Now all of that is on the go with the first handheld iteration of the franchise. Does it work? Yes, creating a huge value package. Yet, the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. leaves some aspects to be desired, and is sustained by just how damn good of an iteration to the franchise this fourth entry is.
It’s worth saying that Smash 3DS is somewhere in the middle between Melee and Brawl. It’s faster than Brawl and it doesn’t have tripping anymore, but it still doesn’t have the broken finesse that really defined the competitive community in Melee. There is still room to discover secrets and (possibly) broken mechanics, but for now that’s what you’ll be getting in this package. It’s all held together with incredibly responsive controls and a buttery smooth framerate that only has minimal issues. Past that, it’s 60 frames per second, and it’s gorgeous to see on the handheld screen.
The gameplay is further bolstered by the best roster the franchise has ever seen, with a huge range of styles with minimal “clones” crowding up the roster. In fact, only two characters really feel like clones, with Falco and Ganondorf tweaked enough to feel like their own unique characters with similarities to their counterparts of Fox and Captain Falcon. Beyond those two, the mix of melee/ranged characters like Robin from Fire Emblem and the powerhouse of the ground that loses focus in the air, Little Mac, are just some of the radically new characters that mix up combat in a very welcome way. The retro characters are used cleverly, past what made Game & Watch and Ice Climbers great in previous iterations, and they dive deep with some of the character choices, making them work through their complete absurdity.
What the series is known for, the four player smash mode, does lose some of its luster on 3DS. It gets hectic with four players on such a small screen, and the stages are designed to be smaller and easier to manage for the handheld version of the game, but it doesn’t work out so evenly. I still lost track of my character on a regular basis, but the option to put a border around your character by selecting his or her portrait on the bottom screen is a solid balance to that. The game truly shines with two to three players because the framerate holds up best in those scenarios, taking away a little from the overall experience.
The variety of modes have been tweaked to feel more at home on the 3DS, most notably Classic Mode, which, outside of diversions such as Home Run Contest and “Target Smash”, makes up the majority of the single player options in this version. You’ll fight through a handful of rounds that let you diverge between easy, medium and hard paths to pick up extra collectibles, like trophies and coins, along the way to each fight. You cap it off with the final boss which has been reworked, but remains fun and hectic in my experience. I’ve played a lot of classic, and even though it does get old, it’s bite-size length lend itself to the platform if you’re looking to blow through a few fights and put the game down. The mode actually feels at home and different than it has in the past on the 3DS, since it doesn’t overstay its welcome and goes by quickly. All-Star mode is also back, which has you fight all the characters in the game, this time in order of their first appearance in a video game, starting with Pac-Man in the early 80s all the way to the recent Fire Emblem characters.
The exclusive mode to the handheld is “Smash Run”, which is a complete hit or miss. It can only be played locally, not online in any regard, and it depends heavily on completely random factors. You run through this large area similar to a level from Brawl’s Subspace Emissary campaign for five minutes, beating up assorted enemies from Nintendo games (or pulled straight from the Subspace Emissary) collecting assorted power ups. The abilities gained could raise your speed or launch power, but you’re just trying to get as much as you can muster, only to maybe not use them at all.
After the time limit, you shift to some sort of challenge with the three other players in the round, who were doing the same random scavenging for five minutes with you, and the challenge may not pertain to any of the garbage you collected. Maybe you’ll have to run a race and you didn’t pick up any speed buffs at all. You’re screwed, and that’s it. Sometimes you don’t even get to directly compete against the other players in Smash Run, you just get dropped on a level by yourself and are told to kill as many of the assorted Smash Run enemies as you can in the time limit, which isn’t at all fun. It’s all random, from the pickups you get to the competition at its end, and it kind of ruins the mode. It can be fun, but the chances are slim to none.
Outside of these modes there is the multiplayer, both online and local, which I found has a one-in-three success rate of landing in a match that runs well with little to no hiccups. Locally, there are still issues, and I actually had more success online than I did the few times I tried to pair up locally. This is unacceptable, seeing as everyone needs their own copy of the game to play in the same room together, and it still doesn’t work. To be fair, I’d get in a match locally, play, and just hit a few hitches of connection slow-down over the course of the round. It wasn’t game-ruining, but it’s far from an ideal experience. When online works, it’s silky smooth and amazing. It’s the kind of Smash experience everyone wanted from Brawl. But, the other 66% of the time it is completely unplayable. The stutters make the last fifteen seconds of a round actually last minutes. Multiple minutes. It’s horrible to suffer through, and it happens more often than not. I think it’s still a mode worth checking out, and the way “For Glory” and “For Fun” play so differently makes it very easy to change up, but it’s still a big barrier to diving in deep. The worst part is that when it works, it’s just so damn smooth and fun.
But the various singleplayer/multiplayer modes aren’t the only thing that will keep you playing. Smash 3DS has a bunch of new additions, and the best of them are custom fighters. You can make a custom Mii fighter, which falls into one of three categories of swordfighter, fistfighter, or gun-toter. Each one has three custom moves per-special, so you can change them up to make them very unique. That’s already awesome, and you can give any custom fighter gear to change their attack, speed, and defense. The best part is, these extend to all 48 other characters in the game, not just Mii Fighters, so each fighter has up to 16 different specials, which can be unlocked by pretty much playing any mode. Custom fighters may not be huge in competitions, but they’re fun to make and completely break the game while pitting them against the AI opponents.
There is a lot of fun to be had in Super Smash Brothers for the 3DS. It has what seems like limitless unlockables, challenges, and characters to master, which will have you coming back for weeks. It feels balanced with an incredible roster and some of the best feeling gameplay to new and old players alike, making it maybe the best game in the franchise. The multiplayer has issues, and the 3DS exclusive mode leaves much to be desired, but that doesn’t take away the incredible fun the core gameplay itself provides. If you love Smash Bros., this one is a complete no-brainer.