Ever since being announced alongside its Wii U counterpart, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS has been scrutinised by fans around the world to an almost excessive degree. Being the first game in the popular crossover fighting series to be released on a handheld system, there were understandably some doubts as to how well the multiplayer-centric gameplay would transfer over to a single-user device with a considerably smaller screen. Is this simply a stopgap until the Wii U version arrives, which in many purists' eyes is considered the definitive version?
These are valid concerns, but ones that fly out of the window and into the ether the moment you pick up Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS for the first time and experience the pure, unadulterated joy it delivers. Let us be clear: this is not a diluted handheld iteration that attempts to cash in on an established name; it maintains a similar scope of content, the same depth of gameplay and ensures that its raison d’être — multiplayer mayhem — remains the most fundamental element. It’s an undeniable success, and although it may have a few niggling issues here and there, it’s a title that belongs in any serious 3DS owner’s collection.
If you've somehow managed to go without playing a Super Smash Bros. game over the past 15 years then you may be wondering what has made it such an appealing series for so long. In a nutshell, it’s a fighting game in which up to four players can battle it out as Nintendo characters (plus famous faces from other publishers) across a range of themed stages. In stark contrast to traditional 2D fighting games there are no health bars, and instead players must rack up the damage on an opponent in order to send them flying off the screen. It’s a simple idea backed up by an intuitive control system that’s easy to learn, yet difficult to truly master. Layered over the top of all of this is a thick spread of Nintendo fan service, and in this regard Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS most certainly does not disappoint.
While it’s true that the game doesn't skimp on content, it is nevertheless a more streamlined affair than its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Gone are superfluous elements such as the demos and the chronicle of game releases, with the emphasis instead being placed on the core game modes, as well as fun diversions such as Multi-Man Smash and the new Target Blast mode. Completionists need not worry, as trophies make a return (along with an entertaining mini-game), and there’s a wealth of other collectibles — such as custom character abilities and outfits — to obsessively collect.
Given the handheld nature of this title, series creator Masahiro Sakurai and his team have ensured that there is plenty to do in single player. Classic Mode — which is similar in structure to the single-player mode of most fighting games — provides a short series of scenarios for you to battle through, ranging from standard match-ups to themed showdowns. It’s just the right length, which is important when there are so many characters you’ll need to play through it with in order to achieve 100% completion.
Further boosting this mode is the new intensity meter feature, which throws an element of risk versus reward into the mix. Before starting you can gamble in-game currency (which is used to purchase trophies) on your success; the higher the difficulty, the higher the reward payout — of course, this also works the other way round. Upping the intensity also opens up some new challenges, and while we've no intention of spoiling it for you, we can say that even hardcore fans will be left pleasantly surprised.
All-Star Mode serves as a secondary campaign of sorts in which you must battle your way through every single character in the game without dying. This time around, you face opponents in the chronological order of their first video game appearances, making this a nostalgia-induced history lesson in gaming.
It’s a sentiment that actually transcends all of the game’s modes as a result of the impressive amount of effort that has gone into portraying numerous Nintendo franchises in a single, seamless crossover universe. This is a game that was clearly developed first and foremost as a labour of love, where the visuals, audio and gameplay all mesh together to create the ultimate Nintendo experience. The way in which the game captures the authenticity of its guest-starring third-party characters such as Mega Man and Sonic is astounding, to the point that even their respective owners would struggle to match the sheer quality on show with their own output.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS excels at paying homage to so many video game franchises, and it manages to do so with an impressive amount of technical flair. The static screenshots and blown-up promotional videos that we've seen to date simply do not do it justice; this is a game that you have to see in motion on the device for which it has been designed in order to fully appreciate it. Most of the time it runs in 60 frames per second, occasionally dipping when the on-screen action gets so frantic that it’s somewhat understandable. It manages to maintain this reasonable level of consistency even when played in full 3D.
The sharp presentation helps to ensure it remains playable, although the 3DS's screen size does occasionally take its toll on your ability to fully enjoy the experience. This is partly down to the large size of some of the stages, in which the the camera will pan out quite far before reaching its outer limit. At this point you start to lose a lot of crucial detail, such as being able to easily see the attacks you think you’re performing and — more importantly — those that are incoming.
