Super Smash Bros. for 3DS Review

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is the series’ portable debut. As a fan of the series, I admittedly looked forward to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS more than most games. This is interesting when you consider the humble beginnings of the franchise. It may surprise you, but the original Super Smash Brothers was definitely not one of the biggest new games of the year when it launched on the Nintendo 64.

At the time, I was in sixth grade. Few of my gamer friends really thought much of “the new game about smacking Nintendo characters around.” The idea really only resonated with me because I had always enjoyed the reader artwork from Nintendo Power and EGM, specifically the drawings that included characters from a bunch of different games. I always saw those pieces and thought, “I’d love to see all these characters fight against each other in the same video game.” Super Smash Brothers provided that very experience, and it stuck with a lot of different gamers.

As we all know, Super Smash Brothers ended up being a couch multiplayer phenomenon, eventually followed up by brilliant sequels – Melee (GCN, 2001) and Brawl (Wii, 2008). With these games, the roster of characters expanded, the mechanics were tweaked, and the overall design was polished to a state of near perfection. Super Smash Brothers went from a quirky concept to a finely-tuned collection of classic Nintendo icons and themes. The series gained an identity of its own, and it quickly became one of the most beloved gaming franchises.

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Now, with Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, the series can finally be played on the go. To clear up any confusion, the 3DS and Wii U versions of Super Smash Bros. are largely the same game; the developers at Sora and Bandai Namco clearly went to great lengths to ensure that all the new characters (Little Mac, Pac-Man, Mega Man, and more), modes, and features being added to the series were available in both releases.

Along with the added portability, the 3DS version actually boasts some exclusive game modes and extra goodies, such as Smash Run mode and handheld-exclusive stages – not to mention the system’s 3D effects, which bring out a lot of the stunning visual details.

For the first handheld game in the series, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS performs more than just admirably: it goes far beyond expectations, delivering the level of polish that the franchise is known for. This is nothing short of an accomplishment and a marvel in game design, especially when you consider the 3DS hardware, the lack of extra buttons / analog sticks, and so on.

Suffice it to say, after years of intensely dedicated work, creator Masahiro Sakurai deserves to pat himself on the back: the first portable Smash Bros. game is excellent, and ultimately one of the most definitive 3DS games ever released. He claimed that Super Smash Bros. for 3DS took advantage of the system at its fullest capacity, and somehow his team pulled it off. The game has been completely optimized for the small screen, losing almost nothing in the translation, aside from the necessary visual “downgrade.”

Just to cover the basics, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is absolutely brimming with different game modes to play, with plenty of various offerings for both groups and solo players. To be honest, I never had any doubt that the 3DS version would follow through on the multiplayer content: the single-player component was something I hoped would ultimately define the portable game. Believe it or not, I found this to be exactly the case in the final game.

Aside from the “Smash” mode, which allows you to play against groups of CPU opponents or local players with custom rules and settings, there are a handful of bulkier single-player options: Classic, All-Star, Smash Run, and a collection of various mini-games.

The series’ “Classic” and “All-Star” modes return with a slight twist on the traditional concepts. In Classic Mode, players choose their path as they battle through multiple stages of opponents. Some of these are standard free-for-all brawls while others put you up against “Metal” and “Giant” versions of your foes.

Just like previous games, the final stage in Classic Mode is a showdown against Master Hand, the series’ primary boss character. The battle with Master Hand is amusing and challenging as ever; even better is the alternate path that puts you up against Master Hand and his companion, Crazy Hand. This version of the final battle actually gets pretty crazy near the end, especially on higher difficulty settings. Alas, I won’t spoil anything.

All-Star Mode is slightly different. Players go up against the entire roster of fighters in chronological order with just a single life to use. This is an interesting twist. It almost ends up feeling like a virtual tour of gaming history as you battle through nearly three decades of iconic characters. You begin with 8-bit legends from the ’80s – Pac-Man, Link, Mega Man, Samus  – and end with recent characters, such as Shulk and Greninja.

Next is the 3DS-exclusive mode “Smash Run.” In this game type, each player spends five minutes navigating a labyrinthine maze defeating groups of enemies from classic Nintendo franchises, such as Metroid and Donkey Kong Country. The goal is to collect stat points that directly alter your character’s performance in the match. At the end of the five-minute time limit, all four players square off against each other in various ways. Sometimes it’s a battle; sometimes it’s a dash to the finish line or a race to the top of a tall vertical corridor.

