an overhaul with each new installment. In Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the most noticeable difference was the way his overalls had a distinct, fine denim texture that looked like… well, an actual pair of dungarees. That level is dialed back quite a bit here– not so much that the overalls appear without texture, but enough that it blends with the detailed look of the Smash world without being such a huge departure from his normal appearance.

Another example is in how Bowser looks more like his normal self and a bit less beastly than in previous installments. Not that it was ever bad, but he does appear more like the Koopa King we know and love from the regular Mario games, but with an appreciable increase in the level of texture on his scaly skin (and can now deliver a mean drop kick, to boot). Similarly, Mega Man’s normal anime-styled appearance has been upgraded to have more seams and mechanical details, bringing out a look which is more akin to his original onscreen appearances on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but with more modern sensibilities.

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Another area in which Super Smash Bros. for Wii U meets expectations is in its excellent soundtrack. Tons upon tons of tunes are featured here, and you can once again adjust their frequency as you wish, allowing for a semi-customizable soundtrack from one part of the game to the next. Some retain their original sounds, others are combined into whimsical medleys, and still others are remastered and remixed completely, bringing new life to many a classic.

In terms of cutscenes/videos, though… well, it’s not a reason many (if any) come to play Super Smash Bros., but it’s kind of disappointing just the same. Just as in the Nintendo 3DS game, there is no Adventure Mode here, and so no story of any sort, and not much in the way of crossover antics. The reveal videos for new characters are all compiled here, though (with those for unlockable characters appearing once said character is unlocked, of course), and while it’s great to view the trailer that announced Mega Man to the world as a Smash participant over and over again, there is sadly little for returning characters.

Interestingly, this kind of makes characters such as Mario, Samus, and Link look a little like chumps as they basically put over the new guys without any real homage of their own. It’s not a huge deal, but after such scenes as Captain Falcon saving the day (and doing a ton of damage in the process), well, it’s hard not to feel a little let down. Some sort of “spotlight” videos on the classics would have been nice, perhaps even grouped together by theme or series.

Heck, even the intro is pretty much all recycled from those same trailers. As a result, there’s nothing really new to see here if you’ve been following the announcement trailers up to the game’s release.

Then again, considering the Nintendo 3DS didn’t have any at all, I guess you take what you can get.

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On the subject of the Adventure Mode: Whereas the Nintendo 3DS game replaced it with the new Smash Run mode, the Wii U title gets the Smash Tour mode, which is basically an attempt at combining a Mario Party or like game with Super Smash Bros. The result? A rather “meh” experience that is no real substitute for the Adventure Modes of the past, and isn’t even really as much fun as Smash Run, which I wasn’t huge on to begin with.

To be clear, Smash Run is alright, but I like exploring the levels and fighting the enemies more than the showdown, and it’s over too quickly with no options to adjust. And I do know people who are fond of the mode, too. But everyone I’ve played Smash Tour with has been in no rush to repeat the experience, even as a good way to gather some of the same items and perks that Smash Run offered.

You choose a Mii, and earn different fighters, power-ups, and items by traveling across one of three differently-sized boards. Cross paths with another player, and you’ll engage in some sort of match– usually a Smash match with some sort of special rules, but sometimes a Home Run Challenge or other mini-game. After a fixed number of turns (no less than 15), you’ll gather up all you have at the end and take it into your battle with the other three players (sadly, it’s always four-player; even if you just want to play with two friends, the computer has to be involved then).

Overall, the mode feels a bit too random for my liking. The only thing you get to pick is the Mii who represents you on the game board, rather than a preferred fighter as in Smash Run. Fighters are swapped according to power-ups and matches, and you’re pretty much at the whim and mercy of all the chaos. And crazy as it is, I was doing terrible in the last game I played of it (I had to play each board for reasons. ProTip: You should play each once, too.), yet somehow came out on top in the end. It just felt weird, like watching those videos where Luigi wins in Mario Party by not even doing anything.

Something else which drags the mode down is that you can’t use custom controls in Smash Tour. It’s a pain for those of us who hate Up-tapping to jump, or for those who might want to use their Nintendo 3DS as a controller (more on that in a bit).

