Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS (let's call it Smash 3DS from now on) presents a unique problem for us videogame reviewers.
No, not nostalgia. Of course I've got fond memories of happy hours throwing down on my friends in the N64 original before graduating to the twitchy brilliance of Melee. Granted, playing it reminds me of simpler times before I fully understood the horror of self-assessed tax returns and other adult annoyances, but the fact is that Smash is utterly brilliant even without the rose-tinted spectacles.
It's still a superb arena brawler that forces you to unlearn everything you know about fighting games to revel in a crazy chaotic mess of ridiculous attacks, hilarious character matchups and manic button mashing. This is more than enough silly cathartic fun for many players, but dedicated fans can then bring order to the chaos with arena control, aerial attacks, positioning and competitive depth for days. Packing outstanding handheld visuals, a superb roster, brilliant stages and masses of additional content, there's no quibbling with Smash 3DS' quality and value regardless of whether you're looking for a casual diversion or a more hardcore experience.
However, its issues -- some of which are rather sizeable -- have nothing to do with the game. Rather they stem from the platform itself. As such, the big question here isn't "is Smash 3DS any good?," rather we have to ask whether Super Smash Bros is actually worth buying on 3DS in the first place.
The short answer is "yes, probably." The long answer follows.
Smash 3DS subscribes to the time-honoured formula of 4-player beatdowns between classic characters from Ninty, SEGA and Namco history, with the objective being to smash (geddit?) your opponents off of the 2D stages without leaving the ring yourself. Inflicting damage doesn't knock out your competitors, rather it reduces the effects of gravity and friction, meaning that bouts blur the line between precision platforming and sidescrolling beat'em up action. The thrill of seeing Kirby swallow Samus and then smacking Captain Falcon clean off of the stage with his hammer still induces a giggle, and a host of outrageous items can turn a bout into a full-on fanservice session ("Kyogre! I choose you!"), but the silly spectacle is powered by the beating heart of a brutal and competitive brawler.
Mechanically it falls somewhere between Melee and Brawl, weighted somewhere towards the latter with a slightly floaty feel and lack of 'ledge hogging' (stopping opponents from grabbing onto a ledge by beating them to it and laughing as they fall to their doom), but still provides pleasingly responsive controls, a shield that can be quickly negated if you know what you're doing, no thrice-damned random trippingand relatively simple attacks that can all be modified with tilts and directional stick flicks. Naturally each fighter can draw on a pool of special moves, dedicated aerial abilities, taunts with unexpected unique effects and a ruinous Final Smash attack that's as riotously silly as it is devastating. Dropping a Landmaster tank onto your opponents never, ever gets old.
The character roster is as versatile as it is enormous, providing a host of fighters that all boast a totally different role and unique feel. Series mainstays like Mario, Luigi and Yoshi are on hand to teach newcomers the ropes with a balance between melee and range, before graduating to more nuanced fighters such as Kirby or the Animal Crossing Villager who draw on unique abilities (such as inhaling foes to steal their identity and spit them out of the stage bounds, or catching projectiles out of mid-air to use later).
Bulky grapplers like Donkey Kong rub shoulders with nimbler fighters like Link and Pikachu, ranged gunslingers, aerial floaters or close-up powerhouses such as Little Mac. There's a niche for everyone, whatever your playstyle, and more advanced characters to cut your teeth on. Case in point, the seemingly weak Roselina, who I wrote off as useless before being utterly schooled by a veteran player using her online. The key is that there are no long combos to memorise, only unique attacks mapped to the same familiar inputs, meaning that getting to grips with a new character doesn't require hours spent staring at move lists.
Newcomers include the brilliantly bizarre Bowser Jr, who brings a host of crazy props and weapons to the party, alongside a cohort of Fire Emblem Awakening characters, the graceful yet deadly Wii Fit trainer, the dog from Duck Hunt, Pac-Man, Xenoblade Chronicles' Shulk, Kid Icarus' Pit and Palutena and more besides, even your own Miis via a functional character creator. This system works fantastically well, drawing stats from the height and build of your avatar, and does a great job of putting you directly into the action. Though we miss the Ice Climbers, this is probably the most solid and versatile Smash roster yet, which increases as a dozen secret characters reveal themselves over the first few hours. If you beat 'em, they'll join you.
I don't even detest Zero Suit Samus as much as I thought I would. I still can't accept that the fearsome bounty hunter would ever enter a combat situation without her armour, but she's an absolute blast to play as thanks to her slippery-quick speed and whip moves that provide extra utility outside of basic attacks. Plus, I'd argue that her inclusion alongside vanilla Samus proves that Metroid: Other M exists in a divergent timeline and a different canonical universe from the main games... but that's an overwrought theory for another article. Or never.
The stages are also brilliantly designed, referencing both classic series staples alongside a host of handheld greats from throughout the ages. You'll fight over a Pictochat screen as new platforms and hazards are drawn on in real-time, vie for position atop Zelda: Spirit Tracks' train, dodge oncoming racers in Rainbow Road and continually adapt, react and take advantage of ridiculous escalating gimmicks. Though competitive types will make a beeline for the literal level playing field of Final Destination or streamlined 'Omega' versions of each level, for me, half the fun is constantly being surprised and delighted by seeing how characters make sense of other game universes, and the undeniable fun of being bushwhacked by crazy surprises built into every stage.
