Hands-on Preview: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Is the newest game in the series a smash or a total trip up?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/13/2014 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

There’s no denying it: Super Smash Bros. Wii U might be one of the biggest games Nintendo has ever made. An enormous character roster, multiple modes, trophies, Amiibo figure integration, the list continues to balloon as we march ever closer to the game’s amorphous holiday 2014 release window. Smash is also shaping up to be one of the most important games in the company’s history, as well. Mario Kart 8 has been doing a handy job of bolstering Wii U sales, but Nintendo is inarguably banking on Smash working in tandem with that game to ensnare multitudes of new players (and help push those Amiibo figures, too!). With so much riding on the fate of Smash, it was important for Nintendo to show up at E3 this year with a build of the game that would leave show attendees wowed. I’m happy to say, it has succeeded in doing exactly that.

Lines to play Smash never diminished during my time at E3. Fortunately, Nintendo was cognizant enough to have a large number of its Wii U kiosks set to play the demo, so the wait to battle wasn’t ever overly long. The Smash demo was played exclusively with GameCube controllers (some of which I think might have been dug out of old E3 storage bins just for the event!), which was a nice promotional nod to their upcoming re-release this winter. It also felt really natural playing with a GameCube controller again. Just on a personal note, I find it totally ironic that I intentionally shifted to using a Pro Controller in Brawl because I believed the days of using a GameCube controller for Smash Bros. would end with Wii! Anyway, each demo pitted four players against each other, with two rounds to play: the first for practice, the second for… a T-shirt!

I know I was at E3 in a professional capacity, but I tried my hardest to win a T-shirt like you wouldn’t believe. As such, I did quite a bit of… research on this game! Not that I wouldn’t have been entranced anyway. Smash glows on Wii U. All of the characters look like promotional art come to life on the screen. The roster was cut down to a much sparser collection of fighters than the final game will feature, but there was a good selection of new and old characters to choose from. I’m a Link man, and he was my main fighter of choice, but I did experiment with Mario and Fox, too (and learned quite a bit about Little Mac as he handed me my butt repeatedly).

A lot of folks have been describing the game’s speed to be somewhere between Melee and Brawl, which is accurate. As is typical with the transition to any new Smash title, character moves and speed are somewhat different, so there’s a small adjustment period when returning to a favorite character. In Link’s case, his uncharged right-A attack now features a little mini-leap forward, which was throwing me off balance until I compensated for it. I was chuckling to myself as I listened to the booth attendants exasperatedly attempt to teach the controls to people playing the demo, only to be turned down repeatedly because we already knew how.

Matches were timed affairs, with all items turned on. I got to fiddle around with the Boomerang, which was as satisfying to lob in Smash as it is in Mario Kart 8. I also spent some time with the Gust Bellows, which shoots a powerful stream of air that propels other players in the opposite direction (I could see that one really irritating folks during demos!). Overall, the new items that I got to employ or be subjected to were as entertaining as any that have come before. Stage selection was always on random, so I didn’t get to sample as many arenas as I would have preferred, but stages like Boxing Ring and Pilotwings kept popping up and were very fun to fight on. Nintendo didn’t have any Final Destination versions of the stages on hand, but even in standard mode, I never found any of the environments to be obnoxiously invasive. Some of the antics of Brawl‘s stages appear to have been toned down this time around, but I’d have to see more arenas to say that with any real conviction.

After numerous battles (I never did win that shirt), I walked away a believer in this latest iteration of Smash Bros. It was a tad frustrating to not hear anything new about game modes or other features (besides the Amiibos, which weren’t utilized for the demo). But in the end, the most important aspect of the game, its controls, were on full display for everyone at the show. Play control is paramount in any game, and I was more than satisfied that Sakurai’s meticulous touch, along with the wizards at Bandai Namco, have resulted in a tight spectacle of multiplayer bliss. There are a ton of questions left about Smash, but Nintendo answered the most important one; the play control is spot-on as it should be. Hopefully, the rest of the game can follow suit.

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