The Super Smash Bros. series has always done a masterful job of straddling the fine line between casual and competitive players. Anyone can pick up the game and do well enough to have a good time, but if you take the time to master it, you will learn the deeper intricacies that lie beneath the entire experience. Super Smash Bros. Melee hit the hardcore scene perfectly, offering blisteringly fast combat that casual players had trouble keeping track of. Brawl however, felt like an over-correction, creating a game that featured too many random elements to keep the hardcore players happy. While it is too early to tell exactly how competitive Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS will be, it does a fantastic job of melding the two philosophies, offering up gameplay that feels fair and competitive, yet can still be thoroughly enjoyed by even a casual fan.
Taking Nintendo’s many beloved characters, and a few third-party properties lately, and pitting them against each other in arena-style combat was always a strange concept. However, it was also a whole lot of fun. That tradition continues in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS with some of the most refined and enjoyable combat mechanics the series has seen. Characters are fast and fluid, without feeling like they ever get fully out of your control. The simple to understand combat mechanics that the series is known for are on full display here, with nearly every character feeling wholly different from all of the others yet feeling natural once you take control. The new characters, such as Villager, Lil Mac, and Wii Fit Trainer all fit into the roster perfectly, adding interesting elements or simply following with old trends. Unlocking the entire roster of characters is fairly easy this time around, which might make the early game feel a little hollow, as figuring out the mechanics to unlock various characters used to be a big element of the game. However, it was nice to be able to simply enjoy the experience without worrying too much about what needed to be done to get that next unlockable. Truly, the toughest decision in the game will be deciding who you want to play as for most of your battles.
That will be extra difficult this time around because Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS features 49 total characters (51 if you include the other two Mii Fighter configurations), almost all of which feature unique moves and abilities. There are also 34 stages, each of which can be played in a more competitive “Battlefield” form which removes random elements and geometry. While there might not be the wide variety of stages we have seen in the past, most likely due to hardware and screen limitations of the 3DS, each stage feels like a fine inclusion and the overall offerings are enough to satisfy most fans. Finally there is a nice smattering of game modes, tons of trophies to collect, and the always present unlockables making sure that no one can fault Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS for not delivering in the content department.
No one can fault Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS for not delivering in the content department
In fact, one of the most confusing parts of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS was starting it up, and trying to figure out where exactly to go from there. You can dive right in with the Smash Mode of course, but that is just battles against other players or the CPU. Hidden away under the Games & More tag is the familiar Classic Mode. This, along with the also returning All-Star Mode, feels like the main meat of the non-multiplayer game in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. In Classic Mode you choose your character and then run through a series of increasingly difficult and varied battles. You can choose different paths along the way, which will increase the difficulty with the benefit of extra prizes. There isn’t any story or plot really, which is probably a good thing as past stories haven’t worked well for the series. While Subspace Emissary had its moments in Super Smash Bros. Brawl it never really came together well enough to warrant its inclusion in the game.
On top of Classic and All-Star Mode come the usual inclusions of Home-Run Contest, Multi-Man Smash, and Target Blast, which is a variation on Target Smash from previous games. While none of these modes really stands out as an amazing inclusion, each adds a bit of variety to the experience in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. If you can get some friends together who all have 3DSes then there is a local multiplayer option, allowing four players to do battle in all of the usual ways. There is also online multiplayer, which is segmented into two categories: “For Fun” leaves items on, includes four players, and generally allows for more relaxed play, and “For Glory” which pits two players against each other in ultra competitive fashion. Personally the online elements were a little flaky, causing connection errors and slowdown mid-game, but it seems that most players have been able to connect with less trouble. When it works well it is a great experience, allowing for constantly changing competition from all over the world.
The one mode that seems like Nintendo’s big push for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is Smash Run. In this mode, which is exclusive to the 3DS version, you and three other players (either AI or friends) have five minutes to kill as many random enemies as possible. As you smash them they will drop loot or character bonuses, such as attack, speed, and jump. At the end of the five minutes you all face off against each other in a random battle. Sometimes you’re all giant and the last man standing wins, other times it is a race, or a contest to see who can jump the highest. While Smash Run is a fun diversion it never really stands out as something that will satisfy long term. Aside from the custom moves and equipment you unlock as you play, allowing you to create unique characters with different attributes from their standard scheme, there is little driving you to keep playing. Every run ends with the random one minute battle, if you picked the right character and improved the right stats then you’ll probably win. The random nature of the final challenge, combined with the paltry one minute time limit make the outcome feel too random and non-competitive. I found myself just picking a fast character and hoping to get either the race or the jumping contest. If it ended up being combat I still had a decent shot at taking out the enemies and winning anyway.
Luckily, despite the Smash Run Mode not really paying off, there is still plenty to enjoy in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. The visuals are as crisp and detailed as they can be on the under-powered 3DS. Everything runs at a silky smooth 60FPS, even in 3D mode which I used far more often than usual thanks to its excellent implementation. Character animation lives up to the series’ high standard, and the effects that have been added, such as the lightning that occurs when a characters is smashed, add a lot of frenetic action to the game. Stages feature morphing terrain and beautiful background scenery. It is quite obvious that the game is pushing the little handheld right up to its breaking point. For example, when exiting the game the system tends to take a few seconds, and Miiverse has been disabled to free up system resources. This isn’t really a problem, just evidence of how far Nintendo and Bandai Namco had to push the hardware to achieve what they have.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS had a lot to live up to. It is only the fourth entry in the Super Smash Bros. series, and is the first to be available on a handheld device. It also didn’t help that a seemingly better version would be hitting the Wii U later on this year, making this release feel almost like a tease of what is to come. However, even with all of that looming over its head the game delivers on nearly every front. While it still has the feeling of being the appetizer before the main course, it is such a great opening that few will be disappointed with just this release alone.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
- Available On: Nintendo 3DS
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Bandai Namco Games, Sora Ltd.
- Genre: Fighting
- US Release Date: October 3rd, 2014
- Reviewed On: Nintendo 3DS
- Quote: "Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS might be the lead up to a better game on Wii U, but when what's there is so much fun and contains so much content there is no reason to complain."