The Smash Bros. experience has always been a matter of making sure you had enough controllers for all of your friends, that no one got in the way of the TV while the fight was on, and perhaps having to pass the controllers around to give everyone a shot at playing if there were more than four people wanting to play at a time. Enter 2014 and the latest iteration of the Smash Bros. franchise, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. Exiting the gate before the Wii U version of the game, the series’ first handheld title has been of particular interest to Smash fans, particularly long-time players that wondered how the franchise would fare in portable form. And so lies the question: does Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS live up to the very high expectations it’s been held against, and does it work on the 3DS?
Yes, and yes, are the short answers. Very much so.
Surprisingly, there is no learning curve going from the console to the handheld. The first thing I did when I fired up my copy was to start a four-player free-for-all against level 9 CPUs with my main, Link, and the moment the match began I was playing as though I’d owned the game for months. The circle pad and a-b-x-y buttons, coupled with the shoulder buttons, feel exactly like playing with a controller and as natural as playing with a GameCube controller (though I’m not sure how you c-stick users are faring!). There are a number of new items that feel right at home in the rotation of Smash Bros. item madness, including, but not limited to:
-Blue Shell: Just as in Mario Kart, the Blue Shell zones in on players and hovers ominously before smashing downwards with destructive force.
-Hocotate Ship: Captain Olimar’s ship is a throwable item this time around, and will shoot upwards and disappear into the sky before crash-landing onto the stage.
-Beetle: Link’s trusty item from Skyward Sword is just as crafty here; when thrown at an opponent, it will grab them and carry them off-screen, hopefully netting you a K.O. before they can escape.
-Galaga Bug: Remember when you’d lose a perfectly good ship in Galaga to those bugs that would absorb it in their tractor beams? The same concept applies here, as the Galaga Bug will spin around lazily and attempt to absorb opponents with its beam and take them off into the darkness of space… where no one will hear them scream…
The roster of characters boasts nearly 50 fighters this time around, and for the most part everyone is either a returning veteran or an impressive, fun addition to the choice of playable fighters. However, people who have been playing since Melee will notice that the franchise-staples, the Ice Climbers, are absent from the 3DS version of this Smash Bros.; Masahiro Sakurai claims that it took too much power to have Nana and Popo on the screen at once, so they were ultimately dropped from the game, but that the Wii U version managed to have them up and fighting at one point during development. This of course leads to the question of whether or not they will be in the roster of the Wii U version; given the fact that they were capable of fighting just fine together on the GameCube, let alone the Wii, I’m not really understanding why this should be an issue on the 3DS and Wii U. Plus, Duck Hunt, one of the new fighters introduced this time, is both the Duck Hunt dog and duck fighting together. On screen. At the same time. Just like the Ice Climbers. Also missing from the fray was Brawl’s beloved newcomer, Snake – it remains to be seen whether he and the Ice Climbers will either be put into the Wii U version at the last minute or be made DLC after the game’s release. One can only hope, but for now they’re absent from the 3DS version.
Mega Man, one of the most sought-after additions to the roster of fighters, is very fun to use and utilizes classic Mega Man attacks and weaponry that are sure to please fans of the series, but particularly of the classic games. Little Mac, one of the most controversial additions due to his extreme speed and strength, is another great fighter who will almost certainly face the same fate of Meta Knight and get banned from tournament play because of people claiming he’s “broken” or “unfair.” Greninja fights in a fashion similar to Sheik and handles with tight controls and lightning speed, while Charizard has freed itself from the Pokemon Trainer and fights solo this time around. But then there are additions that, frankly, left me scratching my head or just weren’t the most enjoyable characters to use; the Wii Fit Trainer isn’t the worst character in the world but feels like a space that could’ve been filled by a more appropriate fighter that meshed better, while Lucina feels too similar to Marth to be a worthwhile addition. And again, while Duck Hunt was certainly a nice surprise, not to mention unique and creative, I would’ve preferred to have the development team try to work the Ice Climbers into the roster if they could have the dual-avatar team of Duck Hunt work on-screen simultaneously.
There are way more color choices for each character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS than in previous entries, and for a lot of the characters they’re particularly impressive. Samus’ armor can be changed to the color schemes of some of her most iconic suits, like the Light, Dark, and Gravity suits; Link can don tunics (and facial details) that make him appear to be Dark Link, the Fierce Deity, and in his normal clothes from Skyward Sword; Bowser Jr. can don skins to make him appear as the other Koopalings; and the Villager can sport a female skin in case anyone doesn’t want to be the male Animal Crossing avatar. But what the heck, Sonic? Why are you just a bunch of variations of the color blue? A great opportunity was lost in not giving him skins of at least Shadow and Knuckles. A very strange decision, and I’m not sure if it was Sega’s or Nintendo’s.
The stages, however, were a big sticking point for me in this entry to the Smash Bros. series. Some are great, like Gerudo Valley (my personal favorite), where the bridge linking the two sides of the gorge will give way and Koume and Kotake show up, throwing fire and ice at the fighters. Fighting at the base of the Prism Tower and having the fight move into the sky is also really cool, as is the Boxing Ring, where you can jump high above the other fighters using the ropes of the ring to land on top of the lights and send them crashing onto your opponents. And staying on top of Link’s Spirit Train while not falling onto the rails below is both fun and challenging. But most of the stages are, frankly, too lackluster to be memorable, or have already been seen in previous Smash Bros. games. One can’t help but long for Shadow Moses Island, Halberd, Eldin Bridge, or any of the other fantastic stages from Brawl in comparison to what feel like somewhat uninspired locations for the 3DS version of Smash. It was one of the biggest disappointments for me.
Single-player modes are fantastic, bringing back Classic and All-Star modes, as well as the Home Run Derby and Multi-Man Smash. New modes, like Smash Run, give you a few minutes to go around beating up countless minions from various Nintendo franchises (as well as Mega Man and Namco enemies) in order to level up your character as much as possible before thrusting you into a timed battle with 3 CPU players. Player customization is a new feature to Smash Bros., encouraging you to level up particular stats of your fighter rather than just choosing your main and having to adjust to the speed, strength, and weight class inherent to that character. Miis are customizable in this game as well, and you can choose from three different classes of fighter to apply to your Mii – Brawler, Gunner, and Swordfighter – but I’m totally uninterested and just stick to blasting them offscreen in Multi Man Smash. Trophy Rush is a favorite mode of mine, where you pay coins that you earn through fighting and playing through the various modes to destroy falling debris on a flat stage until you fill up a meter and showers of coins and trophies rain upon you to collect. You can also buy trophies that are available in the shop and are constantly rotating out.
Online play is leaps and bounds more enjoyable and smoother than the online experience we were subjected to in Brawl, with few instances of lag or choppiness. Hopefully the Wii U version accomplishes what the Wii could not and gives us a proper online, console Smash Bros. experience, if the 3DS could do it.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS has proven that Smash Bros. can go portable and still provide a quality fighting experience on-the-go. While not perfect, and lacking in some respects, it easily holds its own against the previous console entries to the series and has found itself as the only 3DS game I’ve been playing since its release – it hasn’t been removed from the cartridge port yet. Between the single-player modes, multiplayer smash, and online play, you’ll be busy for a quite a long time. What will you do when Super Smash Bros. for Wii U comes out?! Let the planning begin.