Super Smash Bros. is a line of the best character fighters the industry has to offer, and time and again Nintendo has astounded their fans with excellent gameplay and wonderful rosters of characters. The latest entry has just been released, now on a handheld console for the first time in the series, and hype is at an all-time high.
If you linger on the title screen, the game will begin a “How to Play” video for series newcomers. Unlike traditional fighting games, there’s no health bar to whittle away; each character has a damage counter that rises with each hit. The higher your damage counter, the farther you’ll fly when your opponents land a blow, and if you fly off-screen, constituting a K.O. And the goal, of course, is to score K.O.s.
There are a total of 51 characters in the final roster, including all-stars like Mario, Link, Pikachu, and Kirby; fan favorites like Captain Falcon of F-Zero fame, Shulk, from Xenoblade Chronicles, and Little Mac, from the classic Punch-Out!! series; alongside famous third-party icons Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Every character has a series of standard attacks and “Smash Attacks,” which often serve as a finishing blow to your foes. But they bring their individuality to the table with their four Special Moves, and a super-powered finisher known as a “Final Smash.” Special moves include character-specific attacks like Mario’s famous fireball, Kirby’s copy ability, and the ever-beloved Falcon Punch.
These characters’ personalities and quirks are highlighted in every aspect of the animation, and even their playstyles, which makes the massive roster size even more impressive. The distinct feel of each and every character is prevalent in everything they do, which not only contributes to the wonderful diversity of the cast as they’re portrayed, but also the diversity in how they play. There are heavy fighters, fleetfoots, ranged mages, and everything in between.
The newcomers to this entry aren’t quite as high-profile characters as the group from Melee or Brawl—it’s only natural after after four installments that Nintendo would run out of A-list icons—but they’re no less the best group we’ve seen by far. Every newcomer, save for the two clone characters, has a unique fighting style feels perfectly novel without relying too heavily on their gimmicks.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the batch of stages in this version of the game. To their credit, many of the new stages have wonderful gimmicks and each one stands out as a completely unique and lovable stage, but unfortunately, many are so focused on novelty that they lose a certain degree of playability. The Gaur Plains stage, for instance, has its main platforms on either side of the stage, all the way at the top; below it are several smaller platforms, and the middle of the stage is a large gap where players may fall to their doom. The result is two extremely cramped fighting spaces between which players can move back and forth, rather than a single, enjoyable arena. It’s always nice to see developers getting creative in these ways, but it’s times like this, when creativity comes at the expense of enjoyability, that it starts to hurt.
The scales are balanced by a slew of stages returning from Melee and Brawl, as well as the brilliant “Final Destination” mode that turns every stage into one large, standardized platform perfect for Smashing. But unfortunately, many modes force you to use the stages as they were built.
A much more beloved new feature allows players to customize every character’s movesets and even some of their statistics. I, for example, love power and speed, which means that I can now take the chunkier brutes, like Ganondorf and Bowser, and speed them up at the expense of their defense or recovery ability. Every character also has three custom options for each of their special moves. Most often these are slight alterations to these attacks’ properties, such as their speed, their knock back power, or their trajectories, and it goes a long way to help personalize yourSmash experience and make your favorite characters even more fun.
The sheer number and effects of these badges make the entire process of customization an extremely rich system, which means you can spend hours tweaking your fighters to get the best results. Unfortunately, the is may also be the system’s biggest drawback. You unlock custom moves and stat-changing equipment by playing through the single-player modes, but each round only earns you a handful at best. Exactly which custom moves and abilities you unlock are determined at random, and you can “unlock” the same parts multiple times. Fleshing out the character roster with the complete set of custom moves is not only time-consuming and incredibly tedious, but it’s a fundamentally flawed system that ensures the more you’ve earned, the less you’ll be rewarded.
“Smash” is the new name for the franchise’s ever-important Vs. Mode, where players go head-to-head with their friends or CPU opponents for intense matches. The heart of Vs. Mode is still very much intact, but several options have been strangely removed from past versions of the game. The only battle options left are times matches and stock matches—the only two anyone ever used, I’m sure—but even stranger is that they omitted the option to change the frequency of items, which is much more solemnly missed.
