Zelda Dungeon Marathon 2019:

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is only two days away, and the hype is strong with this one. Perhaps the most beloved multiplayer game for Nintendo fans, Super Smash Bros. asks players to break fighting game conventions and instead of whittling away at HP, to knock their opponents off of a given stage. Here at ZI, we’ve had a good amount of time to play through the game’s plethora of modes and challenges, and let me tell you, Zelda fans will not be disappointed.

The five playable Zelda characters that appeared in Brawl return in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, most of which boast marked improvements and changes from previous games.

Of course we have Link, the main protagonist of the Zelda series, wielding a bow, the Gale Boomerang, bombs, the Hookshot, his famous spin attack, and of course the blade of evil’s bane: the Master Sword. Link plays much like he does in Super Smash Bros. Brawl; with his sword and kicking attacks for melee combat, and his many projectiles for long-range, he’s a skilled fighter anywhere on the battlefield. But those of you disappointed with his performance in Brawl will be happy to know that his attacks now feel much more powerful. His new dash attack, a particularly noteworthy change made to better reflect the combat in the Zelda games, is the most tangible example of his newfound power, and can send lighter foes flying off screen even at more modest percentages.

Toon Link, meanwhile, represents a more recent design of the Hero that’s become commonplace in many Zelda games since 2003. His move set mirrors his adult counterpart in nearly every way, albeit with changed arial attacks, and the same dash attack featured in Brawl. But the physics and effects of each of these moves have noticeable differences: Toon Link is much lighter, and many of his weapons move at a slower pace—but they also deal more damage. Toon Link’s fighting style, much like Toon Link himself, is an alternative to the traditional Hero for those who prefer different kinds of play.

Princess Zelda and her spoilerific alter-ego, Sheik, have now been separated and given new moves to fill out their abilities. Zelda is once again an apt fighter who uses the magic spells from Ocarina of Time to challenge her foes—but she can now use the Phantom Knights from Spirit Tracks, as well. All of these moves can be used at both short and long ranges, with the exception of Nayru’s Love, a protective barrier that deals damage to foes while simultaneously reflecting incoming projectiles. Zelda can be a bit slow, so the most effective way to maneuver the battlefield is often to teleport across the stage using Farore’s Wind; it works quickly and can be used as a powerful attack when timed properly.

Sheik is a nimble fighter capable of dealing damage quickly and knocking opponents away with powerful arial attacks. Her speed and fluidity as a fighter are unique in the Zelda roster, and players who prefer speed and skill over raw power will find her a very satisfying choice. Sheik’s standard special and recovery move return in Smash 4, but she now boasts two new special attacks: Burst Grenade and Bouncing Fish. Burst Grenade replaces her previous side special, and now sends out a small grenade that sucks in nearby opponents before exploding with a powerful blast. Bouncing Fish—where Sheik can hop forward, strike a foe, and return to where she was standing—replaces her previous transformation ability. Players can tilt the control stick either to the left or right to determine how far or short a distance this move travels, which makes it all the more interesting for surprising opponents. Both of these new techniques are useful ways of knocking opponents out of the ring, but the most adept Sheik players will still find themselves short-hopping quite a bit.

Finally, we have Ganondorf, the wielder of the Triforce of Power and the main antagonist of the Zelda series. Ganondorf was a famously poor character in Brawl, to the point where he had claimed an entire tier to himself at the bottom of the character balance lists, and luckily the new Smash has corrected some of these problems. Ganondorf is a melee combatant whose moveset is a slower and more powerful version of the Smash-famous Captain Falcon. His special attacks are various punches, kicks, and grabs souped up with dark magic, and they take a bit of time to execute, but every hit landed is oh-so-satisfying. He is easily the slowest of the Zelda characters, and quite possibly one of the slowest characters in the game, but his raw power makes up for his speed far better than it did in Brawl.

Link, Toon Link, and Zelda represent their source material excellently. Link’s many in-game items, his trademark “HYAH,” and even Navi appearing in one of his taunts goes to show the care that the team has put into representing so much of the series. Toon Link features the pigs from Outset Island, the artistic explosion designs in the bombs, and even the Wind Waker itself, as his lineup of taunts and victory animations. Zelda’s moveset, meanwhile, does an excellent job representing the spells from Ocarina of Time and re-imagining them as combat techniques, while introducing the Phantom Knights as an entirely original new technique.

