The expected step forward.
People, people, comparing anything titled Smash Bros with Melee at this point is poignant. When a developer wants to make tweaks to improve upon a game they've established they have two ways. Throw everything into the rubbish bin to start from scratch, but people will go nuts and complain like there's no tomorrow because it has lost its essence; or you can maturely meddle in pretty much everything regarding to this to create a broader, larger-than-life experience that feels a superior version of such game.
Super Smash Bros is Nintendo's Call of Duty. If Nintendo tries something new, people will go nuts and start jumping-off buildings; if they keep it safe and change a few characters added and new stages people will go nuts and start jumping off buildings as well. Either way, there's chaos, you have to decide which way to go. The nepenthe in this situation is that it doesn't really matter which path was chosen anyway, the game will sell like water in a desert post in the middle of the Sahaara.
You can't have the same element of surprise you had for the monumental Melee transition, nothing here feels unexpected, nothing will give you that "wow-factor" from the entry cutscene which looked better than everything you had ever seen in video-games at the time to the plethora of game modes that seemed to just be endless. Every corner you looked another new mini-game was hiding, it seemed like you could be playing that game for the rest of time.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Nintendo's brawler you have an amazing roster of Nintendo and third party characters that will face in the battlefield in different types of battles. The damage you cause to your enemies will make a percentage meter go up, the more you're hurt the more prone to fall or being blasted off the stage you are. So even if you have half of your foe's damage you could still be sent off flying and lose the match if you opponents strategy is better performed. This makes Smash bros a mixture of fighting and party game that appealed to many people since it's not as tight as a usual fighting game nor it's completely devoid of skill such as most party games.
The first Smash bros game, on the Nintendo 64 created the foundation of what Melee was built upon. melee is one of the best game Nintendo has ever created, such an amazing feat, colossal in every way imaginable. Brawl came along and people complained that it felt too casualized, less intense and floatier than Melee was. they were right, some tricks that made the game even more hardcore were cut to basics. This new installment stands between the sheer hardcoreness of Melee and the more accessible Brawl.
Brawl was pretty much a mistake but it tried something new with subspace emissary. Sure it felt horrendously mashed together with a new character thrown in every couple of seconds just for the sake of it but at least it was a decent try at modernizing the adventure mode in Melee. This new installment doesn't even try that. There's no real adventure mode except for a Mario Party styled board game that doesn't really feel interesting at all. You roll the dice and move around in a map that can be small, medium or big and collect stuff, fight and wish for luck.
The core game is what shines here for obvious reasons. This time around you can have up to 8 players at once fighting which is chaotic to say the least, but I can't imagine anything more Smash Bros than that. The whole deal of impractical battles like sudden death matches and low gravity can all be selected for your decisive dose of fun with your friends.
If you decide to take things a little more serious there are online modes that disable items and are programmed to only allow certain maps. This is Nintendo keeping the hardcore fans fed. Unlike Brawl's online mode this one works pretty nice, though you can't have many different kinds of battles unless you're playing with people you know. There's also online with items for people who don't really care about being competitive at all, which always feels more like Smash even though some game-breaking items still exist from Brawl, like that final smash thing which is simply wrong in so many ways.
Something kind of annoying in this new Smash which definitely didn't occur in melee is know clustered the game modes seem to be. Choosing the game modes is pretty strange at first which led me to believe they had left out the classic mode, but I was just trying to find it in the wrong place. Definitely not a deal breaker in any way but it struck me by surprise at how Nintendo tried to make it look "cool" and just made everything worse, not functional in any way or form.
There's another version, a portable one for the 3DS which works basically the same with tuned down graphics and different trophies based on handheld games and characters. You can link your handheld version for a few extras. If you don't have a handheld version which most people won't, since you either want to go HD or portable, you can still link your 3DS to use it as a controller if you really want to.
The controller issue has been present and will continue to exist since the GameCube controller was Nintendo's last regular controller and it rocked. You can order adapters and improved versions of the original GameCube controller but I found that playing with the Wii U's Pro controller was a pretty decent experience; especially since you can change the button settings. You might have a harder time using the tablet controller but it's still pretty much a bulkier Pro version so you definitely do not need the GameCube to have complete control over you character unless you're a real die-hard fan or some hardcore Smash player.
The classic mode has changed a bit, you simply walk around in a board and choose which challenge you want to face off. Depending on which one you chose a some characters are discarded and some items can be gathered; I'm not exactly sure if this was necessary but it's not something that will bother. Among the many, many types of items you get from playing anything there's new CDs for new soundtracks, new special moves for character creation, money to spend on trophies and fighting challenges and costume items.
One of the exclusive features in this fourth installment is the opportunity to create your own fighter based on a Mii character you might have created. You choose the overall stance which this character will be based -- brawler, sword fighter and gunner --, change the looks and include special attacks. Everything you have at your disposal for creating characters is gotten throughout the gameplay.
Not only can you build your own character but you can create your own stage as well. with the help of the tablet controller and a creator mechanism you can draw the form which your future created stage will look like and even choose stuff like ledges that allow characters to hang or not. Reminds of how you can create levels in Super Mario Maker though not so full of features.
