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Games of 2014: Super Smash Bros. 4 sets out to sucker punch Wii U's detractors

By Chris Schilling on Thursday 23rd Jan 2014 at 10:52 AM UTC

Depressing fiscal forecasts suggest Wii U may not be much longer for this world. Nintendo's sitting on too big a pile of cash to give up just yet, but if Satoru Iwata revises estimates down much further in the next 12 months, it'll struggle to make it past 2015. Yet if Nintendo's biggest hardware flop since the Virtual Boy does gasp its last a little sooner than anticipated, it'll at least have left us with a few classics to remember it by. Super Smash Bros. will likely end up in a pretty high position on that list.


And if anything's likely to shift the console, it's Smash. One of the biggest hits on both Wii and GameCube, it's a vibrant, boisterous celebration of all things Nintendo, wrapped inside an inclusive, immediate multiplayer brawler.

Naysayers would have you convinced that it's too simple, too lightweight, but the appearance of Melee at the most recent EVO event proves the GameCube game at least is respected by the competitive fighting scene. It may lack complex combos, tricky quarter-circle inputs, dash-cancels and other traditional beat-em-up systems, but that doesn't mean it wants for depth.

It remains to be seen whether the new game is closer to the fizzy, exuberant scrapping of Melee, or leans more towards the slower-paced Brawl, which was as much a love letter to the publisher's rich heritage as it was a thrilling, four-player fighter. As its predecessors did to a lesser extent, it threw the biggest Nintendo stars into the fray without forgetting the more obscure ones: the likes of Elite Beat Agents and Hotel Dusk's Kyle Hyde were immortalised in sticker and trophy form, while further collectables even paid tribute to little-known Japanese-only curios.


Brawl was a fairly extensive education in Nintendo history, and the new game looks like it's happy to fill in any gaps. Majora's Mask's creepy Skull Kid shows up as an Assist Trophy, as does WarioWare's grumpy goth Ashley. There's also a weapon based on 3DS non-hit Steel Diver, though it's a pity it only launches slow-moving torpedoes - otherwise we could have called it a sub machine gun. Either way, this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of fan service.

Some have complained that the new game will lack a campaign equivalent to the last game's Subspace Emissary component, a decision that to us seems pretty smart. SSE was Smash at its most indulgent - a fairly basic brawler enlivened by some wonderfully mad cutscenes, but there was a lot of drudgery to get to the daftness.

There may not be a story this time around, then, but the character reveals so far suggest the new game won't stint on the crazy CGI cinematics, while the inherent humour and silliness in witnessing the unlikely collision of so many disparate franchises is clearly intact.

Elsewhere, Sakurai has hinted that he might prune the roster, or at least that players shouldn't expect a vastly increased selection of fighters, unlike the leap from Melee to Brawl. Some favourites will undoubtedly miss the cut, though, given the number of new additions showcased so far, with surely a few more to be revealed. The newcomers so far all seem like smart, quirky additions. Mega Man is a perfect fit for the Smash universe, and it's only a surprise we haven't seen him sooner. Animal Crossing's Villager is an even better choice: there's something oddly sinister about his rictus grin as he snares opponents in his bug net, catches rivals in pitfall traps, and launches one of those creepy gyroids at his rivals.

"The newcomers so far seem like smart, quirky additions. Mega Man is a perfect fit for the Smash universe."

The Wii Fit Trainer is a gloriously leftfield pick - we've grown accustomed to her gently but firmly requesting we maintain our posture while wobbling awkwardly into a wonky downward-facing dog. Yet here, her impressively precise yoga moves are used to smack Mario et al in the mush. Well, it's one way staying fighting fit.

Super Mario Galaxy's Rosalina is a rather less surprising selection - not least given the appearance of a beautiful Galaxy-themed stage - though she may well turn out to be one of the most interesting of the newcomers thanks to her idiosyncratic fighting style. As with Olimar and his Pikmin, she doesn't fight alone, using a Luma friend to assist her, as well as performing remote Smash attacks from a safe distance.

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With an infinite supply of replacements she can command her celestial chums to do her bidding while staying out of harm's way, and while she's both taller and heavier than Peach and Zelda, her anti-gravity aura keeps her light on her feet. Meanwhile, her strong up attack conjures a halo-like ring above her head - seemingly as protection against attacks from above.

The new Smash may be in development at Namco, but on Wii U at least, it still looks 100% a Nintendo production - it's irresistibly bright, bouncy, crisp, characterful and polished to a fine sheen. The aesthetic of the 3DS version, however, has drawn some criticism for its reliance on thick black outlines for its characters, lending it a pseudo-cel-shaded look. We're rather less concerned than most - 3DS games almost always look much better in motion than in static screens - and besides, it's almost certainly a practical decision in a beat-em-up as fast and frantic as this, the outlines helping players keep better track of the brashest, busiest action you'll find on a portable device.


While the majority of content will be shared across both versions, each will have some exclusive stages, while most trophies will be tailored to the format: the 3DS prizes based on handheld titles, with the Wii U getting trophies dedicated to home console games. Will cross-platform play allow 3DS players access to Wii U stages and vice versa? It'll be interesting to see how that functions, as it will to compare the two versions.

You'd naturally assume that the Wii U game will be the more full-featured of the two, though Sakurai isn't usually one to skimp on content - you only need look at Kid Icarus: Uprising to see how far he's willing to go to provide value for money. And given that Brawl ended up coming on a double-sided disc - mostly to cram in dozens of remixed Nintendo themes for one of the all-time great soundtracks - if you're getting the download version, you may need to start clearing space right now. Time to invest in a larger SD card (or an external hard drive), perhaps?

While you wait, of course, you can always stay tuned to Miiverse to see what Sakurai's up to. His Picture of the Day posts are perfect examples of one of the series' innate strengths: its creator's sense of humour. Sure, there are plenty of action shots, but the majority highlight its sillier side: ultimately its violence is firmly in the Three Stooges slapstick mould. While that may ultimately be responsible for people taking it less seriously as a fighting game, Smash Bros would be far worse off without it. In particular, it's hard not to break into a broad grin at the image of a beautifully rendered (and completely adorable) French Bulldog clawing at the screen as the brawl continues behind it.


Super Smash Bros. 4: Your complete guide

UPDATED: Every new character, stage and detail confirmed so far

The playable roster should continue to swell in the coming weeks as the game nears release, and we've got two dark horse predictions for you. Given the popularity - in Japan, at least - of Fire Emblem: Awakening, we'd be surprised if Marth wasn't joined by fellow blue-haired hero Chrom - and, perhaps, female lead Lucina - while Xenoblade Chronicles protagonist Shulk and his Monado sword are a decent outside bet.

Either way, it's clear there are plenty more surprises in store - and the majority of those won't be found on Miiverse. Smash Bros may not be Wii U's saviour, but its vast array of cameos and references offer a timely reminder of the breadth and richness of its publisher's catalogue. It's a history lesson the doom-mongers pronouncing Nintendo's imminent demise would be unwise to ignore.