Monday, December 1, 2014

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (2014, Wii U) - High Dededefiniton Fighting

With the fourth incarnation of their Super Smash Bros. party fighting series, Nintendo decided to release both a console and handheld version. The 3DS version, released October 3rd, is a decent but barren game with pretty terrible online play and, depending on your comfort with the 3DS itself, awkward controls. The Wii U version, released November 21st, takes everything good about the 3DS game and makes it better. Graphics, sound, and control options are obviously improved, but there's also far more content for both single and multiplayer fights and an online system that, while still lacking, is much more stable. This is the definitive version of the game.

Click here for more Smash Bros. U screen shots.

As is appropriate to this game: For this review, I'll be recycling a bunch of content from my 3DS review and improving on it.

I can still remember picking up a copy of the original version of Super Smash Bros. when it launched on the Nintendo 64 way back in 1999. I was in high school at the time and this was before I really followed gaming news or online reviews, so all I knew about the game was that it was an unconventional fighting game that took characters from a variety of Nintendo titles and tossed them into a four player arena. I didn't know who was in it, what it would play like, or whether I'd even like it, but it would end up being my most played game on the system. I was hooked on this series from year one.

The original, in all its boxy glory.
Two years later, the Gamecube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee, would take the original cast of 12 fighters and more than double it, adding 14 new fighters to the mix. Melee refined what made the original Smash Bros. so good, adding smoother control, some great new stages, and far more character options. Melee and SoulCalibur 2 were my two big multiplayer games in my college years, and I've got nothing but fond memories of both.

Two years later, Donkey Kong gets individual fingers.
When the third Smash title, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, came out on the Wii in 2008, life was in a much different place. I'd gotten married, friends lived further apart, and while we still played plenty of fighting games together, jobs and other obligations cut down on the ability to just chill out and punch some Pikachus for an hour or two on a whim. Thankfully, Brawl added online play to the series, making spur of the moment fights possible even if we didn't have time to get together.

The King makes his debut.
Unfortunately, Brawl's online play was terrible. Between the Wii's obnoxious Friend Codes system that used a long series of digits in place of a user name and the game's utter lack of matchmaking options (you couldn't search for players by skill level, by region, or by connection strength) playing the game online was a hassle. The Wii had no universal messaging system, so we'd still need to get in touch through other means to organize a game, and more often than not, the game couldn't tell that one of us was online. When we would finally get games going, things would run smoothly pretty often, but far too often the game would crawl to a halt, lagging so badly that we might we might see one frame per second of movement during a match. While the game itself was golden, and we had a ton of fun with local play when we could, the online system left a ton to be desired.

The 3DS version of Smash Bros. sadly did little to improve Brawl's mess of an online system. While the game itself had grown and improved, it was still stuck with Friend Codes, no messaging options, no sorting options, and pretty awful lag. Error codes also popped up way too often when trying to fight with friends.

Big Monster vs. Little Man
Thankfully, with the new Wii U version, things are finally almost right. The U uses usernames instead of codes, so adding friends is way less of a chore, and battles are way less laggy for me, even though I'm playing on a WiFi connection and not a hard wired one. You CAN send friends messages, but not while you're in a lobby. There still aren't any options to match by skill/region/connection strength. Well, at least the lag's mostly gone. You still can't play Stock mode outside of the ranked "For Glory" version of online play. "For Fun" players are stuck with Time matches unless they're playing with friends.

A fierce punch right in the Donkey Kong
Smash Bros. U controls wonderfully and allows you to use any Wii compatible controller you like, including the Gamecube controller if you've got an adapter and the 3DS itself if you're really desperate. Its visuals are fantastic, filled with bright, gorgeous colors and wonderfully expressive characters whose great little details were largely lost on the 3DS due to its small screen size. The U/3DS version adds 17 characters (Counting the three custom Mii character classes as separate characters,) including third party guest characters Mega Man and Pac-Man. Pac-Man has quickly grown to be one of my favorite characters to play. Sadly, the Ice Climbers, Ivysaur, Squirtle, Lucas, and Metal Gear's Snake were cut from the roster. Star Fox nemesis Wolf was cut too, but who cares?

