Developer: Nintendo/ Namco Bandai
Format: 3DS, Wii U
It is tempting with this 3DS version of Super Smash Bros to view it as a kind of hors d’oeuvre to the Wii U main course. That will be the version with the flashy HD graphics and the more easily accessible multiplayer. Smash Bros, as the name implies, veers from fast paced battles between seasoned pros, to all-out chaos as four mates play for fun, but it is never slow or sensible, leading many to question whether the 3DS could even handle all the on screen carnage.
Well handle things it does, and how. Sakurai and his Namco-Bandai based dev team have performed a minor miracle with this game, transposing not only the exhilarating Smash Bros gameplay onto a tiny handheld screen and making it easy to follow, but managing to implement the same mechanics and game physics that we will see in the upcoming HD edition without a single performance issue. It is as though someone has shrunk the Wii U version in the wash.
But make no mistake, this is no direct port of its upcoming home console brother. This is an instalment with its own unique attributes. The cast of characters might well be the same, but it has its own unique stages and game modes to select, and of course has the distinct advantage over its fellow Smash Bros games in that it can be played on the train or in a queue at Boots.
Once again the premise is that you take control of a brawler and pummel your opponents, building up their damage meter so that you can ultimately knock them out of the arena. Faster than the slower paced Brawl but more accessible than the super speedy Melee, it tries to present a best of both worlds scenario for the serious competitor and the party goer. As a fighter it is once again highly simplistic, moves only needing a single button press and a flick of the stick, yet this masks a frightening amount of depth. This is as much a game about outfoxing and outmuscling your opponent as any Street Fighter, and to truly succeed you’ll have to learn your character inside out.
Yet due to its handheld nature this is a game more skewed towards those who want to play for fun. The control layout of the 3DS version isn’t truly suitable for the seasoned competitor, largely because of the circle pad. It simply isn’t accurate enough for players to be certain that they can use the move they want. Tilt moves, where you have to move the stick just a fraction, are particularly tricky to pull off this time. It is far from a game breaking problem, and most of the time you’ll still be stringing combos together with ease. But for those desperate to truly pit their wits (and their thumbs) against the world will be best suited waiting for the Wii U version.
Instead, they can use this version as a chance to become acquainted with their old favourites and sparkly newcomers. The big draw with any Smash Bros is always using characters from Nintendo’s illustrious history to beat the seven bells out of each other. It’s a cracking cast this time, characters old and new forming the largest assortment of fighters this series has seen yet, and the newcomers all bring something different to the party.
Rosalina brings an intriguing double attack mechanic, Shulk can change his stats to make him hit harder or run faster, Palutena is queen of the counter attack, Villager and Wii Fit Trainer have absolutely crazy movesets, and Little Mac is an absolute beast, zipping around at great speed and achieving more hits than a youtube cat video. The third party inclusions are also welcome. Hands up who thought they’d make a decent moveset for Pac-man? They’ve managed it. There are some great surprises waiting to be unlocked as well. A couple of glaring omissions remain, but they probably need to hold some back for the future.
Instead of just transporting the veteran characters over from Brawl they’ve been given something of a rework. A character you loved in previous game may have some different moves to play with, meaning you’ll have to relearn how they operate. The changes are so drastic that characters like Bowser, Sheik and Zero Suit Samus feel like very different fighters. That’s before you consider how each character now has custom moves which tweak how they play further. But these changes are welcome, and it’s clear that the team have worked very hard to produce as balanced a cast as possible.
Would that the great variety in characters be replicated for the stage selection. On paper the thirty four available seems pretty generous. But when you consider that nine of these are brought over from past Smash iterations, two are series stalwarts Battlefield and Final Destination, and three will also be in the Wii U version, then the number of arenas unique to the 3DS version tumbles to twenty. Also consider that Pokémon and Zelda both get a new pair of stages, while the Mario series gets four, yet Donkey Kong, Metroid, Starfox, Pikmin, Warioware and Yoshi all get nothing save a stage brought over from either Melee or Brawl, so fans of these series will be left with some unfortunate deja-vu. A shame, because there are some crackers to be found in the otherwise uninspiring mix.
At least the rest of the game is jam packed with so much content that it’s a marvel the cartridge isn’t an inch thick. There’s a reworked Classic and All-star mode, over 500 trophies to collect, and a Target Smash mode ‘not-at-all-inspired-from-Angry-Birds.’ Smash Run is the 3DS version’s ace in the hole, giving fighters the chance to battle enemies from a variety of Nintendo games past and present in a way not too unfamiliar from Brawl’s much maligned Subspace Emissary adventure. It’s a fun distraction which comes to life when playing with friends, though it is a bit of a shame it’s local play only.
Indeed a Smash Bros is truly best in multiplayer, which is where you’d think the 3DS has a natural disadvantage over its Wii U brethren. How can you replicate the joy of playing Smash with some mates on a single big TV screen, on a tiny handheld device suitable for one player? Fortunate then that the online mode is pretty solid performance-wise this time. It may be a little bare-bones, but the two main ‘For Fun’ and ‘For Glory’ options cater directly to the two different Smash Bros camps and generally does a good job of it. Slowdown doesn’t blight the game in the way it did Brawl, meaning that in general you’ll be able to pick off your rivals with perfectly timed attacks as if they were in the room with you.
So brilliant multiplayer? Check! Lashings of fan service? Check! Ingeniously simple gameplay that conceals a huge amount of depth? Check! It’s certainly a Smash Bros game then. And a good one at that. This time is seems every detail has been methodically thought out to ensure the core gameplay isn’t hindered by a desire to appeal to one demographic or another, but is a game anyone, experienced or newbie, can enjoy. This is no Diet Smash Bros though, this contains all the necessary ingredients to provide the full fat smashing experience, and the fact they have managed to cram it all into the 3DS version is a marvellous achievement.
This version will probably still serve as a warm-up act to the main event of the Wii U game. But as warm-ups go, Smash Bros 3DS is the equivalent to The Who being the support act for The Beatles.