It has been a great year for handheld consoles so far. In 2014 alone, we’ve gotten retro styled RPG’s (Bravely Default), fantastic platformers (Kirby’s Triple Deluxe), and niche dungeon crawlers (Demon Gaze). And as the season winds down, I get to spend the rest of the year playing the latest entry of one of my favorite franchises of all time: Super Smash Bros.
It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since Brawl graced the Wii, with that having been the first new entry in the seven years since Melee. Smash fans have a wait a long time to play a new game in the series, so the fact that we’re getting two of the games in the same year is just mind-blowing. Granted, both titles share the same roster, but the various stages and modes presented in each will differ from each other. The first entry on deck: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS.
If you’ve never had the pleasure in partaking in Nintendo’s flagship franchise, it goes a little something like this. Various characters from decades of Nintendo franchises both popular (Mario, Pokemon) and niche (Fire Emblem, Xenoblade Chronicles) duke it out in large arenas to see who can reign supreme. Unlike a normal fighting game, you don’t inflict damage until your opponent’s health is sapped. Rather, the damage done is represented by a percentage, and once this gets high enough, you can “smash” them out of the arena and score points. Four fighters can brawl at once, and weapons, items and stage hazards all come into play in determining the victor. Playing with the standard Time rules, you need only KO a character to gain a point, whereas being KO’d yourself will subtract one. Stock rules are also possible, where you have a set number of lives and you must aim to be the last one standing.
All characters have standard attacks and special attacks, with moves varying depending on what direction you hit when pressing the button and how you press it. You can also guard, throw, and dodge attacks. As your character gets knocked away (and again, depending on character) there’s usually a double jump at your disposal, plus an additional skill that can give you just enough distance to grab back onto the edge. It’s an incredibly easy game to learn, but difficult to master. There’s an entire community dedicated to this series and it’s often included in large video game tournaments.
Because it’s such a big deal, each game is closely examined under a microscope in terms of balance and mechanics. The Gamecube iteration of Melee is often preferred for tournament play to Brawl for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the silly tripping mechanic introduced in the latter (a “feature” that caused your character to randomly face plant when moving around). I can happily say that tripping is gone, and the speed of the combat rests somewhere in the middle of the two. Hogging the edges is no longer a viable strategy, as any player who grabs an edge that’s already occupied will cause the prior individual to vacate, changing up the formula quite a bit. The game balance has also been drastically improved. Characters like Fox and Metaknight have been toned down in power, and certain attacks have been removed outright (Pit). It’s still too early to tell, but so far it seems to be the most balanced roster they’ve ever done, which is nothing short of impressive when you consider it consists of forty-nine characters.
In fact, let’s touch on that roster a little bit, as there have been some major changes. First and foremost, Zelda and Sheik, as well as Samus and Zero Suit Samus have been split into separate characters, rather than being transformations. The Ice Climbers have been axed entirely, but in their place, such newcomers as Wii Fit Trainer and Little Mac have filled the void (an alarming number of which I predicted shortly after the game’s announcement). New guest characters, Mega Man and Pac-Man join the crew too, both of which are iconic and fit right in with Nintendo’s history.
The trouble with the 3DS version in particular, is that the controls do not lend themselves well to this game. After many years spent with a Gamecube controller, the awkwardly sized buttons don’t do any favors for getting accustomed to the game. With enough time spent with it, you do eventually learn to cope, but if you plan to play this competitively, best wait for the Wii U version to release. And don’t get me started on the hand cramps this game gives you.
Now, where Brawl had a neat little story mode to accompany the experience (Subspace Emissary), this has been axed entirely. The Classic mode is still present though, challenging the player to beat down several rounds of randomized enemies, concluding with a showdown with Master Hand. Multiple routes lead to the end, and depending on the choice you may wind up with more cash and trophies before you meet up with the next opponent. All-Star Mode is back as well, except now enemies are organized by timeline. Look forward to beating down the entire cast in chronological order!
Smash Run is the most heavily touted mode in this version, forcing players to navigate a dungeon of sorts fighting off enemies and earning powerups to be used in a final showdown with each other. It’s heavily inspired by the City Trial mode of Kirby’s Air Ride, as well as being very reminiscent of the Adventure Mode from Melee. Monsters from various franchises have to be fought off every step of the way and defeating them leaves stats boosts in their wake. On the flip side, defeat will cost you heavy stat losses, so it’s the ultimate risk vs. reward system. While I do like the concept, it’s a shame that you don’t encounter other players while in the dungeon, as the whole thing amounts to playing solo for five minutes before squaring off in a short match with the other players. It’s a decent diversion, if nothing else.
