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At a first glance, you could be forgiven for assuming that Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is simply a HD refresh of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, especially given that the core gameplay concept hasn't evolved a great deal. Nevertheless, underneath its incredibly polished aesthetics and smooth 60 frames per second speed, there’s a wealth of improvements that make this latest instalment a much more refined experience.

As if the Super Smash Bros. Invitational tournament at E3 wasn't already evidence enough, subtle gameplay changes which increase the overall speed of gameplay and gravity’s effect on characters suggest that this title is being geared towards the competitive crowd. The removal of tripping, for example, is an instant blessing for anyone who has ever lost a match due to its random and cruel design. It’s nowhere near as complex as Super Smash Bros. Melee was and thankfully so, as there are plenty of regular players out there who will want to enjoy this too.

The Super Smash Bros. series was never designed with the sole purpose of trying to provide an ultra-balanced, highly competitive game, and while pro players may find this more appealing that the last title, the overall focus is still on providing frenetic and action-packed fun for all. Enhanced greatly by the luxury of high definition, simply looking at a stage is hazardous by itself as beautiful, dynamic backdrops are tempting enough to divert your eyes from the on-screen combat. Of particular note from our recent playthrough was the stage inspired by Pilotwings, which perfectly captures and merges the glorious scale of Pilotwings Resort’s Wuhu Island and the classic Mode 7 effect of the SNES original. Of course, the resolution boost helps to distinguish on-screen characters, items and hazards from one another, making it much easier to keep up with the action compared to the upcoming 3DS version, for which we also recently shared first impressions.

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The new additions to the character roster also add something fresh to the mix. Previous Super Smash Bros. games have featured numerous clones of existing characters, and while we imagine this may still happen to some degree in the Wii U version, a lot of work has nevertheless gone into creating bespoke move sets for newcomers. Animal Crossing’s Villager, for example, calls upon a wide range of everyday items to rain destruction on his/her enemies, and has an unusual feat in that one of his/her mid-air attacks is actually a projectile. Little Mac, on the other hand, has a weighty feel and delivers hits with stunning force – provided he’s planted on the ground that is. All players will no doubt appreciate the diversity of character types on offer, but it’s the veterans who will get a real kick out of mastering a character with an entirely new feel to them.

Again, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U can’t help but look like its predecessors on the surface; players shouldn't expect revolutionary new gameplay mechanics, not to mention that the franchise was never in need of them. Instead, Sakurai-san and Co. have – based on what we’ve played – done a fabulous job of tweaking the nuts of bolts underneath it all, giving it a stunning coat of paint and ramping up the fun factor once again. Wii U owners are in for a real treat when Super Smash Bros. for Wii U lands a knockout punch this holiday season.

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Some extra first impressions — Ron DelVillano

It's not entirely fair or easy to judge a game based on a few short minutes — my experience was at an occasionally chaotic Smash-Fest event. The idea of issuing one's first impressions on a game without extended exposure is, in a way, absolutely absurd. With that in mind, the good news is that a first impression is exactly what its name claims it to be: an initial response to something you know virtually nothing about. Remember when you first met your best friend and immediately knew they were someone with whom you could easily get along and have a lot of fun? Super Smash Bros. could easily be every Wii U owner’s new best friend.

One thing that is immediately apparent upon playing is that significant adjustments have been made to balance the characters. Even in this early build, the pace at which each individual fighter attacks, dodges, and recovers all feel distinctive, as if the in-game physics have been completely rebuilt from the ground up. Rather than feeling like an enhanced or altered version of the characters present in Melee or Brawl, this new game plays like a fresh experience. Combat is familiar, but all of your actions have more gravity to them, providing a more concise version of the frantic battles that we’re used to. Returning characters still felt familiar, but there is a new smoothness to gameplay that makes the experience all the more fluid.

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If there was any issue with the game that I noticed, it was trying to get used to playing with the Pro Controller. Attacks are still linked to the A and B buttons, with jumps assigned to X and Y, but the layout had me attacking when I meant to jump, and hopping out of the way when I was aiming to finish off my opponents with a devastating blow. All four players were set up to use this controller, leaving the GamePad resting in its charging cradle. From where I stood, I could see that the GamePad was supporting off-television play, reflecting all of the action on the small screen. Here's to hoping that the controls can easily be adjusted to better reflect the setup of the GameCube controller in the full game, assuming we don't all just spring for the official adapter instead.

In terms of new fighters to the series, I only had the chance to play as Wii Fit Trainer and Little Mac. Wii Fit Trainer was much slower and heavier than expected, making her surprisingly difficult to use for a first match, but her attack strength more than made up for the low speed. Conversely, Little Mac's rapid ground attacks and movement speed felt smooth and natural, especially when juxtaposed against his sub-par aerial routine. Despite Little Mac's in-air vulnerability, his powerful fists ensure that he's still a contender who shouldn’t be dismissed. The two new characters that I got to play as didn’t feel like they fit into the Smash Bros. universe as naturally as series veterans do, but they still manage to exude the expected amount of charm, bringing their unique styles to the fray.

Be sure to check out our other hands on features from E3: