Friday, 6 February 2015

Smash Bros. Comparison: Wii U vs Brawl vs Melee

So everyone has had a few months to play the new Smash Bros game(s), and with reviewers throwing around some truly insane scores it might be hard to understand where the differences are, and which Smash Bros game, if any, could be considered the best.

Metacritic is often used as a credible yardstick for reviewing anything in popular culture, as it creates a unique score out of 100 based on an average score from other reviewers. Given that Nintendo itself seems happy to be endorsed by Metacritic scores it seems reasonable to use this as a starting point for comparing the games; and it’s a pretty close run contest, with the games scoring thusly:

·         Super Smash Bros. (N64)- 79
·         Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS- 85
·         Super Smash Bros. Melee- 92
·         Super Smash Bros. for Wii U- 92
·         Super Smash Bros. Brawl- 93

So as we can see there is not a lot between the top 3 games, with Brawl emerging with a very slight lead. In this article I am mainly going to compare these top 3 games. This is for a few reasons; firstly, comparing the 3DS and Wii U games as separate entities seems slightly redundant one is effectively a port of the other, albeit with some minor technical and content tweaks. Secondly, as the above scores suggest, Melee, Brawl and Wii U are generally accepted to be of a notably higher standard than 64 or 3DS; and thirdly, I feel these games are what people picture most when they imagine a Smash Bros. game.

So, which is the stronger game? Well, let’s do a direct comparison.


One of the key reasons for omitting Smash 64 is that, whilst it hits all the right notes in terms of basic gameplay, it is somewhat lacking in content. The presence of a large pool of content has been a key feature of the series since Melee; this usually consists of unlockable characters, stages, gameplay modes, trophies and, more recently, stickers, CDs and customisations. Since Brawl, Smash Bros is also one of the few Nintendo series that embraces the meta-gaming idea of “achievements”, with recent games featuring a challenge wall that contains various unlockables as specific challenges are beaten.

The "Brawl Wall", as literally only I call it.

In terms of miscellaneous content Wii U not only comes pre-packed with huge amounts of trophies, CDs and customisations to unlock but also has limitless potential to expand through DLC. As you play Wii U you always feel as if you are building up your treasure hoard and giving yourself new avenues to explore. First point goes to Smash Bros Wii U.


In terms of character count, Melee comes in at 26, Brawl comes in at 39, and Wii U has 51 characters (with 1 being DLC), meaning in 3 instalments the roster for the series has basically doubled. Obviously this gives general weighting toward Wii U, as having a bigger roster automatically means more variety and more combinations of characters. Moreover, whilst I feel both Wii U and Melee are fairly balanced, Brawl has some real issues with balancing. There is the infamous ban of Metaknight at tournaments, but even at a basic level the core stats and functionality of characters varies too widely, and this is only made worse with the introduction of the Final Smashes. These vary wildly in usefulness, with some, like Fox’s, being an almost guaranteed win for a skilled, whereas others, like Peach’s, being practically useless even for a veteran player.

All 3 games are guilty of character clones, whereby a character is effectively re-skinned and given some slightly different special moves and gameplay attributes. Whilst I have no problem with this, it does somewhat diminish the number of truly distinct characters that can be attributed to the above roster counts. That being said, I would say that again Smash Bros Wii U does the best job at making the clones it has inherited from previous games as distinct from each other as possible whilst also making them play like their previous versions. Furthermore, it does not introduce any more clones to the series. In terms of characters, Wii U definitely comes out on top.


The level count between the games is a little closer than the character counts, with Melee counting 29 stages, Brawl 41, and Wii U 47, again allowing for DLC with the latter, and excluding custom levels for Brawl or Wii U. The important factor with level counts is that there are enough for variety, but not too many so that they are impossible to remember or learn. I would say Melee had about the right number of levels, as a prolonged session on Melee meant you would probably see each level every couple of hours, which meant you had just grown eager to play it again when the random level select throws you a wonderfully chaotic “Big Blue”.

