While I had a great time playing Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS, something felt like it was missing. There wasn't enough game there, and the Smash Bros. that I'd grown up with felt oddly distant. I suspected that the Wii U would satisfy the itch that's festered since 2008's release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and after almost 60 hours of play time over the past two weeks, I must say, I'm blown away. This is it. This is Smash Bros.
The review embargo for Super Smash Bros. For Wii U has arrived, but online connectivity has yet to be activated, so I am not ready to deliver a final critique. But there's no doubting the high quality of the newest Smash. My biggest surprise thus far is how meaningful the move to high definition has been. It may seem an obvious point, but in a series that's always been so ruthlessly kinetic, the bigger canvas is an absolute revelation. Fine details, such as locations of proximity mines, or whether or not your opponent is wearing a projectile-reflecting Franklin Badge, are easier to discern against the frenetic backdrop of near-constant explosions, particle effects, and characters flying back and forth.
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Multiplayer competition featuring up to eight people or computer combatants is another huge addition to the series, and once again, the increased visual fidelity makes the resulting mayhem perfectly manageable. Invite seven friends to a match, crank up the frequency of item drops, and Smash Bros. is every bit the glorious, deranged mess you hope it to be. If there's a complaint to make, it's that eight-player matches can leave players knocked out in the early minutes sitting out of the match for an excessive amount of time. That downtime can be something of a mood-killer when you have a room full of players eager to digitally beat each other with bats and bombs; you might feel obligated to play without a limit on player lives as a result.
There aren't a lot of stages that support eight-player brawls, but if there are five or six of you, or if you're willing to switch to the Final Destination version of some stages, then you have a few more options. Curiously, you can't play on custom stages with more than four people, but even so, getting eight people together and duking it out with some of gaming's most iconic characters is among my all-time favorite multiplayer experiences. The action is so pure, so unapologetically ridiculous, and the Wii U ably supports the chaos. I have yet to notice any frame rate dips or technical problems, minus a few arbitrarily long load times, but those hardly hamper an otherwise stellar game.
Smash Bros. for Wii U dropped a few single player options from its roster in terms of both fighters and play modes, but the losses aren't significant. As with the 3DS version, the revamped Classic mode has you wagering coins in order to ramp up the difficulty and potentially earn better unlockables and trophies, but there are a couple of nice twists. If you manage to succeed with the difficulty set at 8.0 or higher, you face a new challenge: Master Fortress. Here, you navigate a winding maze filled with enemies and lava that instantly kill you should you sustain too much damage. Master Fortress is quite possibly the toughest challenge a Smash Bros. game has ever offered, and is a thrill should you be seeking to push your limits.
Event modes have returned, and there are dozens of unique scenarios to try, from a legendary Pokémon battle, to a stage that demands you to keep other characters from touching the ground. Events and a running list of challenges add a lot of variety and thus stave off any encroaching repetition. Smash Bros. pushes you to experiment with characters you might not otherwise have given a second glance, and to apply their skills in unexpected ways. One of my favorites is a challenge that has you playing as Diddy Kong against another Diddy Kong, while the arena fills with throwaway Mii Fighters. You must knock out the other Diddy three times before you are knocked off once; after a few tries, I realized that the challenge was teaching me to use Diddy Kong's aerial abilities and take risks by chasing my foe off the stage and preventing his recovery. Once I discovered the proper approach, devised an effective strategy, and practiced the proper moves, I had little trouble. These modes exist to familiarize you with every fighter, and they highlight just how well the game has been made. Switching from character to character is natural, and movement is so effortless, and the controls so responsive, that only on the rarest of occasions am I conscious of the fact that I'm using a controller to guide my digital avatar.
For now, I'm most impressed with how well everything in Smash for Wii U feels. It's natural, without being rote. There's a low skill floor and a skill ceiling that I don't think I'll hit for years. I still haven't had much chance to explore the Amiibo integration, and online modes won't be open until the day before release. I'll be preparing for the final review over the next few days as I test these modes and continue to explore the reaches of this stunningly expansive game.