Yes, Smash is still as fantastic fun as ever, but the controls spotlight the first major issue with the 3DS. Pulling off tilt attacks with the circle pad is fiddly and obtuse, especially since the tactile D-Pad can't support the analogue-based gameplay the franchise is famed for, yet this isn't really the problem. You'll get used to it. The real problem boils down to ergonomics, or more accurately the lack thereof when it comes to the angular design of the original 3DS. It's too compact and the sharp edges are too uncomfortable for a brawler like this, turning your hands into gnarled claws after an hour or two, meaning that I can only wholeheartedly recommend it to 3DS XL owners. Sure, you can optionally upgrade, but remember that the New 3DS is out next year and may quickly render your new purchase obsolete.
The detailed 60FPS stereoscopic-enabled visuals also push against the hardware limitations, leading to a lengthy initial loading screen, no intro cinematic and chuntering performance when you bring up the Home menu. Worse, though, you just can't appreciate Nintendo's hard work on the original 3DS' tiny screen, with battles rendered tiny and confusing especially when the camera starts lurching about. Again, XL owners come up trumps here, though it's still a seriously impressive achievement.
But then we come to the perhaps the biggest 'issue' with the 3DS: the lack of single-screen play. The way that Smash is meant to be played. Four gamers clustered around a big telly, junk food and some fizzy drinks (erm... I mean, make sure to eat healthily, kids!). Smash 3DS therefore has to get around this unavoidable design flaw by providing new game modes and additional value.
The beating heart of the game is still the time-honoured 'Smash' mode, which sees four players enter the arena with customisable rules and items sets, allowing players to decide exactly how hardcore or hilarious they want the experience to be. Timeless fun both in singleplayer and local ad-hoc multiplayer, it's always going to be the go-to gametype! However, Sakurai has also sweetened the deal with an enormous range of extra modes scattered throughout an utterly horrible set of nested menus ripped straight out of Kid Icarus Uprising (his last pet project).
After playing Menu Hero, you can get to grips with Smash Run, which sees players exploring sprawling levels and beating up classic enemies from yesteryear (from Pookas to Hammer Bros and Metroids) to increase their core stats, before then being thrown together into a battle royale. These end-game events are fun and varied, sometimes boiling down to a race rather than a traditoinal brawl, but to be honest I found myself tiring of this mode rather quickly. There's really not much to it, and keeping players separated from each other for minutes at a time feels like it's missing the point.
It's still solo fun for a time, mind, and is joined by what I'd consider to be superior modes buried deep in the menus. The sensational Classic Mode sees you choosing between divergent paths in escalating themed battles, leading up to a final confrontation between Master Hand, allowing you to change the difficulty and rewards by spending your hard-earned coins. All-Stars throws you into chronological battles against legendary mascots on their home turf, while a range of additional minigames are up for grabs. Plus a simple yet surprisingly addictive Streetpass mode. It's all underpinned by collectible trophies and a customisation system that lets you equip characters with new items and abilities, modifying their stats in a balanced way once you've mastered the annoyingly fiddly menus. Solo players will have enough content to last them for weeks if not months.
But what of online multiplayer? The concept is solid, providing a range of modes for different abilities and tastes ("for fun" or "for glory," basically), but once again we see the 3DS holding the game back. My online experience has been wildly inconsistent to say the least, since I've encountered a laggy error code-spewing disaster for every two smooth battles. I hope that Nintendo can continue to beef up their infrastructure, and for the record I absolutely loved taking on the world when it worked, but it's not quite where it needs to be to fully make up for the lack of that delicious single-screen experience.
All of which means that Smash 3DS can feel like a support act to the Wii U version, a starter before the main course, but I'm not going to hold it up against a game that hasn't even released yet! All-told it's a value-packed, supremely enjoyable and engaging brawler that earns its place amongst the 3DS' best and brightest on its own merits, even if the platform sometimes holds the game back from its full potential.
- Classic madcap Smash gameplay with more competitive edge than Brawl
- Massive, versatile, balanced and deep character roster
- Brilliant stage design (and Omega mode for veterans)
- Drop-dead gorgeous handheld visuals and smooth in-game performance
- Impressive extra modes, unlockables, customisation and value for solo and local players
- Uncomfortable to play and look at on an original 3DS (XL recommended)
- Smash Run mode is disappointing; nasty menu design
- Inconsistent online multiplayer experience
The Short Version: Super Smash Bros. 3DS strains against the hardware and lacks the timeless single-screen play we crave from the franchise, but ultimately delivers an excellent handheld brawler in its own right. Once you get a handle on the controls, you'll enjoy an enormous versatile roster, exquisite handheld visuals, fantastic stage design, addictive multiplayer and content for weeks, even months, of continued play.
However, original 3DS owners face a difficult decision between hand cramp or upgrading to a bigger model that will become obsolete next year. Download the eShop demo if you're in any doubt!