There's a cool new game mode which is called Special Orders. You have both Master and Crazy Hand (basically the bosses of Smash, for those not familiar with it) that propose fighting challenges for you to face off. Master Hands Orders are simpler, you choose a character and face off different kinds of challenges for a prize. The higher the difficulty the better the prize. You also need money to summon thee orders so you have to have money to generate more. If you lose then the money spent was wasted.
In the Crazy hand side things get a little more serious. This truly feels like the adventure mode that wasn't added. You pay an initial fee or use a Free Pass to enter the competition -- generally using a pass since the money required to enter is 5000 coins, which is rather a lot. The competition will hand out 10 minutes for you to face as many challenges as you can at the expense of losing money if you fail. When you feel you'll run out of time or just think you've had enough you can attempt to fight Crazy Hand for the final showdown. The amount of HP you have and the difficulty level will depend on how many individual challenges you have completed. In more advanced fights other players could join the battle or even Master Hand, requiring you to fight both at the same time. Unlike normally found in Smash Bros, this final battle has you with decreasing health instead of increasing.
The fan-favorite home-run contest which you beat up a punching bag over a dome without causing it to fall before using a bat to send it the farthest you can possibly send is back. The initial force field that helped players in Brawl is also present here during the 10-second pre launch. The other famous mini-game target smash isn't featured anymore, instead we get a modified version that isn't really all that good. In Target Blast you do the same thing you do in home-run contest but to a smoking bomb that explodes after 10 seconds as well. Depend on how you launch it you'll blast primary or secondary targets for points. The system is pretty similar to the cellphone game Angry Birds, which Miyamoto have already declared being a fan of.
Multi-man smash stays pretty much the same with the addition of rival smash which you fight to beat more enemies than your rival, and the absence of the brutal 15-man smash. To tell the truth, 15-man smash won't be missed at all, it was more of an endurance test that once completed you could pretty much forget about it altogether. The other main mode, all-stars, is also present. It works the same as it used to, you fight all the characters, mostly more than one at a time, and have a limited set of items to heal up.
The event matches got a little make-over, you can have a list of challenges or go browsing your path. The system of difficulty settings introduced in Brawl is there. Every event has an easy, a normal and a hard mode. It also features special requirements that once met can yield newer paths, events, items or money. To make everything more cohese when it comes to sense of achievement you have the overall Challenges. These are a set of 140 requirements that range from defeating classic mode with a character without losing any life to hitting a certain distance in home-run contest using some character. Some are quite easy while some are incredibly hard and many types of bonus can be gotten from these achievements, from new characters to new stages.
The set of new stages is pretty good, some of them are pretty interesting while also having the usual simpler ones used in serious battles. Some are bigger than others which can hold up to 8 players at once. Stages from past games are also added in the mix so you're sure to encounter familiar locations here and there. To complete the Smash experience in them yo can take snapshots and save replays which can be seen and reviews anytime in the Vault.
Many other interesting stuff is packed within the game like the trailers and preview videos released by Nintendo introducing some of the newer characters like Sonic and Pac-Man. Also, you get to try game available in the Nintendo Wii U's Virtual Console like Super Mario World, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past, among others. You have a time limit to try them and while I have yet to play some Virtual Console game aside Donkey Kong Country 2, some demos feel strangely laggy for some weird reason.
The last mention I have about bonus stuff is the selection of music to compose the game. It's not really a secret that most music in Smash bros is actually remixed versions of the games which the stages were built upon. All of them are cataloged in a nice playlist that indicates the game is was featured and many songs are featured in its original form. CDs are one of the items present in Smash Bros Wii U and getting them unlocked several amazing sound tracks that should sound familiar to those who have spent some time with Nintendo games in the past. You can pretty much let the playlist playing and have a really good time listening to some of the best original and remixes of songs from Nintendo and third party titles.
The best feature that Melee brought us was the trophies. The ultimate collectible in smash. every trophy has a description and is nicely placed in an expanding location to make the player feel proud of his achievements. These trophies can be gathered playing the game, beating challenges, playing home-run contest or by simply buying them at the in-game store using in-game coins. There's also a mini-game which you chip in a few coins and play Trophy Rush, which you have to beak boxes that might contain trophies to earn them before the floor under your feet gets overwhelmed and collapses. Not something that will make you come back for more but there's always a mini-game for trophies since Melee. With 700-plus trophies, any method is relevant.
This is it, Nintendo has packed most of what people thought was necessary for a good Smash Bros experience plus a pretty good online mode. Since the controls are not what Brawl had presented and the general speed is much faster, hardcore fans will surely find a home in it. It's still a bit floaty but the controls are tight. Most of what's actually included aren't new or groundbreaking in any way, but that's not what's expected from Smash Bros anymore, it has to be build upon its roots to deliver the fighting experience players have been dealing with since the beginning. Playing solo is not the way to go with this, and while the online might be fine for most people, the best experience one can have with Smash Bros -- and that can be said since the very beginning of the series -- is having other people in the same room who share the same interest for a brawler like this. Super Smash Bros Wii U is the expected step forward.