Ever since I played Street Fighter IV on the 3DS, I’ve felt a strong sense of unease when it comes to the presence of fighting games on handhelds. To put a genre that is characterized by precise button pushes, knee-jerk reactions and a general bias towards competitive play on such a… fun-loving system, seems foreign to say the least. Not to mention the close quarters button layout and circle pad are hardly conducive to the quick and calculated movements required by such games. In this, Nintendo faced its biggest challenge with the development of the newest Super Smash Bros.
I say biggest, when really I should be saying only. You see, for all three of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Super Smash Bros. is a largely popular fighting game franchise that has a character roster made up of Nintendo’s most recognizable icons. It’s the Avengers of video games if you will, and a title that has significantly grown since the N64 era. Its gameplay is simple enough and has players taking control of their favorite characters to knock their opponents off of a Nintendo-themed stage in a sort of king-of-the-hill style fighting game. Saying this game sells like hot cakes would be giving hot cakes way too much credit. So, next time you see a hot cake stand, say “Hey, those delicious hot cakes are selling faster than the newest Smash Bros.”!
Regardless of that possibly over-exaggerated intro, Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS has managed to take the difficult task of putting such a beloved franchise in the palms of our hands and successfully recreated the familiar experience most of us have come to cherish.
Fighting is still the ferociously goofy back and forth it has always been – but with more items, characters and stages than ever. Every now and then a finger slips and you might hit the wrong button or the circle pad might not be as smooth as you’d like, but the general feel of the game isn’t lost due to this. In fact, the controls hold up much better than what I had expected after hearing the game was coming to the successful handheld. Again, it’s not the same experience as using a separate controller, but one you’ll feel at home with after playing for an hour or two – and this is coming from someone who demands to play with a Gamecube controller.
If SSB for the 3DS could only be commended for one thing though, it would have to be the vast amounts of content put into such a small cartridge. Not only have familiar modes like Multi-man Smash and Home Run Contest returned, but new ways to play have been brought to the table as well; the most notable of which is Smash Run. In Smash Run, players choose a fighter and run around an enemy-infested world for five minutes to collect the most power ups he or she can. These power ups boost anything from your attacks to even your jumping ability. The engaging part of this mode is the types of enemies you’ll run into along the way. Bad guys from a slew of Nintendo’s franchises make appearances here and do their best to beat you down. At one point I was fighting a Goomba, a Gastly from Pokemon and a Redead from Zelda. When the five minutes are up, you and three other contestants will compete in some way or another by way of foot race, battle or team battle from what I’ve seen. The winners pull in loot like trophies, gold and custom moves. Although Smash Run might not appeal to the most hardened smashers, it is one hell of a melting pot for everything Nintendo. I mean, if Smash Bros. itself wasn’t enough of a fan service, Smash Run really drives home that point and will have you saying “Wasn’t that the dude from…” every step of the way.
Some of the other new modes include Trophy Rush and Target Blast, which has you hitting a giant bomb into numerous floating targets. To be honest, this mode feels like a bit of an Angry Birds ripoff, but it’s fun for a few hours nonetheless.
Now, the big draw to Smash Bros. is the basic fighting mode. Although each iteration offers new modes and we love getting that content, chances are, we’re not going to be playing that years later. For most of us, the only thing we’ll care about in 2018 when the next Smash is announced, is the one-on-ones, free-for-alls and team battles. However, even in this familiar game option, we have quite a bit of freshness. There are now 49 characters to choose from – ten more than the game’s predecessor – 15 of which are newcomers. Being someone who usually plays one or two characters when the newest Smash releases, I was pleasantly surprised to have my attention torn between no less than ten characters at a time. The fighters span from gaming’s biggest icons such as Mega Man, Pac Man and Sonic, to newer additions such as Pokemon X and Y’s Greninja and Fire Emblem: Awakening’s Robin. This Smash certainly isn’t short on variety.
Unfortunately, some Brawl fighters and even a Melee veteran have failed to make a return. Wolf, Snake, Ice Climbers, Lucas, Squirtle and Ivysaur were the unlucky few to get the axe, but might be seen as DLC if Nintendo’s recent decision to release downloadable racer and stage packs for its games are any indication of Smash Bros.’ future. Last, but not least, players can create their very own Mii fighters. These fighters come in three varieties and have the same look as the Miis Nintendo fans familiarized themselves with at the start of the Wii’s life cycle, giving players a chance to really be a part of the battle. However, one of my biggest gripes with the roster comes from the inclusion of these silly little lookalikes.
I understand how it might be interesting to see yourself or your friends or, heck, Elijah Wood as Nintendo showcased in the Mii fighters reveal, brawling against Nintendo’s biggest names, but, to me at least, it feels cheap and out of place. In a game where Nintendo’s most loveable characters come together, Miis seem too bland. This is by no means a knock on the idea of Miis, mind you. It was a great inclusion that made the Nintendo experience a much more personal one for fans of all ages. But when you have colorful, memorable, beloved icons like Mario, Pikachu and Samus filling the screen at all times, a stick figure-like version of myself is the last thing I want to see on the screen!
However, the Miis’ inclusion does bring about a new way to play standard smash battles, and that is the customization option. Enabling customization in a match allows Mii fighters to be used and grants all of the fighters an arsenal of moves they don’t normally have. Keep in mind, customizations can only be used while playing with friends, so serious smashers won’t have to worry about these custom moves and Miis messing with the game’s original feel. I can’t commend this enough because not only does it give you more to unlock as custom moves are not automatically received, but it gives everybody a more personal way to play their character. When I found out Mega Man’s custom moves were taken straight from other robot masters, my face lit up with joy. To give a few examples, Mario gets a fast fireball that shoots straight, Link gets a giant bomb and Mega Man gets a shuriken to replace the normal metal blade. Familiar characters and newcomers alike are granted a total of 16 optional abilities that can be switched out at will through use of the customization option.
It’s in this that Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS really separates itself from the rest of the bunch. While it might not be everybody’s top priority to unlock all of the custom moves, the choice to spice up battles (the meat and potatoes of Smash) in a whole new way is one most people will accept with open arms. However, these additions to how you fight come at the loss of where you fight, as Brawl’s stage builder mode has been cut from the game. While unfortunate, I do understand the decision as the characters in Smash and how they perform far outweigh the stages.
Speaking of Brawl, one thing many people wanted from SSB4 was a fully functioning online option, something the franchise’s third iteration sorely struggled with. If you’ve played Brawl, you’ll know what I mean. The online not only lagged every chance it got, but had insanely limited options to boot. Thankfully, our cries for better online matches have not gone unnoticed – at least, kind of.
While one-on-one matches run smoothly for the most part, team battle and free-for-alls do suffer from lag spikes and input delays. Granted, it’s an upgrade – but one that doesn’t quite feel up to snuff. The real upgrade comes from the amount of activities you can do while online. A betting option allows players to exponentially raise the amount of gold they have by predicting the outcome of multiple match types. Gold aside, the mode is just plain addictive and has had me screaming at my tiny 3DS screen for hours on end when I’ve wanted to take a break from battles.
Conquest mode also gets players involved by pitting fighters against each other on a global scale. For example, the first conquest mode I took part in was Mega Man vs. Mario. Every now and then when I played Mega Man online, a banner would momentarily appear on the top of the screen that indicated I was in a conquest match. If I won the match I would receive points towards Mega Man’s overall global rating. During the few days the conquest is up, a pie chart shows you how well the two fighters are performing against each other in different parts of the world. While it doesn’t win you anything, it is nice to know that the many battles we do is part of a bigger project.
There is also a For Fun mode and a For Glory when it comes to online matches. Basically, if you’re the kind of smasher who wants to see the whackiest combination of items and stages and don’t care about winning or losing, play For Fun. If you want to be the very best there ever was, and don’t care about all the cool new items and stages that can result in your premature demise, play For Glory.
Overall, Super Smash Bros. is an elusive creature that is only seen once with each console release. There’s a lot on the line! We want the best experience possible with the most amount of content the game will allow. A fair request from impatient Nintendo fans, no? Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS delivers the new content, creates a better online presence and adds to a roster that was already almost 40 characters large. These enhancements will not go unnoticed by interested buyers, and even though Smash Bros. for the Wii U is coming out in less than two months, this handheld title does make for a suitable placeholder.
I’ll admit, it’s not perfect. The controls can become a bit crowded, the online can inexplicably lag and maybe one of your favorite characters still didn’t make it into the roster, but it still offers the same experience we’ve come to expect and love – and manages to add a few new memorable staples. That’s a win in my book. Now excuse me while I get my ass handed to me by some random nine-year old Japanese girl playing Jigglypuff. You know, the one with the pink bow tie on the back of her head.