Super Smash Bros. is now available on both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS around the world, meaning that fans can double dip or opt for their preferred system wherever they are. Though full-on cross-play isn't possible, there is some connectivity between the versions — for transferring characters or using the 3DS as a Wii U controller — and Masahiro Sakurai has always maintained that mechanically (beyond aesthetics) both versions play the same way. Though there's an obvious gulf in visuals and resolution, these similarities — as demonstrated by Digital Foundry — are remarkable.
We'll summarise more detail below, but let's kick off with the Digital Foundry side-by-side comparison video, which shows slow-motion animations across both versions.
Visual changes between the two are many, but what's remarkable is just what remains the same. In pairing shots for our head-to-head video, animation frame data for each character is almost entirely identical between platforms. From the range of Little Mac's charged punch to the duration of Link's upward smash, every move on 3DS locks to the Wii U timings - making it a handy companion for those practicing on the go.
There are exceptions, we notice, such as the slight lengthening to the cool-down on Zero Suit Samus' side smash on Wii U. However, where most moves translate directly from handheld to the big screen, this close pairing only highlights a drastic upgrade to character rigging on Wii U. Alongside the bumped clothing detail for characters like Shulk, sharp polygonal corners are rounded. Up-close during victory poses, this noticeably gives way to more complex jaw structures on character's like Fox, and also a curl to Donkey Kong's fingers.
As was already known, the Wii U version runs at native 1080p, with the 3DS version the standard 400x240 which is, nevertheless, given some impressive effects on the portable. Importantly for the fighter, framerate performance is shown to be pretty much as expected to those that have been playing the games — very smooth and solid, with tiny and occasional dips.
When it comes to frame-rate metrics, Nintendo's record is very sturdy in recent efforts like Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8. And in line with Smash Bros. series tradition, both 3DS and Wii U confidently strike the 60fps target with full v-sync engaged. As a general rule, both hold to this grade of performance near perfectly in most instances.
For the home console release, we do see minor hiccups that bear passing mention. These are plucked from a range of scenarios, such as the crashing of a metal rig above the Boxing Ring stage, initiating a final smash move, and also landing a knockout blow. Barring the first, the resulting blips are rarely consequential to the flow of play. In fact, even eight player matches throw up little the Wii U can't resolve at a full 60fps update - only taking the faintest dip to 58fps in our tests on claiming a smash ball.
Given it's a full 1080p title as well, all signs point to a very well optimised Wii U rendition, with just a few rough edges. Performance on 3DS is less robust meanwhile, but still impressive. A 60fps line is held almost to a tee, but with odd, single frames dropping throughout battles on Final Destination and Battlefield stages. Thankfully, this still gives it the perceptual effect of 60fps, where the screen's smaller size makes it easier to miss these occasional, missed frames.
Nintendo's handheld also has issues with heavy build-ups of alpha effects - though final smashes are tightly optimised. Case in point: a 54fps drop is recorded for one fiery finishing move on the Yellow Devil boss, while Fox's final Smash barely makes a dent. The frequency of such frame-rate hits is controlled, however, with the 3DS reducing its item drop rate to match the Wii U's lower settings. On balance, it makes these lurches unusual, but puts a ceiling on the chaos that might emerge during frenzied four player bouts.
In an era where so many games boast of a smooth 30FPS, it's pleasing to see Nintendo maintain its priorities at another level. The final analysis is one of praise for developers Sora and Bandai Namco, for achieving beautiful results on Wii U while utilising every scrap of available power in the 3DS.
It's all too easy to pluck a winner from the two when placed side-by-side, of course, especially in blowing the handheld version up to matching scale. Rather, it instead magnifies our respect for co-developers Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco, whose agenda is clearly set on extracting the best from 3DS and Wii U hardware.
Even with visual cutbacks, the 3DS produces a beautiful, fully stereoscopic 3D rendition of the game at a near perfect 60fps - an impressive feat for a handheld. The level selection, most of which is unique to the platform, is also crafted around the smaller screen size. Skyboxes are drawn closer, textures are enlarged to improve visibility, the colour palette is exaggerated, and characters are even given an (optional) black outline to help players keep track of the action.
At its heart, and despite using two very different tiers of polygonal detail, the 3DS and Wii U also share the exact same animation frame data for each character. The Wii U no doubt offers the premium visual set though, and eight player stages like The Great Cave Offensive thrive on its ability to output at a native 1920x1080. A slew of other visual upgrades are also brought to light at this resolution - including an enhanced lighting model, dynamic shadows, upgraded texture maps and even reworked stage backgrounds.
Whether or not this is the definitive release for the competitive scene, its technical faculties have to be admired. Smash Bros. on 3DS and Wii U is a labour of love from Sakurai and his team, realising characters from all corners of the industry at previously unseen levels of detail. Presented with stereoscopic 3D in your hands, or at a crisp 1080p for couch play, it's a success for Nintendo fans of either persuasion.
What do you think of the visuals and performance of these two versions of Super Smash Bros.? Have you been impressed by what the developers achieved?