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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Wii U Reviews S

Scribblenauts Unlimited
Grade: C

screenshotThe original Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS, 2009) was a groundbreaking title. It presented the player with a series of puzzles solved by writing down the names of objects which magically appeared on the screen. I would characterize the style of play as educational, but that would imply that it's not fun. Scribblenauts Unlimited takes the same winning formula and applies it to a big, open world. You can now freely travel between diverse locations like a fire station, museum, haunted mansion, castle, and even a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur sanctuary.

In each location you'll find a bunch of people milling around in need of your help. The user interface makes it easy to enter words, and if your spelling is off a helpful "did you mean this?" feature comes to the rescue. The game will materialize just about any object you can think of, so let your imagination run wild. Some puzzles can be taxing on the brain, and it seems that the simplest problems can be the hardest to solve.

My main issue with Scribblenauts Unlimited is the "unlimited" part. The game is lacking in structure, so it feels like you're just meandering between random locations, solving puzzles and collecting stars for no particular reason. Navigating the multi-tiered stages is confusing and it's not always clear what you're supposed to do next or whom you can interact with. On a positive note, if you get stuck you can simply move on to a different location.

The graphics and music are pleasant and have an innocent charm. The game is controlled almost exclusively with the stylus, and frankly I don't even look at the television when I play. Scribblenauts is a game everybody should experience, but if you've already played it on the small screen you may find this Unlimited version a bit underwhelming. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Grade: A+

screenshotShantae Half-Genie Hero is one of those rare games I couldn't put down the moment I started playing. It has a strong middle-eastern flavor like Aladdin (Genesis, 1993), but its vibrant graphics and upbeat soundtrack are so good they put Disney to shame! Shantae is brimming with quirky anime charm and an exuberant spirit that's rare in modern games.

Characters beam with humor and personality thanks to the clever, self-aware dialog. The gorgeous visuals call to mind the cell-shaded brilliance of Monkey Island Special Edition Collection (Xbox 360, 2011). When I saw that gargantuan mermaid queen emerge from the sea, my jaw hit the floor! The light, breezy soundtrack is sensational and when the vocals kick in it elevates the action to a whole new level.

The controls are pinpoint as our heroine whips her hair at crabs, pirates, and crocodile henchmen. Shantae also wields innovative weapons like storm clouds that linger over enemies. The action begins slowly so you might get the impression the game is too easy. Don't worry - you'll soon be going through continues by the dozen! Dazzling stage locations include waterfall cliffs, a burning town, a tower in a desert, a haunted castle, and a flying carpet raceway. Expertly designed, the stages are a lot of fun to explore and it's a good thing because you'll need to revisit them to acquire key items.

The inventory screen is very Zelda-esque and the similarities don't end there. Familiar creatures like dancing centipede and a heart-centric health system made me feel as if I were playing a 2D Zelda. Shantae gradually acquires the ability to transform into a monkey, elephant, mouse, crab, and other forms. While navigating as a mouse through tiny labyrinths the game gave me flashbacks of Maze Craze (Atari 2600, 1978). Playing this game is such a joy it makes Call of Duty feel like homework by comparison.

Much like Shovel Knight (Playstation 4, 2015) Shantae's development team learned its old school lessons well. Did I mention the game comes with a glossy color instruction manual? Kids, be sure to ask your parents what that is! I've played more console games than just about anyone, and Shantae Half-Genie Hero stands as one of the best. Note: Also available for the Playstation 4 and Vita. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Shovel Knight
Grade: A-
Publisher: Yacht Club Games (2015)
Posted: 2019/7/14

screenshotBoldly original for its time, Shovel Knight embraced the pixelated graphics and charming electronic sounds of the NES era. Even the cut-scenes are throwbacks, combining sparse text with colorful illustrations. But don't mistake this for a case of style over substance. Shovel Knight is a first-rate 2D platformer that borrows from old favorites like Castlevania (NES, 1987), Duck Tales (NES, 1989), and Mega Man (NES, 1987). Our hero uses a shovel to whack things in addition to digging up treasure.

