Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is one hell of a marketing strategy for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
Don’t misunderstand me, there’s enough Smashing fun to go around in this portable version. The game is packed solid with modes to play, items to collect, things to unlock, and other features that go above and beyond the standard 3DS offering. I’m flabbergasted as to how much stuff there is to do in a portable game, and yet it still seems like the appetizer to a larger meal. I’m enjoying what I’m doing with my 3DS, but I’m longing to see it in full splendor on my Wii U. Does this mean the 3DS version is inferior? In some aspects yes, while other remain to be seen, but that doesn’t mean that this portable Smash is a subpar game. Quite the contrary, it’s a must-buy for anyone who owns a 3DS and who has ever cared about anything Nintendo ever.
Smash Bros. 3DS offers a ton of ways to play the game, but the majority of them are things I’ve seen before. Classic Mode is still stage after stage of battles, but this time I can choose paths and opponents of varying difficulty as I progress. All-Star Mode is available right from the start, despite the full roster not being available yet, and filled in the blanks as I unlocked stuff. Stadium Mode has the always fun Home Run Contest (poor Sandbag) and Multi-Man Smash modes, but also adds a new Target Smash mode that takes cues from Angry Birds of all places. All three of these are fun in quick doses, but repeated plays will get old fast. Of course there’s also good old Smash mode, the basic “choose your character, stage, and have at it” mode where I expect most players to spend the bulk of their time.
The main attraction of the 3DS version is the brand new Smash Run mode, which starts with each character traversing a giant obstacle course for five minutes, defeating enemies and picking up power-ups. These enemies come from all reaches of Nintendo lore, from the Goomba of the Mario franchise to ReDeads from Zelda and Waddle Doos from Kirby. After five minutes the power-ups are tallied and the four participants are placed in a final competition to see who wins the mode. I say “competition” because it’s not always a normal Smash battle: once I had to climb higher in a tower than my opponents or race to cross a finish line before the other three got there.
Smash Run can be a lot of fun, and I did find it interesting for a while, but eventually the mode reminds me of someone who talks way too much but doesn’t add anything to the conversation. After he or she has finally finished I’m left wondering, “So what?” I slogged through this five-minute gauntlet of constant enemies that gang up on me with no notice to power up my character, only to play a brief match of some kind before repeating the process. What’s the point besides yet another way to Smash?
Perhaps the most improved aspect of this Smash compared to its predecessor is the online functionality, which I am happy to report is damn near flawless… for the most part. I played multiple one-on-one matches against players all over the world and never experienced an ounce of lag. I played in the brilliant For Fun and For Glory modes, I played with and without items, I played in multiple stages, but as long as I stayed in the one-on-one options the mode ran swimmingly. A four-person free-for-all, however, is where things gets ornery. There’s a bit of lag when I tried to face off against three other players, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Brawl’s lag-tastic matches used to be. I am quite happy with the online modes here, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in feeling that way.
Of course we can’t have a Smash battle without controlling a combatant, and Smash 3DS’s roster is the most robust and diverse in the franchise’s history. Every single fighter in this new Smash fits into the action, no matter how obscure or strange their inclusion might be. New fighters like Punch-Out!’s Little Mac and Animal Crossing’s Villager are just potent in battle as seasoned veterans like Mario and Link. Even characters that one would never think of seeing in a Smash Bros. game (I’m looking at you, Wii Fit Trainer) have been implemented incredibly well. Rosalina of Super Mario Galaxy has an entire strategy centered on directing one of the cute little Lumas in battle, which allows her to deal damage on two separate sides of the screen as long as the Luma is separated from Rosalina. Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles cycles through different Monado modes to boost his abilities, which makes his inclusion even cooler. Oh, and how heart-warming is it to see Mario, Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Sonic on the same screen together? Just thinking about it hits me right in the feels.
The arenas in which these fights take place are just as steeped in Nintendo history as the combatants within, offering some great nostalgia trips in the middle of a Smash battle. Some are brand new to the series, like the Spirit Train from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks or the vast Gaur Plain from Xenoblade Chronicles. Others are returning from previous Smash games, like Star Fox’s Corneria and Metroid’s Brinstar which both come from Super Smash Bros. Melee. A few stages stand out from the pack, like the Nintendogs’ Living Room with falling dog toys and Paper Mario’s transforming world, but a few more competitive players may prefer the flat, predictable areas like Battlefield and Final Destination. Fear not, intrepid Smash pros, because you won’t miss out on these varied backgrounds any more.
