Fox Only, No Items, Penultimate Destination
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.
New to the series is customization, which goes far beyond the alternate color schemes that players could choose from in previous entries. Characters can be altered with a variety of equipment that provides statistical rebalancing and even special abilities. Each character also has several alternate versions of its special (B) attacks that can be chosen once they’re unlocked, Customization adds a whole new layer of strategy to character-building, but can only be used solo or when playing with friends. It also requires a ton of grinding in single-player modes in order to unlock equipment and alternate attacks. Unlocking the equipment is fine, but the alternate attacks are few and far-between, which is a bummer for anybody who really wants to delve into this new feature.
Along with character customization, this new Smash Bros. generation has embraced a customizable gameplay experience. Every stage can be played in its standard form, or in an “omega” form that resembles the simple platforms of the infamous Final Destination stage. Players can also choose the difficulty level of Classic Mode, then make individual difficulty choices between each Classic Mode stage. These choices help make the game accessible without alienating experienced Smashers who are looking for a challenge.
The great roster, smooth gameplay, customization options, and entertaining challenges make it hard not to love this game despite the fact that it’s not quite suited to portable format. I can only hope that the many hours I’ll be spending on unlocks will be at least partially transferred over to the Wii U version when it comes out. We don’t have a good confirmation from Nintendo one way or the other on that detail.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is absolutely a great game. It retains all the action, polish, and fun factor that makes the series wildly popular with a wide range of gamers. However, the game gains little and loses much on the small screen. As much fun as it is to play, it’s going to be more fun, more attractive, easier to control, and hopefully more online-capable on the Wii U. I won’t say that you shouldn’t buy the game on the 3DS, but I will suggest that the Wii U version is probably the game that you really want to play. The excellent roster and various other improvements found on the 3DS only make me more excited for the big-screen version of the game that is to come.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
While attractive and detailed close-up, the visuals work against the player when the action is zoomed out. 3.9 Control
Controlling this new Smash would be amazing if only the 3DS hardware were better suited to the task. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The fantastic music and sound effects that have always graced the series are intact here. 4.5 Play Value
Packed with content and interesting characters to master, this version of Smash will eat up many, many hours. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best