Let's get this out of the way right now: Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS is a technical marvel. It runs like a dream, and it looks as good if not better than Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It's not a stretch to say that it's the best looking game on the Nintendo 3DS right now.
The rest, of course, is a matter of taste. You probably already know whether or not you like Super Smash Bros at this point, since the mechanics haven't changed all that much since Super Smash Bros. Melee. Either you love it for its manic action and loving tribute to all things Nintendo, or you hate it because you think it's chaotic, shallow fan service. I happen to be in the former camp, but I can see how it's divisive among Nintendo fans.
Its formula is simple as ever: Up to four Nintendo characters (plus Pac-Man and Mega Man) battle it out across a variety of familar stages, from Unova's Prism Tower (Pokémon) to the train from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Ultimately, your goal is to build up your opponent's damage percentage counter, which causes them to fly further and further off the screen until they finally fly so far that they either explode or tumble away into the distance with a plaintive, "Pikaa Pikaaaaaa....." It's a formula that has worked very well over the years, and for better or for worse, Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco don't seem to really want to mess with it too much.
Which is not to say that it plays exactly the same as its predecessors. Each Super Smash Bros. has its own distinct feel, and in terms of pacing, this version falls somewhere between the frenetic speed of Super Smash Bros. Melee and the more methodical Brawl, with a handful of new items and assist trophies serving to further vary things up. As always, it's deeper than it looks, and more advanced players will quickly find moves and combos that help to separate them from lower-level competitors. The biggest change can be found in a 3DS-exclusive mode called Smash Run—a two-part battle in which up to four players earn stats by battling enemies before facing off against each other. It's an enjoyable if somewhat gimmicky mode, apt to be played once and then left behind due to having a lengthy build-up without much of a payoff.
As usual, where it shines is in its roster, which is the best the series has had to date. The majority of the new characters are thoughtfully-designed and fun to use, with special mention going to Mega Man, whom I've already covered in some detail, as well as Pac-Man, Little Mac, the Animal Crossing Villager, and Palutena. All are faithful to their home series in one way or another, with little details including the Villager using his butterfly net to throw opponents and Little Mac having a KO punch capable of taking out an opponent in one hit once it's charged up... assuming it connects.
What's interesting is that each of these characters can be further customized with alternate moves. So for example, Mega Man can opt to use the Hyper Bomb from the original Mega Man rather than the default Crash Bomb. Time will tell how much of an impact the customizable characters will have on the game at large, though I'll admit that I rarely thought to use the feature myself, preferring to stick with the default versions. When I did use the custom characters though, I appreciated the extra degree of control that it afforded me.
Outside of the battlefield, I was surprised to find a somewhat shallow single-player experience compared to previous versions. The Event Challenges and Subspace Emissary modes are both gone, depriving solo players of quick, objective-based battles and a single-player campaign respectively. Instead, most of the grinding for unlockable trophies, characters, and stages is accomplished by playing through Classic Mode—a series of branching paths with randomized battles that is enjoyable for a time, but soon becomes somewhat repetitive. Beyond that, there's an All-Star Mode in which you must run a gauntlet of characters, as well as a rather random home run derby in which you try to smash a hapless sandbag as far as possible—a refugee from past games.
It's unfortunate that the Smash Bros. single-player experience isn't more robust than it is, since American 3DS players are apt to spend most of their time playing alone. On the other hand, multiplayer has always been the name of the game for Super Smash Bros., and that component remains strong as ever. This version deserves to be knocked for its single-player cuts, but when all is said and done, this version of Super Smash Bros. focuses on what matters, and that's the multiplayer.
Which brings me to the online mode—a notable achilles heel in Brawl that has been notably improved for the 3DS version. Only a tiny handful of the two dozen or more online matches I played were noticeably impacted by lag, with input lag thankfully being kept to a minimum. Random matchmaking only takes a few seconds to complete, and there are options for both one-on-one and group play, with the additional ability to play for fun or "for glory"—the latter automatically turning off items and making every stage a flat, Final Destination-style platform.
Unfortunately, playing with random strangers means being limited to Time rather than the more popular Stock. I get that the designers want to avoid the somewhat lengthier matches that Stock brings with it, but that doesn't change the fact that more than a few fans are bound to be turned off by the lack of choice. While the lack of choice is somewhat disappointing though, the most important thing is that online is actually playable this time around, which could not be said for the Wii version. In addition, the ruleset is considerably more flexible when playing with a registered friend online, featuring the ability to choose between Stock and Time, as well as the option to turn off various items. As far as online modes go, Super Smash Bros. on the 3DS more than meets expectations.