A map with branching stages lets you tackle challenges as you desire or stray off the beaten path. The controls are responsive but I'd recommend using the digital pad for maximum precision. For some reason I had a really hard time getting the hang of the "shovel bounce" move. The stages are cleverly designed, chock full of side quests and secret areas. You'll battle electric frogs, fire-breathing griffons, rats with propellers, and headless skeletons. Each stage has a distinctive look and I especially love the Castlevania-inspired level with its striking red accents over a deep-blue backdrop.

The gameplay is hard but forgiving. There are frequent checkpoints and you can buy continues with your gold. You can even recoup lost loot by revisiting where you died. Autosaves occur between stages. Still, Shovel Knight can be frustrating, especially since taking a hit knocks you back - often into an abyss. Collecting gems is fun because the point values flash on the screen. There's even a campfire bonus stage that's clearly an homage to Golden Axe (Genesis, 1989).

Shovel Knight comes with one of the best manuals I've seen. Thick, colorful, and glossy, this actually qualifies as a book! The developers really understood what made the old-school great. 2D pixelated throwback games have become fairly ubiquitous in recent years, but they can't diminish the greatness of Shovel Knight. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2012)
Posted: 2013/1/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis racer takes me back to my Dreamcast days, when Sega games were bright, inviting, and easy to play. Transformed picks up where Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with Banjo Kazooie (Xbox 360, 2012) left off, pushing the limits of kart racing (maybe a little too far). Your cars will now transform into speedboats and jets while blazing through elaborate courses based on classic Sega franchises. The transforming car idea was first seen in the original Spy Hunter (1983) and the concept has been underused ever since.

Tranform's drop-dead gorgeous courses are inspired by Sega franchises like Panzer Dragoon, Super Monkey Ball, After Burner, Samba De Amigo, Skies of Arcadia, and, of course, Sonic the Hedgehog. In addition to the standard characters (Sonic, Knuckles, Ulala, Alex Kidd, Amigo, etc) you also get to race as Wreck-it Ralph and... Danica Patrick?! The game's dynamic nature adds excitement, especially when you drive off a cliff and turn into a plane! The weapons are fairly tame, including snowballs, fireworks, and a baseball glove to catch incoming missiles.

The controls feel crisp as you navigate the wide, elevated tracks. The boat racing segments look amazing with their shimmering blue water, calling to mind Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast, 1999). Some of the courses are very elaborate, with alternate paths, loops, obstacles, and routes that change between laps. These things can make the courses confusing to navigate - particularly in the split-screen mode. In one instance I drove into the water expecting to transform into a boat, but sank instead.

Due to the extra screen provided by the ControlPad, Transformed allows up to five players to compete via split-screen. Unfortunately since the GamePad is registered as player one, the other player positions don't correspond with their controller assignments, which is confusing. The branching career mode offers a variety of challenges, and I like how you only need to finish races in the top three to advance. Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed is a little over the top, but its fun, arcade spirit shines through. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 5 players 

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (2014)
Posted: 2014/11/23
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)

screenshotThe lack of buzz surrounding Sonic Boom made me worry that Sonic might be going the way of Crash Bandicoot, currently residing in the "where are they now" file. According to my friend Scott Sega "should have let the hedgehog die a dignified death ten years ago." Many may echo that sentiment, but I found Sonic Boom to be a worthy little adventure. It offers a nice variety of exploration, running, combat, and platform action.

The wide-open exploration sections tend to be treasure hunts that let you toggle between four characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy). Each has their own abilities that come in handy. Amy can triple jump and walk on balance beams. Tails can fire lasers and deploy explosive "buddy bots". Knuckles can climb and burrow. The running sections are "on rails", so you just dodge hazards and hop over obstacles at high speeds. These can be exhilarating, even when you can't tell what's going on! The combat encounters would be button-mashing affairs if not for the cool new electronic lasso. I love how robots frantically try to resist as you drag them toward you. Once you start swinging them around you can hurl them off a nearby ledge.