Update: Okay, it turns out that you can use custom controls, but it’s kind of tucked away in an inauspicious way.

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The controls in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U are kind of a mixed bag, though not in the way you might think. During battle, they run as tight as ever, perhaps even more so. It feels good, and you can use practically any controller imaginable, including the GameCube controller with a special adapter, and the aforementioned Nintendo 3DS handheld (provided it has a copy of the game to load). In the multiplayer matches I’ve been playing, there has been a wide variety at work, ranging from the GamePad (which works well if you did get used to the Nintendo 3DS), the Pro Controller (ditto), the Nintendo 3DS itself, and the Wii Classic Controller Pro.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not as versatile as it may seem overall. Specifically in the case of using the Nintendo 3DS, it’s only allowed in the core Smash mode– you’re not allowed to use it in anything else, from Solo to Group, or the aforementioned must-have-four-players Smash Tour. Why this would be is anyone’s guess, but it does run the risk of excluding some people in anything more than a single-player match (as any Wii U owner should at least have the GamePad).

You can customize your own control scheme under your name, but this does have some drawbacks. You can’t rename a control scheme, for one, but even worse is that using a custom control scheme changes the name appearing above your character from the easily-visible “P1” or “CPU” to a smaller, harder-to-make-out text. At first I thought I entered too long a name, so when I went to change it (and learned that I couldn’t), I used a shorter three-letter name (same as “CPU”), only to find it was still a smaller, harder-to-read label.

The result is that it can be more difficult to follow where you are on a busy map– especially one with eight players. It would have been nice to have the names be larger, or change size as the camera zooms in and out, but as it is, if you want to customize your control scheme, there’s an unfortunate price to pay.

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Some other notes on the controls is that there is a weird thing going on– I don’t remember it from previous games, at least– where switching from one menu to the next allows players to basically swap spots accidentally. One would think that the player with the “1” light on their controller would have the Player 1 slot, “2” for Player 2, and so forth. Rather, whoever uses their controller first when entering a new menu gets Player 1, second gets 2, and so forth. As a result, you can accidentally mix things up a lot. Plus, having to reselect your own control scheme every time you go from one menu to the next gets just a little tedious.

I also found that the game would frequently ignore the Home button completely as we tried to exit the game, particularly when we had multiple players. There were a few instances of an analog stick being pressed at the wrong time, defaulting it to push in a certain direction at all times, playing havoc with the menus. Exiting and restarting the game wasn’t an option; instead, we had to reset the whole system.

As for instances where you simply want to quit a match in progress, it can prove rather difficult, depending on the controller you’re using. L+R+A+Select may seem reasonable, but not if you’re using the GamePad. You’ll need to pull off some serious finger gymnastics and contortions for that one– or ask someone to press the fourth button for you, unless you just have really large hands.

None of these are game-breaking things, mind, but they can become frequent nuisances which feel like oversights at best.

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The Nintendo 3DS is more than just a controller in this game, though. If you have the Nintendo 3DS version of the game, you can also copy a few things back and forth between the versions– or rather, you can copy custom Miis and characters back and forth.

That’s well and truly it, though. If you thought anything else would carry over– coins, or any of the characters, items, power-ups, or moves you’ve unlocked? Think again. You can move any character you’ve made in one version to the other, but beyond that? You’re on your own. You can’t even edit a transferred character in any way, nor take advantage of any of the moves or stat-adjusting items they might have. They are islands unto themselves, and if you want to mix that Shadow Blade you unlocked for Mega Man in the Wii U version with the Skull Barrier you got on the Nintendo 3DS? You’d better start playing both more, because that’s the only way it’s happening.

In no uncertain terms, it sucks to have to basically get everything twice across both versions for any sort of real mixing and matching, and it would have been better if you could synch the two somewhat more. As noted, you can’t import characters you’ve unlocked, either, and that also means you can’t bring over custom characters who’ve not been unlocked– that is, if you’ve already unlocked a fighter on one version and customized them to your liking, you’re not allowed to transfer that custom fighter until they’ve been unlocked in the other version.

It’s really kind of a deflating experience to have to basically do everything over again, particularly after the Nintendo 3DS version is so fresh in one’s mind.