Smash Run is ultimately an interesting idea that puts a unique spin on the traditional rules of Super Smash Bros., but I was hoping that it would be a bit more engaging. Each round starts fresh, and the stat points you collect do not carry over, so there is no sense of progression each time you play.

It’s really too bad, because Smash Run seems like the perfect mode to really take advantage of the new Custom Character options. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS allows players to change the moves, stats, and more for every single character on the roster. With the right equipment, you can make Sheik a physical brute or turn Link into a speedy swordsman.

Additionally, players can use their Mii characters to create Mii Fighters. Between the three different fighting styles – Brawler, Swordfighter, and Gunner – there is a huge variety of special attacks to choose from, allowing you to create a highly unique and original combatant. Custom character setups are not allowed by default and cannot be used in ranked matches, but the option is available in many of the Solo and Group game types.

There are still more modes of play with the mini-games and offerings found in the “Vault” menu. Examples include the Home Run Contest, Target Blast, and several different variations of Multi-Man Smash. There is even a StreetPass-based battle mode. Unfortunately I could not experience much of this, simply because there were no local Super Smash Bros. for 3DS players to StreetPass.

Throughout the game, players earn gold coins for completion and progress. These can be spent on the collectible Trophies, which are also picked up along the way. Your entire collection can be viewed in the Vault; additional trophies can be purchased in the Shop using gold coins. If you prefer, you can choose to spend 3DS Play Coins instead.

The “Trophy Rush” mini-game provides even more trophies and rewards. This actually ended up as my favorite distraction from the main game. The goal is to break blocks and rack up the biggest possible combo to score points. The catch is that you must spend gold coins just to play the game.

Last but not least, there are “Challenges” that can be completed by accomplishing all kinds of things in the game, such as finishing All-Star mode on the “Hard” setting, or playing three Smash battles with the Villager. Finishing these Challenges is a lot of fun, quite similar to unlocking Achievements in Xbox games. It also serves as another way to earn trophies, hidden stages, and other goodies.

As you can see, the amount of content offered to solo players in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is almost overwhelmingly satisfying and well-rounded. Perhaps this is what makes the seamless, cohesive nature of the game and all its different modes so impressive. The “Records” and game stats are tracked to a very extensive degree. You can view all of your personal and fighter records at any time; you can even compare your high scores and “Global Smash Power” (your global ranking) for each individual game mode. If you want to compare your performance with each of the characters, including some very specific statistics such as “damage given” or “items used,” you can do so too.

Unfortunately, with a lack of nearby friends to play local rounds of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, I could not experience any of the game’s local multiplayer features and Group modes. Regardless, a lot of the solo content can be enjoyed alongside friends, provided they have a copy of the game to play.

That being said, after I spent a considerable amount of time with the single-player modes, I felt like I was finally prepared to check out the online part of the game, specifically the competitive (and ranked) “For Glory” mode. I like the option of “For Fun” mode – all the stages are available, items are enabled, and so on – but I am typically more interested in the heated nature of battle and style of play found in the For Glory matches.

To put it simply, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS does not disappoint with its online multiplayer component. Casual players should be very pleased, and competitive players can put aside any concerns about a stilted experience. For Glory mode serves as an incredibly entertaining way to play intense battles against skilled players. Each round is a two-minute timed battle, items are removed, and all the randomly-chosen stages are automatically reverted to their Final Destination-style layouts. This takes away all of the random hazards and obstacles. The focus of For Glory mode is pure, unadulterated smashing, precisely what the hardcore fans (such as myself) were hoping for.

There are some occasional connection issues, but this is almost to be expected, especially considering that nearly all of my first 50 online matches were played against Japanese opponents. That being said, finding a group of players is typically hassle-free, and most of my battles are surprisingly smooth. I rarely experienced laggy games and only a few that were game-breaking. The smoothness of Super Smash Bros. is absolutely crucial to the experience. Even with high expectations, I can hardly complain about how the 3DS version performs.

As a dedicated fan of the series, I was worried about all kinds of things, such as how the 3DS hardware would hold up while playing the game, how much single-player content would be available, how the online multiplayer would compare to playing with friends on the couch, and so on. The full version of the game addresses all of those points in some way, and quashes nearly all those concerns.

I already mentioned how the content for solo players is far more substantial than I expected. In fact, the solo modes in this game are very “handheld-friendly.” It doesn’t take long to play through Classic Mode or a few quick mini-games. For short quick-play sessions on-the-go, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is absolutely perfect.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS also takes advantage of all of the 3DS system’s features and hardware. For example, you can snap 3D screenshots of the action when you pause the game and save them to your SD card. You can save replays of any battle and watch the videos in the Vault menu. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS uses a little bit of everything within the handheld, and it does it well.