But in this regard, Sheik is unimpressive, and Ganondorf is very disappointing. Sheik, being a secondary character in only one game when Smash Bros. began development, doesn’t have much to work with in the way of combat. But the one symbol from the Zelda series that is almost synonymous with Sheik, the Goddess Harp, is nowhere to be seen in Smash, even as a taunt or victory animation. Likewise, the game never plays with the musicality that Sheik so heavily conveyed throughout every encounter in Ocarina of Time. As a result, Sheik feels more like a generic ninja fighter retrofitted to a Zelda theme than she does an appropriate representation of the character in a fighting game context.

Ganondorf, meanwhile, has been a clone character since his debut in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and while it was quite excusable then—he was only included because they were looking for feasible clone characters, in fact—two games later, it feels quite bland. Ganondorf is famous in the Zelda series for energy orbs, dual swords, magic storms, and even flight, but Super Smash Bros. uses none of these abilities. His Final Smash, where he turns into Ganon and rushes forward on the screen is a starting point, but the player has no agency over this attack. A more effective use of his beast form would be if he could transform into Ganon and allow the player control over his actions, much like Giga Bowser or Wario Man, but alas, we can’t. The Smash team has, for what it’s worth, captured his sadistic and powerful character masterfully once again; his cruel laughter and pure joy when getting his way truly does feel like the Ganondorf we know and love. Nevertheless, it’s a shame that his moveset, to this day, is still so neglectful of the

character’s origins.

But for representing source material, perhaps the most impressive (if fleetingly so) thing about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the color changes each character has. Between eight different palette swaps for each character, we have color changes for the Goron and Zora tunics, Dark Link, Fierce Diety Link, Link’s Skyloft clothes, Princess Hilda, Zelda’s Ocarina of Time color scheme, Zelda’s dress in later chapters of Skyward Sword, the various colors of Link in Four Swords, Link’s original clothes from the NES era, and even Demise. It’s minor fanservice, yes, but it’s very impressive just how much content they represented in Super Smash Bros. with just these simple means.

There are three Zelda-themed stages in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, though two return from past games, making Super Smash Bros. for Wii U the sequel with the lowest number of new Zelda stages to date.

The fan-favorite Temple stage returns from Melee and Brawl, this time retextured for the high resolution of the new game—complete with glyphs that read “Smash Brothers” in Ancient Hylian as it appears in The Wind Waker. Temple is once again a massive, sprawling map with dozens of different areas on which to fight, each boasting their own unique pros and cons for different types of play. Temple now features a much wider selection of songs to play while in battle, making which to me brings it full-circle in updating the arena for the modern game. Bridge of Eldin also returns from Brawl, faithfully recreated with improved textures and much of the same music available in the stage.

Skyloft is the new stage for the Zelda series in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and I might dare to say is the best Zelda stage that we’ve seen in Smash Bros. to date—and we’ve had some amazing Zelda stages. Skyloft draws inspiration from Mute City and Delfino Plaza before it, in that players tour a large map by way of a few floating platforms that travel from one fighting arena to another. The stage features a whopping ten different locations from around Skyloft, letting players fight atop the Statue of the Goddess, outside of Batreaux’s house, on the roof of the Knight Academy, outside the Bazaar… the list goes on! Each of these areas has a interesting layout that keeps the game fresh without intruding on the skill-based fighting that much of the Smash Bros. audience enjoys. It should appeal greatly to both skill-based and party-based Smash players, and Zelda fans will absolutely adore just how much content they’ve packed into this stage—and better yet, how authentic it is to the original game.

Being the greedy crook I am, I do wish the team had dared to go beyond Skyloft for this stage, though; as wonderful as it is, I would happily exchange a few of its current arenas on the main island for more memorable locations in The Sky, like The Lumpy Pumpkin, Fun Fun island, or Inside the Thunderhead. But just because they could have done more doesn’t mean that the Skyloft stage we have is in any way disappointing.

While I ultimately can’t say I’m pleased that Smash Bros. for Wii U only features one new Zelda stage, the three arenas we have don’t fault to disappoint, and Skyloft goes far above and beyond all expectations. But when coupled with the Spirit Train and Gerudo Valley stages in Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, Smash 4’s stages don’t rob our favorite series of its due.

The items in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U are the same as those in the Nintendo 3DS version, and that includes all the Zelda-themed ones, which are all extremely authentic to their functions in the main games. There are enough Zelda items to go around that you can play a match featuring only Zelda characters on Zelda stages with Zelda items and it still feels like a complete Smash match, and that says a lot.