As I said before, I think the main thing that stands out to me about this version is just how good it looks and feels on the Nintendo 3DS. I was initially skeptical it would work at all, mainly because the button layout on the Nintendo 3DS felt unnatural for Smash Bros. and the action seemed better-suited for the big screen, but a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon spent playing with colleagues in the press was enough to convince me otherwise. Super Smash Bros. does more than survive on the Nintendo 3DS—it thrives.
Granted, if you don't have any friends who happen to own a Nintendo 3DS, you may want to wait until the Wii U version comes out. This version of Super Smash Bros. unfortunately lacks download play, and the online and single-player modes aren't quite robust enough to carry the game on their own. If you were holding out to see whether Smash Bros. could work on a handheld system, however, consider your fears alleviated. This version doesn't do a lot to advance the series as a whole, but it remains a delightfully well-designed brawler all the same, and it's a pleasure to play on the Nintendo 3DS.
I don't envy Kat for taking lead on our Smash Bros. review—If I had to stick a score on my thoughts, I'd have no idea which number to choose. It's been a long time since a game left me feeling so… conflicted.
Of course, if we reviewed Smash Bros. for 3DS in a vacuum, it would definitely merit the highest of marks. That's not how things work, unfortunately, and I can't break myself out of this veteran's perspective. Having been with this series since its N64 debut, I've been waiting for Smash to make another major evolution, as it did on the GameCube, when Nintendo's novel fighting game concept became a thing of beauty. With each successive installment, though, fewer parts of the game feel legitimately "new," and it's starting to get to me.
I understand Nintendo's hands are tied on this one. Change for the sake of change doesn't necessarily benefit anyone, though it's safe to say I've grown pretty bored of characters who've remained practically the same since 2001's Melee. To be fair, Sakurai and his team have fine-tuned these fighters with each sequel, so it would be a waste to chuck out the progress they've made over the years. But as someone who's bought and played each Smash Bros. to date, the core game hasn't changed enough for me to keep caring.
To the game's credit, Smash works surprisingly well on the 3DS—even better than my preview session let on. After a few hours, I grew accustomed to the tininess of the onscreen action, though as soon as I got cozy with my 3DS, things would get zoomed out a little too far and I'd have to bring the system inches away from my face. (I guess Sakurai is cursed when it comes to making 3DS experiences you can play comfortably.) Still, the game feels authentic to its predecessors, even if it lacks the pomp and circumstance surrounding the presentation of the Wii's Super Smash Bros. Brawl—though that could be due to Nintendo now lacking the confidence they had at the height of their console industry success. Though a ton of work obviously went into this latest sequel, it feels more perfunctory than celebratory, like a big, Costco-sized box of Nintendo content.
Whether or not you enjoy Smash Bros. for 3DS has a lot to do with the situation in which you'll be playing it. Melee launched just as I entered college, so it's been my favorite game of the series, simply because I always had people around me, ready to play. As a boring adult, I'm not so lucky, and Smash Bros. still lacks a convincing reason to play alone. Smash Run mode is a step in the right direction, but the experience amounts to a bunch of Nintendo references flying haphazardly around the screen as you build up stats that don't feel like they matter. Adventure Mode and Subspace Emissary from the past two installments weren't the most ambitious chunks of content, but they still managed to rearrange existing assets for a novel experience. And, I never thought I'd say this, but I kinda miss those fanfic-gone-mad crossover videos found in the latter—they were just screwy enough to work.
At the risk of being branded a fun-hater, I can't really give Smash Bros. my full endorsement—but remember, this opinion is coming from a perspective that may be informed by different factors than yours. I'm someone who's always in search of new experiences, and in the week-or-so I've had my advance copy of Smash, working up the motivation to play it has been surprisingly difficult. (And if you're anxiously waiting for your reserved copy, I'll understand if you now hate me.) It's still Smash Bros., and that's fine, but I think I've had enough of it for one lifetime.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Super Smash Bros. looks great on the Nintendo 3DS, and runs smoothly with few discernible drops in framerate. The developers have really wrung every last ounce of power out of the Nintendo 3DS for this game.
- Sound: A soaring orchestral score featuring a variety of familiar Nintendo tunes remains a Smash Bros. highlight, and the sound effects are crisp and memorable.
- Interface: Simple and easy-to-use, with little in the way of discernible input lag. With that said, it's strange that you can no longer change the frequency with which items appear.
- Lasting appeal: The longevity of Super Smash Bros. depends on your friends. If you're playing solo, expect to be done with it fairly quickly. If you have people to play with, it will be a multiplayer staple for years to come.