|Dev: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games|
|Release: October 3, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Becky Cunningham
What would happen if Nintendo's wildly popular fighting game franchise stepped through the looking glass, ate a magic mushroom, and became very, very tiny? We've just found out, as the series is appearing in portable format for the first time with Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. This much-anticipated title is coming out well before its home console counterpart, tempting Smash crazed fans everywhere to double-dip... but is it worth it? Smash 3DS is certainly full-featured and packed with content, but it loses enough in this miniature form that I can't recommend it unconditionally.
The compromises made by translating Smash Bros. into portable format are immediately obvious. Although its designers have done a bang-up job putting highly detailed character models into the game, said details are lost in the large scope and fast action of the average Smash match. The characters are often so small that they lose a lot of their personality, and keeping track of your fighter when the stage zooms out often involves desperately looking for the “P1” text above your head, losing focus on what's happening elsewhere in the match.
The visuals are at their best during a one-on-one match on a simple stage, which is actually the way I'd recommend playing this game, anyway. The small platforms on many of the more complex stages feel particularly cramped on the 3DS screen. While these undersized spaces can be useful for certain player strategies, they preclude the use of many fun character abilities that require a bit more stage real estate.
Even though the 3DS is one of my all-time favorite pieces of game hardware, I have to admit that its controls are also not ideal for this game. Smash Bros. play benefits heavily from an ergonomic controller, which the boxy 3DS is not. The system's floppy analog stick also means it's easier than normal to mess up attack inputs. At least the controls are remappable, which is always appreciated.
In one final portable drawback, packing the full glory of Smash Bros. onto the 3DS is obviously straining the little device to its limits. It takes forever to start up and even to quit out of the game, and levels take a few seconds each to load. Getting into an online match takes a bit of patience, as playing any game online with the 3DS seems to require. Once a match starts, however, it's smooth as silk solo and runs better than you might expect online. I experienced very occasional lag spikes playing pre-release with largely Japanese opponents, but generally there was minimal input lag and those of us who play “For Fun” won't have cause to complain. The serious “For Glory” tournament types will have less patience with network blips and may want to wait and see how things turn out on the Wii U.
Although the overall game feels diminished in this portable format, the fundamentals of Smash remain quite sound. It's one of the few fighting games that's easy enough for the most casual players to enjoy, yet complex enough to be adopted by the tournament scene. The control setup remains intuitive and quite responsive to player input, physical issues with the 3DS aside. I felt that smash attacks, executed by tilting the left stick while performing a basic attack, were easier to pull off in this game than previous ones. Playing is a blast whenever you're not squinting at the screen.
The biggest strength of Smash Bros. has always been its interesting and diverse roster of characters, and this generation's Smash has the biggest and best roster yet. The sad loss of the Ice Climbers aside, there's an almost overwhelming number of good characters to choose from. Existing characters have received an extra layer of polish, and a number of the new characters really shine.
I particularly enjoy Robin, a versatile and strategic character possessing both powerful spells and martial might, and Villager, a trickster who wreaks havoc with the ability to pocket projectiles and plant trees. Other newbies of note include Little Mac, a brawler who is much more agile than Captain Falcon; Pac-Man, who holds interesting possibilities for highly technical players; Palutena, a complex defensive character; and Shulk, a solid all-rounder with some unique mechanics. I was less impressed by Rosalina, who lacks punch, and Wii Fit Trainer, who is ironically slow and inflexible. The newcomers are a fascinating lot, and there are a couple of incredibly cool surprises amongst the secret unlockable characters as well.