More than a museum of mad brawling, it is a testament of how far love and dedication can take a game
Most fighting games, in the hope of being highly technical and awarding exclusively to extremely skilled players, flaunt intricacy in such exaggerated ways that their core gameplay becomes too hard for beginners to grasp. Super Smash Bros, however, feeds off of sheer simplicity, and, with those straightforward stones, it builds a structure that can either be purely casual or surprisingly complex. It is an effort of chamaleonic nature that can flex its muscles in a shocking amount of disparate ways, embracing all kinds of gamers and luring anyone who carries even the slightest amount of love towards the Nintendo universe.
The recipe is simple and, by now, well-known. The franchise replaces complex combinations of button presses with a satisfyingly big assortment of moves that are usually activated by matching up an attack button with a directional input. Additionally, it switches the plain terrains that have always served as the ring for most standard fighters with wacky stages filled with traps, hazards, chasms, static and movable platforms, not to mention wacky items that appear constantly. It is an odd mix of brawling with a good degree of platforming sprinkled with the randomness inherent to party games.
By itself, the formula is quite strong and unique, but the true calling card that elevates Super Smash Bros. to a sacred status is that all its incredibly fun fighting works as a vehicle to the ultimate display of Nintendo’s unparalleled legacy; achieved through the presentation of endless references to both first-party classics and masterpieces that have shown up on the company’s consoles via the hands of gifted third-parties. It is the gaming equivalent of walking into the Louvre and, instead of being treated to motionless art, witness the Mona Lisa grab Venus de Milo by the throat while punching Bacchus mercilessly.
True to Sakurai’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, the Wii U installment manages to pack in more references than its already loaded predecessor – Brawl. With fifty-one fighters coming from twenty-five widely popular series of distinct backgrounds and styles; forty-seven stages depicting famous locations featured in the finest titles of those franchises; more than seven-hundred trophies with even more expansive and varied references and embedded with tidbits of gaming history; more than thirty assist characters and over seventy items inspired by many popular titles, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is an all-encompassing work of flooring ambition and enormous scope.
The title is more than a numerical update, though, for it implements enhancements that – in terms of gameplay – are already enough to place it above its precursors. The general speed of the game rests comfortably between the fast-paced madness of Melee and the floaty nature of Brawl, and on that range the franchise finds the perfect equilibrium between sheer thrill and controlled chaos. Additionally, the newcomers present movesets that are generally creative, and even the very few ones who are clones of existing characters have slight distinctions that set them apart.
The greatest proof of the effort and care that was put on the roster, though, comes in the shape of its balance. Overpowered veterans had their prowesses diminished, while those that were too fragile gained deserved updates; even characters that perfectly stood in the middle of those spectra received tweaks. The result is a gigantic cast of interesting combatants that are all viable options either for just having fun or for trying to achieve sweet victory.
By far, though, the most significant adjustment this new version of Smash Bros. brings is how it fully acknowledges the fact its audience is split into two completely opposite – but sometimes overlapping – crowds: one that basks under the game’s competitive depth and that likes to partake in battles that award pure skill; and another that admires the franchise’s built-in randomness and its merging between partying and fighting.
Up until now, those craving for competition were restricted to disabling the appearance of items and being limited to stages that offered no dangerous threats. This time around, however, every single one of the game’s forty-seven battlefields has two forms: their standard setup, which often comes filled with dangers; and an omega version, where convoluted platforms are replaced by a plain podium with no menaces whatsoever.
That division is also materialized on the game’s solid online mode, which runs smoothly most of the time and is quick to arrange matches. There, players are able to choose between “For Glory”, a mode where one’s stats are kept, and that features battles without items, restricted to the omega versions of all stages, and that offers the option of engaging in 1-on-1 matches besides the usual free-for-all and team affairs; and “For Fun”, where the usual Smash Bros. insanity is in full splendor.
The only downside of the game’s online, aside from the inability to communicate with other players, is how it lacks in the customization department. Offline skirmishes have the usual flooring set of options to be toyed around with: the kind of battle (stock, time, and coin), the items that will show up and how frequently they will do so, handicaps, the amount of points lost for suicides, friendly fire, and even the frequency with which the many songs assigned to a stage are chosen as the battle’s soundtrack.
Sadly, when it comes to online battles, players will forever be stuck with 2-minute matches that allow no degree of configuration. While it is understandable that Nintendo would want the process of matchmaking to happen as quickly as possible, it is awfully disappointing to know that playing stock battles online or changing the length of timed brawls cannot be done. Considering that, just recently, both Mario Kart 8 and Mario Golf: World Tour allowed a great level of flexibility in the setup of their online matches, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U comes off as a step back.
That adamant flaw turns out to be rather contradictory due to the fact one of the game’s finest qualities is precisely how flexible it usually is. The highlight of that configurable philosophy is how deeply the characters themselves can be modified. For starters, three spots on the roster belong to a trio of distinct Mii Fighters (brawler, gunner, and swordfighter) that are each created from the ground up by players themselves, as it is possible to choose their appearance, the outfit they will wear, mess with their stats via unlockable pieces of equipment, and – most importantly – select their special moves.
