It works. By some miracle, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS works. The speed, dexterity and focus demanded by Nintendo’s mascot brawler ensured that Super Smash Bros. for 3DS seemed doomed to failure in its attempt to squeeze Smash onto a screen the size of a business card, but by some glorious voodoo magic, it works.
That’s the crux of everything, ultimately, and it’s this message that you need bubbling away under any comments on the game – as a portable version of the Super Smash Bros. 4 fighting engine, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is near flawless.
What is that fighting engine? Why, it’s the much parroted “halfway between Melee and Brawl”. For the uninitiated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game that features Nintendo characters, as well as a few third party guests, with the aim being to hit your opponents off the stage. Like 2D sumo, with plumbers, electric mice and yelping elves. The more you hit someone, the further they will be sent flying the next time you land a hit. At a rudimentary level, hit someone a lot and they will eventually fall off the stage. This idea of scaling knockback leads to a fighter more about reactions and inspiration than set combo recital.
Every character in the game achieves this goal through a mix of standard and special attacks, with each excelling in specific areas. Mario assaults with fireballs, punches and kicks making him effective anywhere, while a character like Link has bombs, bows and a boomerang to try to keep opponents at arms reach. Fox McCloud, meanwhile, has exceptional speed and can surprise with quick attacks and nippy rush-down.
There are many ways you can affect the vibe of the game, too. You can play one on one on the flatter maps for a “fair” fight, or throw four characters in at once, fighting in a stage such as Dr. Wily’s castle from Mega Man with all sorts of items appearing alongside stage gimmickry – in that case a huge boss – for a more frantic party vibe to the scrap. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS even acknowledges this in its largely lag-free online play (500 online matches later, I’d say I’ve had a great connection 90% of the time), letting you battle against others however you want at any time. Despite some grievances with the focus on the featureless, flat stage for “Pro” mode, this is a massive leap forward from Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s paltry, and effectively broken, online offering.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS also mixes up the Smash Bros. formula, bringing some major mechanical adjustments to the franchise. For example, you can no longer simply hold an edge to stop an opponent getting back up – they’ll just grab the edge from you now. Because of this you must actively pursue a foe to guarantee a KO. Mix this with Smash 4’s universally improved recovery techniques and large “blast zones” (how far a character must travel off the stage to be “knocked out”), and you’ve got a more actively aggressive system. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS re-evaluates the relationship of the fighters off the stage and, while it’s early days, 30 hours of personal play and many more watching tournament streams hints at a far more interesting and encouraged off-stage game.
Alongside fundamental combat changes is a wider diversity of fighter archetypes. Brawl dabbled with new ideas, but Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS takes brave steps to design unique, interesting characters that ask you to re-evaluate how you play the game. From the grounded boxer Little Mac or puppet style team of Rosalina and Luma, to the slinky Greninja and the zoning intensive Mega Man, the range of fighting styles in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS feels more diverse than any prior Super Smash Bros. game. Even the heavy characters feel new thanks to invincible attack windups and other improvements all round. Donkey Kong has never been so viable, and Bowser has never looked this good. In many ways this is a smarter Smash, with more in the way of unique match-ups, giving further credence to its focus on being a more “legitimate” fighting game than Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Whether this pays off, only the community will be able to decide, but early indications are good. We may have lost the Ice Climbers, but the selection we have is the richest in franchise history.
But here’s the rub: content. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is very light on distractions, which is a surprise considering this has been a very feature-rich series since Super Smash Bros. Melee. No adventure mode, no event matches, no Break the tabrgets. The list of distractions (outside of basic Smash and playing locally/online) is limited to Classic (essentially a ten minute arcade mode), All Star (a one life gauntlet), Stadium (Multi Man Melee, Home Run Contest and Angry Bir… Sorry, Target Smash), Trophy Rush, a cute StreetPass orientated minigame, and Smash Run.
Smash Run is the poster child of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, and it’s a cute distraction if you can find human competition (you can play against CPUs, but they’re rubbish). Essentially, you run around a large maze for five minutes beating up Nintendo baddies and hoovering power-ups, and then you play a single activity with your buffed-up character that ranges from a basic brawl to a race up a tower, or even a health-based stamina fight.
It’s amusing, but somewhat frivolous. The fact you only play one match post Labyrinth gives the whole experience a massively anticlimactic feel. Were it a best of three it might have had more sticking power, but as an individual activity it can often feel like more work than it’s worth. As a curiosity you’ll likely play it a few times over and revisit with friends, but it’s no replacement for a classic match and ultimately a tad disappointing. It’s all the more disheartening when you realise that the many fight permutations that are normally freely selectable – Stamina mode, Giant mode, everyone being made of metal etc. – are locked behind the random selection of a post Smash Run match.
So why the overall lack of content then? What’s here is amusing, but there’s nothing to really “complete”, in the traditional sense. No big payoff. In truth the modes appear to exist purely for you to hoover up trophies and customisation elements, which are both worthwhile, monumental tasks, simply for the fact that amassing a pocket Nintendo museum is a good enough reason to Smash as any – there’s a lot of history to find in the game’s 600+ trophies.
If I was to hazard a guess, I’d point to the 3DS itself as the reason. The modes outside of core Smash are all somewhat “minor”, never needing too much dedication, but that fits the handheld. Ten Man Melee? That’s a fun way to kill a few minutes. Try and set a new high score as DK while you’re waiting for friends. Try and build your Global Smash Power by climbing the leaderboards. Indeed, the presence of a global ranking system for almost every mode for every character can become its own drive for personal improvement when not playing with friends online or off.
Ultimately, it’s in the fighting where Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS really comes into its own, simply because it works. Whether you play with the basic characters or delve into customisation (upping Sonic’s speed to silly degrees and hearing a friend’s reaction was a personal highlight, though the poor ‘hog could barely take a flick to the nose), Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS plays a lovely, smooth, responsive game of Super Smash Bros. that is mechanically in sync with its upcoming console brother. If you can find fun in simply playing Smash for the sake of playing Smash – which you should, as it’s a very satisfying brawler to play – then you’ll be able to accept Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS for what it is, not what is isn’t.
It’s not feature rich, and it’s not the perfect way to play Super Smash Bros. 4, but Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS does mean you can see if attacks link in training while in the queue for coffee. It means you can set a new high score in a home run contest while on the loo and save the replay to prove how you did it later. It means you can play Super Smash Bros. online without crippling lag, while waiting for pasta to boil, and then watch some replays of online Luigi players while you eat. It would be easy to sit and reel off a list of things Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS doesn’t have, but it’s better to focus on what it is. And what it is, is a functionally excellent, portable version of Super Smash Bros.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.