[Review] Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
Posted on October 7, 2014 by Patrick(@Patricklous) in 3DS, 3DS eShop, New Nintendo 3DS, Reviews
System: Nintendo 3DS (what a shock)
Release Date: October 3, 2014
Developer: Sora Ltd/Bandai Namco Games
The long-awaited fourth entry in Nintendo’s crazy crossover series is finally out, but it finds itself on a curious platform – the 3DS. A multiplayer fighting game is a strange fit for the portable console, but this new instalment retains the addictive style of fighting and throws in a few new ways to battle. Even on the 3DS, the frenetic pace of previous entries is still present (to an extent – this ain’t Melee) and Smash is still very much an experience accessible to both newcomers and seasoned players, with plenty of weird Nintendo references, of course. As a sequel, the game promises more of everything: more characters, more items, more assist trophies, more stuff to collect… the problem is that in some cases Smash on the 3DS feels like a lesser game than the ones that’ve come before it. Make no mistake, the game is still an incredibly enjoyable time, especially with a few friends, but the series makes the jump to the 3DS with a couple of compromises.
This new Super Smash Bros. introduces the most interesting cast of newcomers yet. They’re a more technical bunch with unique mechanics that give them a bit of a learning curve and help them stand out from the old-timers (aside from the odd “clone” character like Fire Emblem’s Lucina). Rosalina fights alongside her Luma, which can be left in position to double up her attacks or spray star bits while keeping out of harm’s way. Xenoblade’s Shulk is also one of the more technical fighters; he can switch between different “Monado Arts”, which give him a tremendous amount of versatility but have a cooldown period that needs to be carefully managed. I think my favourite thing about the newcomers is how well their playstyles incorporate mechanics from their respective series in a way that feels natural for a fighting game, which is more than can be said for fighters like Fox and Captain Falcon. For instance, Robin attacks with a combination of powerful sword strikes and magic tomes, but like in Fire Emblem these weapons will gradually wear out and take time to recharge. Similarly, playing Little Mac well relies on carefully predicting your opponent with dodges and counters before finding the right moment to land a powerful knockout – just like in Punch-Out!! Sure, some of the new guys aren’t exactly iconic, but there’s also the inclusion of old-school legends Pac-Man and Mega Man who both feature really odd, but enjoyable, playstyles.
There are a few older characters who didn’t make the cut this time – most notably the Ice Climbers – but the vast majority of the cast return rebalanced with a few new tricks. Most notably, Super Smash Bros. 3DS introduces customisable moves. Don’t particularly care for Mario’s FLUDD? Why not swap it for a new model that scalds opponents with hot water? As interesting as these new moves are, there aren’t usable in certain modes, such as when playing online with random people. This is particularly disappointing for characters like Mega Man and Palutena, whose custom moves do significantly change up the way they play.
The game also features custom equipment, which boosts characters’ attack, defense and speed and grants a few different (and potentially unbalanced) attributes like the ability to start a match with an item or recover health. Naturally, these are also banned online, but it’s not really an issue. Smash Bros. main draw to me is its accessibility; that it’s so easy to just jump straight into a match without needing to configure anything. All this custom gear just adds a level of micromanagement that the game didn’t really need at all. But then it’s all optional so surely there’s someone out there that’ll enjoy obsessively kitting characters out with badges, boots and dungarees.
One element of the customisation I did appreciate was the introduction of Mii Fighters. You can now create any character you want, provided it’s based on a Mii and fits into the template of a close-range brawler, long-range gunner or dude with a sword. There are a heap of unlockable outfits to outfit Miis with, though again you’re out of luck if you want to show them off online. Ultimately it’s just fun to put yourself in the game fighting alongside Mario and Link or fill out the roster with rejected Nintendo characters.
If it wasn’t obvious from the amount of restrictions placed on online play, the online matches in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS are a little disappointing. Sure, it’s a far smoother online experience than Super Smash Bros. Brawl ever was, but so is playing a game of chess via e-mail. A bit of lag is to be expected when every player is relying on a wireless connection, and Smash Bros. on the 3DS is generally not too bad in this regard. The game divides online matches into “For Fun” and “For Glory” sections, with the latter lacking items and restricting the available arenas to flat “Final Destination” stages. It’s an interesting way of appealing to different players, though the “For Glory” matches tend to run much smoother than the stuttery chaos of the “For Fun” mode. That’s hardly fun at all! The “For Glory” mode is surprisingly robust, with the option to play free-for-all, one-on-one or team matches, though it does have some issues. Considering how frequently the game gives out little incentives for playing offline, it’s strange that there isn’t any online system of rankings or titles like other fighting games. The closest thing is the inclusion of a “Global Smash Power” that measures how many people you outrank in each mode, but there’s no way to compare it with your friends.
Speaking of friends, online battles with people on your friends list can be tweaked with pretty much all of the options available when playing offline multiplayer, which is neat. However, the game is lacking any sort of messaging system or support for communities like Mario Kart 7, which would make it much easier to organise friendly matches. The most surprisingly enjoyable aspect of Smash’s online play to me was the inclusion of a “Spectator” mode. Watching and betting on random matches is strangely addictive and I could watch it all day were it not for my console’s brief battery life. If Mii Fighters were usable online it’d be the perfect Saltybet substitute.
