During the good old days of the late '90s and early '00s I found myself fascinated with all things Pokemon and Super Smash Bros. Pokemon was my handheld favorite, an unrivaled series for my on-the-go childhood mentality. Smash Bros., on the other hand, was a game for the family room. A series to play with friends, brothers and anyone willing to pick up a controller. I can still recall the conversations I had on the way home from 7th grade with my close group of neighborhood friends - "What if they made a handheld Smash Bros.?"
At the time it seemed like such a farfetched idea. Heck, we weren't even sure we would get any more Smash Bros. games beyond the newly released Melee for GameCube. But here I am twelve years later holding that childhood fantasy in my hands. A game that millions have hoped and dreamed of for a dozen years. The hype is real, because the Smash is portable.
A Smashing Roster
Plenty of Smash fans cried foul when Nintendo announced that both the Wii U and 3DS rosters would be identical. It's no secret that the Wii U, well less powerful than other current gen offerings, is far advanced when compared to its portable counterpart. The 3DS is no slouch though, and fans have finally come to this realization. A mind boggling 36 fighters (39 if you count the Mii options) have found their way on to the starting Smash roster for this bout. For a quick comparison, that's roughly the ending roster for Brawl.
What's truly astounding about the Smash Bros. characters, both in the past and in this most current title, is that they manage to feel both accessible and extraordinarily complex. The basics of a particular fighter are a breeze to pick up, but underneath the surface there's a depth that takes months to master. Every character on the starting roster deserves your attention and chance to become your favorite.
Various Modes and Features
The initial menu screen of Nintendo's first foray into the realm of portable Smash may look like it's been striped down, but beneath the handful of options are a bevy of modes and features to explore. Series staples such as Classic and All-Star modes return with some serious updates. Both don't stray too far from their roots, but they're definitely distinct in their set-up and length. The single player spotlight features some notable minigames such as a revamped Target Smash, the classic Home Run Contest, and the ever changing Multi-Man Smash (now featuring Miis). It'll take anyone a good long time to conquer every mode and game involved, and that's a good thing.
New to the world of Smash is the ability to customize fighters and to actually create your own with the help of your handcrafted Miis. While Mii move-sets are already unlocked from the get-go you'll find that there are multiple custom moves for every regular character to be unlocked throughout the game. This means you can personalize each and every fighter with moves and badges to your hearts content. The varying amount of attacks are a wonderful way to add some personal flair to your favorite character or maybe put a new spin on your least favorite. Also, you can make Hank Hill beat up Pikachu. So there's that.
To some the concept of fighting with and against the same 50 something characters day in and day out sounds like a dull undertaking. Of course it's not, but a reward here and there helps make the experience that much more enjoyable. Characters, stages, trophies and more can be unlocked and uncovered throughout the game's many modes and matches. You'll never know exactly what you might unlock, but that's half the fun. For the Smash purists out there who need every trophy and every challenge unlocked you'll be glad to know that there is a lot to discover, just as in the past. Everyone else will be more than content with the occasional reward and overwhelming amount of new content waiting in the wings.
It comes as absolutely no surprise that the soundtrack to the newest Smash iteration is brimming with fresh takes on classic Nintendo tunes. All your favorites are here, along with some long forgotten gems. The amount of talent that came together to produce these tracks is absolutely staggering and spans generations of consoles and titles that doesn't just include Nintendo. The best part is that if you register both the 3DS and Wii U versions of Smash Bros. on Club Nintendo you can snag a beautiful limited edition CD of the game's best tracks. How's that for incentive to buy?
Only once did I see the slightest bit of slowdown during a local multiplayer match and that was a madhouse Bowser Jr-only brawl. Smash Bros. is a series centered around local multiplayer so it's good to know that players can get in a solid match, be it free for all, team battle, Smash Run or anything else.
While Smash Run seems to be one of the most disappointing aspects according to other reviews and previews I still found it to be a complete blast, at least with friends. Then again, every part of Smash seems to be better with a few chums in tow. As I wrapped up a night of way too much Smash a friend leaned over and said, "Smash Run is like life. You try to prepare for the big moments, but usually it screws you over." He's not wrong. The object of Smash Run is to rack up different skill points that will be used in a final battle. This final battle is chosen at random and can be anything from seeing who can KO the most Miis, who can run the furthest under a time limit or your basic four player free-for-all. Sometimes the points you've accumulated don't help you in the slightest, but I still found it fun to compete with the other fighters and collect the various power-ups, trophies and custom moves.
In the end Smash Run is nice idea that could have used a bit more tweaking and definitely some online play. Solo it's a bit of a drag, but if you have some pals to play with you'll find yourself laughing and swearing in no time.
The Smash Bros series is notorious for having too much going on at once, especially when it comes to four player madness. My friends and I have always referred to this phenomenon as a "death cluster", and few can escape unscathed. These types of happenings don't go as well on the 3DS. The more hectic and spaced out a fight gets the harder it is to keep track of where you are and what exactly is transpiring on your tiny LCD screen. Obviously the 3DS XL is the ideal choice to improve this predicament, but all 3DS systems seem to be more suitable to handle 1 v 1 battles. The less the merrier in this respect.
Spoiler Alert - the Nintendo 3DS is not a GameCube controller. There's no c-stick (yet), no Z button (yet), and no traditional analog stick here for you to fiddle with. After an unusually long amount of exposure to the cubes unrivaled (yeah, I said it) handling it's a bit off-putting to get used to the layout of the average 3DS. It's not even necessarily which buttons do what (which you can change), but more just the overall spread that feels a bit off. This isn't to say that newcomers and veterans can't adapt to this new handle on the game, but it may take some time. It'll be nice to get our hands back on our trusty cube controllers come November 21st, but until then this will do just fine.
1 v 1 Online Play
The biggest disappointment of 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl was far and away the tiles lag-tacular online play. Any and all online matches resulted in a maddening slow down that took away from the games well loved fast paced fighting vibe. Seven years later Smash Bros for 3DS manages to at least get one part of online play right - 1 v 1. I played over 100 online matches against strangers and friends alike and I can count the the number of laggy or dropped games on one hand. I've found that when the focus is just on you and another player there's not much of an issue.
Really, Nintendo? "Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS"? I've sneezed noises that sound better than that. Surely you could have come up with some fighting related word to tack on the end. Battle, Throwdown, Scuffle, Kerfuffle - honestly anything else would have been better. You could have even just thrown "New" at the beginning of the title and it would have been more thrilling than this. It's so terrible that even the characters on the box art look like they want to beat it within an inch of its life.
Everything Else Online
Remember how I said the online 1 v 1 was decent? Well the rest of online play isn't quite on par. The more the players you add to an online brawl the more problems you're bound to encounter. When I jumped online with my two brothers and a friend we all found that we weren't going to get far without dealing with some serious lag and some staggeringly slow action. In this regard Smash Bros for 3DS is simply (and sadly) Brawl Jr.
While it's hard to call the 3DS the ideal system for a game so well suited to home console play, Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS is one of the (if not the) best handheld titles I've ever played. If you know what Smash Bros. is and how much love goes into making each game then you know what you're getting yourself into with this title. It's not perfect, but it's still a masterpiece in my book. I mean, it's Smash Bros on a handheld. Need I say more?