I like to think that every Nintendo series is a spin-off from Super Smash Brothers. That’s not true at all, but the Subspace Emissary story mode in Brawl – the Wii version – brought all of the characters and franchises together in a much more meaningful way, with cutscenes galore. While the sidescrolling gameplay soon became repetitive, this felt like a true celebration of not only Nintendo’s games, but video games as a medium.
Unfortunately Smash Bros. For 3DS is completely devoid of anything similar, which makes it feel like a lesser game at its core, despite the plethora of multiplayer modes, the varied and large roster, and fine-tuned and balanced gameplay, which are all improvements over its predecessor. It’s just missing that big, central focus, instead splitting itself among lesser modes and lacking in terms of single player content for a handheld game, which isn’t exactly the best format for a multiplayer-focused game.
But the lack of a great single player mode is just about the only complaint you can have about this version of Smash: it improves on the series in almost every other single way, at least as much as a handheld version can. And you have to remember that this is a handheld game – you’ll forget at times – and it’s one where a mode such as Subspace Emissary might just not fit in.
The main mode, then, is simply Smash. Here you can battle it out, either with CPU players or friends who own the game. There’s the usual range of options, such as switching items on or off, choosing a timed or stock battle, and much more. The mode won’t really be one that will keep your attention for long unless you want to play with friends locally.
But as soon as you drop into your first match, the improvements are noticeable. Characters themselves run at a smooth 60 frames per second, and battling animations are fluid, with every hit landing in the right place. It feels better than Brawl, and more up to date than Melee across the board, and you can really tell they’ve balanced it out very well – overpowered characters such as Meta Knight take a hit (but not too much) while the underpowered ones have improved in certain ways.
It creates a level playing field, but that doesn’t mean every character is the same. Here, they’ve been extremely inventive with some of the balancing. Little Mac – the boxer from Punch Out! is the most notable, as his on-foot attacks are devastating, all with the potential to knock his foes off the screen, and he even has a KO bar which charges up over time before releasing a massive one-hit-kill punch.
That sounds horribly unbalanced, but as soon as his feet leave the ground his attacks cause about a quarter of the damage, and he can be juggled like a ball in the circus.
There’s a large and varied roster, with a few surprises that Nintendo haven’t officially announced, and these are all generally balanced as far as I can tell. There are a few exceptions – such as Megaman – which feel as though they can do more damage than someone such as Yoshi, but it’s ultimately all about getting comfortable with your favourite.
You’ll have plenty to choose from, with many Nintendo franchises represented and then going beyond that, to Bandai Namco, Capcom, and SEGA. This is superb, as it’s amazing to see Mario, Sonic, Pac Man, and Megaman battling it out on a Zelda-inspired stage; it’s a truly nostalgic experience, and each series is treated with care through movesets, final smashes, and stages.
You don’t even have to worry if you prefer a speedy character but your favourite is slow, as you can now customise movesets with additional moves or modify the speed, attack, and defence stats of characters individually. These are all unlockables within the game, and include sped up punches and quick-firing bows, or even attacks which take more time but do more damage, such as a giant bomb for Link. You can then select a costume – there are now eight for each character, from simple colour changes to full redesigns – and save up to ten customised versions of any character. That’s a whole load of brawlers.
Even more customisable are the Mii Fighters, where you can take an existing Mii and customise them from the ground up, selecting either Brawler, Gunner, or Swordfighter as your base template. These also appear in the Multi Man Smash mode, where you’ll have to fight off a set number of Mii Fighters. Other games include Target Blast – an Angry Birds-esque distraction – as well as the classic Home Run Contest. Beyond these small games, there are several other more substantial modes to be found.
Classic has been redesigned, and doesn’t play out in the same way as it did before. Firstly, you’ll pay your way in with coins, essentially placing a bet on how well you can do. You’ll also notice that Target Smash intervals are gone, and there are simply six successive battles with other fighters – metal versions and groups included – with you able to choose different paths, affecting the difficulty, as you progress. Unfortunately, this falls short – quite literally – with not enough successive battles, and you don’t have the same feeling of being on a campaign with each character.
A new mode comes in the form of Smash Run, which puts many foes from all of the represented franchises into an open, side scrolling world. It’s your job to explore and defeat enemies here for five minutes, powering your character up, before taking on three other players – again, CPU or local – in a final battle or challenge. It’s quite inventive, and there’s a lot to find, but it feels cut short as you can only explore for a limited time.
When you look at these modes, even the All-Star mode which sees you fighting through eras of enemies and can be played co-operatively, you’ll notice that this is a game which very much caters to multiplayer, and that while unlocking things can be quite fun (and there’s plenty to unlock), there’s just not enough for it to survive as a single player only experience.
Thankfully, there’s an online mode available, for when your 3DS owning friends aren’t around, and this works smoothly for the most part, with a spectator mode complete with betting on players. There can be lag and hiccups when someone has a bad connection, but the game is at its best when you’re playing competitively. If you’re just in it for the laughs, and like items and moving stages, then you’ll want to select For Fun rather than For Glory, where matches are devoid of items and set on Final Destination – the flat stage where the final battle in Classic takes place.
Rather than there just being one form of Final Destination, you’ll be able to play on any stage in this layout, retaining the backdrop and style. This is for the purists, but if you just want to play on normal stages – which are for the most part inspired by handheld games – then you’ll find some real ingenuity, such as in the Gerudo Valley or Tomodachi Life inspired levels. All of the environments are as vibrant as the characters which inhabit them, and it’s a good looking experience throughout.
Player characters have a bold outline to make them more distinguishable and prevent aliasing, which creates an almost cel-shaded look, but this can be turned off if you’re not a fan. It’s not really about how it looks, but instead how well it represents and celebrates each franchise at the same time, from items to stages to characters. On this level, it’s a genuine success and quite spectacular at times.
If anything, Super Smash Bros. For 3DS is a precursor to the main event – the Wii U version – which is arriving later this year. It’s a handheld game at heart, so it can be excused where it falls short in certain modes, and it brings a wealth of new functionality to the series, including character customisations in an already expansive roster.
The 3DS was never the place for Smash Bros., but with online functionality proving itself and the game playing extremely smoothly, it’s quite an impressive fit.