To assist with this, the game provides you with the option to add a black outline to each character. When stationary, it can make a world of difference; however, when running, jumping and flying around the screen as per typical Super Smash Bros. gameplay, it really doesn't make much of a difference. It does not by any means become unplayable, but even on a 3DS XL it gets tough to tell what’s going on at times; standard 3DS and 2DS owners are going to feel this even more so.
With regard to stages, there are a whopping 34 to choose from, and thankfully only a few of them encounter the problem described above. In this iteration of the game Sakurai-san and company have focused on creating stages inspired by handheld Nintendo games, although some of the list is made up of past Super Smash Bros. locales.
There’s plenty of variety on offer in terms of theme and layout, along with plenty of stage hazards to throw a bit of extra chaos into the mix. In order to appease hardcore players who like to do away with the game’s more random gameplay elements, there’s also the option to “Final-Destinationalise” a stage, which essentially means turning it into a flat, non-interactive plain, albeit with the same visual style and backdrop. It’d be a bit of a push to say that it doubles the number of available stages when these alternative forms all offer the same thing, but it does enhance the competitive nature of the game, especially when it comes to 1-vs-1 battles.
The development team has also gone all out when it comes to the roster, providing a substantial 49 characters to play with (51 if you include the Mii sub-classes). Many of these are return appearances from previous games — which helps to maintain a sense of familiarity — while some of the new additions present more play styles than ever before.
Take Little Mac of Punch-Out!! fame, who delivers the sort of blows you’d expect from a world-renowned boxer. He’s weak in the air, but when rooted to the ground he’s fast, ferocious and also has a charge-up meter that gradually increases to the point that he can insta-KO opponents. He requires a different approach which, if mastered — as some players with Japanese copies already have — is absurdly hard to beat.
Rosalina and Luma also present an interesting mechanic, whereby you control both of them simultaneously — much like the sadly forgotten Ice Climbers — but you’re able to also determine an amount of distance between them. This presents the opportunity to pull off some interesting combos with the right amount of spacing and timing, thus adding more depth to the experience.
Such variety adds a great deal of enjoyment to the multiplayer segment of the game, regardless of whether you’re playing against computer-controlled opponents or friends via local wireless or online. If nearly 50 playable characters, over 30 stages and tons of items weren't already enough to make this one of the most action-packed Super Smash Bros. games yet, there’s also a decent selection of game modes to choose from.
The online portion has been considerably fleshed out since its 2008 predecessor. It’s split into two halves, the first of which revolves around “fun” game modes (which come with all the trimmings in terms of stage hazards and items) and the second which is more competitive. The latter only uses the Final Destination renditions of stages, has no items and includes the option to play 1-vs-1 battles. Having the option this time around makes a huge difference, and could well enhance the longevity of the game’s online following.
Of course, many returning fans will likely be wondering how these online modes hold up in terms of performance; Brawl’s online mode sadly bordered on unplayable at times due to considerable lag resulting from subpar netcode. We can’t stress enough that our online playtest has obviously occurred before the game’s official release in North America and Europe — and after its arrival in Japan — and it’s possible that your experience could be different from ours.
In online multiplayer you aren't given the choice to play by region, but you are matched up with players who are geographically closest to you. In instances where we tested the 1-vs-1 For Glory mode and were fortunate enough to find someone else in Europe, the input lag was minimal; even with characters such as Ness, who rely on incredible accuracy when performing certain moves, it was very playable. Generally with larger games and with players from farther away, the lag is very apparent; other times there was neither rhyme nor reason to it — games with Japanese players were lag-free, while games across our own continent struggled. If there’s one conclusion we can definitely make, it’s that lag hasn't been completely eradicated, and that you should expect to encounter it at times.
Where possible, we’d recommend opting to play with nearby friends over local wireless, as this is when the games perform flawlessly — regardless of the number of players, stage type or how many items are on screen.
Smash Run is another reason why you should embrace local wireless, mainly because it's immensely fun but sadly can’t be enjoyed online. This mode presents an interesting twist on the classic versus mode by initially throwing all players into a large stage filled with AI enemies. For those that have played Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it will immediately bear a strong resemblance to the Subspace Emissary mode, albeit without a storyline. Players are tasked with working their way through an unforgiving labyrinth of enemies over five minutes, collecting attribute-enhancing power-ups as they go. The overall goal of this part is to build up things like your strength, speed and defence so that you've got the best chance of winning a one-minute battle between all players that comes at the end.
