Super Smash Bros. Review

The fast, electronic beats of the Mute City music race as Mario soars carefully through the air, narrowly dodging a thrown projectile… just barely latching his hand to a ledge. It was this dramatic skill within chaos that was born in the original Super Smash Bros, a title which quickly established itself as a groundbreaking four-player fighting game on the Nintendo 64, all the way back in 1999.

Each subsequent Nintendo home console has seen a new entry added to the series; each adding new aspects and tuned mechanics. Many hardcore players were disappointed with the Wii title, Brawl, criticizing its mechanics; reverting to the Gamecube’s Melee instead. It’s safe to say Nintendo have heard this outcry. By recruiting Bandai Namco to work alongside Sora as developers, what’s been created is not only a fantastically large game, but one which leaps deftly closer to becoming a competitive fighting game, while balancing the simple elements that are franchise trademarks.

At its most basic, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’s action is still the same: the majority of battles have players using normal and special attacks to knock their foes off-screen. As fighters receive damage, a percentage will build up for them, and as it accumulates their chances of being launched off the screen increase dramatically. Some tricky tactics such as ‘ledge grabbing’ have been removed, as has the much criticized randomized tripping from Brawl.

One aspect that hasn’t changed is one of the continuing attractive features of the series: an extensive roster. The amount of characters has grown once again, sporting 51 to be exact (52 counting the yet-to-be-released Mewtwo DLC), with most characters from Brawl making a return. Sadly, Snake, Ice Climbers and a few other veterans have left the battle, but in their place we now have the charming Pac Man and Mega Man along with many new additions from popular Nintendo titles.

Tweaks have been distributed among returning fighters, with balancing improvements being particularly noticeable in the likes of the previously broken Meta Knight. Each fighter controls distinctly and the simplicity of attacks makes it intuitive to adapt when exploring new characters. It’s easy to become attached to one character, but equally simple to get lost in such an extensive roster. However, picking out fighters isn’t where the experimentation ends, and one of the game’s great strides towards becoming an even more competitive fighting game is the introduction of customizable characters.

Going into the customization menu, the first option you’ll have is whether you want to work on a Mii or an existing character. Most players will probably go straight into the Mii option, and begin to carefully craft an innocent looking avatar into an unstoppable killing machine. Some parts of this creation are necessary trivialities, such as giving them a cowboy hat, and calling them John Wayne. However, it near-instantly becomes apparent that you can choose many central aspects of your Mii: their basic stats (speed defence and strength), and special attacks.

Even by itself this process is extremely enjoyable, although what’s truly astounding is the amount of customization you can put into non-Mii characters – shaping well-known icons into personalized fighters. In particular, it can be great fun to modify individuals’ staple special attacks; for example, by giving Link giant bombs, or messing with key stats by turning Sonic into a slow tank of a character. In this, players are given the opportunity to recreate the entire character roster in both fun and crucial ways.

Just a few customizable moves for the Blue Bomber. Mega Man was shown some serious love in this game.

However, the full extension of this godlike feature isn’t available instantly, as you begin with few customizations. This absence gives a strong incentive to seek out more, and the best way to do so is by exploring the extensive amount of game modes that are on offer. But then again, there are many other reasons to find new ways to play: to unlock characters, trophies, music, stages, to train, to be challenged, and, most importantly, to have fun – and we really have been given near countless ways to have fun.

Two of the central returning modes are Classic and All-Star. Both of these accommodate one to two players, and both make small changes that give reasons to keep coming back. While All-Star is enjoyable, it sticks rigidly to its formula: challenging players with surviving a gauntlet of foes. Classic mode, in comparison, is inviting due to its interesting slant on difficulty, along with an exciting final boss.

In Classic, you can gradually increase the difficulty, but as you do so, you must risk more of your coin stash. The more you gamble, the stronger your foes, and the grander the reward of trophies, coins, and customizations. The tension is amplified by the fact that losing doesn’t just take away some of your coins – it also pushes down the difficulty level, which truly stings. When something hurts though, when a gamer is given a challenge, perseverance tends to prevail.

