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Polygon's Games of the Year 2014 #9: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

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I use the phrase "favorite gaming moment of the year" too much, I think.

It's mostly because that's how I remember my time playing video games nowadays: as condensed memories, rather than the sum of a game's best parts. 2014, for all its missteps, delivered a bounty of memorable gaming moments: lightning-fast three-kill rounds of TowerFall, the Dance of the Troupple King in Shovel Knight and, well, basically all of Dark Souls 2.

But my definitive favorite video game moment of 2014 happened in a match of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and it serves as a perfect example of why it deserves to be on any Game of the Year list.

It was in an eight-player match — Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's most revelatory addition — with a group of friends with varying levels of Smash experience. This latest series entry maintains an almost impossible balance between catering to newcomers and die-hards alike. That's a trait that almost no other party-centric local multiplayer games can boast; if your group of friends has a mix of rookies and veterans, most games will ostracize one of the two. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, miraculously, does not.

The eight of us were using characters pulled from one of the greatest rosters ever featured in a fighting game. Its multi-franchise, multi-publisher composition ensured that everyone in attendance saw a familiar face in the lineup — though most folks were satisfied with making a fighter out of their pre-existing Miis. That level of customization is also tuned for just about everyone: Our newcomers delighted in turning their avatars into blaster-armed duelists, while the more hardcore crowd spent time fine-tuning their attacks and statistics with the game's surprisingly compelling RPG systems.

The match, like every eight-player match, was a glorious thing to behold. It was our sixth or seventh battle of the night, so people had started to figure out the strategies that worked for them. Some folks were deserters, hiding out in a corner of the map until everyone else's lives were depleted. Some camped out and waited for the big, bad item drops. The more proficient players sought each other out, attempting to eliminate the biggest threats on the board, while opportunistic greenhorns waited for their damage percentile to skyrocket before attempting a desperate Smash attack.

Every player reacted differently to the thousands of situations that can occur in any given match, a skill they all picked up with remarkable speed. Everyone was hanging in there, putting up the good fight. Everyone was having a blast.

And then, playing as Ganondorf, I collected the all-powerful Smash Ball, lined up my shot and KO'ed all seven of my opponents with a single attack. The room froze in stunned silence, and then exploded in laughter.

The room froze in stunned silence, and then exploded in laughter.

I have loved every Smash Bros. game that has come out, but none have so perfectly found the balance between technical fighting and Party Game silliness as this latest installment. The pacing of each match in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is absolutely perfect, with compartmentalized battles and tense back-and-forths, punctuated with bonkers incidents like the one described above. It keeps it as unpredictable the hundredth time you play as it was the first.

If that weren't enough, there's lots of stuff to do outside that core Smash loop, even if you're playing by yourself. Event mode packs in a ton of enjoyment for solo players, teaching you some of the intricacies of each character in the game while tossing you into some unconventional battle scenarios. Even the series' standard modes, like the Classic campaign and minigames, are hugely rewarding, dumping trophies and character customization options on you with every activity.

But the foundation of the game is the Smashing, which is about as perfect as foundations can get. With its huge catalogue of variables and constant unpredictability, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a game I'm going to be playing with my friends for a long, long time, ensuring a full and happy list of favorite gaming moments for many years to come.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.