What I feared perhaps more than anything else was the way Super Smash Bros. for 3DS would feel compared to its predecessors, almost exclusively related to playing on the 3DS rather than a GameCube controller. I absolutely dreaded the idea of using the circle pad to move around. It just isn’t as responsive as the standard analog stick. Fortunately, the circle pad performs much better than I expected. There are still a few heated moments during intense battles that I fumble around with the circle pad and end up falling off the stage, but this is very rare.

To put it into perspective, the functionality of the controls is absolutely critical, at least to me. I am rarely picky about my controller selection when playing video games, but I have always refused to play Brawl without a GameCube controller. I won’t play any Super Smash Bros. game without a controller that functions very well – no worn-out buttons, no sticky triggers.

I was worried that the intensity of most Super Smash Bros. battles would make it somewhat pointless to play with the 3D effects. This is not the case, either. I usually had the slider turned pretty low, but enjoyed the stereoscopic effects during most of my playtime. On the other hand, the frantic style of play is pretty rough on the system’s buttons and definitely the circle pad. I noticed some wear and tear after just one week with the game. This is not particularly surprising, as I have seen countless GameCube controllers destroyed by years of playing Melee and Brawl – and those controllers were otherwise indestructible.

Any issues with the controls are pretty easily fixed by changing the configuration in the settings menu, but I am admittedly disappointed that there is no option to use the D-pad for movement. This would have solved some of my issues with the circle pad. Oh well.

Finally, I would like to comment on some of the very specific adjustments to the gameplay and the roster of characters. I am absolutely thrilled about the diversity and the balance between the unique fighting styles.

In general, the gameplay has been tweaked and certain mechanics have been changed, some more subtle or technical than others. For example, the throw attacks seem to be a bit easier to pull off and slightly more effective than in Brawl and Melee. They aren’t as devastating as the original Super Smash Bros., but I digress. Picking up items from the ground and snatching them out of the air feels more intuitive than ever, even while dashing across the stage. The shield seems to be more effective than before and did not seem to break as frequently when furiously rolling or spot-dodging consecutively.

Certain techniques – such as the “edge hog” mechanic, popular in Melee and Brawl – have been tweaked or nerfed altogether. In this instance, edge hogging is far more difficult to pull off. Players attempting to grab the ledge will knock off anyone else clinging to it. This usually forces the edge hog player to either move back onto the stage or take the very risky chance for a KO.

It is very clear that large, bulky characters – Bowser, Donkey Kong, Charizard – have been tweaked and improved substantially. The moves of many characters have been altered, replaced, or adjusted for even more balance. For example, my favorite character – Pit – has been adjusted to a pretty large degree, which was admittedly necessary after Brawl. He can no longer fly, his arrows are a bit tougher to direct, and his annoying “blender” attack from Brawl has been replaced by an uppercut-style dash attack. This move still reflects projectiles, but it cannot be spammed as easily as the former move.

Another example, Yoshi now battles from an upright stance and is generally more powerful. Link – one of my favorite characters, going back to the first Super Smash Bros. on the N64 – seems to be more acrobatic and nimble. His “pogo” attack (Down + A while airborne) feels a bit less floaty, and he can use a powerful lunge attack while dashing across the stage. It isn’t a “smash” attack, but it is almost as powerful as a fully-charged strike. His bombs seem to explode sooner, but the blast damage no longer causes any harm to Link.

The roster is very accessible even from the beginning of the game. There are nearly 40 characters to choose from, and almost every character seems to be a valid choice. I was even surprised to find myself enjoying characters I had never used much before, such as Captain Falcon, Mario, and Pikachu. Having all of these choices makes the game more enjoyable for the casual fan, which seems to have been one of the goals in the development of this game.

Masahiro Sakurai and his team at Sora – along with Bandai Namco and Nintendo – have delivered the most polished and content-rich 3DS game ever released. It’s a definitive, must-own title for anyone that owns the handheld, especially long-time fans of the series.

Aside from holding up so well in its handheld debut, the content in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS provides enough depth, variety, and replay value for any player to enjoy for countless hours. Whether you’re playing alone, with friends, or against players across the globe, there is always something to play.

What else can really be said about Super Smash Bros. for 3DS? If you are a fan of the series, I highly doubt that my blessing will sway your decision to pick up the game, but I simply cannot recommend it enough.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some smashing to do. See you on the battlefield!

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