Determination leads to heart-wrenching defeats and heroic victories, during which collecting coins and trophies can seem like a side reward. But it doesn’t take long to find a place to spend the ostensibly pointless coins. One such way is to complete Special Orders. In this mode, the malicious Master Hand and unrelenting Crazy Hand give two separate ways to risk your earnings. Master Hand offers a simple trade: coins in order to take on battles for rewards, while Crazy’s orders are slightly more… crazy. The devious hand offers you riches after riches; however, your challenges become more and more difficult. This leads to a constant debate that rings in your head: ‘Should I do just one more, can I take one more battle?’. If you do lose, you lose it all.

While the challenges in Special Orders are quite straightforward, Events offers up more outlandish challenges in which you’re forced to take on unusual tasks. For example, one hilarious mission involves you having all of your opponents buried in the stage at the same time.

You can also go to the Stadium with the usual Home Run contest, Multi-Man Smash, and the new Target Blast, which measures your score against the online standard. After this, you could try the Smash Tour, in which four players can take part in a board game; unfortunately, however, the game is shallow and situates itself awkwardly. Thankfully, due to the wealth of more engaging modes on offer, this is by no means a deal-breaker.

Characters, customizations, game modes, and collectibles all give Super Smash Bros. plenty of replayability, but what really creates the longevity of every Smash Bros game is what here falls under the heading simply titled Smash. In this option, the trademark 2-4 player Stock, Time, Coin, and Special battles are all available, and within each we have the usual choice of both new and old stages. Classic stages survive on nostalgia and good design, but there are also many new stages which offer innovative environmental hazards and dynamics that must be learned in order to utilize surroundings.

Stages contain an extensive range of music options, and include creative remixes of classic songs that can really add to the environments. For those with a creative streak, there’s also the option to build your own arena. While options in the creator are limited, drawing ridiculous stages on the Wii U pad can be great fun. It’s unfortunate that these created stages aren’t allowed to be incorporated into one of the game’s most simple yet enjoyable ideas: the eight-player Smash.

Two- to four-player battles have always involved some degree of pandemonium, but this can appear tranquil in comparison to the near-anarchy of an eight-player Smash. What this mode brings to the table is a feeling that most veterans of the series had the first time they witnessed the franchise: an utter loss of understanding as to what’s going on. Being aware of seven other competitors is extremely taxing, and nearly impossible to do. It’s easy to get lost among scuffles, or to have your duel with one fighter interrupted by another. It’s also worth noting that Nintendo have gone to great lengths to enable people to play eight-player, by allowing the use of any controller as far back as the Gamecube era; emphasizing the fact that local multiplayer is an area that Nintendo will always support.

Unfortunately, one area Nintendo have yet to perfect is online play – and while there’s an improvement here, there’s still a niggling feeling of the old veteran trying to adjust to the new, online-focused world. There are basic options; For Fun and For Glory, but the matching system for serious fighters lacks clarity. There’s a Global Smash Power system which shows how many players you’re better than, but there’s no global leaderboard on which to see how many players you’re being compared against. Another weak point is the absence of an eight-player mode, but this is somewhat understandable as some matches can suffer from unpredictable amounts of lag.

Nevertheless, when the mode does work, it can run extremely well. Options such as one-on-one can be a joy to play, working like epic duels. There’s also an innovative spectator mode in which you can watch fighters compete and become involved by betting gold. In Conquest mode,the game pits different teams of characters against each other in a battle for supremacy, so you can support your desired winner by playing as a member of their team. Although adding depth, one questions the needs of these extra modes when the key parts of the online mode have yet to be fully refined.

That said, it would be overcritical to focus on the title’s minor weaknesses, when it excels in so many other areas. The depth and detail of Super Smash Bros. help improve the series in a huge amount of ways, leaving us at a summit from which it’s hard to imagine new heights. It’s a height that many will feel comfortable at, building a nice little log cabin to live contently in for many years. Some may cry that this game isn’t perfect. But, as a sum of its parts, it really does leave quite some view.

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