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It's been nearly seven years since the last Smash Bros. arrived, giving players the chance to duke it out as iconic Nintendo (and some non-nintendo) icons in a free-for-all battle royale. With the newest, and portable-est, version of the game announced back in 2011, Smash players have had quite a while to ponder what the franchise might look like on the Nintendo 3DS, as well as worry about whether or not the game would translate well to Nintendo's pocket-sized console.
In the past, Smash Bros. games have only ever appeared on Nintendo home consoles. When it was announced three years back that, not only was a new Smash game on the way, but that it was coming to both the Wii U and the 3DS, it left quite a few fans scratching their heads.
The 3DS is a powerful enough machine, but surely it can't handle a game like Smash, many thought, what with its bountiful modes, huge roster, fast-paced battles and loads of action exploding across the screen at any given moment. The 3DS is a nifty little device, but doubters could not be faulted for assuming that a 3DS version of the game would be gimped or simply under-perform.
I was one such doubter. I've never been a huge Smash player, but I've always enjoyed its unique blend of antics. There are always a bunch of side modes to keep players distracted when they're sitting by their lonesome but, when you got down to it, they were rather brilliant fighting games that were equally accessible to button-mashing newcomers and fighter vets looking for depth and variety.
Over the past week, I've poured quite a few hours into the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., and I still feel like I'm only scratching the surface of what's available for brawlers to dive into. I don't know how they did it, but the teams at Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco Games have pulled off something of a magic trick, managing to cram all of that Smash goodness into a portable package that feels every bit as robust as its previous console counterparts.
Smash Bros. vets will have little trouble jumping back into the mix but, as always, those who have never played a Smash game will find its controls far more accessible than your typical fighter. You've got a jump, shield and grab button, all self-explanatory. As far as combat goes, you're limited to just two buttons, including a normal attack and a Smash attack. These buttons can be pressed in tangent with directions on the thumb slider (which actually works surprisingly well) in order to augment the moves, allowing you to set traps, shoot projectiles or perform a more powerful move with ease.
While that's all the info newcomers really need to jump into the game, Smash Bros. offers a deceptive amount of depth in its fighting engine, including additional types of dodging and dashing with extra buttons pushes, randomly spawning items to provide players with an edge, etc. Even better is the fact that, in a roster sporting nearly 50 combatant, the vast majority of characters are pretty unique, with a minimal number of re-skins thrown in for good measure. That means you've got plenty of experimenting to do, working your way through the ranks until you find a character that has the stats and moves that perfectly complement your own fighting style.
If all else fails, you can turn to your Mii character, a customizable fighter that lets you build a brawler from the ground up. When I first heard that “Mii” was going to be a playable character, I'll admit I rolled my eyes. “What will their move set even entail,” I wondered. As it turns out, that's entirely up to you. Miis serve as a blank canvas, which you can begin customizing as either a brawler, gunner or sword fighter. From there, each of the main archetypes has a handful of moves that can be programmed to each standard attack input, creating a lot of variety in the type of fighter you want to create. Next, you can dress them up in goofy costumes, then apply various items and stat adjusters that will give you additional pluses and minuses to your speed, strength, etc. All of this finagling means that you'll be able to craft a unique Mii fighter of your very own, with loads of unlockables just waiting to be discovered across the game's many modes. These types of customizations can also be applied to the regular fighters in the game and, though they can't be used in competitive online play, it means that when you get together with a group of friends, your version of Robin might be totally different from what your pal's version of Robin has to offer.
As for game modes, Smash Bros. for the 3DS offers more than enough ways to steal your time, whether you're sitting down for a long session or just a few minutes. Mini-games abound, including the mandatory home run challenge, target smash and the like. Similarly, straight-up brawls are fully customizable, meaning you can set the timer or stock count nice and low if you only have five minutes to spare but really want to get in a fight.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's plenty of meaty chunks here for players to lose entire afternoons to. You can battle through the ages in an “All-Star” mode, wager coins and prizes on a multi-pathed “Classic” mode, dive into single player, ad-hoc or online fisticuffs or tackle the 3DS-exclusive “Smash Run” mode, which drops four contestants into a giant Metroidvania-style dungeon to battle baddies, collect power-ups and prepare for a final showdown that features ever-changing parameters. I'm actually a big fan of the Smash Run mode, as the dungeon exploration only takes five minutes and it's always interesting to see what kind of a challenge the final battle will have to offer.
As for online play, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention that the majority of comments I'm seeing from other members of the games press and players on message boards are leaning toward lackluster online play. Many are reporting trouble connecting while others are experiencing plenty of slowdown. I, on the other hand, apparently been very lucky. Along with the ability to bet in-game coins on pre-recorded fights featuring other players, you can also dive into competitive or more friendly showdowns that don't keep track of your stats. My experience was nearly flawless. There were a few moments in matches where the action would suffer an extremely brief hiccup, and I can understand why even that would be unacceptable for the more competitive types, but I found them to be infrequent and have a minimal impact on the game.
So what we have here is a triumph, plain and simple. I miss the story mode from Brawl, I hate to see redundant characters like Dr. Mario or Dark Pit show up, and some of the levels are designed in a way that feels less like a competition between players and more like a struggle to survive the landscape. But these are small complaints leveled against an otherwise standout brawler on a console that, in the past, has never really been known as a happy home for the genre.
Smash Bros. for the 3DS doesn't feel like the lesser game I was expecting, nor does the gameplay feel removed from what we've grown accustomed to. It's a fully-featured fighter and one I expect will keep 3DS fans battling for years to come. The game doesn't really take many chances or push the series in a bold new direction but, let's face it, all anyone really wanted was a game that could capture the magic of Smash Bros. in the palm of our hands. And, wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what we got.
Developer: Sora Ltd. And Bandai Namco Games
ESRB: E 10+