Secondly, the same equipment that is given to Miis can also be handed to the famous mascots as well, allowing players to create their own customized versions of their favorite fighters through the adjustment of their stats and the replacement of their special moves with slightly altered versions that must be unlocked. Words fail to describe how exciting it is to either make a character from scratch or apply tiny modifications to an existing fighter and test them out on the battlefield.
Given the overwhelming number of distinct modes offered by the game, there is no lack of opportunity to put those customized fighters to the test. The traditional ones, with added twists that come as welcome updates and show that the team behind the game did not merely port them over from the previous installment, all make a return: the old-school Classic; the battle gauntlet of All-Star; the thematic matches of Event; the silly challenges of Stadium (Home-Run Contest, Multi-Man Smash, and Target Blast); the crazy fights of Special Smash; and even the Stage Builder, which remains lackluster despite several enhancements.
It might already sound like a lot, but – not one to rest on past laurels – Sora created quite a few new ones, such as the fast challenges of Master Orders; the risk-and-reward chain of battles of Crazy Orders, whose awards – which are totally lost upon defeat – grow with every battle cleared; and Trophy Rush, where trophies rain down from the heavens and obsessive collectors try to catch them.
The two grandest additions, though, are certainly the 8-player battles and Smash Tour. The former doubles the already generally crazy essence of fights featuring four characters and takes it to whole new levels of insanity. Those matches are unpredictable and wild beyond words, and although they are by no means as fun as the usual four-player skirmishes due to the over-the-top madness, they serve as an awesome activity when a ridiculous amount of friends is gathered.
Smash Tour, meanwhile, is an odd merge where a Mario Party board has its mini-games exchanged for clashes. Players walk around collecting items, equipment, and fighters – which come in the form of cards; and, when they bump into each other, a free-for-all battle where the losers have to give away their cards ensues. By the end of all the turns, players fight one last time with all their gathered fighters having their stats altered by the equipment collected on a last-man-standing battle to determine the victor.
The mode, unfortunately, is bound to generate very mixed reactions. Not only are its quirks hard to grasp, which makes it tough for veterans and – especially – casual players to understand what exactly is going on, but it takes randomness to very extreme levels, featuring overly powerful items that – for example – can force all players to exchange their fighters (their most important asset by far) on the very last turns before the final battle.
That countless quantity of modes sounds like a lot to take in, and it is – indeed – a lot. Sakurai and his team have, however, devised a very clever way to make players – especially those interested in unlocking as many trophies, songs, equipments, and special attacks as possible – experience a little bit of everything. The game carries a whopping one hundred and forty challenges displayed on a glass board that slowly reveals more tasks as missions are cleared.
Those endeavors – which range from simple to so brutal it borders on torture, mostly due to an AI that can be cheap when the difficulty is turned up to the maximum – send players all across the game’s many modes to clear unique goals, and rewards their achievements accordingly, most certainly guaranteeing everyone will get a taste of each of the game’s many facets.
The truth is not all modes will be equally loved, but the beauty of that impressive diversity is that everybody will find a lot to like inside this enormous universe. And even in the extreme case where someone finds the minor activities to be dull or repetitive, the game’s core – Classic, All-Star, Event, and multiplayer Smash – is more than solid: it is downright amazing.
The victories of Smash Bros, however, go far beyond its immense content; they are also of technical nature. The beauty and great art style of its stages, which are clearly crafted while supported by extensive research on the background of a certain character or game; and the impressive smoothness with which the fighters move are impressive regardless of whether one considers or not the fact that, at times, there are four – or even eight – player-controlled combatants moving through explosions and utter chaos.
Its music, meanwhile, is a gorgeous and incomparable catalog of nearly all the most iconic tunes to ever grace games of the major Nintendo franchises, not to mention the titles starring Sonic, Mega Man and Pac Man. More than simply copying and pasting those tunes into the game, though, Sakurai and his unimaginably dedicated crew took it upon themselves to remix many of them in order to create updated versions that frequently live up to the gorgeous originals. It is a statement of their love towards gaming history and the songs that helped build such an amazing journey, and – on the eve of every battle – they complement the excitement for the brawl that is to come with the intrigue as to what song will be played.
The care and attention to detail showcased in most Nintendo games are usually considered proof of the company’s – and its workers’ – love for gaming and of their respect towards their consumers. If that is true, then Super Smash Bros. For Wii U is the biggest labor of love ever released by the Big N. It might not be their best game, even if it is certainly the franchise’s brightest entry, but no title ever published by the company has ever oozed with so much dedication and effort. No project this big and ambitious could have been completed without almost impossible amounts of sincere work and commitment, and no amounts of work and commitment so considerable could have ever been delivered without love: love for gaming, love for Nintendo, and love for what they do. More than a fun museum of mad brawling, Super Smash Bros. For Wii U is a testament of how far love and dedication can take a game.