Super Smash Bros. has finally gone portable, but does it live up to it’s console cousins, or is it merely a portable distraction until the real attraction arrives on Wii U later this month? As it turns out, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS stands on it’s own as a well put together, stunningly competent package with only a few minor blemishes on it’s otherwise pristine surface.
By this point you know how Smash works: Take 50 Nintendo characters, spread them across a variety of stages, give them a bunch of items and Pokeballs, and have them beat the crap out of each other. It’s a simple concept that works as well as ever and, with the expanded roster and tweaked fighting system, possibly even better than Brawl. Moves for the returning characters have been altered, small annoyances like tripping are nowhere to be seen, and the new characters are all very welcome additions to the roster.
As far as new characters go, we have characters that were long requested by fans ( most notably Little Mac), third party characters that fit in beautifully (MegaMan and Pac Man), and the oddball characters from Nintendo’s history that we’ve come to expect from Smash (such as Duck Hunt). All of the newcomers and veteran fighters alike have fully fleshed out moves and even the clone characters have enough of a difference to make them worth playing. No matter how you play you’ll be able to find a character that suits your play style, every character has it’s place, and not a single one of them is useless (even if, as far as my skills are concerned, Ness may as well be).
For as much variety as there is in the characters, there’s just as much in the stages. There’s a few that return from previous games (such as Jungle Japes and the always fun Great Fox) but a majority of the stages are new and many are based off of portable franchises. Each stage actually has two forms, it’s regular and the “Omega” form, a flattened version designed to be similar to Final Destination. Most of the stages are a lot of fun, but there’s a few too many for my tastes that transform and change shape as you fight. Most of the stages are actually quite small and contained, and if I had to guess I’d say this is because of the cramped screen real estate on the 3DS (which I’ll get to shortly). Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a few of the stages are incredibly creative and will make you smile every time you fight on them. I’m thinking specifically of Mute City and Kirby’s Dreamland here.
The only problems with the 3DS version of Smash aren’t necessarily related to the game itself, but rather the hardware on which it’s played. You see, Smash Bros. was built for an analog stick and the 3DS’ circle pad, while being competent enough at emulating an analog stick, just isn’t up to snuff. It mostly works, but it happens quite often (and usually in a crucial moment) that the circle pad registers the wrong direction or doesn’t detect that you’ve pushed it far enough to initiate a smash attack. Oh, and be careful not to break your circle pad; Countless people have broken their pad by being a little too rough with an input method that isn’t quite built for such furious smashing. And while we’re at it, it’s worth mentioning that getting used to the button placement will take a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve been playing Smash with a Gamecube controller for more than a decade.
It’s amazingly smooth and not once do you feel like the game is trying to do more than it can handle.
The other problem is related to the size of the 3DS’ screen. Even on the XL model, it’s just too small to keep up with the frantic action going on. 2 player matches are easy to manage, and even 3 player matches are fairly easy to keep up with, but when smashing with 4 characters on screen at once the fast pace usually causes the tiny character models to blend in with the background or each other and at times it can be extremely difficult to identify who you’re playing as. Nintendo was aware of this problem and, as mentioned, is likely the reason they limited the game’s stages to be rather small, since anything close to the size of Hyrule Temple from Melee would make it impossible to see anything. And it’s almost certainly the reason they allow you to turn on thick black outlines around the characters and the ability to have arrows above everyone’s head to point out where they are.
When you think about it, though, it’s amazing that the 3DS runs Smash as well as it does in the first place. It’s a gorgeous game, certainly among the prettiest on the system, that runs at a solid 60 frames per second in both 2D and 3D. It’s amazingly smooth and not once do you feel like the game is trying to do more than it can handle. Everything is well animated and colorful with each character and stage maintaining it’s own unique style while still fitting into the overall package. Even the multiplayer works wonderfully across wireless both locally and online, minus a few bits of lag and the odd disconnect. Part of the reason they got it to run so well and look so good is that Smash actually reboots the 3DS when you start it up and it will load up it’s own customized, slimmed down OS. This makes going to the home menu in-game a bit slower and also locks out Miiverse and web browser access, but it’s a small price to pay for something that performs so well. I shouldn’t even have to point out how incredible the soundtrack is, featuring close to 100 of Nintendo’s greatest songs.
Finally, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS lives up to it’s namesake in that it’s absolutely jam-packed with content. 50 fighters and 34 stages are just the beginning. Smash 3DS also contains a ton of music to listen to, a metric ton of trophies to unlock, 3 pages worth of challenges to complete, stat tracking for absolutely everything, is extremely customizable, and a lot of modes. You have, obviously, your standard single and multiplayer Smash mode (both local and online), trophy rush (destroy blocks to win trophies), Classic and All-Star singleplayer modes (with twists!) and a variety of stadium events including Multi-man Smash, Target Blast, and (my favourite) Homerun Contest. But the real meat comes from the 3DS-exclusive Smash Run mode, which is the most elaborate of them all. In Smash Run, you take a character and you have 5 minutes to traverse a gigantic map along with 3 other players and power yourself up. You do this by defeating enemies pulled from other Nintendo games and opening treasure chests so that you can collect tokens, the size and shape of which will increase various stats for your character. Once the 5 minutes is up, you take your newly powered up character into the ring and everyone has a battle.
Smash Run is certainly ambitious and a lot of fun, but it does get old after a while. During your 5 minute powerup phase you’ll be all on your own, and the final battle (or other competitive challnge) at the end of it is usually over far too quickly. One neat addition to Smash Run, however, is character customization. Every fighter on the roster has 10 slots for customization, which you can do by unlocking new moves and equipment to tailor them to your liking. There are an enormous number of unlockables and you fighters can be customized nearly limitless ways, but the best part is that these fighters aren’t just limited to Smash Run. Indeed, you can choose to allow custom fighters to compete in any Smash game so you can take your favourite character and tune them exactly as you see fit (or in my case, make Ness just a little less useless).
There’s a lot to love about Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, and the good definitely outweighs the bad. My fear was that the 3DS version of Smash would be a watered down port with just enough functionality to hold us over until the Wii U version came along. Luckily I was wrong, and Smash 3DS is a great game in it’s own right that’s packed with content and just as much fun as the rest of the series.