Miniaturizing the indomitable Super Smash Bros. brand is no small task, and were it not for Nintendo’s sterling reputation with first party titles made for its own hardware, I’d be hard pressed to believe it could be properly done. After all, disappointment at a game’s translation to mobile is nothing new. Ever play SSX Tricky on the GBA? I’m pretty sure my younger self cried for weeks.
Instead, what Masahiro Sakurai and Sora Ltd. have managed to pull off (with a little help from Namco Bandai) on 3DS is nothing short of remarkable, and though I do think there’s still room for the Wii U version when it hits later this holiday season, Super Smash Bros. (3DS) looks, feels, smells, and tastes like Smash. Whatever Smash Bros. means to you, it’s all here, and very little has been compromised.
Before I delve into how exactly that’s achieved, I will mention one area where the game comes up short, arguably through no fault of the developers themselves — the 3DS’s unfortunate lack of a C-stick. Now, you may have heard that there’s a new 3DS coming to North America next year, and you may also have heard that this device possesses a handy analog nub for all of your quick-smashing and aerial attacking needs. This device is confirmed to be compatible with Super Smash Bros., and I’ll most certainly be buying one as soon as I can. In the meantime, however, certain battle techniques are going to be just a little bit trickier to pull off, and though it may seem inconsequential to some, high-level competitive play can suffer greatly without this particular control mechanism. It also depends on which character you work with most often.
With that small but admittedly conspicuous complaint out of the way, I can talk about what Smash on 3DS does right, and boy is it a long and resplendent list. Perhaps most important is the excellent first impression the game leaves. Let’s be honest; when you get this game, you’re not going to check out single player modes first, or extras, or Trophy Run, or anything else — you’re going to hop straight to a standard 2-4 player Smash. And when you do, you’ll find everything is in order. The controls are responsive and configurable, the framerate is locked at 60 FPS, and the graphics–though not HD–look at least as good as Brawl did on the original Wii. The core of Smash is here, and that alone makes it tough to find things to complain about.
You likely already know about the new characters, and be it Little Mac and his devastating Star Punch or the boy robot Mega Man and his notorious Final Smash, each new addition is well thought out and feels like a welcome and substantial member of the roster. On the flipside, many existing characters have been altered in the name of balance; a better move for the game as a whole, but disappointing if your preferred fighter from Brawl has been considerably nerfed. I’m still coping with King Dedede’s loss of a chain-grab, for example, and even if he has been made better overall, my old strategy just doesn’t sync with this new rendition of the character. Still, such changes force the trying of new things, and Mac is my current favorite fighter as a result. New characters and items are always the joy of a new entry in this series, and that hasn’t changed with Smash Bros. on 3DS.
On that same note, there truly is a lot to explore outside of the standard Smash mode, and the options here are as extensive as they’ve ever been. Not only do you have Classic mode with Master Hand and an ever-challenging All-Star mode for the disciplined and self-competitive gamers out there, but there’s also an entire customization system complete with RPG elements that Smash Bros. has never even remotely experimented with until now.
Single-player modes award wearable items and gear, which can then be equipped and used to boost or alter stats. Acquire enough gear and you’ll be looking at a character with greatly enhanced battle capabilities compared to the stock configuration. This can subsequently affect your battle strategy, as a Mega Man with souped-up defenses may play a very different game than one whose side-smash can take out foes with a mere 50% damage. Additionally, bonus special moves can be unlocked (replacing a character’s standard recovery with something entirely different, for example), which is especially fun if you play as a character your friends have yet to really delve into. Customization can be toggled on or off in multiplayer, but if both you and your friend have spent time collecting items and unlockable special moves, keeping the checkbox ticked is far-and-away the most enjoyable option.
The latest Smash is also the first entry to take online play seriously, and though things have been massively improved from the Brawl days, online encounters still aren’t perfect. Well over 50% of my battles with players overseas suffered from input lag and occasional frame lag, and while domestic fights fared a bit better, rare is the online encounter that is completely lag-free. Luckily, frame lag is far less common, so you won’t be dealing with choppy battles all too often. Still, if For Glory mode is where you want to spend your time (items-off 1-on-1 at Final Destination), you’re going to find the near-constant input lag a problem. Even when the connection seems 99% perfect, you’ll still notice a slight delay between your button press and your character’s action. It is possible to establish a perfect connection, but I can count the number of times it’s happened so far on one hand.
That said, such issues are far less of a hassle with For Fun mode, and there’s still a chance that the Wii U version will host its matches on dedicated servers ala Mario Kart 8 instead of what appears to be a peer-to-peer system on 3DS. If so, then Wii U will be the premier online Smash platform by far, which, though frustrating for 3DS players, is understandable from the perspective of Nintendo. A Mario Kart 8-sized investment simply isn’t feasible for every online game the company publishes.
Otherwise, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is, like its forebears, a love letter to Nintendo itself, and the care with which every corner of the game has been crafted is evident in spades. Trophies return, with hundreds (it feels like thousands) to collect, each a small look into a part of Nintendo’s history you may not have known about. I’ve always loved trophy collecting in Smash, and Sakurai and company have really delivered on attention to detail this time around. Certain trophy character models look especially brilliant on the 3DS’s stereoscopic screen, in some cases better than they look during an actual battle. If you’re a completionist, this game is as compelling as ever in that regard.
Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot more to be said. Some players may find the small screen constricting, and there are instances where an extremely zoomed-out camera can render on-screen fighters rather tiny. Still, by and large this is Super Smash Bros. successfully translated to your pocket, with an impressively low rate of quality-loss in the process. Sure, online might end up better on Wii U, and the visuals certainly will be. But if you own a 3DS only or are tempted by both versions, you absolutely can’t go wrong grabbing Super Smash Bros. (3DS) as soon as possible.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which was provided to us.
Smash Bros. on 3DS isn't perfect, but it's about as close a match to console-quality Smash as anybody could reasonably expect on the go. The addition of a C-stick via the New 3DS next year will make a huge difference, but in the meantime, this is still a worthy means of passing the time until the Wii U version releases.