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Those wondering what the Wii U GamePad has to offer might be disappointed by the answer: Not much at all. It’s a great controller on its own, but the screen does little more than Off-TV play. You can’t even navigate menus with the touchscreen, or enter your name, though you can send messages in online modes.

That said, the option to create your own stages has returned, and in this instance, the touchscreen really shines as you can now draw your own stage layouts by hand using the stylus. It’s more fun than before, though it is difficult to get a good sense of scale while making it. My first attempt seemed rather grand at first, until I actually tried it and saw how tiny it was. On the bright side, it’s still fun to play on.

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There are other issues I found with the game as well, ranging from some challenges that seem a bit too specific (hitting Sandbag between 1640 and 1656 feet in Home Run Challenge with a certain character, for instance, or uncovering all the parts of a picture during the credits, which can be tough to tell if you’ve succeeded). Some Events are a bit obtuse in their descriptions, nor can you choose which player gets to be which character in the multiplayer events. This can be tough, as characters, their stages, and their related Assist Trophies are no longer a bundle deal. As a result, getting them can be rather tough, and may require an FAQ to figure out what is needed in order to get everything for the core experience.

One other thing that bugs me is the All-Star mode. This time, you have the option of playing multiplayer, but like all of the worst multiplayer games (Battletoads, anyone?), death for one player means both automatically lose. Classic Mode, on the other hand, has a new take that’s fun to play for one or two players.

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All the same, as many things as I’ve pointed out (perhaps to the point of nitpicking), it needs to be emphasized that much of this does not affect the core experience. The roster is huge and full of interesting and diverse characters– more than ever before, with such unique additions as the range-based Mega Man and the technique-driven close-range powerhouse that is Little Mac. The variety of options available for Miis are splendid as well, though I believe I covered that in the Nintendo 3DS review.

The stages are some of the best the series has had (though I still hold a candle for stages from earlier installments as downloadable content), and I think they’re a lot better than those found in the Nintendo 3DS version by a considerable degree. I can’t put my finger on just why, but I had more fun with the selection on display here overall. They’re better than many of Brawl‘s offerings as well; as grand as New Pork City was, I found it difficult to play on– perhaps due to how busy the background itself was. But the comparably massive Palutena’s Temple here is one of my favorites to play on, without question. Plus, every stage has a “Final Destination” variant accessible by pressing X, providing a bit more variety, particularly to the more competitive crowd.

The items, for those who allow them, are also quite fun, but again mirror the Nintendo 3DS version.

Everything else aside, these are the main reasons many people come to play Super Smash Bros., and the game shines where it truly counts here.

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That said, one has to wonder: “What about online?”

I delayed this review so I could give it a good, honest shot (online services went live the night of the launch), and the result are fairly pleasing. I had a one-on-one match which, on my end, seemed to go flawlessly… though that might not have been the case for my opponent, who took quite a pounding, not even fighting back at first. I have no idea what caused that.

Four player matches ran fairly smoothly, though there were admittedly some stutters at points. Whether that was the fault of my connection or something else, I can’t be certain, but even with the trouble, it wasn’t so abrasive as to completely disrupt the match. For the most part, it ran well.

Spectator mode (which has a neat betting gimmick to earn coins, CDs, and other prizes) ran smoothly, too. Well, mostly; I did get booted due to a connection issue during one match, but otherwise, it was like watching the matches play out in person.

Time will tell– particularly after Christmas– whether or not the online structure here can go the distance, but it seems to be holding up a lot better than Brawl‘s so far.

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In the end, there’s not much more to say. Though Super Smash Bros. for Wii U falls a little shorter than I’d expect with regards to some of its bells and whistles, it packs just the right punch where it counts most. If you’ve ever loved Super Smash Bros., you can’t afford not to check this one out.

Well, unless you’re a pure Ice Climber devotee. I do miss that little pair.

Oh, and you might be wondering about the whole amiibo aspect of the game. Stay tuned, as I’m giving amiibo its own review soon.

WiiU_SuperSmashBros_boxartSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U was released for the Wii U on November 21st, 2014 at a price of $64.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.