The repetitive industrial platform areas aren't much to look at, but it's satisfying to bounce off pads, break through walls, and whiz through tubes. I did notice a few minor bugs, but none that interrupted the flow of the game. Sonic Boom is nothing if not forgiving. Platforms are extra wide and you can grab on to the edge. When you die, you resume almost exactly where you left off.

One aspect I miss is the thrill of collecting rings, since you max out at 100 and there's no bonus. The game contains too much dialogue, but it's more mature and less corny than some of the more recent Sonic installments. Occasionally it's genuinely funny, like when Tails taunts an eyeball robot with "I know your weak spot!" The new villain is pretty interesting; he's a giant lizard trapped in some kind of robotic life support system.

The story mode is fun but the multiplayer is a nightmare, tossing up to four players into a world of hurt. It's bad enough the stages feel like torture contraptions, but the camera doesn't even seem to be playing the same game. And while the orchestrated soundtrack sounds professional enough, I miss the catchy tunes of the Sonic games of old. Overall, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is an enjoyable romp, and if it wasn't exclusive to a console already loaded with quality platformers, it would have scored even higher. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 t o4 players 

Sonic Lost World
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (2013)
Posted: 2013/11/24
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild cartoon violence)

screenshotLike most classic gamers I have a soft spot for the blue hedgehog, making it all the more painful to play something as wretched as Sonic Lost World. First things first: who is the jackass at Sega who insists that every Sonic game contains 3D elements? I swear he's killed this franchise ten times over!

Lost World basically drags Sonic kicking and screaming into Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007). Square peg, meet round hole! Each stage is a series of three dimensional objects that rotate as Sonic scurries around (or inside of) them. There's little sense of geography, eliminating the desire to explore. The Sonic franchise was built on speed (hence the name) but these stages are hardly conducive to that.

Adding insult to injury, the hedgehog that once popularized "blast processing" has apparently let himself go, and has become a slow lard-ass. Lacking energy, he labors just to maintain a jogging pace. In some chase sequences, it feels like Sonic is moving in slow motion! Another hallmark of the series - simple controls - has completely gone out the window. Just about every leap requires a double-jump, which takes you out of your spin and makes you vulnerable to damage. Sonic's trademark spin-dash has been relegated to a trigger and is rarely useful.

Instead of pouncing on creatures, Lost World forces you to use "lock-on targeting" to defeat foes (hit circle button when red target appears). Especially with bosses, these targets appear arbitrarily and unpredictably, making the game feel broken. The "laser" sequences (which employ the touch pad) are confusing and I could never even get them to work at all.

The stage designs are boring with long sections that repeat three or four times. Annoying hazards like green goo stop you dead in your tracks, ensuring the player never gets into any kind of rhythm. The idiotic cut-scenes are unwatchable. Sonic Lost World is an exclusive title for the Wii U. Please Sega, don't do us any more favors! © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
Posted: 2016/4/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFirst/third-person shooters are a wildly-popular genre but most tend to be profanity-laced, blood-soaked kill-fests. Not exactly family-friendly! You have to give Nintendo credit for coming up with such an innovative, light-hearted third-person shooter. The idea of Splatoon is to cover a stage with a certain color paint and slow your opponents by dousing them with paint.

You're a kid armed with a paint gun that's more like a hose, coating everything in the vicinity. Holding the left trigger transforms you into a squid that can "swim" through paint on the ground and even up painted walls. Not only does this provide increased maneuverability, it effectively lets you take cover and refills your paint supply. Secondary weapons like paint grenades are also available.

Touching the paint color of your opposition drains your life, and taking too much damage sends you back to a respawn point. Splatoon's single-player missions will help you get your feet wet, but if you're banking solely on those you'll be disappointed. The meat of the game lies in the online multiplayer which challenges two teams to cover a higher percentage of a given stage over a span of a few minutes.

