Super Smash Bros. is a series that is a once a generation deal. However, this generation is something special. While the games are technically complements of one another, we're due to see two Super Smash Bros. games this year-- one, for the first time on a handheld, the 3DS version, and the second that is launching next month on the Wii U. It's an embarrassment of riches for Super Smash Bros. fans and Nintendo fans in general. However, one might argue that it's worth it to wait a month for the Wii U version and ignore its little brother. I argue that this sentiment is folly, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is still worth checking out-- not only if you can't wait for the Wii U version, but also because the 3DS version has more than enough exclusive content to be a perfect match for Nintendo 3DS owners.
The rules of Super Smash Bros. haven't changed much at all through the fifteen years it has been around. Up to four fighters do battle with one another on a given stage. As they take damage, their percentage goes up. The higher the percentage, the easier it is to knock them out of the field of play. In Timed Play, when a player cannot recover, either getting jettisoned off screen or into a pit below, they lose a life, and the person who scored the KO earns a point. Otherwise, it's a battle to see who can survive the longest.
The fun of Super Smash Bros. isn't just the competitive side, but it's how simple the series is to learn. There are no confusing, convoluted button combos for special moves like more serious fighting games. Instead, each move is performed with a flick of the Circle Pad and a press of one of two buttons. One button is for physical attacks like punches and kicks, while the other is used for special attacks. Generally, holding up and the special attack button is a given fighter's recovery move to try to make it back onto the field of play in one last ditch effort.
Some new gameplay tweaks make Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS a better feeling and playing game than its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. For one, the gameplay itself is noticeably faster and more fluid. Edge guarding-- holding onto a ledge so another player attempting to make a recovery couldn't grab it-- was a popular tactic in past Smash games, but Smash Bros. 3DS makes it so the player who nears the ledge automatically grabs it and replaces the player who was trying to hog it.
Giving a party flavor to the battles are items. A healthy helping of items return from past games, but it's the new ones that steal the spotlight. For instance, the Bullet Bill turns the player that uses it into the eponymous Super Mario enemy, shooting them across the stage and taking out anyone in its flight path. Then there's the Gust Bellows and Beetle items, both from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. One can easily push opponents off platforms, and making edges of stages quite the hazardous place to be hanging out! Meanwhile, the Beetle grabs a foe and takes them into the air. The more damage the foe has, the harder it is for them to break free.
A feature missing from the Nintendo 3DS version of Smash Bros. that all past games contained is the ability to choose how common items appear. In this version, items appear a little too frequently, even for a casual player like myself. Unfortunately, the only option left to the player is to turn them completely off. It's a little too black and white, all or nothing for me, where I wish there was some compromise in the middle to work with.
Furthermore, the real estate of the Nintendo 3DS screen, particularly the original, smaller model, does not provide enough space for the action of Smash Bros. 3DS. This is exemplified by three or four player matches when the screen zooms out, making it nigh impossible to see what in the heck is happening on screen.
Worse still, the design of the 3DS and its Circle Pad, don't serve a game like Super Smash Bros. well. It's easily understood that the system was not built for Smash. For my smaller hands, extended play sessions weren't painful in the slightest, but for some of my friends with larger hands, cramping was all too common for them.
Masahiro Sakurai and his team went for parity with both Super Smash Bros. games, and parity is at its most obvious in the character roster. For both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U versions, the roster of fighters will remain the same with no differences. The majority of fighters from past games returns, and the new additions like Little Mac, Rosalina, Lucina, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager are most welcome and shake up the roster quite nicely. Unfortunately, due to the technical limits of the Nintendo 3DS, one big omission to the Smash roster of both games is the veteran duo of the Ice Climbers. That notwithstanding, the roster of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (and the upcoming Wii U) is without question the most diverse and largest ever seen in franchise history. Characters are fine-tuned for balance, and while some less-than-admirable tactics work on some characters, what is there is mostly well done.
