Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
It’s tempting to simply copy and paste my review of Mario Kart 8 here and just change the specifics to refer to Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. This is because I have very similar feelings regarding the two titles. Both are multiplayer-centric games from Nintendo that while strong, are held back to a degree by less than meaningful single player experiences. This new entry in the franchise does a lot of things right while stumbling in certain aspects, and the question of “should I buy this?” comes down to how you like to play.
The big hook with this entry of course is that for the first time, the series is portable. To the surprise of no one, the move to 3DS comes with pluses and minuses. Being able to take such a robust title on the road is pretty novel. This does feel like a pretty complete version of the Smash experience, which is commendable. The controls are good, but they can’t match the GameCube controller. The circle pad gets the job done, but it’s no analog stick, and everything feels just a touch cramped. I definitely experienced some discomfort in my hands after extended sessions, and for that reason it’s hard to see this one lending itself to marathons like previous titles did. Also the smaller screen can make it tough when four players square off. Not only is the game that much more chaotic, but the camera has to pan out even farther, making it tougher to discern what’s going on. The black outlines around the character models are helpful, but it’s still easy to get lost among the chaos. For this reason I’ve favored one v. one battles so far, though three players at once isn’t too bad. This isn’t a deal breaker, but for a game so heavily focused on multiplayer, it’s a bummer to say that it’s at its worst with the maximum number of players.
Presentation-wise, this is a surprisingly messy game. Nintendo is usually pretty sharp when it comes to UIs, but the menus here take some getting used to. Finding the particular mode or section you’re looking for can take some time, but I’ve pretty much got my head around it now. Worse is the overall lack of explanation or tutorials explaining the new features. There are some fairly interesting new wrinkles to the formula this time – more on that later – and understanding it all can be daunting. A simple “What’s New” video or even just some more robust text explanations would have gone a long way toward easing the player in.
Playing the single player content is akin to being showered with all sorts of random trinkets that, at first, don’t make a lot of sense. Hats, trophies, special moves, equipment; it all just starts coming in with seemingly no rhyme or reason. I knew I must be making progress of some kind, the game was throwing junk at me left and right, but it didn’t really mean much. As soon as I started to understand what these different knick knacks were, it started to become somewhat more rewarding. Again, some explanation from the outset would have really helped here. Overall there are a respectable number of single player modes, ranging from fine to forgettable. I think Nintendo has done an admirable job of trying to create meaningful single player content for a game that leans so much on multiplayer, but while fun enough, a lot of this stuff didn’t compel me. They’ve also included “Challenges” – essentially achievements/trophies- that ask you to do random things like “Use Kirby’s Final Smash” or “Win Two Battles as Ness.” It encourages different kinds of play and gives some more things to strive for, but it’s nothing too special, and there aren’t that many of them.
Smash Run is notable for being new and exclusive to this version of the game. In this mode you’re dropped into an open ended map, and given five minutes to run around and beat up on minions from Nintendo’s whole catalog. As you do, stat boosts are dropped and when the time is up, you’re ushered into a final battle, armed with whatever attribute buffs you managed to grab. You can use custom move sets in this mode – I’ll get to that soon- and there are special weapons you can equip to help you on your way. It’s representative of the other modes in that it’s a solid idea, but one I can’t see myself playing too often.
Most of the modes are just trying to give some kind of meaning and variety to fighting the computer over and over. All-Star mode challenges you to battle Nintendo characters in a historically chronological order, and Classic Mode returns with some decent twists. There are now branching paths that give you some choices for who you’ll face each round. Better yet, you can tweak the difficulty very specifically before you start. The harder you make it, the more money you’ll earn, allowing you to essentially gamble on your own skill. I liked this, and it lends the mode a decent amount of replayability, even if it is just another way to arrange fights with the computer. The ability to keep ratcheting up the difficulty, as well as the incentive to try out different paths made this the mode I found myself most drawn to, even if that’s faint praise.