Splatoon is fun. It's not shout-from-the-rooftops fun, but it's enjoyable. Winning matches means advancement to higher levels where you'll face tougher opponents with more sophisticated weaponry (like paint rollers). Waiting for eight players to join a session can be time consuming however, and the available stages are very limited.

But my biggest beef with Splatoon is the camera control. I theory you can aim the controller or use the right stick, but I struggled with both, waving the controller all over the place. The lack of a split-screen mode is also disappointing. Splatoon feels a little light on content, but I applaud its kid-friendly style. I'm not sure anyone asked for a shooter like this, but I think we needed it. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Star Fox Guard
Grade: C-
Publisher: Nintendo (2016)
Posted: 2016/5/21
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotPackaged with Star Fox Zero, this little "tower defense" title might be considered an apology game! It has very little to do with Star Fox outside of the planet selection and general style. The premise is simple. You're manning a fort with a series of cameras and guns mounted at strategic points. Wacky robots converge from all sides, some of which resemble ROB the Robot of NES fame. You watch the activity through 12 video monitors and I love their "closed-circuit" video quality.

You toggle between cameras via the touch pad, and I was disappointed the pad doesn't present the cameras using the layout of the TV screen. It would be nice to switch cameras without taking your eyes off the television, but no, you need to touch the small camera icons on the touchscreen. The game itself is fairly enjoyable thanks to tight control (read: no motion controls) and rapid-fire guns that make it satisfying to blast robots to bits. As you progress you'll defend various fort configurations on planets with diverse climates.

Eventually you'll face tougher robots like those holding shields. I like locating a camera that lets you blast them from behind; they always seem so surprised! You'll also acquire advanced weaponry including cameras that "lock on" or slow time. The tension builds as robots penetrate the outer defense, forcing you to aim you cameras inward. Star Fox Guard isn't the type of game you'll want to play for hours on end, but if you like tower defense games you might find it worth your while. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Star Fox Zero
Grade: D
Publisher: Nintendo (2016)
Posted: 2016/5/21
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotStar Fox (SNES, 1993) was a groundbreaking polygon shooter on the SNES and its sequel Star Fox 64 (N64, 1997) is a long-time favorite of mine. The fact that this new edition was delayed for years should have tipped me off that something was wrong. Star Fox Zero opens with a bewildering tutorial that perfectly prepares you for the incomprehensible mess you're about to be subjected to.

The controls are atrocious. The left stick steers, the right performs maneuvers like boosts and barrel rolls, and motion controls position your aiming reticule. That's one too many dimensions, and I could never get comfortable with the scheme. Flying your ship over planet surfaces is disconcerting and the dogfights in space are just plain confusing. You actually spend much of the game in alternate vehicles like a tank, hovercraft, or mechanical chicken - often in tight quarters. Trying to keep the controls straight for all of these proves to be a nightmare. Once I was attempting to hack a computer with my chicken, but when I hit the wrong button I transformed into a ship and flew directly into a shield.

The camera is equally complicit, changing on a whim with each new situation. The fact that it's often off-center makes me feel like I constantly have to recalibrate my reticule (Y button). Symbols on the screen prompt you to hold the left trigger to initiate a third-person perspective from a remote point, but that's even more disorienting! It's a shame because there's some really nice graphics wasted here. It's breathtaking as you fly over the sparkling water in the opening stage, the explosions satisfying, and the user interface has that clean "Wii U look".

Starfox Zero incorporates old characters like Peppy the Hare and familiar sounds like the otherworldly "good luck" voice from the SNES. The missions offer length and variety, but they tend to drag on and I can't say I'd want to replay any of them. In certain missions you freely explore facilities and deploy a cute little robot to hack computers. In one stage you unleash a giant robo-gorilla, although it's not clear what you're supposed to do with it. Much of the game makes no sense, as if it were cobbled together at the last minute.

