I got a little tired of all the other players kicking my Donkey Kong in the face. I was playing a preview of Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U, a long-awaited game that comes out on Nintendo’s console on Nov. 21. And the seasoned players around me were knocking me out of the arena.
This is a strategically important game for Nintendo, as it will determine whether the Wii U can still remain relevant as a competitor to the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One consoles. Nintendo needs exclusives like this to grab a bigger share of hardcore gamers. A companion title, Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS, debuted earlier this month and sold 705,000 units in two days and prompted a 55 percent increase in 3DS portable hardware sales.
On Thursday, during a Nintendo Direct livestream, the Japanese company revealed details of the Wii U version of its popular melee fighting game, where characters from all of Nintendo’s iconic games duke it out in one arena. Then it invited the media to try out the game Thursday evening. I went to it, and I got my butt kicked all over the place.
The 50 new features show how Nintendo’s game designers are trying hard to innovate with a well-known franchise. You can play a new downloadable content (DLC) character, Mewtoo, once it comes out in spring 2015. It has a board game mode, dubbed Smash Tour. You can also use a new kind of toy, the Amiibo, to save a character to an external storage device, much like Activision’s Skylanders digital toy characters. I “trained” a Donkey Kong version of an Amiibo toy simply by playing a bunch of rounds with it.
But the highlight is the capability to connect up to eight players in a raucous match on a crowded couch — with everybody fighting in the same arena. Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U has larger levels to accommodate this bigger crowd.
I played the local multiplayer eight-player mode for a bunch of rounds with other game journalists. I imagine these were rabid joystick junkies who couldn’t wait to get their hands on this game. I played with characters such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Link from The Legend of Zelda. No matter what I did, I got squashed, pounded, stabbed, sliced, and punched. Every time something like this happened, somebody else in the crowd laughed. I was basically trying to stay alive as long as possible, and making sure that I didn’t fall off ledges by accident.
The controls are simple. You hit the A button to do a standard attack. You can make that strike happen in a certain direction using the control stick or circle pad while pressing the A button. You just do this over and over again. You can flick the stick to the side to do a smash attack that sends your enemy flying. And you can use the B button for special moves, which you can make happen in any direction. You can dodge attacks or use a shield. And you can grab opponents too. It took me a while to learn all of this, as I was just getting pounded.
But that’s what Super Smash Bros. is all about. It’s a button masher, where you have to intelligently outmaneuver your opponent and close in for the kill. With eight players, the action is unbelievable. You can choose from among 40 Nintendo characters, from Mario to the Wii Fit Trainer. Each character’s moves match what the same characters can do in the 3DS version. So if you have trained with the portable, you can have an edge in the Wii U version. You can also import characters from the 3DS version to the Wii U game, and you can even use your 3DS to control the characters in the Wii U game.
The characters fight on different stages, such as the expanded Big Battlefield or the Great Cave Offensive. You can pull tricks like pushing your opponents into lava or knocking them off ledges. As Pac-Man, I enjoyed eating other players or dropping fire hydrants on their heads. But for the most part, everybody was too fast for me to catch them.
As for the Amiibo figures, your character joins as a figure player. The figure player can gain levels and become stronger over time. You can add a high level Amiibo to the game (by tapping the bottom of the character to the Wii U’s GamePad, thereby establishing a near-field communications (NFC) link). You can train that Amiibo by adding more experienced Amiibos or just by fighting that Amiibo character.
The Wii U version has lots of modes like the Smash Tour board game, a custom Special Smash Mode, Coin Battles, Stamina Matches, and others. You can use the GamePad’s touchscreen to create custom events quickly.
All of this makes Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U something that could lift Nintendo’s console fortunes.
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