Super Smash Bros for Wii U review: crazy eights

Game Info
Platform Wii U
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Project Sora
Release Date TBA 2014

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is, hands-down, the best game in the franchise's history, and for reasons you probably wouldn't expect.

It's got everything you could want from a Smash title. It's enormously content-rich, with more characters, customization options and ways to play than previous series entries have approached. There is so much mastery to develop, techniques to refine and stuff to unlock. It's a bottomless toy box, and everything in it is fun.

But there is one feature that just turns the whole thing up to 11, that breaks the barrier that has secretly limited what Smash can be. It's something that mutates into its own game-inside-a-game, and is, without a doubt, the most fun I've had playing video games this year: eight-player Smash.

smash wii u yoshi Sora Ltd./Nintendo

The core of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U hasn't changed since its original, Nintendo 64 installment. You'll pick from a list of nearly 50 characters across Nintendo's (and other publishers') franchises, and duke it out as you attempt to launch your opponents off-screen. It's still a brilliant design, one that's richly rewarding for technical players and button-mashers alike. In fact, this version is geared to please both crowds, mechanically landing somewhere between the GameCube's esoteric and lightning-fast Super Smash Bros. Melee, and the Wii's more party game-oriented Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U with eight players not only works much, much better than you'd expect, it serves as a perfect showcase for everything that the game — and its similar 3DS version — does right. It's just a mosh pit of delight, with the series' best roster of characters wailing on each other, utilizing customizable attacks and pickups pulled from a bizarre, seemingly random catalog of cross-publisher game franchises.

yoshi split 1b

But that chaos always feels controlled, and largely because all eight players are rarely fighting in one heap — and that's what makes this double-size Smash so special. In an eight-player match, mini-fights pop up all over the arena, which you're free to bounce between opportunistically. See a weakling trying to hide on the edge? Go destroy them. See three competent players beating each other up? Maybe let them sort themselves out first.

yoshi split 2b

That dynamic existed on the micro-level with four-player Smash, but has turned into its own game here. The strategy of literally picking your battles is possibly the most important element in any fight, and the depth involved is immense and rewarding.

By doubling the max number of players, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U turns what was already a dynamic fighting game into something even more unpredictable, and utterly joyous to play. Every match is different, but with similar beats — mad scrambles for an errant Smash Ball, climactic showdowns between survivors, power struggles and turf wars will all pop up in a single bout. There's a tempo to how fights play out in Smash Bros., and it has absolutely been perfected.

Fortunately, it's easy to get a gaggle of players in at one time. You might think managing eight inputs would be tiresome, but it's a breeze. If you've got your GamePad, a few Wii Remotes (and their respective accoutrements) and some spare GameCube controllers (and their new Wii U adapter), you've already got what you need to get a huge match going. There's no overly clumsy registration involved; it's mostly just plug-and-play.

It all works well, and most options afford fidelity and consistency that the 3DS' Circle Pad — while adequate — lacked. Perhaps as a result, the game feels a bit faster and smoother than its handheld counterpart, aided by the console version's superior visuals and unfaltering 60-frames-per-second performance.

smash wii u yoahi 2

Eight-player Smash is the title's defining addition, but it's far from the only solid new content on top of the already stellar 3DS version of the game.

Event mode, for example, is back, and better than ever, with branching unlocks and cleverly themed challenges — like a mission where Jigglypuff serves as an au pair to three young fighters, who must all be put to sleep at the same time. Each has bonus victory conditions for additional rewards, and extra secret victory conditions, which unlock new events entirely. It broadens the game beyond simply trying to knock fighters off the screen, and is a really compelling way to play if you're flying solo.

There's also Smash Tour, which replaces the 3DS-exclusive Smash Run mode. It plays like a super-condensed Mario Party, where players run around a board collecting power-ups and characters to use in a climactic final battle. If you bump another player at any time, you kick off a battle, the winner of which can steal a fighter from another player's roster. It's fun, but a bit complex to explain to newcomers who just want to wail on their friends.

The only element that doesn't really succeed is the game's amiibo functionality — a shame, considering Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a flagship for Nintendo's NFC-equipped toys. The hardware works well enough; by tapping an amiibo to the GamePad, you can create a customized version of the depicted character. You can feed them items to increase stats, or fight against them in Smash mode to level them up, and that's about it.

It's amusing, watching your customized fighter grow from a mindless punching bag into an unbeatable killing machine, but considering the game already has a robust character customization tool, amiibo don't really add anything substantial to the mix. It doesn't hamper the experience of the game, but it doesn't exactly justify the hardware in the way Nintendo was probably hoping for.

yoshi 5

Perhaps Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's biggest surprise of all is that its online component actually works pretty well. Matchmaking is a breeze, fights are short and sweet and input lag is, for the most part, fairly limited. It's not quite as smooth as local play — you'll whiff an attack here or there because of latency — but it's leagues ahead of any online mode this series has attempted before.

Wrap Up:

Smash is the crown jewel of the Wii U's library

Pound for pound, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has been the most fun I've had playing video games in 2014, and a well-polished crown jewel in the Wii U's library. I've spent dozens of hours Smashing roomfuls of friends into oblivion, grinding through events and hunting down unlockables — and, happily, I feel like I'm just getting started.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U was reviewed using retail copies provided by Nintendo. Online was tested post-launch with a day one patch. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
9.5 Wii U