At the beginning of the month, Nintendo released the highly anticipated and long-awaited Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, marking the first time that the company’s critically acclaimed fighting game franchise has been available on one of their portable platforms. For many, there was apprehension as to whether the Nintendo 3DS would be able to support the full Smash experience, or even whether the December launch of the Wii U version would overshadow the portable sibling. Obviously, as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U isn’t out yet, we can’t judge on the latter yet. However, what about the former? Well, you’re reading this review to find out, aren’t you?
From the moment you boot the game up, it becomes clear that this is a game that pushes its console to its very limit. The initial boot up time is excruciatingly slow, although the loading time is severely reduced once you’re actually playing the game. As a result of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS squeezing out every bit of power it can from the hardware the title has also had to sacrifice some of the 3DS’ core features, such as being able to load the Internet Browser or Miiverse while gameplay is suspended and even not having having to reset the system once you’ve finished playing a game. These issues don’t really impact on a person’s ability to play the game itself though and to be honest, are necessary sacrifices.
Considering how slow and clunky other fast-paced Nintendo 3DS games can feel at times, I was genuinely surprised to see just how well the crazy, single-player action of the Smash Bros. series has managed to hold up on a handheld. Nintendo claims that characters move at 60 frames-per-second with the 3D on and while I have no way to accurately measure the exact frames-per-second, I can confidently say that Super Smash Bros. for 3DS runs absolutely beautifully in single player mode and none of the series’ trademark fast and frantic action has been compromised in favour of the smaller screen, aside from a technical hiccup that led to the removal of the Ice Climbers.
You may notice that in the above paragraph, I made a specific reference to “single-player action”, despite the Smash Bros. series being one that prides itself in multiplayer. That’s because the gameplay takes a considerable dip when taking the fight to friends though. Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii was heavily criticised for the lag players experienced when playing online and this problem has returned with the 3DS instalment. What is even more disappointing though, is that this experience isn’t just limited to online matches. I’ve found that on a fair number of occasions, local wireless matches are rendered near unplayable due to the game almost freezing up as it tries to process the actions of two or more human opponents, despite me standing right in front of my opponent. Considering how multiplayer orientated the Smash Bros. series is, this simply shouldn’t happen in local wireless matches.
While this game boasts the largest character roster the series has seen to date, the limitations of the 3DS have also impacted the selection of characters. The Ice Climbers are gone and transformations of characters like Sheik and Zero Suit Samus now have their own places on the Character Select screen. I do enjoy being able to play as Sheik from the get-go, as well as not being forced to shed armour after using Samus’ Final Smash. Almost everywhere you turn in this game, there are examples of it being held back by the limitations of the hardware it’s on and to be honest, that makes me wonder whether Nintendo should have only focused on the Wii U version, or at least shifted development to make this title exclusive to the New 3DS, where it could hypothetically use more of the power than it already does. To be fair, the game already does utilise some of the New 3DS’ extra power to improve a lot of the issues I mentioned in the second paragraph and it even uses the C-Stick after Sakurai said that the 3DS’ Circle Pad Pro used up too much processing power to be viable, but considering that the New 3DS is capable of playing a port of the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles, I have to wonder how different this game could have been if development had been moved towards making it a New 3DS exclusive.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the game being on the 3DS though, has to be the Circle Pad. No, I’m not about to go on about how my Circle Pad flew off because it hasn’t (*touch wood*). Rather, while I’ve never had an issue with the flat pad in other games, I don’t think that it’s an adequate input method for Smash Bros. I often find my thumb slipping off its smooth surface and sometimes, it can be too sensitive and can cause the game to fire off Side-Specials when I wanted to use the regular Specials, simply because I still have my thumb placed on the Circle Pad. I was disappointed to learn that although I can customise the face button controls, there was no option to use the D-Pad to control my character.
On a more positive note, as the soundtrack of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS features tracks from a large number of different games, there was always the guarantee of it being amazing. My favourite stage in the game has to be Arena Ferox, for no reason other than me loving its main track, “Id (Purpose)” from Fire Emblem Awakening. I really appreciate that Sakurai also added in a feature that lets you use the 3DS as a walkman and listen to the game’s soundtrack when the system is in sleep mode, as well as letting you choose your favourite tracks for Smash Run.
Speaking of Smash Run, despite it being heavily promoted as the 3DS exclusive feature, I couldn’t help but be let down by it. Due to the way Smash Bros. characters are built and balanced for the game’s main event, I found that they just didn’t fit into the type of game Smash Run wanted to be. For example, sometimes your character is expected to run for long distances, but due to the size of the average Smash Bros. stage, the characters aren’t built for long distance running. I also found some of the game’s other side events difficult to control, such as Angry Bir-Target Blast and Home-Run Contest.
Graphically, the game stands up really well. In terms of fighting games on the system, Dead or Alive Dimensions is still the clear winner for visuals, but Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS isn’t willing to give up without a fight. The stage backgrounds look wonderful and the attention paid to the game’s trophies is remarkable (and on-par with Dead or Alive), while the quality of models for fighters can vary greatly depending on whether have a simply design (like Kirby) or a more complicated one (such as Ganandorf). The small screen size of the Nintendo 3DS doesn’t help either – in my first match against Lucina, as I was playing as Marth, I found it hard to tell who was who and even ended up jumping off the stage by accident! When players are on opposite sides a stage and the camera zooms out, it can be very hard to keep track of what is going on; this is definitely a game you will want to play on the XL.
Another big positive for me, is the inspired stage selection. Instead of going with a more realistic looking interpretation of the tracks from later games in the series, instead, Captain Falcon will be trying to launch one of his trademarks on you on Mute City, a stage that re-imagines the original SNES classic. Sakurai’s team have also noted that a lot of competitive players preferred the flat, hazardous Final Destination level from past games by introducing “Omega Stages” – a variation of a level without any gimmicks or platforms – essentially leaving you with the same stage, but with different aesthetics.
I was also pleased to see that Sakurai had decided to re-use the “intensity” system from Kid Icarus Uprising for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS‘ Classic Mode. I love how broad the difficulty scales are now, meaning that both newcomers and veterans can play at their preferred level. At level 1, enemy CPUs don’t really do anything of note, but when you crank the intensity rating all the way up to 9, you’ll be lucky to get a move in yourself! I wish a lot more games (*coughPokémoncough*) would implement a more flexible scale like this.
To be honest, if you were to tell me ten years ago that one day, I would be able to see a Smash Bros. match between Mario, Sonic, Mega Man and Pac-Man, I wouldn’t have believed you. However, that is precisely what Nintendo and Bandai Namco games have delivered to us. With its large selection different characters and stages, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS truly is a celebration of gaming’s classic and modern greats that wishes to honour them with nothing more than the best ideas and gameplay it has to offer, but it’s a shame that the game is clearly being held back by the Nintendo 3DS’ limited hardware. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is probably the greatest fighting game experience currently on the Nintendo 3DS, but to be honest, unless you’re impatient or explicitly like the appeal of a portable Super Smash Bros. game, you’re better off waiting for the Wii U version (or even a New Nintendo 3DS).