Returning from past games, we have a Heart Container, now modeled after their Skyward Sword looks, which recover 100% damage; the Bunny Hood from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, which allows players to run faster and jump higher; and the Deku Nut, which stuns all nearby fighters when thrown or attacked, much like its original appearance in Ocarina of Time.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS also introduced five new Zelda items, each of which add a wonderful new flavor to the game. First, we have the Fairy Bottle, an item that can be picked up and used as a throwing weapon for players below 100% damage—but anyone who has 100% damage or over when picking it up or when hit by the bottle, will recover that much percentage. It’s a clever idea that shakes up the formula and, with proper timing, can leave players using the same item in different ways for quite some time. Contrary to this recovery item is the Beetle, from Skyward Sword, which players can pick up and throw , causing it to fly in a horizontal line across the screen until it either grabs an opponent or flies off-camera. When it grabs someone, they’re rendered mostly helpless until the Beetle carries them up and away, resulting in an extremely easy KO. When using the Beetle for yourself, it’s extremely satisfying (if a bit too easy), but when it’s used against you, it’s an extremely frustrating death. While the idea for the Beetle is certainly clever, if it were easier to get out of the Beetle’s hold, it would feel less like a cheap and obnoxious pain, and more like an item in Smash should—something that simply changes the gameplay in an exciting way.

The Gust Bellows, also from Skyward Sword, can blow opponents away when in use, or when thrown, spins around and affects everyone on the battlefield. The Gust Bellows is most useful for preventing opponents from recovering—when they’re trying to get back on the stage, simply blow them farther away from the edge. In Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, the Gust Bellows felt absurdly overpowered, even when used on grounded enemies, but somehow it feels like they’ve adjusted its strength for the Wii U release, making it a much more friendly and fair item.

Next up is the Bombchu, a familiar item for many a Zelda fan, which works exactly as you might expect—you can pick it up and throw it at enemies for a satisfying explosion—but as soon as it hits the ground, it will starts scurrying along the floor, walls, and even ceiling until running into an appropriate target. And, as with all other explosive items, it will detonate on impact if anyone attacks it, even while it’s inactive. The Bombchu is yet another extremely clever idea by the Smash team that both introduces a new way to play and represents its Zelda origins perfectly in Smash.

And finally, we have what is by far my favorite new Zelda item, and possibly my favorite item in the whole game, the Cucco. Much like they do in so many Zelda games, when a cucco appears on the battlefield, it happily prances along minding its own business. But the moment a player inte

rferes, a legion of cuccos promises that there will be hell to pay. If you spot a cucco on the field, you can pick it up and throw it at your enemy, giving them a world of hurt. But if you aren’t careful, you may attack it by mistake, and then you’ll be the one getting punished. For about twelve seconds, you will be bombarded by cuccos flying in and out of the battlefield seeking revenge, leaving just enough time between each strike to continue battle, but not enough to fully recover from their reign of terror. It’s awesome, it’s hilarious, it’s everything I could have wanted and more from the typical sense of humor that Smash brings, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Zelda characters participate in several event matches, but three are very uniquely Zelda. The first is called “Four Swords Adventures,” and it features the four primary palette swaps of Toon Link duking it out in a Stamina match over Wuhu Island—the last Link alive is the winner. Next is called “The Demon King and the Goddess,” where Ganondorf must defeat Link and Zelda in Skyloft, after which a giant Palutena shows up and must be defeated as well. Finally, and perhaps the most excellent Zelda event match since Melee asked us to battle atop Majora’s Mask, is “A Fated Battle.” In “A Fated Battle,” Link and Ganondorf must fight a two-stock battle on the Castle Siege stage, and if Link fails to defeat Ganondorf before the stage reaches its underworldly third level, two Dark Links appear, joining the battle on Ganondorf’s side.

The only major criticism I would have for the game as a Zelda fan is that it lacks any kind of story or adventure mode that made Melee and Brawl feel like proper celebrations of the Nintendo canon. Whereas Melee brought featured challenges based on classic games for all the characters, and Brawl featured a story-driven mode rife with cutscenes and storytelling, Smash 4 simply introduces more variations on the typical ten-to-fifteen-minute single-player modes. It’s not inherently a problem, but it does lose, to me, one of the driving factors to playing the game game in a single-player context.

As a Zelda fan, and as someone who loves frenetic action games, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is totally satisfying. The breadth and depth of Zelda content represented in the game is authentic and creative, and while there remain a few missed opportunities, the result is ultimately one that exudes excellence at nearly every turn.

I give Super Smash Bros. for Wii U five Reggies.

Sorted Under: Editorials