For even more chaos, try Chin Mode

For the levels themselves, I am personally against levels that are too big or complex. Even the original “Hyrule Castle” is too big for my tastes, as it can turn matches into a war of attrition, whilst also taking the most important ingredient, pacing, out of Smash Bros. Both Brawl and Wii U are particularly guilty of this, with “75m”, “New Pork City” and “The Great Cave Offensive” being some of the worst offenders. There are some excellent gimmicks in both of these games, with “WarioWare Inc.” in Brawl being a particular favourite. Overall, however, I feel the level design in Melee has a huge amount of variety, simultaneously being challenging and interesting whilst also being fair to all players. For levels, it has to be Melee.


Of course, when anyone thinks of a Smash Bros game they think of the frenetic multiplayer, which I will leave as a section unto itself. Outside of this, there are the single player modes themselves, which for the dedicated Smash players can provide almost as much mileage. Wii U once again is certainly ahead in terms of sheer numbers, with some interesting mix ups to the formula. Crazy Orders is a great risk/reward system, but doesn’t have much variety or depth, whereas Smash Tour seems like a good idea but feels too unpredictable to be reliably enjoyable. Crucially, however, Wii U lacks a solid “campaign” mode, which Melee had in the form of Adventure mode and Brawl built on with the Subspace Emissary. Between Adventure and Subspace Emissary is a matter of preference, and although I have a huge amount of love for Adventure mode I have to admit Subspace Emissary does an excellent job at introducing a player to the entire roster and to get used to the variety the game has to offer. Melee is a solid entry, but Brawl just takes it.


Now, this is where the strength of having a large character roster can start to backfire, as competitive multiplayer becomes a lot more random as greater numbers of characters, stages and items are thrown into the mix. When there are over 50 characters it is very difficult to remember how each character plays and thus what to expect when fighting them. This is fine during single player, when one is changing characters every few minutes. When trying to master a character in competitive play however it becomes frustrating having to keep track of such a large amount of information. It also requires a much greater time investment to test all the characters, which will put off company who are down with Smash Bros but don’t have the game themselves.

"I literally only own Waverace and one controller"

This leads to me the conclusion that Melee has the best multiplayer. It is well-balanced between all characters and stages, with items never being too sporadic or over-powered. Moreover, for new players it is easy to recommend characters to start out with (Link as an all rounder, Samus as sniper, Jigglypuff for someone who wants to focus on surviving) whilst giving experienced players a huge number of options. Seriously, of the dozen or so serious Smash Bros players I know there is practically no overlap of character usage in Melee, which is a testament to how well-balanced and interesting the multiplayer is.


This may well be the most important to factor in, and probably the most intangible and difficult to describe. Obviously the core gameplay is the same between all 3 games; what I want to work out is which game gets closest to the perfect blend of platforming, fighting, and that unique Smash Bros element.

This element is composed of at least 14% "ohshitaPokeballgettingitisthemostimportantthingever"

I have already discussed balancing between characters, which I feel falls in favour of Melee. In more technical terms, Brawl has been widely criticised for some of its more random elements, such as tripping, and I feel this criticism is generally justified. Whilst not a bad game but any stretch, the core gameplay can often feel too unpredictable, and has massive variance depending on the character chosen. I also felt this when first playing Wii u, but soon discovered this variance is deliberate to give the single player experience more variety and fairness, and that when I played the multiplayer I found a very solidly built engine which strips back a lot of the crazier factors in Brawl for a very solid and fair system, much in the style of Melee.

That being said, Wii U is very close to Melee, but it does not beat it. Melee has the perfect pace, being relentlessly quick whilst also giving perfect control to everyone; if you die, it is your fault. It also allows for almost limitless depth (feel free to Google wave-dashing and other pro techniques for detailed examples), and although there have been criticisms of it not being welcoming to new players, a few runs through Adventure mode will set a novice on the right path.


So, with 3 points to Melee, 2 to Wii U and 1 to Brawl, with a clear winner. I have put close to a thousand hours into Melee and will likely do so twice over in the years to come. They are excellent games, but Melee, in my opinion, comes out as the cream of the crop.

In summary? Shut up Metacritic. Just shut up.