There’s something depressingly perfunctory about the name Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. The fact that Nintendo couldn’t bother to tack on a funny word like Melee or Brawl makes the game sound like nothing more than mere product. Its cynicism rivals New Super Mario Bros. But if that’s my only complaint after getting some hands-on time with this latest mascot fighting bonanza, it must be doing something right.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with previous games in the series should be able to hop in and start smashing with ease. As always, 2-4 players take control of Nintendo champions like Mario, Link and Samus to compete in a violent free-for-all and knock each other off the map. Players can unleash a flurry of normal and special attacks, use randomly appearing items like bombs and clubs, or simply try to survive the colorful yet hazardous stages.
It’s a winning formula that, along with ample amounts of nostalgic Nintendo fan service, has earned the series millions of passionate devotees. Finally in HD, this is also the best-looking game in the franchise, although maybe not quite as stunning as the recent Mario Kart 8. However, for those who aren’t just seeking more of the same, each installment’s new combatants typically introduce new ways to fight, and so far this Wii U edition might have one of the most fascinating rosters yet.
Punch-Out!!’s Little Mac is the newcomer for fellow newcomers. His punches hit so fast and so hard they effortlessly tear through the pack like nothing else. Playing on grounded stages, like his boxing ring home turf, also helps alleviate his poor air game. However, his strongest blows have a lengthy cooldown time, making them easy to punish in a 1v1 match.
In previous Super Smash Bros. games, skilled Ice Climbers players could control both characters almost independently through a process called “desynching.” Super Mario Galaxy’s Princess Rosalina takes this idea to the next level with Luma, her star companion. She’s a strong enough character on her own, with slow but strong smashes and crafty gravity powers. But launching Luma across the stage and controlling both characters simultaneously creates ridiculous range and versatility. It’ll take some time to explore Rosalina’s full potential, but one fun trick is shooting Luma at foes while staying far away for safe and easy sudden death victories.
The Wii Fit Trainer may have sounded like a joke at first, but her firm strikes and great posture fit in shockingly well. She also blows a whistle with most attacks like a drill sergeant keeping troops in line. However, while her normal moves are fairly conventional, her specials include a surprising amount of projectiles like soccer balls, sun beams and hula hoops. She can also charge attacks with a “deep breathing” exercise, but the timing is tricky so players should make sure to master it before adding it to their repertoire.
Other newcomers also offer exciting new play styles. Mega Man’s vast array of Robot Master powers blurs the line between special and normal attacks. Greninja’s fast and cool water-based moves nicely contrast against his slow, fiery, Pokémon counterpart Charizard. Finally, the Animal Crossing Villager’s more indirect abilities, like pocketing enemy projectiles for later use or growing a tree and chopping it down over opponents’ heads, make him the most charmingly passive-aggressive new character. The smile helps too. While they weren’t included in this demo, additional announced characters like Pac-Man, customizable Mii Fighters, and Kid Icarus goddess Lady Palutena look to continue this trend of fresh new fighters.
More hardcore players, like those watching Tuesday’s E3 invitational tournament, should know that while the game might be slightly faster and weightier, the overall physics lean more towards the accessible Brawl instead of the demanding Melee. Meanwhile, the lack of directional air dodging means Melee’s “wavedashing” technique is also unlikely to return. However, the Smash Ball, which grants a supremely powerful Final Smash attack to the player that breaks it, now seems much easier to steal. It’s a small change, but it encourages hunting down the lucky player who grabs it instead of fleeing from their oncoming wrath, increasing the item’s competitive merit.
But for a franchise as historically content-rich as Super Smash Bros., this is just scratching the surface. Expect plenty more modes, items, stages, new characters and tweaks to existing characters when Super Smash Bros. for Wii U launches this holiday. And about that name, since it’s the 4th game in the series, why not just call it Super Smash Bros. 4 Wii U instead? Nintendo, you can have that one 4 free.
Jordan Minor is a freelance writer who can’t wait to use his fancy Northwestern University journalism degree to mostly write about videogames. Follow him on Twitter @JordanWMinor.