Proud steel workers taking a break
The new characters all feel great (Pac-Man and Punch-Out's Little Mac are my favorite new guys, Duck Hunt's hilarious and Bowser Jr. is surprisingly fun) and some returning characters have been nicely tweaked (my King Dedede and Bowser play feels a lot stronger this time around.) The stage selection is different from the 3DS version, and while I'm sad to lose Earthbound's Magicant and the wonderful SNES F-Zero stage, the selection here is pretty good. The Game & Wario stage is a lot of fun (though I wish classic Wario Ware was included too) and Duck Hunt gets a simple but fun stage. I like the new Pikmin 3 stage a lot more than the old Pikmin world, and though the Great Cave Offensive looks really nice, it's too big to really workEach stage has an optional Omega mode that's simply a flat version of that stage.

Two dogs and a duck
For single player content, every character now has customizable moves, though unlocking those moves can take a very long time, and you can build a custom fighter using a Mii. Mii Fighters can specialize in either hand to hand combat, swordsmanship, or gun fighting. I've liked messing around with the Mii Fighters, but haven't had any interest in customizing moves for the main characters. I would have rather seen a palette edit mode for them.

Good Knight Turtleface
The Smash Run mode from the 3DS is gone, replaced by Smash Tour, a board game where you move Miis around collecting fighters and power ups, occasionally crossing paths and getting into fights with three other players. Like Smash Run, it's conceptually but not actually a lot of fun to play. If you're a giant Mario Party fan, maybe you'd get more out of it than I did.

A heated debate
Classic Mode is Smash's arcade mode, with players facing off against a series of opponents before fighting a final boss (Master Hand, Crazy Hand, both, or the new Master Core, depending on difficulty level selected.) In the 3DS version, players selected branching paths on their way to the end. For the U version, players move a trophy of their selected hero around, bumping into other fighters. It's effectively the same thing, but I found the 3DS version's interface faster and simpler. On top difficulty levels, there's a new Master Fortress boss that isn't present on the 3DS.

Puffy Buddies
In addition to these modes, the Home Run Contest is back and there's a new mode where you smash boxes as quickly as possible to earn coins and character trophies. There's also an Angry Birds meets Smash sort of mode called Target Blast. All of these modes are meant to be played for high scores. Since it's made by Nintendo, there aren't any sort of leaderboards, whether with friends or globally, which remains ridiculous in a game released for full price in 2014

Mega Man takes out some trash
Fleshing out the single player content is Event mode, which has been absent since Melee and wasn't in the 3DS version. Players are given a series of challenges that can be cleared however you like, or cleared in specific ways (usually time limits or difficulty levels) to unlock special items. There's a good number of missions, and most are pretty fun as long as you don't stress out about 100%ing everything. There's also a new mode called Special Orders, in which players can take big risks for big prizes in specialized matches. Most of these modes can also be played with two players.

Villager gettin paid
The stage builder from Brawl returns in the U version, but it's way better this time. You can draw stages freehand on the tablet's touchscreen (one of the few places you can use it at all; weirdly, you cannot tap on the game's menus or character select by touchscreen. This seems like an odd oversight) and create some truly weird worlds, and surprisingly, can use them in online battle with friends. It's been fun making both nice stages and completely broken ones.

Dino Battle 3030
There are more character trophies to collect here than in the 3DS version, and this time it actually tells you which game they're from. I have no idea how that could be left out on the 3DS. There's a photo mode that lets you move, rotate, and resize up to four trophies, creating goofy little dioramas. I love this.

Three Kings
Masterpieces, the mode in which you can play short demos of classic NES/SNES games, is back after skipping the 3DS version, but the two games I checked out seemed wrong. Super Mario Bros' colors looked off from how the game normally looks (and how it looks on the Wii's Virtual Console) and Zelda 2 feels very choppy compared to its Virtual Console brother. It's a cool feature to have, but I'm not sure why it seems to have sloppy emulation.

Bowser Jr doesn't like this lunch
The final new, nutty thing added is 8 Player Smash. If you can wrangle up enough controllers, you can now play with up to eight people on specific stages. It's complete chaos (even more than usual) that becomes very hard to follow, but it's great for a laugh.

So many blobs
Overall, the Wii U version of Smash Bros. is a huge improvement over the 3DS one just for comfort and audio/visual aspects alone, but the new features also make the 3DS version feel like a really big demo. The 3DS game had no ending videos and no pre-titles intro, both of which are added here. The U version just feels like it had more love put into it, and obviously it's more fun playing with a group of friends on a TV than on handhelds separately.

Samus ruining a good picnic
If you're only going to pick up one version, go with the U. This game, Mario Kart 8, Mario 3D World, and Bayonetta 2 sold me on the system, and I hope it can keep some of this momentum going into 2015. As I don't really have much interest in gaming when I'm away from home, I'll probably sell off my 3DS copy now that I've got this one.

Good health, everyone

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