It may be hard to believe that it’s been six years since the last installment in Nintendo’s crossover fighting franchise was released, but now Super Smash Bros. has found a home on two of Nintendo’s consoles. While we won’t be able to get our hands on the Wii U entry until November twenty-first, the 3DS version of the game has already turned plenty of heads for the simple fact that it is a handheld version of the beloved fighter.
This latest Smash Bros. may be running on the same engine that was used for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but the two titles boast play styles that are only so similar. Gone are the inexplicable and unpredictable tripping mechanics, and less gimmicky are the characters. Both of these aspects make for a more enjoyable fighting experience, which is only enchanced by the inclusion of what is easily the most well-balanced roster since the days of Melee. Some players have already taken a liking to a handful of characters for competitive play, but relatively simple downgrades to Meta Knight and Pit as well as slight upgrades to Sheik and Zero Suit Samus leave a major impact on the overall feel of the game. Meanwhile, newcomers like Robin, Mega Man, and the Animal Crossing Villager feel right at home in the company of veterans Mario, Donkey Kong, Captain Falcon, Kirby, and many more.
Similarly, the stages offer a great deal of variety, with the sizes of most ranging from small to medium. Battlefield and Final Destination see mere aesthetic changes, while the latest F-Zero and PictoChat stages are very slight variations on their predecessors. The designs of the Nintendogs Living Room or Find Mii stages may not boast the flash and flair or interactivity of environments like the Unova Pokemon League or Fire Emblem Arena Ferox, but this handheld version of Smash Bros. seems often more concerned about functionality than flamboyance. A large portion of these stages (nearly one-third, in fact) are re-used from previous Smash Bros. games, but are far better suited for the series’ 3DS outing than some of the Melee stages that were carried over to Brawl.
Classic mode returns, with little change to the long-established pattern of squaring off against CPU fighters, be they metal, giant, or in a continuously spawning team. Before the start of each match, however, classic mode does allow you to select your path, the suggested difficulty of each match indicated by green, blue, and red paths. In the vein of Kid Icarus: Uprising, Classic mode allows you to gamble more coins to take on greater challenges on higher difficulty settings and reap greater rewards. All-star mode similarly remains largely unchanged from its Brawl counterpart, as you face off against multiple CPU fighters at a time in what is (more or less) the chronological order of their video game debuts, starting with Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Mario, and working all the way on up to Greninja, the Wii Fit Trainer, and the latest Fire Emblem characters.
Training mode still allows you to test out Smash’s many items and stages, as well as hone your abilities in chaining combos (now made more easily identifiable thanks to a successive hit counter and damage percentage numbers that pop up when your character makes contact with an opponent). Stadium sees the return of both the Home Run Derby and Multi-Man Smash, and again, little has been changed on either of those fronts – 100-Man Smash, Endless Smash, and Cruel Smash have you taking on hordes of Mii Fighters, but the concept remains the same. New to this Smash Bros. is Target Blast, something of a hybrid between Home Run Derby and the old Break the Targets mode. In Target Smash, players will have a brief window of time to deal as much damage as possible to a bomb, which they can then launch at a series of targets, blocks, smaller bombs, and occasional bonus trophies and abilities in the hopes of knocking these objects into one another and chaining a high score. Think of it like Angry Birds, except that you have but two successive shots to take out as many targets as possible.
Smash Run operates similarly to Kirby: Air Ride’s City Trial mode, as players have a set amount of time to explore every nook and cranny of a gauntlet-style stage, taking on grunt enemies from many of the game series represented in Smash Bros. How you choose to dispatch these foes, which paths you take, and how many secret rooms you discover influences which stat boosts you will receive, which are then factored into an endgame challenge, be it a vanilla Smash bout or something more directly related to your newfound upgrades like a footrace through a multi-layered course.
Custom versions of each character can also be crafted from a separate menu, and can be used in some of the game’s various modes. These customization options not only include boosts and tradeoffs for a character’s speed, defense, and offense, but alternate moves as well, all of which can be collected as rewards through Smash Bros.’ many game modes. Custom Mii Fighters take this concept a step further, allowing you to give them steampunk outfits, samurai armor, or a mech suit, and designate them as belonging to one of three classes – Brawler, Gunner, or Swordfighter.
Challenge panels make a return from Brawl, though the early sets are decidedly easier than in the previous installment, asking that you play three matches as Meta Knight, hit just over 2500 feet in Home Run Derby, customize a handful of characters, and so on. Later challenge panels do up the ante, though this Smash Bros. is more generous with the number of hammers you earn that can be used to knock out most any space on the board. The rewards for completing these challenges include Smash stages, Mii Fighter stat boosts, sound test tracks, and trophies. While trophies can also be collected from the single player modes, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS introduces both a Trophy Shop and Trophy Rush mode. The Trophy Shop’s offerings will rotate frequently, even slapping a discounted price tag on some, and can be purchased with either in-game coins or 3DS Play Coins. Meanwhile, Trophy Rush is a more robust and fast-paced evolution of Melee’s Snag the Trophies, as players must break down blocks before they stack too high in order to fill a meter to initiate a feverous stream of coins and trophies to fall from the sky, all while avoiding electric balls and explosives. Betting more coins at the start of Trophy Rush will net you more time to try and improve your collection, but any fall out of bounds will subtract fifteen seconds from your remaining time.
One of Brawl’s biggest shortcomings was in the highly unreliable online play. While this new Smash Bros. certainly improves on its Wii predecessor’s faltering, it too is far from perfect in this aspect. Some matches are spot-on, and only once in a blue moon does the online play teeter into the realm of being wholly unplayable. More often than not, however, this multiplayer mode lags just enough to be a constant annoyance. The Streetpass mode known as Street Smash is underwhelming as a top-down ‘bumper cars’ sort of matchup, wherein the goal is to knock other player icons off a small platform. While Streetpass features of any 3DS title are hardly the highlight of the experience, something that was more interactive or dealt out greater rewards would no doubt have been better received.
For those concerned that Nintendo’s beloved fighter might lose something in translation or fail to work on a handheld entirely, you can lay those worries to rest. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is the best entry in the series since Melee, even surpassing the Gamecube classic in many respects. With so much to do and so many characters to play as, it’s easy to pour hours upon hours into this title and not become even the slightest bit bored with it. The easy settings may be a bit softer for younger players and newcomers to the series, but on a higher difficulty, Smash Bros. for 3DS carries on the tradition of those Smash titles that came before it. If this handheld entry is but a taste of what is to come from its Wii U counterpart, we’re sure to be in for a real treat. With that in mind, this is a great release all its own, and a standout entry in the already stellar lineup of the 3DS’ library of games.
My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)