07 December, 2014

Review - Super Smash Bros. For Wii U; The Ultimate E-Sport?

What if Luigi finally tired of living in his brother's shadow? Who wouldn't want to see Link's shadowy reflection overcome his virtuous side? Imagine if each of Nintendo's finest took it in turns to beat the life out of Sega's Sonic? Well Super Smash Bros. For Wii U will at least let you play out such battles, but you may not see them resolve in quite the way you want.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

It has been six years since Super Smash Bros. last showing, and a good many more since I myself have indulged in Nintendo’s character-laden fighter. Yet it didn’t take me more than a couple of matches to get back into the swing of things. Super Smash Bros. For Wii U plays host to a ton of Nintendo and friends’ most iconic characters. The roster contains a healthy selection of Nintendo’s staples; Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, but characters like Shulk, Robin and Palutena serve to bolster Nintendo’s smaller franchises. Joined by characters beyond Nintendo's domain; Megaman, Pac-Man, and Sonic. Despite the expansive roster I chose to focus most of my time with the venerable Link and Zero Suit Samus, occasionally dabbling with Little Mac, who even gets his own meter. 

The core combat of Super Smash Bros. is fantastically honed and the characters are all pretty unique, though some require a little more finesse to master. In Smash Bros. the stage itself can be deadlier than your opponents, and learning them is just as crucial as learning the characters. There are a lot of stages to master, each with their own one-off mechanics and art styles.

A great to deal my time was spent in standard Smash of course, which can be tweaked in a few way - I frequently chose to disable all items - but the real crazy settings are only available in Special Smash. Some of the items are admittedly pretty fun, they can turn the tables on your opponents, as well as provide visual flair, which is certainly not lacking here. Super Smash Bros. looks great and runs smoothly, and thanks to a photo mode, you can pause the combat, capture that awesome moment or sick move, then export it to an SD card.

Because if you thought the standard whirling melee of Super Smash Bros. wasn’t enough, this game introduces eight player Smash. These eight player matches can only take place on the larger stages, of which there are plenty, and you can make your own, but more on that later! The mode is a lot of fun, I often didn’t really know who or where my character was, or if I was winning, but I was having a time, of that I am certain.

The online multiplayer offering is pretty straight forward; you can play with friends online, even alongside local players, or play with ‘anyone’ which is regular matchmaking, in either ranked or unranked modes. You can also spectate, watch replays and join in conquest mode; by playing as one of the featured characters you can support one of the three teams competing globally or by region. There is no formal tournament mode which is a shame, but I did have a good time online, experiencing only a few network issues, such as slow down and being booted back to the main menu once or twice.

There are a ton of different game modes available, for both the solo player or groups. Classic mode, is a traditional fighting game arcade mode. Smash Tour on the other hand is a turn based local multiplayer board game where four players collect fighters and power ups each turn, culminating in an epic fight between the players at the end using their collected fighters. The Events mode highlights some character specific scenarios, for example, in the event Four Sword Adventures, four Toon Links duke it out. All-Star mode introduces some persistence as you take on groups of fighters, but you do not regain stamina between matches, except for the use of a few items. Stadium contains some very different gametypes, such as an Angry Birds inspired mode where you hit and launch a bomb into blocks to score points, another has you take on waves potentially endless of fighters. The Special Orders are a series of challenges spilt into two categories; Master Orders and Crazy Orders. Basically, it is a lot of different ways to enjoy the core combat of Super Smash Bros., I split the majority of my time between the regular Smash, eight player and online multiplayer. While I would have really liked to have seen some kind of dumb-yet-epic story mode, containing the diverse cast, it was not to be. It is hard to lament this too much because there is a ton of modes here to shake up your gameplay experience.

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U, may be considered the early showcase for Nintendo’s Amiibo figures, which is pretty worrying, because the way they are implemented is not particularly exciting. Admittedly, part of my disappointment is my own assumption that you could actually fight with you custom Amiibo characters; you cannot. You can only fight alongside or against them as ‘Figure Players’, which seems an insane waste of potential, especially considering you can already create custom characters, which you can play as. Much like these custom characters, you can alter the Amiibo’s moves, but they also gain experience and level up, and can be fed items to increase their stats. 

Rather than feeding items to custom characters, they equip them, but they are otherwise pretty similar. Their moves can be swapped out and different builds can be saved for selection, naturally custom characters can be disabled for the pure Smash Bros. experience. In addition to customising the characters of the Smash Bros. roster, Mii fighters be created. Your Mii’s can be assigned to one of three roles; brawler, swordfighter or gunner. There clothes can also be altered, and headgear can be unlock by spending time in Smash Bros. secondary modes. As much as I wanted to not use the Mii fighters (because they are Miis… I didn’t say it was rational), I did enjoy the battles I played with the swordfighter class, but they certainly lack the personality of the main roster fighters.

Perhaps more interestingly, the game features a map creator, allowing players to make their own maps of various sizes using the Wii U Gamepad’s touch screen. You literally draw the terrain and place features like jump pads and lava, and of course you can select the stage music from the game’s huge tracklist. It's a neat set of tools, if not a little unwieldy; being able to draw terrain allows for pure creativity, but you’ll have to work for symmetry and neatness. Unfortunately there is no way to share maps with other players, being able to download other players' maps would have been an awesome feature.

Rather shockingly, considering the accessible nature of Nintendo’s products, I found the first few hours of navigating the menus and options of Super Smash Bros. to be a nightmarishly frustrating experience. Actually moving between options on the screen is mostly fine, but some of the menus are feature a lot of bright objects, both dense and distracting, and are not contrasted particularly well. Furthermore, button prompts are quite inconsistent across menus, with hints either changing position or not being surfaced at all. The character select screen is perhaps the most flawed. Granted, displaying dozens of character options can’t be easy, but options like character colour and control scheme aren’t highlighted at all, you just have to discover them yourself. Selecting a character isn’t fantastic either; you have to pick up and move a puck onto the character you want, which is slow going. By default all players are assigned the random option, which is partially covered by the ‘Ready’ banner, meaning it is very easy to advance to the stage select screen every time you want to select a character. I feel touch controls (on the Gamepad) would have alleviated this very issue, but they are disabled.

Super Smash Bros. allows you to remap everything on the controller; an essential feature no doubt. However, you have to select your control scheme every single time you enter a character select screen, unless you stay in the same lobby between fights. While I can understand the reasoning; that as a local multiplayer party game it makes sense that the players may change between games, making the default scheme is a natural choice. I still find it ridiculous that I cannot simply assign my name and control scheme to always be the default player one, because I can’t count the amount of games I’ve entered only to find jump is in fact not the B button. Which is just plain wrong.

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U is beast of a game, bursting with characters, levels and modes. But it all comes back to the action of Smash Bros. which is fast flowing, responsive, and flashy - very flashy. Yet it doesn’t come without its flaws; the user interface outside of the battles is a labyrinth of clutter, with controls regularly scattered all over the place, and some basic functionality is not highlighted at all. The Amiibo support is pretty disappointing too, but such concerns vanished the moment the next match begins. Fans of Nintendo's series' will doubtless find the roster appealing, featuring the best of Nintendo's modern heavy hitters, but for me the moment-to-moment action proved the clincher. 

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