When playing the Vs. Mode against computer opponents, it works beautifully at 60 frames per second, but if you try to play with anyone else, it may be a different story. Local lag can sometimes be a minor frustration, depending on the amount of wireless interference, but online play is often downright impossible if your opponent (or you) has a less-than-stellar internet connection.
Two well-known, arcade-style single player modes return from past Smash games: Classic and All-Star. In both of these modes, you can set the difficulty of your game. All-Star has three options, whereas Classic Mode has a scale between 1.0 and 9.0, where higher difficulties yield higher rewards.
Classic Mode is a short series of fights between you and an opponent, though often with a twist—you may face a gigantic foe, with two computerized team mates to help you out, or you could be pitted left for dead against a strong metal character. This time around, however, you’re given a choice between three different routes before each fight. Which route you choose determines the amount of treasure you’ll pick up in battle, but it doesn’t give you any hint as to the opponent you’ll soon face. The more loot you pick up on the path, the tougher the fight ahead of you will generally be, so you have to decide whether it’s worth the risk of failing and losing part of the treasure you’ve been building up.
All-Star Mode pits you against the entire Smash Bros. cast in succession on just one life, so if you get knocked out just once, it’s game over. Your damage is carried over from battle to battle, which means you have to play as skillfully as possible to avoid racking up damage. You’re allowed a number of healing items to manage in between matches, which is an excellent way to manage life-or-death situations—making the right choice about when to save them or when to use them could decide the outcome of the next fight, so the stakes are always high.
Beyond a series of mini games decent enough only to play a few times and then abandon is a mode called “Smash Run,” the 3DS-exclusive mode that sets it further apart from the Wii U version. You can play Smash Run alone or with friends, but either way, you’ll be dropped into a massive arena filled with many different areas with tons of collectibles and plenty to do. You must fight through hordes of enemies, coming from a surprisingly rich variety of Nintendo’s many franchises. Defeating these enemies earns you boosts to various stats, including jump height, attack power, running speed, and more. After five minutes, the game will pit the players against one another in sort of deciding round that determines the winner. This may be a “race to the finish” type of goal, or a mission to see who can climb the highest in a tower of platforms, or even your standard Smash battle.
Unfortunately, the team didn’t quite do Smash Run the justice that the brilliant concept deserves. There are plenty of excellent ideas for enemies and battle scenarios buries all over Smash Run, but the sheer number of baddies present on the screen at once ultimately undermines that. All too often I find myself being juggled between six different enemies, as the very second the hitstun from one attack wears off, another enemy has been readying a blow and completely closes off an opportunity for the player to come back until their damage meter is so high that the enemy’s attack launches them completely out of their pals’ range. I can safely say that it’s by far the most frustrated I’ve ever been in all my years of playing Smash Bros., and the decisive battle at the end of it is only one minute long—the perfect length for an extremely anticlimactic disappointment.
Nevertheless, the sheer love of Nintendo’s universes displayed by the enemies found throughout Smash Run, as well as the wonderfully empowering stat boosts you collect over the course of play are so fundamentally magnificent that I can’t stop myself from playing Smash Run over and over, no matter how infuriating it may be. And if the core mechanics are so good that they drive me to this sort of masochism despite all of Smash Run’s missteps, it pains me to think how much better it could have been with just a few tiny tweaks.
The Verdict: Great Smashing for the On-the-Go Bro
At the end of the day, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is the perfect fit for the single-player Smasher or the gamer on-the-go. Being able to play Smash Bros. outside of the house is a joy so pure I never thought I’d experience. But it’s clear, through a few bizarre omissions and otherwise disappointingly unrefined features, that this Smash game is just an appetizer for what’s coming to Wii U at the end of this year. A lovely appetizer indeed—I’d compare it to perfect mozzarella sticks, or fried mac and cheese—but it is just an alternative, not a replacement, for the full course