Popular minigames from franchise past are back, including Home-Run Contest, which challenges you to nail a sandbag with a face on it as far as you can, and Multi-Man Smash, that has you clobbering as many foes possible within a time limit. Target Blast is a take on the Angry Birds formula, except you whack a bomb enough times to weaken it and subsequently launch it into a series of targets. Standard Smash can be played both locally or online, and Mii’s can be imported into the game to be customized with your own moveset (though the Mii’s can’t be used online). When Amiibos finally release, as well as their subsequent 3DS adapter, I suspect that the customization aspect will get more exposure (or if they decide to announce the “New” 3DS for North America). Oh, and StreetPass in Super Smash Bros. grants access to a minigame called StreetSmash which has you bumping tokens with your friends in hopes of pushing them off the edge. How exciting.
The online mode is so much better executed here than it ever has been. Brawl was laggy, optionless, and overall pretty much an afterthought. Instead, if you opt for matchmaking, you’ll be given a choice between For Fun (all stages and items turned on) or For Glory (ranked, no items, only flat stages). From there, you can do one-on-one battles, team battles, or free-for-alls. The online infrastructure was very stable during my time with it, though on occasion I would get matched up with a player with a bad connection that slowed the action to a crawl. Playing with friends lets you customize your matches any which way you want, which is ideal. Unfortunately, setting up a room entails waiting until your friends notice that you have a game set up and decide to pop in. You’ll have to rely on another mobile device to communicate, which is… not a good strategy for Nintendo to adopt.
If you get tired of all that, there’s still more to do. Collectible trophies are still around, with each one giving a summary of what they are and (vaguely) where they’re from. Gone are the list of games where the object or person was prominently featured, instead either organizing them into the franchises of characters in the game, or dumping them into the “other” category, which is unfortunate. Challenges are back though, giving players a whole laundry list of stuff to do in order to unlock stages, music or parts for their Mii’s. Any money earned can be spent in an in-game store for additional trophies, or used as collateral to bet on spectated matches between other players. Yes, the latest SSB has its own gambling simulation.
Despite the myriad of modes and the wealth of things to do, the lack of variety in single player is disappointing. I mean, yes, the whole draw of the game is being able to play with other people and it certainly does that part of things really damn good. But running through Classic and All-Star with each character to unlock each of their individual trophies? The tedium does begin to set in after a while. Granted, you always had to do these things to get trophies, but there’s a lack of alternative when playing alone, and that can be a sticking point for some.
Super Smash Bros. really pushes the 3DS to its limits, resulting in a game that looks pretty damn good when stacked against other titles on the system. On the flip side, it looks like crap when compared to its predecessors and will likely look even more so when the console version releases. To their credit, they all move fluidly and have a striking number of costume variations. As an added bonus, their normal colors can be maintained in team games simply by having a cel-shaded outline drawn around each of the characters. The stages themselves are equally varied, and include 16-bit F-Zero stages and monochrome Gameboy screens. It really hits you right in the nostalgia.
The soundtrack is simply excellent, consisting of remixed songs from all throughout Nintendo’s history. Everything from the Fire Emblem theme to Kapp’n’s Song from Animal Crossing are all here and can be played even while the system is in sleep mode. There isn’t a whole lot of voice work outside of the announcer and the occasional grunts from characters like Link, but some of the more talkative ones (Shulk) are not shy about dropping a few one-liners here and there, so you’ll have that to look forward to.
While the franchise might be ill suited to the button layout of the 3DS, it still remains that Super Smash Bros. makes a great addition to the system’s library. It successfully captures the frantic combat the series is known for and allows you to carry that experience with you on the go. The roster is the best and most balanced it has ever been, and the online modes actually work this time. Even if all it does is make you salivate for the upcoming Wii U version, every Nintendo fan has to pick this game up.
Short Attention Span Summary
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS may have a lame title, but the game itself is everything but. The combat speed falls somewhere in between Melee and Brawl, and its massive roster somehow manages to maintain a rather solid balance. The lack of an Adventure/Story mode will be missed, but the new Smash Run helps to fill that void slightly by offering a way to power up your characters before forcing them into a showdown. The online mode is actually functional this time and offers a decent amount of options, plus you can bet money on spectated matches. It desperately needs a way to alert your friends to join your game, though this is likely more a problem with Nintendo’s online infrastructure as a whole rather than the game itself. Still, if you consider yourself a Nintendo fan at all and own a 3DS, you really need to pick this up.