As a series, Smash Bros. was founded on the principle that fighting games could do with being a little less complex. To that end, director Masahiro Sakurai added two extra players and simplified inputs. If you want to take mechanics and design as symbolism (and I always do) it's a pretty clear statement that Smash Bros. is a game designed for anyone and everyone to play. No one should be sitting on the sidelines, because anyone can pick it up.
Obviously, there are some setbacks to this ideal. For one, people who aren't necessarily experienced with the "language" of games might have a hard time picking up on the controls, or parsing the absolute chaos of a four player match, but the larger problem has always been the fifth wheel issue. At parties where Smash Bros. is being played, I always had to be the jerk who switched things from the more popular stock matches to timed battles. Four players in stock could theoretically fight forever, leaving the fifth and sixth players waiting for a turn stuck in a boring limbo. Time settled that, but it wasn't as fun of a game. But, alas, the N64, Gamecube and Wii only supported four controllers at a time, forcing us all into a timer-controlled Smash Bros. purgatory until players five and six collectively got bored of waiting around and left the four remaining to look like antisocial misanthropes.
What I'm saying is that you can probably understand why I was excited for eight-player mode. In fact, going in, I figured 8-player mode was going to be a microcosm of everything I loved about Smash. Going out, well, I was half right. See, eight players is great and all, but depending on the factors going into the match, the way you play changes a lot more than you'd expect. The mode limits you to certain larger stages, the biggest of which (Melee’s Hyrule Temple, the new Great Cave Offensive stage) allow fighters to disperse and form separate arenas. It reminds me a little bit of Platinum's Anarchy Reigns, in that you'll often find yourself getting tossed across the screen, from one fight into another. In a timed match, these separate arenas stick around, but in stock mode, the fights eventually converge as there are fewer and fewer players on the screen. The two players remaining at the end of the match are like gladiators, as six pairs of eyes watch them intently, waiting to jump back in the ring. Smaller stages however, stay chaotic from the get-go. Melee's Yoshi's Island stage, with its slanted walls and finicky death pit in the middle transforms in a whirling death-basin. No matter how much you try to push out onto the sloped walls, you'll keep getting sucked in to the explosion-filled centre arena. It's a beautiful chaos in motion.
That's not to say things never get packed and chaotic on the larger arenas. If you keep items on, a wayward Smash Ball is like a beacon for every player on screen, transforming the brawl into the punchiest-ever game of follow the leader. With eight players on a large stage, it becomes almost impossible to see your fighter, so the moments when everyone crowded together and the camera zoomed in was a much-needed breather for my eyes. Five or six players is probably the maximum number of fighters in a match that won't tax your eyes, which makes sense, considering I can't imagine actually getting eight people together in one room to play Smash Bros. Eight-player mode is a sideshow though. It's chaotic, it's a mess, it's often easy to completely lose your fighter and jump off a cliff. Items are too small to see, some fighters are just unfairly powerful in a giant crowd (I went 21 kills, four deaths with Little Mac by abusing his counter and K.O. punch) and it's pretty much impossible to put together a strategy until there's a manageable amount of fighters left. And yet, it's a still a ton of fun. It's a mode that just makes sense for Smash Bros., and even if I can't imagine too many people will be playing it regularly, it makes the game feel bigger. Not that it needs too much padding.
According to Nintendo, almost everything from the 3DS version of the game is in its console big brother in some form or another. Aside from Smash Run, every mode is represented, with a handful of additions to boot. Event mode is back, as are the single-player All-Star and Classic modes. The new Master and Crazy Order challenges seem to function like an infinite event mode, giving you constant new challenge matches for the low, low price of some in-game currency. There's also the new Smash Tour mode, which, like Nintendo's injection of other franchises into Mario Kart, seems to be setting the stage for a hostile Smash Bros. takeover of Mario Party. It's a different game, for sure, minigames are replaced with various smash battles that occur whenever players bump into each other, and your goal is collecting as many fighter trophies and power-ups as possible to prepare you for the final battle, but at it's candy-coloured heart, it's a Nintendo-themed board game, and there's no escaping the Mario Party comparisons. I found the mode a little bit underwhelming, especially when compared to Smash Run (which is fairly underwhelming in its own ways), but I can totally see it functioning as a party-game diversion from the main event, if only briefly.
And that's the thing- even if eight-player mode is a chaotic nightmare, even if Smash Tour is a weird preview of a game we might never get, even if there's no "proper" single-player campaign this time around, Smash Bros. isn't about any of that. From a pure gameplay standpoint, it's about multiplayer Smash matches. When compared to the 3DS version, even in just that respect, what we know about the Wii U game blows it out of the water, if only because multiplayer is easier to come by. Being on a console means sharing a screen, sharing a couch, sharing a more intimate experience than you could get on 3DS. We've said before that we'll be re-reviewing Smash Bros. for 3DS when its console big brother comes out, but I'm willing to make my call on it right now. Smash Bros. for Wii U stands to make your 3DS copy completely obsolete, and that's worth getting excited about.
The most important thing I learned about Nintendo's amiibo toys is that the plural of amiibo isn't "amiibos" but rather "amiibo".
There, that's the world record for the most "amiibo"s per sentence.
In case you haven't heard of them, Amiibo is Nintendo's attempt at grabbing some of those sweet Skylanders dollars. Interestingly, it's not quite as cash-grabby as Skylanders or its competitor Disney Infinity, which works both for and against it. For Skylanders and Infinity, you need to own the toys to play the game. Your toys act as your playable characters, and each one has a chip inside that carries its individual player data. Amiibo, on the other hand, have so far been announced to function with games that don't require them. Smash Bros. uses them for its "figure player" system, which lets you train up CPUs for...uh...I'm not really sure why you would want to do this. The amiibo learns from you as your play, and you can give it permanent stat boosts with various items you collect, but, honestly, I don't really see anyone fighting the CPU that often in multiplayer modes. It sort of feels like a second player surrogate that trains itself up to have a simulacrum of your fighting style, but that doesn't sound particularly appealing to me.
The neat thing about Amiibo though, is that unlike Skylanders and Infinity toys, they work across multiple kinds of games. The Link amiibo that's coming out alongside Smash Bros. also works with Hyrule Warriors for some as-of-yet unannounced feature. Other games with confirmed future amiibo support include Mario Party 10, Mario Kart 8 and Yoshi's Wooly World. It's an interesting promise, but it sort of undercuts the viability of these toys. If they aren't necessary for any game in particular, it's hard to see people flocking to stores to buy them. On the other hand, the fact that they work with a whole bunch of games makes them more theoretically appealing. Plus, the fact that no game requires them makes them feel less like a cash grab on Nintendo's art, while also making them feel fairly pointless overall. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a Nintendo version of Skylanders sometimes soon that requires amiibo to work, but for now, Nintendo is taking a half-step into the lucrative world of toys-for-games, and it seems to be a lot more progressive than what we've seen so far, a move that might just shoot amiibo in the foot before they even take off.