Playing the original Super Smash Bros. on the N64 and its sequel, Melee, with my good friend when I was younger are some of my favorite gaming memories. When Brawl was released I enjoyed the game quite a bit, but something felt off about it. Character movement and attacks seemed slower than Melee which felt like an odd decision. The Subspace Emissary mode was truly enjoyable and added a much more fleshed out single-player mode that I didn’t think would work well. Fast forward from 2008 to today and the first handheld iteration in the series has been released with the terribly titled Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. Luckily, the game is much better than the title.
For those unfamiliar with the Smash Bros. gameplay formula, it consists of a large cast of Nintendo (and some third party) characters fighting on a 2D battlefield with normal attacks, smash attacks and specials along with ridiculous game changing items and stage hazards. What sets apart the Smash series from being incredibly intimidating like many fighting games out there, is that it is very easy to jump in and pull off flashy attacks making you feel like you can get in there and still feel powerful. There are no quarter-circle joystick movements or complex combos. Smash attacks are carried out by pressing one button either up, down, left or right. The same goes for special attacks with a separate button. Then there are buttons for shields and grabs and those are the basics. There is definitely room for complexity with different advanced techniques such as Wavedashing, Jump-Canceling and Triangle jumping to try and get ahead. But the beauty is, if you have a mix of players with different skill levels, the items are the great equalizer being able to turn a fight upside down (sometimes literally).
The gameplay itself feels like it falls in between Melee’s super speedy and Brawl’s slightly lethargic movement leaning more toward the Melee side of things. The fast characters in this game are really fast. In my first match with Little Mac, I almost dashed off the side of the stage, so be careful your first time trying out a character. Speaking of characters, there are 14 new ones not including the three variations of the Mii Fighter. And I have to give kudos to the diversity of franchises they come from. There is Palutena from Kid Icarus, Villager from Animal Crossing and Wii Fit Trainer from, obviously, Wii Fit. Overall there are 49 characters, again, not including the Mii Fighters. Mewtwo has been announced as DLC early next year to those who purchase the Wii U version of Smash as well.
Arguably the biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of unlockable moves for each character. Each character will begin with their four special moves but additional moves can be unlocked in separate modes. For example Yoshi’s normal side special is an egg that rolls quickly back and forth dealing light damage to enemies. However, I unlocked a move that I can replace that with which is a much slower but heavier version of the attack dealing more damage. Many of them change the moves more drastically such such as changing Palutena’s up special Warp, where she disappears and reappears far away, into a rocket jump which doesn’t lift her as high, but leaves a small explosion by her feet to damage enemies.. These open up possibilities for players who might have a favorite character but not like their moves to completely change them up into a play style that they would enjoy.
From a mode perspective, this is definitely focused much more on playing with others rather than by yourself. The most obvious example of this is the lack of an extensive single-player mode like Brawl’s Subspace Emissary. This was pretty disappointing as someone whose friends don’t live particularly close to be able to come over all the time.
What seems to be the main mode, besides regular Smash, is Smash Run. This reminds me of the adventure mode from Melee in that you are running around a 2D map with Nintendo enemies like Goombas and, when defeated, drop stat boosts. You have five minutes to do this before time expires. Once that is done, you go into a final battle with the other three players or AI controlled fighters . . . and that’s it. Sure you can pick up upgrade parts and trophies along the way, but this mode isn’t that interesting. Playing the normal Smash Mode is the way to go.
Other modes include the traditional stadium fare such as Target Test, Home Run Contest and Multi Man Smash as well as All-Star mode. There is a trophy rush mode allowing you to wager coins you earn to increase the time you can spend to mash trophy boxes as they fall from the sky while avoiding hazards.
Lastly there is Classic mode. Your character walks in a straight line with usually one of three paths to choose with a theme showing from which franchise the characters will be from that you take on. The ability to choose paths is great if a little unneeded and a little empty because whichever path you choose, it will still just be another fight.
The actual stages that all of the smashing happens on are great. From a stage based off of the original Kirby’s Dream Land for the Game Boy to my all-time favorite map in Smash Bros. history, Corneria (which isn’t in the Wii U version). Many are from handheld games which are exclusive to the 3DS such as stages based on Tomodachi Life, Nintendogs and WarioWare. Overall the stage selection here is stellar.
However, taking these battles online is rough. After playing a handful of matches, the range of experience changes between slightly laggy to slideshow. This is a shame as the online mode in Brawl wasn’t good and this doesn’t seem much better. Nintendo has come a long way in terms of online functionality, but they’re still not where they need to be.
Luckily the visuals fare much better. Obviously they are not going to look as good as their console counterpart but the artstyle outweighs the technical limitations. Characters and stages alike look bright and sharp. Fighters have dark black outlines to them so you can keep track of them easier on the smaller screen. However, if you aren’t a fan of that, you can turn them off to make it look more like the Wii U version.
From a sound perspective, Nintendo knocked this out of the park as well. The amount of songs is staggering and you can customize each stage to play songs more often than others which is a great feature. Many of these songs I have never heard as I didn’t grow up as a huge Nintendo guy, but oftentimes I can guess what any franchise a track is from even if I’m simply listening to it on its own. If you buy both versions of Smash then you will get not only the Mewtwo DLC mentioned earlier but also the soundtrack for free.
All in all Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is a fantastic initial foray for Smash on handhelds. From the improved gameplay from Brawl, overall presentation and ability to play Smash on the go, this is a stellar game to add to your 3DS library. There are a couple of drawbacks including a lack of enjoyable new modes as well as some spotty online play. Also the fact that the overall multiplayer experience is not as fun with four people looking down at individual screens compared to its console counterpart is a bit of a downer. But it is obvious how much love went into this game whether it is the detailed characters, the hundreds of collectible trophies (my addiction to collect them all is real) or the soundtrack, this is a polished and substantive project that anyone who owns the system should buy.