Misery loves company so Star Fox Zero provides a coop mode that lets two players struggle with the controls at once. Star Fox Zero was clearly a project in turmoil but I guess at some point the "powers that be" decided to cut bait and ship what they had. The only thing this will succeed at is driving up demand for the old SNES and N64 games, which are looking better all the time. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Star Ghost
Grade: B+
Publisher: Squarehead Studios (2016)
Posted: 2016/4/6

screenshotIt may have been inspired by classic side-scrollers like Scramble (Vectrex, 1982), but this is not your garden-variety shooter. Star Ghost is unlike anything I've played. Conventional wisdom says a game's controls need to be intuitive, but Star Ghost throws that theory right out the window. You hold the A button in to ascend and release to descend - kind of like Flappy Bird. Your ship fires automatically. You can angle your shots slightly with the thumbstick but it's not even necessary.

Once you wrap your brain around its unorthodox controls Star Ghost is habit-forming. Its graphics are simple yet have a crisp, clean quality that's pleasing to the eye. The high-tech musical score is excellent and a sultry female voice keeps you apprised of your status. Each brief stage is a test of reflexes as you navigate caves while blasting jellyfish, asteroids, and glowing centipede-like creatures. A short docking sequence concludes each stage, followed by a bonus point tally and the opportunity to purchase a power-up. I usually go with the "spread" upgrade although it's easy to confuse that with the fire-rate icon.

Power-ups degrade over time which adds quite a bit of strategy. There are power-up icons floating in each stage but snagging one can be risky business unless you use your tractor beam. Upon striking a mine you become infected with a virus that temporarily disables your weapons and gives the screen the appearance of RF interference. If you manage to maintain a level flight while infected however you'll unleash a smart bomb, obliterating every object on the screen! That's a really clever feature, but I wish there were some instructions because I don't see how someone would figure that out on their own.

Still, Star Ghost checks off a great many of my "review boxes". The game is pick-up-and-play and its levels are slightly randomized. Satisfying explosions crackle on the screen, leaving point values in their wake. The top five high scores are saved, but I wish the game prompted for initials instead of defaulting to my username. Star Ghost even has a sense of humor, most evident when the lady voice tosses out lines like "Upgrades available - spending feels good" and "I didn't sign up for this." It may look like a glorified mobile game, but Star Ghost is the most fun I've had on my Wii U in a long time. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Super Mario 3D World
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Posted: 2013/12/6
Rating: Everyone

screenshotLet's face it: 3D platformers tend to be less fun than their 2D counterparts. It's probably because the limited perspective encourages a slower, more deliberate approach. That's what makes Super Mario 3D World so remarkable; it manages to deliver real 3D action with all the fun of a 2D title. At first it plays exactly as you'd expect. The stages are attractive but unspectacular as you jump between platforms, bump blocks, collect coins, and pounce on enemies. The camera maintains a safe distance so you see everything you need without having to adjust.

The stages are mostly linear but they do contain many hidden areas and alternate paths. I love the concept of whooshing through the new transparent pipes - especially since you can change directions where they branch. Super Mario 3D World also introduces an awesome new "cat suit", giving Mario the ability to attack, dive, and claw his way up walls. When Mario isn't a cat, you'll want him to be a cat!

The stages are inventive and constantly introduce interesting new concepts. One stage is played by watching shadows. In another stage you ride down waterfalls on the back of a huge dinosaur. The haunted house stage is loaded with optical illusions. Providing a nice change of pace are the Toad-only stages, where you must figure out how to navigate a non-jumping Toad through square, multi-tiered levels. The new cherry power-ups creates multiple Mario clones, and you can imagine how much fun it is to unleash fireballs from five Marios at once!

