My coffee table is a mess. Right now it’s covered with a pile of controllers that makes it look like I live in a frat house: there are three Wii remotes, a handful of Gamecube controllers, a Wii U Gamepad, and a 2DS. There are even a few Amiibo figures laying around, Nintendo's take on the Disney Infinity toy fad. But I'm not a slob, I swear. I need each and every one of these objects to play the new Super Smash Bros., which finally launches on Wii U this Friday. It's the best version of Nintendo's fighting series yet, absolutely packed with new content and game ideas, including an obscene new eight-player mode. All those players means a lot of hardware.
The Wii U version of Smash Bros. is very similar to the version that launched on 3DS back in October. The series' portable debut was a surprisingly solid outing; but with its fast pace and huge stages, Smash Bros. isn’t necessarily the best fit for a handheld, and when you play on Wii U the difference is obvious — Smash Bros. can finally breathe again. Playing the game on a television feels like stretching your legs, as you can finally test the limits of a level without having to worry about the camera zooming out and characters shrinking down to minuscule proportions.
This is the right way to play.
Just like Mario Kart, Smash Bros. is a game best experienced in the company of friends. On 3DS you could play locally, but each player needed their own 3DS and a copy of the game to play. Four people sitting around staring at their own 3DS just isn't the same as crowding around a big screen and trash talking with your buddies. Smash Bros. on Wii U reminds us just how amazing the communal aspect of the game can be — and then it takes it to another level.
Smash Bros. is an insane game even at its tamest. It's a game where you can throw a hive at Luigi to unleash a swarm of bees, or knock Bowser hundreds of feet in the air by kicking a soccer ball at his face. When four players are on screen, the frantic pace and unrelenting action — there are levels that are constantly in motion and a steady barrage of special items — makes it hard to keep track of things. At times I just push buttons and hope for the best because I can't even find my character on the screen.
With eight people playing simultaneously, it's hard to even put into words. There's just so much happening at once, so fast. Eight-player Smash Bros. might be the craziest, most intense video game experience I've had in years — but it's also amazing. Maybe it's the sheer novelty, but having so many people playing in the same room on the same TV was so much fun. Trash talking and in-game surprises, like an accidental explosion that kills everyone, are that much better with more people.
But like multiplayer on 3DS, it takes a lot of hardware to play Smash Bros. with eight people. Luckily, the game has a huge range of control options, including Gamepads, Wii remotes, and even a 3DS. Rounding up all of those controllers can be expensive, so it's probably easier if your next Smash Bros. party is BYOC (bring your own controller). Everyone has their own preference, too, but for me it’s a Gamecube controller. Nintendo has released a $20 adapter that lets you use Gamecube controllers with your Wii U (though Smash Bros is the only supported game at the moment), and once you do it's hard to go back. Those shoulder buttons are just so deep and clicky that I don't want to use anything else.
The newest Smash Bros. is also surprisingly great to play by yourself. You have old standby modes like Classic (where you battle a series of opponents capped off by an annoyingly difficult boss) and All-Star (where you battle through Nintendo's history, fighting groups of characters from different time periods). But there's also an amazing new mode called Events, which gives you a huge range of very specific tasks to complete. These range from defeating a stage filled with Pikachus to putting everyone on screen to sleep using Jigglypuff's singing. One section pits all of the fastest characters against one another and then ramps up the speed considerably. Events does an amazing job of taking the core Smash Bros. gameplay and adding a fresh new spin on it, and there's even a multiplayer version so you can take on weird challenges with friends.
Not every addition to the game is a winner, though. The new, board game-like Smash Tour mode is boring and overly complex, and Nintendo's new Amiibo figurines feel underutilized. Essentially you can use the toys as customized characters; you scan them in the game using the Gamepad’s NFC, and as you use that character it will grow in skill and can be customized using new moves and power-ups. Problem is, Smash Bros. already has fairly robust character creation and customization options, and the Amiibos don't add a whole lot outside of the novelty of collecting cute little toys. (Amiibo support is also coming to other games, including Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors, but the functionality also appears to be pretty limited there as well.)
As with past games, the new Smash Bros. doesn't skimp when it comes to fan service. The series brings nearly all of Nintendo's history together on a single disc, and there’s even some outside stuff like Pac-man and Mega Man thrown in. It's basically a love letter to video games, and the latest game continues the tradition of giving you lots of cool little tidbits to collect. The unlockable trophies are back, each detailing a different piece of gaming history, and there's a sizable selection of short movies you can watch detailing the different fighters. There's even a short anime film of an intense sword fight between Link and Pit tucked away in the movies menu.
But Nintendo has also gone a step further this time and added actual playable demos of classic NES and SNES games into Smash Bros. If you've ever wondered just what Kid Icarus actually is, you can check out a brief demo without ever leaving Smash Bros. The demos are unfortunately pretty slim, with strict time limits of around three minutes each, but as an added bonus they're a great idea, one that will hopefully introduce new players to some of Nintendo's classics.
Smash Bros. is perhaps the most Nintendo game ever. The company gets derided for rehashing old franchises, but there's a reason that it goes back to the well so often: Nintendo makes amazing games. The newest Smash Bros. is fundamentally the same as past versions, but it's also the best iteration, building on top of its predecessors with amazing new modes and ideas like eight-player battles. It takes what you love about Smash Bros. and cranks it up to 11.
It's worth giving up your coffee table to a pile of controllers.