It’s been six years since Nintendo’s all-stars last graced our television screens in a Super Smash Bros. release, but the freshness of this Wii U release may be slightly lessened thanks to the recent release of the franchise's portable debut a couple months back. The roster and basic gameplay may be identical to the 3DS release, but a variety of Wii U-exclusive modes and stages make it easy to recommend both versions to fans of the series.
If you’re watching your wallet and settling on one version, the switch to HD couch play and the use of controllers make this the one to get. As is increasingly the case with Wii U titles, an assortment of controller options are available. My favorite option by far is the classic GameCube controller, and you can connect up to eight of them via the use of two adapters. If you don’t want to spring for new accessories, the Pro Controller and GamePad both do a fine job as well. Any assortment of GamePad, GameCube controller, Pro Controller, Classic Controller, Wii Remote, and 3DS systems can be used to enable eight players to take each other on, which is exactly as chaotic as it sounds. Playing with a real controller does wonders for the overall experience, as I felt like I had substantially better control over the 49 characters than I did in the 3DS version.
The new stages all reach the bar of quality the franchise is known for, but the Wii U-exclusive modes aren't all winners. Replacing the 3DS version’s Smash Run is the new Smash Tour mode that functions like a board game. Fans of Giant Bomb are well aware of my tolerance for dumb Nintendo-themed board games, but even I didn’t find myself having any fun with this half-hearted mode. It tasks you with moving around a board with dice rolls, collecting stat boosts and characters on the board as you go. It all leads up to a final confrontation in which you utilize those characters and boosts in a traditional Smash Bros. battle to determine the ultimate victor. The board-based buildup isn’t worth it, and you’re better off just sticking to one of the more traditional modes.
Like the 3DS version, there isn’t a substantial single-player story mode to be found here. However, I did find the Events grid to be a fun replacement. Instead of telling one long, cutscene-heavy story like Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, the Events mode tells several bite-sized stories within the confines of the game itself. Battles are spread out across a grid that expands as you progress, and each fight features intro text that offers some context. One has you playing as Jigglypuff, tasked with putting several child characters (Bowser, Jr., Link, Toon Link) to sleep, as it’s past their bedtime. Another has Little Mac being ravaged by a wireframe boxer, and you have to step in as Mario (the referee from the original Punch-Out) to break up the fight. These are goofy and not nearly as substantial as something like Subspace Emissary, but I looked forward to seeing what each new scenario involved as I unlocked it.
Master Orders and Crazy Orders are new modes that have you completing tasks set forth by the boss Hand characters. The former are one-off challenges that reward you with various trophies and customizable special moves. Crazy Orders are a different story, allowing you to take on numerous challenges for rewards before taking on Crazy Hand himself. Beating several challenges will give you increasingly valuable rewards, but you’ll lose them all if you lose to the boss at the end. These modes are nice distractions and a good way to fill out your list of unlockables, but I didn’t feel like returning to them nearly as much as Events mode.
The single-player offerings have their ups and downs, but Smash Bros. for Wii U shines where the series has always shined: multiplayer. This console release is a step up from its 3DS little brother in this department, thanks in no small part to the ability to play on the same screen. Nintendo’s characters and stages look fantastic in HD, and playing with friends as you’re all huddled over individual 3DS screens just can’t compare to couch play. Even without the added modes and stages in this Wii U version, the experience is significantly improved by its console nature alone.
I was initially concerned that the eight-player mode would be too chaotic to be enjoyable, but I was happy to be proven wrong during a riotous, hours-long session that was consistently entertaining. Eight-player Smash isn’t playable online, which is probably for the best, considering I encountered a decent amount of lag with four players. This was a problem with Brawl on the Wii, and Nintendo’s spotty (at best) history with online play makes me wonder if this Wii U entry will hit a point where it’s consistently lag-free. Fans that want to play with friends across the country (or world) are bound to be disappointed by this, but I wasn’t particularly irked as couch play is where the best multiplayer experience lies.
There’s a ton of content on this disc, and some of it feels disposable. A full create-a-stage mode could have some potential if players were given ample tools and the ability to share their creations online, but the mode included here is bare-boned and restricted to local saves (for now...share functionality may be coming in the future). As the first Nintendo game to utilize their new Amiibo figures, it doesn’t do a whole lot to sell me on their value. After earning equipment in the game’s single-player modes, you can feed it to your Amiibo AI character to improve its stats. You can team up with it or fight it in Smash mode to level it up and make it even more powerful, but I never quite understood what’s supposed to be fun about this system. We’ll see what these figures do in future titles, but I’m definitely not rushing to the store to pick up the full set anytime soon.
Some modes flop in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but the important thing is that the core game is expanded upon and significantly improved over entries in the franchise’s past. Its roster and stages are unmatched, and the variety of controller options is fantastic. 8-Player Smash wound up being far more fun than I expected it to be, and is destined to become a game night/party staple for years to come. It’s one of the best reasons to own a Wii U, and it’s easily one of 2014’s premier multiplayer experiences.