With a simple press of the X button while at the Stage Select screen, the cursor will show an Omega symbol over whichever stage you choose. This is showing off what might be the most genius new feature in Smash 3DS: every stage in the game now has a “Final Destination” mode where a simple flat platform replaces the original format. The backgrounds are the same, the music stays the same, but there are no more stage-based obstacles to overcome. This allows the pro players among us to see everything the game has to offer without being stuck in one spot and it’s an incredible move. There are a few stages where I prefer the “omega” version to the original, because things just get too hectic when four fighters are battling.
Each stage comes with its own pair of musical tracks, and each one of them is just wonderful. Like Brawl before it, Sakurai brought in multiple composers to rearrange famous Nintendo music and the results are divine. Not all of the songs are remixed, some were taken right from the games they appeared in, but not all of the remixes are new to Smash 3DS either, as I’ve heard a lot of tracks from previous Smash Bros. games. I understand wanting to use some tracks from before, but the new arrangements are so good that I’d prefer to hear more of them. Best of all the game allows you to play the soundtrack at any time in the Music menu, and there’s an option to listen even when the 3DS is in Sleep mode via headphones. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I write this, foot tapping along as if I were listening to my iPod, and I’m loving every second of it.
A rather big deal was made of the ability to customize characters with power-ups and altered special moves. The idea is great, especially since it’s the basis of the Mii character being included, but I have one small problem: the game does nothing to garner my interest is customizing a character outside of my Mii. All of the items that are used to customize have to be unlocked, even alternate special moves, by playing through the game, and by the time a cool item has been unlocked, I’m so ingrained with just playing normally that I lose interest. I’ve customized a few fighters, and the options I’m given are really cool, but when push comes to shove I just don’t care about it, and the game doesn’t seem to care either way if I customize Little Mac with a different type of special move.
There’s one other type of collectible to pursue, and these have been the bread and butter of Smash for a long time. Trophies are back and better than ever, with over 600 to find and cherish. Unlocking them can be done multiple ways: you can randomly find them on the Classic Mode paths, you can smash a trophy symbol in Target Smash, you can hit one with Sandbag during the Home Run Contest, or you can play the new Trophy Hoard mode and smash falling platforms and trophies for your collection. There are enough trophies that collecting them all will take time, but there’s also enough ways to collect them that the time doesn’t seem to drag on. I will say this: the descriptions of the trophies in Smash 3DS are the best in the series, with a lot of fourth-wall breaking and funny moments, which makes collecting them even better.
Despite all of this praise I’m heaping onto the game, there’s still room for improvement outside of what I’ve mentioned before. I understand that this is the 3DS and that I’ve been spoiled by HD graphics, but some aspects of Smash 3DS just do not look good visually. At first I didn’t think there’d be much issue with Assist Trophies and Pokemon being downgraded to 30 frames per second for the 3DS version. However, the difference is very noticeable, as the assisting characters look sluggish and out of place. Nothing is affected more by this choice than the Pikmin that follow Olimar around, which all look like they were simply pasted from a different game and the quality took a hit. They’re slow and ugly looking, contrasting very much from the spectacular backdrops that each stage presents.
Graphics aren’t the only thing limited by the 3DS; control suffers as well. I would have loved the option to swap the Control Stick for the D-Pad when it came to moving my character, but I didn’t get it. Now I have to fight with my thumb constantly slipping off the stick, causing me to input incorrect commands from time to time and screwing up my concentration. Meanwhile the D-Pad sits barely touched, taunting me just as I use it to taunt opponents, and I just want to control my character with it once to see if it works better. Button placement for attacks is fine, even the shoulder button functions feel comfortable and natural, but that stinkin’ Control Stick can be a real nuisance.
There’s a lot to like about Super Smash Bros for the 3DS, the first ever portable Smash Bros game. There’s a lot to critique as well, though nothing on that list is something that could ruin the experience. Ultimately, Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS is the soup and salad before the Wii U version serves Thanksgiving dinner. There’s enough to whet the Smash fanatic’s appetite and keep them satisfied, but those players are always going to be looking ahead to the home version. If nothing else, Smash 3DS has increased my interest in the Wii U version more than any commercial or in-store poster could possibly do. I’ve finished with the side dishes; bring on the main course.
This review is based on a code for Super Smash Bros. provided by the publisher for the Nintendo 3DS.