Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

While much attention remains on a home console version of a certain iconic franchise, it's perhaps worthwhile reminding ourselves that Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is now less than three months away and giving us our first fix in the series since Brawl on Wii — we should pay it more attention.

As much as Nintendo is hoping to add some punch to the valiant fight its putting up with the Wii U in the home console market, this is the long-awaited handheld début, a significant event in its own right. While this portable version may be appearing on smaller, far less powerful hardware, that hasn't deterred game director Masahiro Sakurai from doing his best to stuff it full of content that is comparable in scope to its home console counterpart.

At Nintendo UK's recent post-E3 press event, we were kindly given the opportunity to go hands-on with the pocket brawler and see how it stacks up in the multiplayer department, as well as spend a bit of time with the new Smash Run mode.

The first thing we immediately noticed when diving into a match was just how smooth an experience Super Smash Bros. for 3DS offers; it runs at 60 frames per second, with seemingly very little slowdown — if any at all — and sports a surprising amount of detail. It remains smooth even with the 3D effect turned on, although trying to keep the system still enough to maintain the sweet spot is difficult given the frantic nature of the gameplay.

Despite the impressive detail on display, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS naturally doesn't possess the HD sheen of the home system version, nor can it be experienced on a large screen as standard, making it quite difficult at times to keep up with the action. A new feature which adds a bold outline around your character's form helps to distinguish them from the playing field and is useful, but only to a certain degree. On many of the stages we got to try the camera pans out quite far, and with lots happening on screen at any one time we occasionally lost track of our fighters. With this in mind, we felt it was best enjoyed on the the 3DS XL.

In its transition to a system with less buttons and a single Circle Pad, by default, minor compromises have had to be made in the control department. In this particular build, the left shoulder button acted as grab (as opposed to shield on the traditional GameCube Controller setup), and while it's highly likely this game will feature extensive customisation options as per Brawl, it felt jarring coming to it after the Wii U version. The lack of a second Circle Pad — which could, along with the decreased number of buttons, be addressed via Circle Pad Pro support — may prove disappointing for series veterans who rely on it out of habit or for techniques such as performing a Smash Attack straight out of a dash.

We imagine, however, that the controls and the loss of screen estate are things you can get accustomed to over time, and otherwise Super Smash Bros. for 3DS serves up a similarly frenetic gameplay experience to the Wii U version. Compared to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, characters feel heavier, seemingly more affected by gravity, and the gameplay is slightly faster too. Those wishing for a return to the mechanics of Super Smash Bros. Melee may prefer this over the floaty feel of the Wii title, but there's no doubt that it's still closer to the latter overall.

Specific to the 3DS Version is Smash Run, a multiplayer mode with a single-player-esque preamble. Here, players spend the first portion of the match exploring a large stage — which wouldn't look out of place in Brawl's Subspace Emissary campaign mode — battling AI enemies and collecting power-ups along the way. The goal is to boost your character's stats, such as speed and attack power, ahead of a final showdown. It serves as an action-packed build-up to the main event, and while it's unlikely you'll want to go through the effort of it all for every single match, it's nevertheless a welcome variation.

As Sakurai-san has already clarified, characters and items are shared across both upcoming versions of Super Smash Bros. and, therefore, the only major difference in terms of content is the stages. 3DS stages are primarily based on settings from previous handheld Nintendo titles. Golden Plains — a stage inspired by New Super Mario Bros. 2 — bears a resemblance to the Mushroom Kingdom U stage found in the Wii U version, although the focus here is to try to collect 100 coins while battling it out. If a player achieves this, their character turns to gold, becoming ludicrously heavy and far more powerful in the process. It's a neat touch in that it provides a slightly different focus from most stages in which a hazard occurs and players simply have to avoid it (or knock their opponents into it if they're feeling especially cruel).

Based on what we played, it's clear that there's a healthy mix of stage types in the 3DS version; Spirit Train, based on The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, is oddly reminiscent of previous F-Zero themed stages Big Blue and Port Town in that it's constantly moving at quite a pace, and failure to stay aboard the train will typically result in a quick death. Again, the small screen size takes its toll your ability to keep track of the action at times, but if anything this makes for a surprisingly hardcore experience — something which serious Super Smash Bros. fans will likely relish.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is shaping up to be a comprehensive title, and one which will most certainly serve as more than just a mere portable companion to the Wii U version. Smash Run and bespoke stages look set to offer a fun, alternate experience, and while the chaotic, fast-paced gameplay may not be as suited to the 3DS's smaller screen as it is to a large TV, it is nevertheless still very playable. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS launches on 3rd October, and will arrives ahead of its Wii U counterpart; while we're inclined to describe the latter as the definitive version based on what we've already played, the 3DS game will seemingly offer enough to be enjoyed by itself, as well as in addition to its HD brother.

We'll bring you some impressions of the Wii U version soon.

Be sure to check out our other hands on features from E3: