By the time this article will be published, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will have released. It’s only natural to move on to this new release and leave the previous incarnations behind. However, my birthday was on the 4th of this month, so for one last time we hooked up the Wii U and put in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. To then head into the stats menu and find out we only had a small 20 hours in this game was kind of a shock.
The ravages of time
I unlocked every stage and character in Melee on both a GameCube and Wii, meaning I had over a 1,000 matches logged on both machines. For Brawl, I had finished the Subspace Emissary multiple times, unlocked everything, cleared most of the achievements, and we played that game for years. By comparison, I own both the Wii U and 3DS versions, bought both on launch, purchased all the DLC for the Wii U… all for a game that only really gets brought out whenever it’s my birthday.
Changing times and interests certainly contribute to this. I wasn’t as much a PC gamer back in the Wii days as I am now and I had people coming over more frequently in those days too, but still I had ample opportunity to play the games. After all, I always have my 3DS with me on my train rides.
So what does this fourth installment in the Smash Bros. series do so wrong for me? Well, it’s certainly no fault of its mechanics. The actual matches in Smash 4 are nothing short of excellent. The cast has been boosted to a remarkable 56 and there are more stages than ever before. This includes a great selection of new and improves stages, as well as returning ones from all prior titles. There are more items, Pokémon, and assist trophies, and on top of the Dragoon, there is now also a 3-part rifle that can be assembled once per match to blast opponents with a giant laser.
The controls are still fine and an interesting mechanic is found in being able to customize the characters a fair bit. You can create Mii fighters with 3 different presets from the ground up or take an existing hero to change up. You can swap out moves, like turning Link’s gale boomerang into a regular one, and add buffs to them that improve strength, defense, or speed, at the cost of another stat. I didn’t dabble in the latter much, but it was nice to know I could change the special moves around if they didn’t suit me.
New is an 8-player Smash mode where it’s possible to have 3DS players connect to the Wii U game and use their 3DS as a standard controller. It’s interesting and chaotic, but not exactly useful. 8 players is a little too much and to accommodate it, several huge stages have been added to the roster. While these are properly sized for the number of players, they are just too large to score KO’s in and oftentimes there is way too much room for the number of people you got.
Some of the new items are also very annoying to deal with. There is a sword that summons a tornado, which can be so large that a player who gets it often just runs to the edge of the screen and starts spamming it. Likewise, the Gust Bellows can be used to just effortlessly push people off the screen, same goes with the Drill and Boss Galaga. There is also a flag players can collect that just gives them an extra win point after a few seconds, unless they can be interrupted. Depending on the stage, this is either entirely useless, or a cheap way to score an extra point.
Still, if you boot up the game, you’ll be greeted by a menu that appears lacking in some familiar features. There is a massive button for SMASH which brings you to the menu to set up basic versus matches. There is a button for challenges that brings you to the achievements screen, a special mode depending on which console you play on, and then Games & More. Spoiler alert: all the solo content is stuffed away in this tiny Games & More section.
Subspace Emissary was amazing and something that would be hard to top, so Smash 4 doesn’t even make an attempt. There is classic mode, event matches, the usual ensemble of stadium games, and that’s your lot. There is not even a stripped down adventure mode to play with, unless you count the good old All Stars mode. It is really barebones for solo content, especially because the Classic mode is short and not that interesting. On the 3DS your character picks between various paths that lead to different encounters and on the Wii U you move your trophy towards whatever fight you feel like doing. After a handful of short matches you have a final event and that’s it: no mini-games, only a few optional metal and giant battles, and nothing that feels new or exciting. They did take the Kid Icarus system where you bet money to increase the difficulty, that is kind of nice.
The event matches are quickly completed and I really didn’t feel like playing through yet another All Stars mode or dabbling too much in the recycled stadium games, which explains why I had so little time recorded on both games. Both versions do have an extra mode. On the 3DS you got Smash Run, where all participants navigate a maze, fight enemies, and loot treasures that buff up their character. When the time limit is over, they are then placed in a random match type or mini-game where they must use what stats they have to win. It’s a great mode and I play it more often than Classic. On the Wii U they have a lame board game that nobody ever wants to play, which is kind of a shame.
Smash 4 launched on two systems and made a point of keeping the games separate, yet connected at the same time. Both versions have their own stages and a few differences, but remarkably it’s the 3DS version I find the most recommendable. It lacks the oversized 8-player stages the Wii U has, it has Smash Run, and it even has the better version of Classic mode.
Gameplay score: 4.5/10
Two machines, two styles
The games have once opted for a more animated style, abandoning the more washed out direction that Brawl went with. On the Wii U the game is completely HD and looks darn nice. Meanwhile, the 3DS version has a look of its own, using thicker outlines for the characters and having a lower resolution. For a portable Smash experience, it’s very much acceptable and it doesn’t change much to my earlier recommendation of the 3DS version over the Wii U one.
The soundtrack is as remarkable as you’d expect and it’s great to hear songs from other franchises make their way into the game. Particularly, I was fond of the remastered interpretations of old 8-bit era characters and tunes, with franchises like Punch-Out!, Duck Hunt, Pac-Man, and classic Megaman finally getting their well-deserved place in Smash.
Since there is no story mode, there also aren’t any cutscenes to admire. A nice addition, however, is that the announcer now calls out the name of every fighter that participates. This gets a bit crazy when 8 players are involved, but it’s a cool detail to get you hyped for a good fight.
Presentation score: 8.5/10
The extras in Smash 4 kind of make me sad. There are 8 unlockable characters on the Wii U, and an extra 4 on the 3DS. Some of these are recurring characters, 1 is a lame “dark” version of an existing hero, and the rest are some of the new faces. It’s not much and the criteria for unlocking them is kept easy, so you’ll have the complete roster without little effort. That is… until you start to look deeper. A number of heroes and stages are kept as DLC and pricey ones at that.
Additionally, that impressive 56 characters is a buffed up with the addition of some lame fighters. Characters that could previously transform were split between their two forms, there are clone characters like Falco, Dr. Mario, and Lucina, and the Mii Fighters also count. Older heroes like Lucas and even the Ice Climbers were cut, though Lucas eventually returned… as DLC. The Pokémon trainer was also scrapped and replaced with just Charizard.
Trophies are still there and still great. The mini-game is also better, as you are on a stage and boxes drop from the sky. Breaking them fills up a meter and, once full, a whole bunch of trophies and customization items drop from the sky for you to gather. However, you can end up buried if you don’t break stuff fast enough. Additionally, you can use the coins you get while playing to buy some trophies in a store.
Extras score: 4/10
With a huge cast of characters and easy unlock criteria, Smash 4 is the game best suited to party play. However, it focuses on doing this one thing really well at the cost of everything else. There is little to do for solo players and the game feels, all-around, like a step down after Brawl was so surprising and big.
- A good cast of heroes to play as in many stages.
- Using the 3DS as a controller on the Wii U.
- A solid, new art-style on both machines.
- Great gameplay and very fun at social gatherings.
- Smash Run
- Duplicate characters, expensive DLC, and old favorites are cut.
- A number of cheap new items enable cheesy new strategies.
- No story mode at all.
- Lackluster optional modes like the board game.
- Downplayed Classic mode and All Stars.
- Oversized stages on the Wii U.
- 8 player smash isn’t as fun as it sounds.