It’s unlikely that Smash Run will replace the standard multiplayer mode, if only because it’s quite long-winded in comparison. With that said, it makes for a nice little diversion, and the player battles at the end are surprisingly varied. For example, in addition to the many themed team and free-for-all setups there’s a new Climb Mode, in which you have to work your way up a vertical stage faster than everyone else. Another key reason for playing Smash Run is that it feeds into the customisation aspect of the game.
That’s right, for the first time in Super Smash Bros. history, the 3DS game allows you to customise the attributes and moveset of each character. To clarify: this isn't an in-depth editor that allows for highly nuanced tweaks, and rather it boils down to a few relatively simple choices. As far as the attributes are concerned, it’s a case of choosing up to three upgrades which enhance either strength, defence or speed — boosting one attribute is typically done to the detriment of another.
As a result, it presents you with a pretty clear choice: enhance your character’s best stats further or try to even out their weaker aspects. It’s a similar situation with movesets, and all you do is choose from up to three different variants of each of the four special moves a character has. It’s worth noting that customisation is completely optional and can be turned off if you’re happy enough with the vanilla experience. Given its rudimentary nature, it’s a feature that may disappoint those who were hoping for in-depth levels of customisation; sadly, it really doesn't add a great deal to the overall experience.
Further customisation comes in the form of Mii characters. When importing a Mii from your system’s Mii Maker application, you can choose one of three classes: Mii Brawler, Mii Swordfighter and Mii Gunner. The selection is obviously there to enable you to choose a style that goes with the individual nature of your Mii. The only problem, however, is that the movesets for each of these aren't especially unique, with many moves seemingly borrowed (and slightly altered) from the game’s main cast of characters. When you take into account just how many Nintendo games our virtual avatars have had the pleasure of starring in, it can’t help but feel a bit tacked on — although, it’s certainly better than nothing.
With such a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is a game that could have quite easily been limited by being on a system designed for a single user. However, it actually uses this to its advantage where possible; Smash Run is a prime example of how having multiple screens facilitates a larger multiplayer experience without the need for splitting a TV view. Moreover, each player having an individual screen presents other benefits.
For example, the Golden Plains stage revolves around combatants trying to collect as many coins as they can while fighting. If you reach 100, your character turns gold, which augments their attack power and prevents them from flinching. The key thing here is that only your coin counter is shown on your screen. Of course, all the player counters could simply be displayed on the same screen in a home console version, however, the fact that you don’t know how much everyone else has adds a competitive element that wasn't previously possible. The StreetPass battle mode — a fun mini-game in itself — allows you to earn gold with which to buy trophies, thus giving you a very good reason to take your 3DS out and about with you.
The entire experience is complemented by a Challenges menu, which presents you with tasks to complete across all game modes. Doing so unlocks things like stages, soundtracks and customisation items. It’s an improvement on Brawl’s system, as challenges are divided into panels of 35 that unlock over time, meaning you can’t attempt everything at once. While this might sound a bit limiting, it actually provides a clearer, more manageable path in terms of progression. The fact that it’s also unique to your system means you don’t have to share your achievements with anyone else.
The length of this review should be evidence enough, but it’s really quite astounding just how much there is to see and do in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. We've given you the gist of it, but a written overview can’t feasibly cover everything without becoming too arduous to read, so our advice is to simply explore the game for yourself. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the series or a lover of Nintendo in general, there’s plenty here to be enjoyed. It’s practically impossible to think of another 3DS game that comes anywhere close to providing the amount of value that this title offers.
Remarkable production values combined with a staggering amount of content and fan service make Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS an entertaining, rewarding and downright addictive title that’s immensely hard to put down. It’s a hugely successful transition from the big screen, which retains everything — the in-depth gameplay, the seamlessly merged crossover universe and that unrivalled Nintendo charm — that has made each home console instalment to date an instant classic. It feels familiar, further defining the mould of the series instead of reshaping it, but it does so to impeccably high standards.
That said, it’s not perfect: the online multiplayer can be very hit-or-miss in terms of connection quality, and the customisation features are pretty lacking, although these aren't considerable enough to damage the overall experience. As the wealth of modes, stages, characters and other features prove, this isn't a quick release intended to tide over players until the Wii U version comes along. Rather, it delivers more than a 3DS game should feasibly be able to do, so much so that it’ll be enjoyed alongside its HD counterpart and in its own right for years to come.