Characters like big third-party newcomer Mega Man rely on distance attacks, whereas up-close and personal brawlers like Little Mac lets his boxing gloves do the talking, able to KO opponents with standard attacks! However, what Little Mac excels in fighting on the ground, he has a major disadvantage in the air, looking more like an iron safe with wings and poor recovery. Then there's the brilliance of Rosalina, who uses her baby star Luma to serve as an extension of herself in battle, able to attack foes from a fair distance away. My point here is that each fighter presents something new to the player and has enough personality in both aesthetics and in how they play that makes each worthwhile. Of course, this is save for some clone characters, which do not bother me as much as others, as they didn't take the spot of some other character.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS even goes a mile further with characters. This time around you can customize characters, equipping them with stat bonuses, and custom tailoring their special ability move sets with one of three alterations for each move. The only issue here-- and it's an annoying one-- is that stat bonuses and moves are unlocked at a snail's pace. We're not talking a straight road either for our snail to travel. We're talking a detour-filled road full of repeated single player sessions in the various solo modes, hoping you get lucky and unlock the stat bonuses and moves you need. It further is tedious thanks to the fact that you can earn bonuses that you already have acquired. ...Yeah.
Nonetheless, I was mentioning parity earlier. Parity is mostly relegated to the character roster. The Nintendo 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. makes itself worthy of a purchase even for those intending on buying its big brother releasing next month. One such reason is that the stage selection is almost entirely different from what is available in the upcoming Wii U iteration. Only a select few stages in the 3DS version will appear in the Wii U version, such as Battlefield, Final Destination, Dr. Wily's Castle, and Xenoblade Chronicles's Gaur Plain.
There is a combination of brand-new and returning stages from Melee and Brawl in Smash Bros. 3DS. From riding a steaming locomotive in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks' Spirit Train to following the auto-scrolling screen through the colorful platforming landscape of Super Mario 3D Land's 3D Land stage, the stages presented in Smash Bros. 3DS are wide and varied. The total amount is less than Brawl, but at the same time there are fewer duds to be found.
Another exclusive that the Nintendo 3DS version has is a multiplayer mode called Smash Run. If you're familiar with Kirby Air Ride, which just so happens to be a past project of the director Masahiro Sakurai, and its City Trial mode, you'll have somewhat of a vague understanding of Smash Run.
Smash Run gives you and three other opponents five minutes to roam around a large, expansive, multi-tier area where you encounter enemies from various franchises, such as Mario's Goombas, Donkey Kong Country's Kremlings, Kirby's Waddle Dees, Kid Icarus's Reapers, Mega Man's Metaurs, and many more. Each defeated enemy drops stat bonuses in one of six categories. As you play through a round of Smash Run, your fighter becomes noticeably faster, stronger, able to leap higher, and unleash more powerful moves.
When the five minutes conclude, all four opponents enter a single match type with all of their earned stat bonuses. The match type can be as simple as a traditional smash battle, a race to the finish line, a competition to see who can defeat the most enemies, and so forth.
Other modes in the Nintendo 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. include returning modes like Classic mode and All-Star mode. Classic mode pits you against a handful of rounds against various AI opponents. Each round allows you to choose one of a few paths of varying difficulty. The harder the path, the greater the rewards. Classic mode uses a difficulty system identical to what was found in Masahiro Sakurai's first Nintendo 3DS release, Kid Icarus: Uprising. The more coins you bet, the higher the intensity or challenge. The greater the intensity, the better the spoils. However, failing not only has you lose some of your rewards, but it also makes you play on a lower difficulty.
All-Star mode is up to seven rounds of battling the entire Super Smash Bros. roster. This time, however, characters you face are divided up between what years they debuted. For instance, the first fighters you face are Mario, Pac-Man (making his Smash debut), Mr. Game and Watch, Donkey Kong, and Little Mac. Meanwhile, the last round has you up against more recent characters like Shulk of Xenoblade Chronicles fame, Greninja of Pokemon X and Y fame, and Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening.
In addition to all of these aforementioned modes, things from past games like the Home Run Contest, Multi-Man Smash, and more return. Then there's even more new stuff in the forms of Target Blast, Trophy Rush, and StreetPass battles.
No doubt a major question in the minds of many players and aspiring purchases of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is "how does the online play out?" The answer is thankfully much better than Brawl played, but then again that's not too taxing of a task. One-on-one matches, even against out of country players, worked well, but things can get dicey with more than one other opponent. You see, all players need a good connection, because even if one player has a crappy connection, all players suffer.
On the local side of things, local play usually worked flawlessly, but at the same time I also had little mechanical or technological interference to contend with. However, I've read reports of local play being disastrous for some other players, so your mileage may vary.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is a successful transplant of the series formula onto smaller and more portable hardware. There's indeed several hitches that get in the way from being an optimal experience, but overall, Super Smash Bros.'s debut on a handheld was handled and pulled off remarkably. Whether at home, at work, at school, or anywhere else, anytime is a smashing good time!