Review: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

A Smashing good time on the go.

At long last, the new Super Smash Bros. is here. We’re still the better part of two months out from the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, of course, but in the meantime, we have Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS to help serve as a “training session” of sorts for the series’ high definition debut.

So, the big questions are: How does it stack up? And does it work well as a stand-alone product?

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I usually tend to save this for the end of the review, but here’s what it all comes down to. For as long as we Smash fans have wanted a portable iteration of the franchise, we knew there were going to be compromises. The graphics were never going to be on par with what the latest console iteration had shown us, and the controls were always going to be a step behind, given that’s just the general nature of Nintendo’s handhelds. If we had seen it on the Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS, we’d have not only been missing several buttons, but the analog sticks as well.

So, here’s the thing: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is not as good as the console versions of the game, nor was it ever going to be– well, save for maybe the Nintendo 64 original. On content alone, it definitely surpasses that, never mind all the graphic and gameplay refinements.

But I digress; even if it may not be quite as good as what Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will bring, or perhaps what we’ve seen in Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Melee, the truth is that it’s still really, really good.

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If Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is a peek of things to come, we’ve got a lot to look forward to. One thing to cheer for is the refinement of gameplay mechanics, such as the elimination of tripping (save for if someone is caught off-guard by a banana peel), and changes to such tactics as “ledge guarding.” Gliding is also out, meaning that winged characters don’t have quite the same natural advantage over their more grounded opponents, and those worried about transformations mid-match no longer have anything to fear from using Final Smashes or a move slot dedicated to the change. (For more on each of these aspects, Yahoo! Games goes into greater detail.)

One issue competitive Melee fans took with Brawl was that it was a slower game, but that now seems to be remedied. I’ve seen it said that there is something of a compromise at work here, with ground speed increased while still allowing more hang time for more aerial combat as well. That seems about right to me, but I may not be the best person to judge on that. The combat does feel a bit more fierce, though.

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One of my biggest hang-ups with the game has been the controls. For starters, there aren’t as many inputs as on the GameCube controller preferred by serious Smash players (or even semi-serious, like me) going back to Melee, and what there are don’t quite match up so well, meaning that there is going to be some adjustment before really hitting your stride in the game if you’re used to previous iterations.

The free demos lacked the option to customize your button layout, which was a strange choice, given the final retail version of the game allows for just that. Strangely, in the time between downloading the demo and getting my review copy of the game, I altered the way I play to try to get the most out of it. I normally have the Up-tap for jump turned off, as I find it hinders my precision with Up-based moves. Similarly, my plan was to move Jump to the X and A buttons, to better match the GameCube controller in layout, if not letter designations (the letters match up, but their placement is different on the Nintendo 3DS).

However, after adapting my style to use Up as jump more so as to prevent confusion among the four face buttons… I couldn’t switch back once I could map the controls as I wanted them. I became so used to the default that I kept screwing up in my ideal layout. I may just need more practice, but the result is that– by my estimation– I can still play the game well, but not as well as I possibly could. I did switch the throw and shield buttons on the shoulders, though, and that’s served me well.

Beyond that, I find the Circle Pad to be kind of hit and miss when it comes to performing some moves, particularly Smash attacks, and not as precise as analog sticks. What’s more, the Nintendo 3DS lacks a C-Stick for performing quick Smash attacks. It would be handy, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. Stranger, though, is that the game does not allow this (and more shoulder buttons) by using the Circle Pad Pro, though the upcoming New Nintendo 3DS coming to Japan later this year apparently will. Go figure.

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The game does pack a lot of content, and still manages to feel like a suitable follow-up to Brawl while not quite being the “next step” in the series– perhaps why Nintendo chose to release it first as they did. You have single and multiplayer modes, both local and online, though the local requires every player to have their own copy of the game, and I’ve not been able to try that version.

Meanwhile, online has been a bit of a mixed bag for me, with some matches performing like a dream (except for the parts where I got soundly thrashed) and others frequently stuttering along. Business as usual, really, though that could be a matter of my router or the 50 million people in my apartment building all generating signals at once. Of course, I also waited until after the game was released officially to try it, so it could just be a matter of so many Smash players in the mix as well.

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As for single player options, you have just regular Smash matches, All-Star Mode (which is the series’ staple gauntlet of all available fighters fought in order of their first appearance), Training, and Stadium, which itself consists of the staple Multi-Man Smash, Home-Run Contest, and a new competition: Target Blast, which combines the Home-Run Contest with a bomb and an Angry Birds-esque structure to try to bring as much of down as possible.

Then there is Classic, which is basically about as much as you can get for an Adventure Mode in this version as well. Sadly, there are no long, lovingly reenvisioned areas based on classic games as in Melee, nor any sort of epic story through generic landscapes as in Brawl. Rather, this is closer to a game board, where you move from one type of match to the next against different types of opponents and forming different types of teams to face them. You can alter your route to gain more coins (used to get Trophies), and before each match is a roulette which allows you to gain more coins, Custom Options, or Trophies from a match– or nothing at all, if you’re unlucky. As always, this mode ends with a match against the game’s grunts (this time represented by Mii Fighters) and ultimately Master Hand.

