Whether you are new or returning to the Super Smash Bros. series as a veteran, get this title on the Wii U and skip the 3DS version — unless you absolutely have to have the game on-the-go.
By Anthony Montuori
When I was a fair bit younger, I heard that among kids Mario had become more popular than Mickey Mouse. The Italian plumber had bested the iconic rodent; Nintendo dominated the cult of the brand/mascot. The news was the result of a survey, but I fantasize that it was determined in a more appropriate way: A battle to the death in a round of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the latest game in a fifteen-year franchise spanning five titles and five consoles. The competition takes the form of a post-modern We Are The World mash-up where players pummel each other as any one of their favorite characters from Nintendo’s vast stable. The characters range from the obvious Mario, Link, and Kirby, to the unassuming Wii Fit Trainer, or that annoying dog from Duck Hunt that everyone hates.
Premiering in 1999 as an obscure title for the Nintendo 64, the Super Smash Bros. series was created in collaboration at HAL Laboratories, a first-party Nintendo developer, between Masahiro Sakurai (famous for creating Kirby) and Satoru Iwata (now Nintendo’s president). Intended as an experimental, lighthearted fighting game, the title now straddles two worlds: it maintains its roots as a distraction at parties, but it has also evolved into a deep, competitive-level fighter played at tournaments for substantial cash prizes.
At a mechanical level, the game is simple to a fault. Controlled by the direction of the analog stick, each fighter maintains a standard and special attack (affected by their footing either on the ground or in the air). These attacks are used to increase the opposition’s damage percentage such that successive hits throw the opponent farther, with the goal being to knock the other players (initially as many as four but now up to a limit of eight) out of the arena and off the screen. If the smashed player hasn’t been completely knocked out, they then have a double-jump and one final ‘Up-Special’ to make it back to the platform (which in most cases results in the player just barely grabbing the ledge).
The mechanical simplicity of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U contrasts greatly with other popular fighting games such as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. By reversing the concept of a depleting health meter and removing complex character-specific button combinations, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U creates an attack system that’s not informed by memorization or timing, but is common to all its characters.
Conceivably, anyone with thirty minutes to spare can pick up the game, learn the mechanics, and start playing. On the other hand, veterans can revel in the less-is-more ideology and master the game at a deeper level with the knowledge that their opponent need only know the same handful of button prompts and character specific nuances. My review companion can attest to this. She had no prior experience with the franchise, but was able to hold her own in matches within the first hour of play. Alternately, though not to the detriment of the established system, players can opt to include random item drops or play on stages that introduce elements of chaos and unpredictability. The latter shifts the focus of the game from mechanical skill to clever item management or proper hazard navigation. Because of this customization the series has transcended its initial conceptual gimmick: it is now a universal constant (see: setting suns, death, taxes).
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and its companion game Super Smash Bros. for 3DS mark the fourth entry in the series (respective to their subtitled console) and while the 3DS version was released almost two months prior to the Wii U version, both games are intended to be the most recent update to the series rather than two completely separate titles. I played through both iterations and can assure you that one is the console version of the game, the other its handheld counterpart. There are a few peculiarities tossed in to entice players to pick one over the other or to buy both to get the full experience, but at the end of the day the differences are eclipsed by the similarities. While my time with one title was memorably addictive, I found the other to be exhausting and underwhelming. If you had to pick one, make it the Wii U version.
The 3DS version compresses the Smash Bros. experience into a handheld and suffers for it. Released first, it is clear that the game was dropped on a desirous public a bit ahead of time and on a console that can’t quite handle the action (it has had several hotfixes and balance updates — in my case, there were also frequent crashes). The game’s underlying mechanics are strong, but they are obscured by the handheld’s control scheme, which do the requisite twitchy gameplay no favors. In a series built to exploit precision of movement, chaotic battles, and the tension of being in the same room as your opponents, the insular nature of a handheld console and the restricting screen size and control scheme all work against a game that is an otherwise joy to play — when crowded around a TV with other people.
On the other hand, the Wii U version is unadulterated Smash Bros. as the good lord Mario intended. The game offers every conceivable control option imaginable; it never trips over itself at a technical level, except from the passable instance of a horribly designed menu (it is unnecessarily cluttered and unintuitive). The latter is a shame because the rest of the game is gorgeous; further proof that Nintendo is king when it comes to the construction of colorful graphic worlds in the face of its competition’s “realistic” grit. Given that there are 49 playable characters (one more will be released as downloadable content and there is the opportunity to make custom Mii fighters), choosing isn’t an issue and even the most nostalgic players should be content with their options. That said, a few of the potential combatants should hit the locker room. Pac-Man and the Wii Fit Trainer feel out of their league here, and a few of the fighters are clones (different characters with tweaked move sets). The large roster of fighters is fun to experiment with, but in the end most will likely settle on a favorite.
If you have no one to play with the game is surprisingly rich with single-player content. It offers an online mode that felt like the real thing, even though my opponents weren’t sitting next to me. In truth, there’s a lot for the loner to do here – collecting trophies, playing through classic and all-star modes against AI opponents, taking on the forgettable Smash Tour mode (an unfocused board game), or indulging in my personal favorite: event matches. The event matches establish character-specific scenarios and unique goals as conditions for completion, which often adhere to or put a twist on the tropes of a specific franchise. They can also require clever maneuvers in place of the usual rules in order to triumph. The only catch to single-player content is that at higher levels the enemy AI can become frustrating: matches are quickly lost to tireless, lightning-quick opponents. Given all its terrific content, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is more fun when played with the most dangerous game — other human beings.
Since Mario has become iconic, a lot has changed. This franchise has grown to move beyond its casual following with concessions that appease its competitive base — yet it has sacrificed nothing in the process. Super Smash Bros. is fun at parties, fun by itself, and intense at higher levels of competition. This is arguably the most compelling reason to buy a Wii U right now, and the only place to go for this type of play until we get a sequel in ten years; plenty of time to master this game and extract its content, and more than enough time for Mickey Mouse to end up in the official roster.
Anthony Montuori is a practicing visual artist that uses video games as an unlikely medium to discuss the existential void. Originally from upstate New York, he now lives and works just outside of Boston and makes a living as a professional freelance art handler specializing in technology based artworks.