Super Smash Bros. (Wii U) Preview

The little plastic figure that could.

Nintendo offered me the opportunity to get a bit more personal with Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Wii U, despite the game being made available on Nintendo 3DS earlier this month, and I’m still confident that the console version will prove more entertaining and engaging for the company’s fans young and old. This most recent build offered support for Nintendo’s amiibo figures and the stored memory they have within each toy’s base, including the ability to “teach” your toy a few tricks while activiely engaged in combat.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS already impressed me with the way it used character archetypes to simulate all-out warfare in controlled environments, though you won’t be blamed or faulted for feeling like the small screen and controls don’t stack up, particularly after you’ve gotten time to play the Wii U version. What I thought would feel all too similar proved inherently faster, brighter, and more reactive to player input in nearly every regard. Nintendo fans should continue to hold out as Wii U consoles will prove a major focus with online competition and amiibo figures that lend even more ownership to your favorite mascots.

With a Link amiibo figure in hand, I sat down to play a little single-player Smash Bros. The Wii U GamePad sat on the table in front of me so it could support the amiibo figure and connect with the base via the GamePad controller’s near-field communication technology. I controlled the action with one of Nintendo’s special-made GameCube controllers, requiring a special USB port for use with Wii U consoles, though the software itself offers an abundance of control options.

First, I needed to assign my character a special color and a name. I set Link to wear some Skyward Sword-style makeup and a creamy colored tunic, always in fashion, before facing off with him while controlling Kirby. As your amiibo participates in matches, it’ll gain experience and learn new tactics based on your own actions and what the computer finds successful within the parameters you’ve set. If you assign your special amiibo Link a custom move set, it’ll learn to use those special moves in conjunction with standard attacks in order to become the most effective fighter in battle. It and computer opponents can have their difficulty levels set, though control freaks will no doubt want to fight as their character, rather than passively encourage it one way or another.

For the purposes of my demo, I set up a few free-for-all matches, alternating my playable character and the computer opponents set against my amiibo. Soon, its level had grown, it had outscored me, and computer players were sent scurrying in fear. The effect of a powered-up amiibo, like the level 50 Pikachu Nintendo had prepared for the event, was not lost on me, especially as it smashed me to oblivion a few times. Once you’ve invested time into your amiibo figure, you’ll absolutely come to rely on it to add layers of challenge in random battles and as a stalwart standard in your Super Smash Bros. cadre.

Inviting a friend over for Smash Bros. and adding the amiibo figure to the mix not only increases the likelihood of all-out multiplayer madness, it's a nice way of comparing overall abilities in combat given that you'll have to play along in order to level your figurine up. Bringing your highest level amiibo to a friend's house may end up feeling like the walk up to the ring behind a big-name wrestler or UFC fighter.

Soon, my amiibo went back to gather with the others Nintendo let those of us attending the event use and I had to say goodbye, but not without trying my hand at one of the eight-player Smash Bros. stations set up in the hotel suite. Two 80” television screens stood tall over couches that sat in front of tables each holding a Wii U console, two of the GameCube controller ports, and eight total GameCube controllers for battle. Eight-player Smash proves just as chaotic as it sounds, though a few levels designed specifically for the mode ensure either plenty of room or plenty of damage in close quarters.

A Super Mario Galaxy map curved slightly to accommodate all of the Nintendo characters dropped in for battle, while a Final Destination style map remained flat with five or six platforms to offer a little verticality. Lady Palutena’s castle featured a few transforming rooms and hazards in an extremely wide-open sandbox, though with so many players flooding the screen it was difficult not to remain constantly in combat. Stock matches inevitably boiled down to whoever could hold on to their lives the longest and one amiibo figure left in rotation ended up winning a few matches against several human opponents, leveling up from 12 to 35 in the time I spent trying different characters and getting smashed by assist trophies.

What this mode lacks in sense, it makes up for in all-out action. I can’t help but admit that I lost my character more than a few times, though persistent player icons and the franchise’s smooth, responsive controls rectified this quickly. 8-player Smash and amiibo figures are only two of the features available in the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros. not available on-the-go, so even those equipped with the Nintendo 3DS version now will find something new and entertaining in late November. And I can’t help but admit that owning an amiibo figurine will only further endear you to a favored fighter.

Launching their own line of NFC-tech toys against Activision’s Skylanders and Disney’s Infinity line stacks Nintendo up as the latecomer, but don’t be surprised if compelling experiences like Super Smash Bros. and the sheer recognizability of a Nintendo brand name eclipse competitors over the next year, particularly if the company can more aggressively grow Wii U as a platform. I anticipate further third-party crossovers will utilize amiibo in some way and further the basis for Nintendo fans to invest in the console and what outside developers bring to it.

We’ll have more on Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Wii U as we near its launch on November 21, 2014.