Super Smash Bros. for Wii U requires a lot of investment. I’ve been playing Smash Bros. since the first iteration came out on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, so I’m definitely invested, but this game doesn’t necessarily require any familiarity with prior entrants in the series. On the contrary, Smash is a matter of taste; the game’s colorful, overstimulating absurdity make it unlike any other fighting game, and thus, it has grown into a divisive franchise with a particularly defensive fanbase. The button combinations required to master any Smash character are notoriously simple in comparison to other fighting games, not least because every character has more-or-less the same move-set. The barrier to entry here is the game’s atmosphere. If you don’t like it at face value, you’re not going to stick around long enough to find out why Smash is anything special.
I briefly lost my faith in Smash this year when Nintendo chose to release a new version of Smash for the 3DS handheld before allowing me to play the game as intended, on a TV screen with a comfortable controller. Squinting at my 3DS screen, wishing I could actually see the game, and discovering little to write home about in terms of new features, I worried that the Wii U release would disappoint me as well. On the contrary, this new version makes the 3DS port feel like so much perfunctory fluff.
The main addition to the basic competitive structure of Smash Wii U is the presence of the customizable fighters, particularly the Mii Fighters. These existed in the 3DS version, too, but no character looked or felt good on that tiny screen. These fighters look significantly better in high-definition, and customizing their outfits and moves feels good with the Gamepad and TV set-up. This game may have been the first game to help me understand why the Wii U’s Gamepad even exists; typing in different character names with the stylus, tapping on hair colors and eyebrow shapes, and scrolling through the selection menus felt much easier with the pad than with a traditional controller.
Smash Wii U also allows you to create customizable versions of the in-game characters, so you can create a Mario who’s a little less powerful in favor of getting a higher jump or a speedier gait. (You can customize Amiibo versions of these characters, too.) All of these customizations are significantly easier to see and understand now that the game is actually on a TV. Does it seem like I’m emphasizing this “TV” thing a lot? That’s because I’m still mad that anybody would try to put this game on a 3DS. Seriously.
Speaking of character customization, there sure are a lot of mini-games that allow will you to unlock new items, costumes and props in this game, not to mention trophies and other virtual paraphernalia. In addition to the usual Smash multiplayer fighting modes, there’s the “Smash Tour,” a board game inspired mode in which Mii Fighters collect items, power-ups and buffs, then duke it out as whatever Smash characters they manage to enlist in their journeys around the board.
Under the game’s “Challenges” and “Games & More” sub-sections, you’ll find yet more feats of strength to butt your head up against in the name of attaining more in-game items. All of these modes include two-player co-operative versions as well as solo modes, each of which will unlock different collections of prizes upon completion. The best prizes are goofy hats for your Mii Fighters; I don’t know about you, but putting a tiny red top hat or a pink hibiscus flower onto a Mii delights me. Even if you aren’t invested in all the different spoils and winnings, though, the “Challenges” and the “Events” modes will provide many a frustrating battle or puzzle.
The rest of the mini-games serve more as charming entertainment. There are gambling mini-games with “Master Hand” and “Crazy Hand” (it’s not real money, so it’s not exactly gambling, but Mii hats are serious business), an Angry Birds-like game called Target Blast, the Multi-Man Smash (fight a bunch of guys), the Home Run Contest (hit a sandbag as far as you can with a Smash attack), and the All-Star Mode (fight as many characters for as long as you can, with only one life and no health recovery).
In previous version of Smash, many of the characters and extra modes were kept sealed away until players had battled through enough multiplayer matches to unlock them. In this version of Smash, the Party Ball cracks open as soon as you boot up the game. Some of the characters are withheld at first, but not as many as were even in the 3DS version—you only have to play through 100 matches before you’ve got everybody. Also, there really aren’t any new characters to spoil here, given that you already saw all the new faces in the 3DS release. The immediate availability of all of these mini-games, modes and characters felt like a direct IV of pure, undiluted Smash—a sorely needed dose for me, after I’ve spent so long feeling frustrated about the slim pickings on my tiny 3DS screen.
This instant gratification might feel like a Smash overload to some, though, and even I wouldn’t have minded if the game had spaced out its rewards a bit more. Plus, the game’s UI is overly busy and confusingly designed. That seems customary for all Nintendo games, but particularly Smash Brothers ones, and it makes it feel extra inaccessible for new players who won’t even know what modes are typically available. And there are so many modes on offer here—I haven’t even gotten to mentioning any of the actual combat yet, let alone the 8-player Smash, nor did I remember to mention Stage Customization, a feature that feels way more fun now that there’s a Wii U Gamepad and stylus involved.
To me, though, this overwhelmingment feels blissful. Any fighting game fan—yes, even Smash fans—knows what I mean by this. The sense of hugeness, of discovery, of never fully understanding what’s going on but knowing that eventually you’ll figure it out if you just keep trying? That sentiment has been thoroughly packed into Smash Wii U, which feels more deliciously expansive than any iteration before it, like all other Smashes have felt up until now (with the exception of the depressingly tiny 3DS version, but I think I’ve made my thoughts on that clear by now). I’m still not done feeling my way through all the different characters in this game, but I can tell you: the “tripping” mechanic from Brawl is gone, the game feels a lot faster and more slippery than it did before, and the addition of the Omega stages (which flatten out tricky areas and remove stage hazards) make 8-Player Smash not only playable but enjoyable.
The new 8-Player Smash mode sums up the entire game, in a way. Smash was already unique by offering 4-player matches, but the addition of 8-player in this game takes fighting to a brand new level of goofiness. Either you’re the type of person who thinks that playing a game of Smash with 8 players sounds overwhelming, or you love the adrenaline rush of having even more variables on screen to challenge your focus. For me, it’s the latter. Plus, I’ve loved the fact that 8-player Smash means never having to wait around to get a controller. Unless you have more than seven other friends, but come on now.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U feels like a version of Smash that has achieved a higher plane of self-awareness. This game has leaned even further into its own wackiness, and it’s up to you whether you want to come along for the ride. Heck, this game will actually let you watch a game without any active players in it at all, which I’m pretty sure no prior iteration has allowed. As a joke, I set up eight AI-controlled versions of my friend’s Mii Fighter against one another, and the game let us watch the match without any human participants taking part. We sat by and took bets on which computer would win (it was “Angry Ken #3”). I don’t know what that says about me. Or this game. But if you’re the type of person to do something that stupid and find it funny for the entire length of a match, then you might just enjoy the Wii U Smash Bros.
Maddy Myers is Paste’s assistant games editor. She tweets @samusclone and co-hosts a weekly gaming podcast called Isometric on the 5by5 Network.