One other mode you can opt into is the Trophy Rush in the Vault, wherein you spend money for time and the opportunity to destroy boxes in the hopes of getting Trophies or Custom parts. For better or for worse, this replaces the Trophy Lottery and Coin Launcher games from previous titles.

Also conspicuous by its absence are the inclusion of Event Matches, special matches designed around different characters’ personalities, traits, or relationships, such as Mario and Peach ganging up on a giant Bowser, or bounty hunters Captain Falcon and Samus compete to eliminate a foe. Hopefully these will return in the Wii U title.

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Besides the revised Classic, perhaps the true successor to Adventure Mode is the new Smash Run. Even though it’s been highly touted, to such a point that it was what reps from Nintendo recommended first and foremost at Best Buy back in June, it only left a so-so first impression of the game overall, doing it a great disservice. Even in the final version, though, the Smash Run is just kind of… there.

It’s a neat idea, in theory: Players (or CPU players) race through a large field filled with enemies from the different games who’ve lent their stars to Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, and you get different icons which power your character up. After five minutes of this scrambling around, the four players square off.

However, the way they fight differs each time. Sometimes it’s a standard match; other times, it can be a race to the finish, or to jump as high as you can to keep ahead of the other players. The problem is, they don’t tell you what kind of match you’re having ahead of time, so it’s difficult to prepare, and painful when you see your computer opponents leave you in the dust upon discovering it’s a foot race. Though to be fair, even after being left behind, my character was still able to pull out a win; by that same note, what seemed like a sure victory racing up the mountain ended in agonizing defeat.

It’s not great, it’s not terrible, and it will probably serve as a brief distraction more than anything else. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately not an ideal replacement for the Adventure Mode of games past.

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Having brought them up, I must to say that the Mii Fighters and the game’s customization options in general are at once one of my favorite things about the game, and also a tremendous shame. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed not only customizing and fine-tuning my Mii Fighters (one of which is seen above), but also using him to compete against the best and brightest from some of my favorite gaming companies. It’s just a shame that I can’t use them online or competitively, except when fighting against friends.

I’d say the same goes for the custom moves you can get for the regular fighters, but those seem much more difficult to come by overall. Between the time it takes to find all the moves for a character and the fact that you’re limited in how you can use them, it’s tough to say whether the effort invested is worthwhile or not, though that really depends on the user’s needs and whether they get used to the regular moveset instead.

Sadly, with the exception of Palutena and the Miis, the different options aren’t even all that different. Personally speaking, I would love nothing more than to set Mario up as he was in Melee, with a ground-based Mario Tornado and a regular spin-jump as his down Smash in the air. Instead, you basically have a choice of effects for F.L.U.D.D., which is alright, I guess. On the bright side, in this particular case, director Masahiro Sakurai did bring in something of a compromise, so long as you don’t mind lab coats.

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As noted before, the best part– besides playing regular Smash matches, that is– would be the sheer amount of content available. Unlocking all the characters is easier than in previous games, barring the “just play Subspace Emissary” method in Brawl, as the number of matches required has been toned down considerably. For me, I set Smash mode to 1-minute rounds, and by the time a three-hour episode of WWE Monday Night Raw was over, I had most of them unlocked (I could probably have unlocked all of them, but I do watch some parts of the show more intently than others). The roster may be missing some dear old friends such as Mewtwo or the Ice Climbers, but it has some great new additions and returning faces, too.

Side-note: There are other ways to unlock some if not all of the unlockable characters, too, so don’t worry if you’re looking for a more direct route to reaching your favorite. Some of these are highlighted on the Challenge pages, which as in Brawl, state the criteria for unlocking certain Trophies, stages, and so forth. On the down side, they are divided up into pages which have to be taken on in order. What’s lousy about this is that you can meet the criteria for a challenge blindly, but unless you have that page opened, it won’t be activated.

Beyond characters and stages, there are also tons of Trophies to unlock (and just looking at the MegaMan Volnutt one will make you sigh at what might have been with Mega Man Legends 3), as well as costumes for Mii Fighters and custom moves for regular characters. As noted, though, some of the latter might take a while to make any real headway with, so at least there’s some replay value in that.

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At the end of the day, it feels like Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is about compromise. In some ways, it lacks compared to its predecessors, whether it’s by content or by the platform it’s played on, but it manages to make up for a lot of that in other ways, too. It’s give and take, and in the end, it feels like this installment gives more than it takes (with the exception of Popo and Nana).

It’s not perfect– no game is– but it nonetheless provides all of the fun and fanservice I have come to expect from the Super Smash Bros. series. As far as a portable version of the series goes, I always knew it wouldn’t quite stack up to whatever the next big installment on consoles would bring… and I was wrong. While I still have every expectation that the Wii U game will be superior, the fact is that Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is not only as good as I could expect, but possibly even better. Perhaps I just had lower expectations of what a portable Super Smash Bros. could or would be, but I feel like this version of the game has at the very least met them.

I still have other games to review, but I’m going to keep squeezing rounds of this in where I can, and even when I have to swap the game card out, I’ll still have the demo on there to satisfy light cravings now and then. All the while, this has me excited for what Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (and its GameCube controller adapter) will bring.

N3DS_SuperSmashBros_pkgSuper Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS was released for the Nintendo 3DS on October 3rd, 2014 at a price of $44.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.