Many of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS’s multiplayer features are only usable offline, such as the new Smash Run mode. Prior to the game’s launch, Smash Run was being touted as the big new feature that distinguishes the 3DS version from any other edition of Smash Bros., but honestly it’s kind of underwhelming. Modelled after Kirby Air Ride’s City Trial, this mode sees competitors spending five minutes scrambling to boost their stats by hunting down treasure chests and squaring off against classic enemies. The main issue with this mode is that the only real interaction with other players comes at the end of the round with a one-minute-long face off with all the boosts gathered. These battles could be anything from a traditional fight to a race to a contest to see who can take down the most enemies, but it always feels like a lot of build-up to something that is over too quickly. There is something compelling about how chaotic everything is and there are enough random events and hidden challenges to make it worth playing solo, but the novelty of Smash Run quickly wears off. While it’s a fun diversion that nets players plenty of unlockable trophies, moves and equipment, there isn’t a whole lot of strategy or substance to it.
Aside from Smash Run, the 3DS version features the usual single-player Classic and All-Star modes, where your fighter of choice is taken through a series of battles. Just as Smash Run borrows from director Masahiro Sakurai’s Kirby Air Ride, Classic mode’s new incarnation takes after his work on Kid Icarus: Uprising. The difficulty level can be adjusted by betting coins earned by playing the game; winning on higher levels gives greater rewards but runs the risk of losing your hard-earned cash. The higher difficulty levels also feature additional (and kind of creepy) bosses, so there’s some incentive to mess around with Classic mode and its branching paths. Outside of Classic mode, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is a bit lacking when it comes for extra things for solo players to do. As an apologist of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s “Subspace Emissary” mode, it’s disappointing that this 3DS entry doesn’t feature anything on the level of Brawl’s sprawling single-player adventure, or even its extensive event mode. To be fair, the game has a handful of additional modes like the return of Multi-Man Smash, the bizarre Streetpass Smash and the new Target Smash, which is more like Angry Birds than the old “break the targets” stages, but I can’t imagine any of it will hold players’ attention for too long.
While the various single-player modes are a bit on the shallow side, there’s still plenty to do and a heap to unlock. Like Brawl, there are boards of challenges to conquer, which encourage players to constantly switch between modes, characters and stages. Simply playing the game provides a steady stream of coins, trophies and customisation parts, serving as incentive to keep playing. But then you’ll probably have more fun unlocking them by playing multiplayer matches. I particular liked the trophies in this instalment – there are hundreds of the things to collect, each with frequently hilarious descriptions of iconic Nintendo items, characters and locations. Still, if Smash Bros. on the 3DS is supposed to be a tribute to Nintendo’s handheld legacy, they could’ve gone a bit deeper with the series referenced. Where’s my dang Style Savvy and Revenge of the Gator representation, Nintendo?
On a technical level, Super Smash Bros. is one of the most graphically impressive games on the 3DS. Using in-game screenshots alongside the review is practically cheating as the game loads higher-poly character models when paused, but the in-game graphics have a level of detail that few games on the console can match. It all runs at sixty frames a second even in 3D, too.
Sometimes it’s tough to follow the action onscreen when the camera zooms out too far (on the original 3DS, at least), but most of the arenas in this new version are fairly small, so it’s a rare occurrence. To the developers’ credit, each character is surrounded by a strong outline that helps them stand out on the screen. Still, it’s difficult to make out small details like whether is character is wearing a reflective Franklin Badge, and the game looks too cramped on the 3DS’s screen. The controls are also a bit awkward; the 3DS simply isn’t as comfortable as a GameCube controller. The circle pad is also a poor substitute for an analog stick and has some issues with sensitivity, particularly when distinguishing between “tilt” and “smash” attacks.
But hey, at least the music is still fantastic. Just like Brawl, Smash Bros. for 3DS contains new arrangements of classic Nintendo tunes by some of Japan’s best game composers. It’s neat to hear Masashi Hamauzu bring his signature sound to the Kirby soundtrack or Yuzo Koshiro convert Pokemon music into an Etrian Odyssey battle theme. That said, it’s a little disappointing that some stages just use the original tracks or re-use music from older Smash Bros. entries. I know Xenoblade’s soundtrack is flawless, but surely a remix or two wouldn’t have hurt.
I’m sure this review sounds a little too critical, but I did really enjoy Super Smash Bros. on the 3DS and I’ll probably continue to do so in the coming months. The new characters are fun to use, there’s a heap of fan-service and absolutely no tripping outside of the Magicant stage. It’s true that the removal of several solo modes is disappointing, but who the heck ever played Smash Bros. for the single player stuff anyway? Even on the 3DS, Smash Bros. shines as a multiplayer game, and the addition of actually playable online modes mean you can have fun even if you don’t have any friends with the console nearby. At this point who can say how well it’ll stack up to the Wii U version of the game, but this is a more than adequate adaptation of Smash to a handheld system.