This game never stops surprising you, and it's fun to revisit old stages to discover what you missed. There is very little use of the touchpad, and I think that's for the best. Depth perception is occasionally an issue (especially in stages that constantly scroll), but this is offset by an abundance of power-ups, including the one that turns Mario into a rampaging giant. Upon completing a stage your progress is automatically saved. As icing on the cake, up to four people can participate at once. Super Mario 3D World was a long time coming, but it's the gift that keeps on giving. Frankly, this is the kind of high-quality, family-friendly title only Nintendo could deliver. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Super Mario Maker
Grade: C-
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
Posted: 2017/1/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotJudging from the runaway success of Minecraft (Playstation 4, 2014) there's clearly a market for programs that let you construct your own virtual worlds. Personally I've never had any interest in user-created levels. It feels like game companies are trying to get the public to generate their content for them (after charging for the privilege no less). That said, when I gave the controller to my 7-year-old nephew Luke he played Super Mario Maker until the battery died!

The "make your own level" editing mode is easy to dive into, letting you just drag icons onto a grid. You "paint" platforms by dragging the stylus and tap the screen to create an army of goombas. Drag some wings onto them and you have flying goombas. At any time you can switch to play mode to run through your level. You can save your level locally and if you're especially proud of it you can upload your work for the masses.

The old-school graphics are naturally pixelated, and mega koopas are blocky to a comical degree! It looks a little harsh on my TV but just fine on the control pad, and you do everything from the control pad anyway. Mario Maker also has a mode called "10 Mario Challenge" which offers eight random levels to play. Completing them unlocks a new set of eight stages, so yes, there is offline content.

For the sake of this review I felt obligated to check out the user-created stages online, and I hated them. The desire to be "clever" and "extreme" results in congested, busy monstrosities as users try to outdo each other with unplayable results. There's something to be said for moderation. The lack of fun online is exacerbated by the "word bubble" comments popping up all over the screen and obstructing your view. There's an audience for Super Mario Maker but even Luke (who happens to be a Minecraft expert) rated this below average. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Grade: B-
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Posted: 2015/1/10
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, comic mischief, mild suggestive themes)

screenshotSome of my friends adore Super Smash Bros. while others call it "the most overrated franchise ever". Personally I enjoy its frenetic fighting action but the game as a whole leaves me less than satisfied. Despite its uninspired title (really Nintendo?), there's plenty here for fans to get excited about.

It's the first Smash Bros. presented in high definition and it supports up to eight players (!) at once. If you're new to the series, this game is a wild free-for-all starring Nintendo icons like Mario, Zelda, Fox, Yoshi, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Link, and Pikachu. More obscure characters include Little Mac, Marth, Robin, Ness, Olimar, and Pit. There are even some non-Nintendo entries like Sonic, Mega Man, and Pac-Man. You get dozens of gorgeous stages inspired by Luigi's Mansion, Mario Galaxy, Metroid, Zelda, Earthbound, Pokemon, and Star Fox among others. Slugging it out on the wings of an airplane is exhilarating, but fighting on the first screen of Donkey Kong sounds better than it is.

The fighting is undeniably fun. The stages radically transform during the fights, making the frantic action even more chaotic. The fan service is off-the-charts, with nods to the classics like a Galaga ship that abducts fighters. The graphics look wonderful but the battles are confusing due to blinding explosions, zooming camera angles, and defeated characters that smack up against your television screen. With four or more players, it's really hard to keep track of your character on the screen!

The primary modes are the four and eight-player versus modes. The battles are a blast and after each one you're presented with an extensive statistical breakdown for each fighter. It sucks however that there's no running win-loss record or indicator of who's ahead. A hodgepodge of mini-games are also available but there's no real sense of progression.

The menus are confusing too. In order to view the default controls I actually had to save my own "control profile". The Amiibo function is pretty worthless, and why am I forced to assign a nickname to each character? What would someone possibly want to rename Mario? Carl? Also included are loads of customization options and a "vault" that lets you view stats, trophies, replays, and movies. Super Smash Bros. Wii U has no shortage of content but lacks a cohesive core to hold everything together. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 8 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, YouTube, Moby Games