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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the most anticipated Nintendo title this holiday season, and with good reason. Whether it's the intricate and deep gameplay mechanics, the sheer amount of content reported to be on offer or the crossover Nintendo theme and the fan service that comes with it, it’s a game that potentially has something for everyone. Its 3DS counterpart has already released worldwide to near universal critical acclaim, and this upcoming Wii U iteration promises to offer an even more substantial and action-packed experience, if the recent Super Smash Bros. for Wii U: 50 Must-See Things presentation is anything to go by. Of course, the question on a lot of interested minds at the moment is whether or not this next home console instalment will live up to its tremendous hype.

While that’s not a question to which we can currently provide a definitive answer, we can give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from it. Recently, we were invited down to Nintendo UK’s offices to play a preview build of the game. It’s worth noting that we weren't able to try out everything that it has to offer in the short time we were there, but certainly enough to get a good feel for it. We were also able to test out the game’s much-touted amiibo functionality and the recently announced Smash Tour mode, which we'll cover — very soon — in separate articles to allow for greater depth.

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Our hands-on session began with a mandatory viewing of the game’s opening cinematic; something which, as you may know, is already available to view on the web. However, seeing it running off the system’s hardware not only got us pumped for the impending chaos that we were going to experience over the next few hours, but it also gave us an insight into the technical performance of the game. The movie itself is shown in full 1920 x 1080 resolution at 60 frames per second, the quality and smoothness of which carries over to the real-time gameplay.

The presentation is the first thing that hits you when playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U: the performance is consistent, the visuals are incredibly sharp and all the different elements work in unison to provide an experience that overloads the senses. Everything comes together seamlessly — an incredible accomplishment given the game’s crossover setting — without altering any of the individual franchises from which assets and ideas are taken.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stage selection, which — much like the character line-up — comprises a staggering wealth of Nintendo IPs and their respective styles. We were able to try a previously unannounced stage based on upcoming 2D platformer, Yoshi’s Woolly World; from a gameplay perspective it transforms as you play to create some interesting and surprisingly challenging layouts for battle, but where it really shines is in the visual design. The stage captures the aesthetics of the source material flawlessly, to the point where it could have quite simply been pulled straight out of that game. Similarly, Pac-Land retains the vibrant, insanely colourful visuals of the original arcade game on which it’s based, although it’s remarkably more polished as a result of the vastly improved resolution.

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Returning stages also benefit greatly from the resolution upgrade, and the team behind the game has chosen wisely when it came to deciding what should return. Port Town Aero Dive and Castle Siege were two technically impressive stages in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, although they were visually hindered by the Wii’s limited power. In the Wii U version, the HD enhancement ensures that they not only look great, but so good that they don’t look out of place alongside the new stages. The new locales, however, generally possess a more advanced design; the layouts and the way in which they transform in certain stages is more complex, adding much more depth to how you navigate the battlefield.

If the already impressive number of stages announced for the game isn't enough for you then you’ll be glad to hear that the Stage Builder feature returns in a new and improved form. You use the touch screen on the Wii U GamePad to put your stage together, resulting in a much quicker and more bespoke experience. For example, you can simply draw the terrain of the stage using the stylus, and additional features such as launch cannons and springs are effortlessly placed through the magic of touch. At the same time, there are some notable omissions: you can’t click-and-drag terrain once it has been placed, nor can you increase or decrease the size of it, meaning that it’s not as intuitive as it could have been. It’s also worth noting that there is a limit to how much you can add to the stage, and it must also have enough traversable space for up to four players. We were, however, able to create four very different stages in our short time with the game, so the amount of value the mode can offer is arguably determined by the amount of personal creativity you’re able to invest in it.