There are other single player options, like the various multi-man smashes from previous games – which are still pretty fun – and the sandbag minigame, which is not really interesting after all these years. What it all comes down to is this: none of this stuff comes anywhere near the fun of jumping online into a one on one match against a real person. I wanted to publish this review just after the game came out, but I wished to spend more time with the multiplayer, and I’m glad I did. Early on, things were very laggy on a consistent basis. I’m still running into trouble, but things seem to have smoothed out a lot in the last few days. When everything is clicking, the multiplayer offerings are pretty great, even if there’s not as much customization as I would like. The ability to search for matches with specific rules would be nice, but the options on hand are adequate. First you choose to play with friends or with strangers. Picking strangers leads to two modes: “For Fun” or “For Glory.” For Fun matches are two minute free-for-alls or team smashes with no record keeping. It’s fine, but the matches always have three or four people, and items are always on, which is just far too chaotic and messy for the small screen. Throw in some lag and less than competent players, and things can go downhill fast.
For Glory is where the real fun is. There’s Free-For-All, Team Smash, and One-On-One. All varieties are two stock, no items, and only “Final Destination” versions of each stage. Yes, in a very smart move, Nintendo included an alternate basic version of every arena in the game. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that some of the stages have gotten a little too wacky, and while those can be plenty of fun, it’s great to have the option to simplify each one into just a platform. Anyway, For Glory offers a pure, baseline Smash experience that allows for quick battles – perfect for small doses. Again I’d love to play with the stock and item selection at least, but the For Glory section gets the job done.
Facing strangers has been fun, but of course playing with friends is the best, and I’ve already rekindled some old rivalries from college. It’s during these intense matches with good friends that the adrenaline gets pumping and the old Smash magic comes alive again. Overall I hope to see the lag issues continue to improve, and perhaps Nintendo will offer up some more modes as well. I feel the future of this game is bright because of the online component. I look forward to more friends owning the game, and getting my fill of fighting both online and locally.
Aside from being portable, the biggest new thing is the addition of customizable move sets. You can now choose different types of moves for each character, and fit them with various badges to alter their attack, defense, and speed. Some of these badges have additional special affects, such as granting stronger item throws or enacting a magnetic pull on the Final Smash Ball. Customization is possible with the regular roster of characters, as well as the new Mii fighters, and you can save up to ten custom sets for each fighter. With Miis, you first choose to be a hand-to-hand brawler, a swordsman, or a gunner. From there you select the various moves you want, and pick clothes and hats. Everything must be unlocked first, so there’s incentive to play a lot if you want more options when it comes to outfitting your fighters. Customizable characters represent a nice new addition that adds a welcome layer of depth and freedom to the Smash formula.
With Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, I was expecting diet-Smash Bros., and that’s essentially what we’ve gotten. Nintendo has created a very good and somewhat flawed portable edition of its hit series. The sheer amount of Ninty-related stuff here is staggering. If “Nintendo” were a drug, this game would be like freebasing it, it’s just absolutely crammed full of the venerable company’s properties. If you’re like me, and you’ve neglected some of the fringes of the Nintendo universe – Fire Emblem, Kid Icarus, Xenoblade, every Pokemon game released since 2001 – you won’t know what the hell a lot of this stuff is. The point is, it’s all there, and everyone will find something to love. The roster is impressive at 48 characters, and the stage selection is robust as well.
Once the home version comes out next month, I can’t see myself playing this one at home other than to fight my non-Wii U owning friends, but this game has good value as a portable option. I’ll definitely be bringing it wherever I go to unlock stuff and sneak in a quick match. It should be obvious based on everything I’ve said so far, but like Mario Kart from earlier this year, I’d really think twice about this one if single player is all you’re after. Not for lack of trying, but it just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of experience. If you’ve got pals or are content duking it out with strangers, then don’t hesitate to join the fray. Warts and all, there’s absolutely fun to be had here, and with online connectivity and interaction with the forthcoming Wii U version, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about this game moving forward. Consider my rating an “8.5 and trending up.”