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Of course, no discussion of the stages would be complete without a mention of Ridley, who makes an appearance in the Pyrosphere stage. The pterodactyl-like space pirate serves as a boss hazard, a CPU-controlled character who is able to team up with and attack players — those who have played Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS will be familiar with such a mechanic if they've played the Magicant stage. Ridley performs non-standard attacks that involve him flying out of the playable areas at times, but he’s not invincible; he takes damage just like everyone else. Hitting him enough will result in him teaming up with you — which provides a near-broken advantage — and he’ll only disappear once defeated. Sending him packing will add an extra KO to your score, and even the player allied with him can do this. It may also interest you to know that despite his massive form, Ridley is still no match for the home-run bat, as we had the immense pleasure of finding out during our playtime.

Ridley’s inclusion throws a degree of chaos into the mix that exceeds that of what previous Super Smash Bros. titles were able to provide. With that said, it’s nothing compared to the Wii U game’s new 8-Player Smash mode which, as the name suggests, allows you and seven chums to battle it out simultaneously. In brief: it’s bonkers, but it’s not just a player increase for the sake of it. 8-Player Smash shakes up the gameplay dynamics, and allows for setups such as 4-vs-4 and 2-vs-2-vs-2-vs-2 team battles. Larger stages — both old and new — are included to accommodate the increased player count, and stages like The Great Cave Offensive and Hyrule Temple, which have lots of separate areas within them, are the most suited to this mode. 8-Player Smash, as per the standard multiplayer mode, also allows for amiibo functionality. Needless to say, these modes — along with Smash Tour and returning classics Special Smash and Coin Battle — ensure that there’s plenty of variety when playing with friends.

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Multiplayer extends beyond the standard versus mode more than ever in this iteration. You can play cooperatively through Classic Mode, All-Star Mode, Events Mode, Multi-Man Smash and Home-Run Contest. While the name may suggest it’s the same as always, Classic Mode actually features a different setup from past entries. In this mode, you choose the order in which you play stages, and the interface for deciding this involves you moving a trophy of your chosen character around a board filled with groups of other trophies. Choosing who to fight next is entirely up to you, although there are certain factors at play designed to influence what you do. Rival trophies will appear next to certain groups, and the longer you wait before you encounter them, the better the potential reward. Another game changer comes in the form of intruder trophies, which alter the dynamics of a particular stage. During our playthrough, a giant Rosalina intruded on a team match, providing the side we were up against with a (literally) large advantage. Classic mode stages feature battles with up to 8 characters, as well as the standard encounter with Master Hand, Crazy Hand and the various Master Core forms at the end. In addition to having an extra pair of fighting hands, cooperative Classic Mode speeds up the process of collecting playable character trophies.

Events Mode returns in a slightly modified form. It still presents you with a series of specific challenges to complete, but this time they’re divided up along branching paths. Your access to these paths is determined by either completing the event or meeting a certain additional requisite, such as beating it within a specified time limit or on a certain difficulty level. The extra layer of depth extends the lifecycle of certain events beyond a mere single attempt, especially when played cooperatively as greater coordination is required between players.

As to be expected from a Super Smash Bros. game, the entire package of game modes and features is layered with a thick spread of Nintendo fan service and nostalgia. Collectible trophies are plentiful, and are lovingly displayed in the Trophy Shop mode where you can buy them, packaged up as if they were real products. It’s the attention to detail that makes this title truly stand out, from the little details in stages right through to the painstaking effort that has gone into recreating locations and assets from Nintendo franchises as accurately as possible. Oh, and if you like the series’ musical offering, you’ll be glad to know that the list of available tracks in Sound Test will make your jaw hit the floor when you see it — this feature alone distracted us for more time than we’re willing to admit!

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U launches on 21st November in North America and 28th November in Europe (in case you missed it, the game’s release was recently pushed forward a week in Europe) and looks set to offer the most comprehensive and gorgeous Nintendo brawling experience to date. Keep your eyes peeled for more Super Smash Bros. for Wii U content over the coming weeks, including our Smash Tour and amiibo previews and, naturally, our review.