Like many kids who grew up on Nintendo consoles, we here at Everybody Plays lost many an afternoon, evening, weekend... and maybe even a school day or two relentlessly beating our friends and siblings into submission on one of the best, and most accessible fighters of all time - Super Smash Bros. From the N64 original, through the highly regarded GameCube edition and, most recently, the incredible Wii version, which has been a regular weekend staple at Everybody Plays towers since the game launched, the pick up and play brawler has had sticking power like no other - and is about to embark onto a new generation of platforms. With a 3DS version out now, and a "bigger brother" Wii U iteration soon to follow, some twelve years after the first game launched, Smash Bros certainly has a tough act to follow.
A non-traditional fighting game that pits a variety of characters from all over the Nintendo-verse against each other, Super Smash Bros is a game that lets you settle all manner of old scores. Ever wanted to see Mario go toe to toe with Link? Or Pikachu electrocute the Duck Hunt dog? Super Smash Bros. is the series that brings these fanboy/fangirl dreams to life.
Playing very differently to other fighting games, Super Smash Bros. controls much more like your standard Mario platformer than a traditional arcade style fighter (such as Street Fighter). There are no multi combination combos to memorise, no health bars to be seen, and no way to K.O. your opponent. Instead, up to four fighters go at it in an all out brawl, with the only way to score points being to knock each other off a floating stage. The more damage you deal out to your opponents, the further they fly when you give them a good whacking, and the easier it is to knock them so far off the platform, there's no way back. It's kind of like a handheld game of sumo - at least, if sumo wrestlers were cartoon-esque characters with array of swords, lasers, bombs, summonable monsters, etc... (I think you get the point). Put simply, Super Smash Bros. is an extremely accessible, pick up and play fighter that requires no previous experience to get stuck in - even if it does have a wealth of technical depth for those willing dig a little deeper.
Despite coming on a tiny cartridge, it also boasts a roster that's nothing short of gigantic. With 49 characters to choose from, 37 of which are available right from the get go, Smash Bros packs a range of fighters that span the entire history of Nintendo's back-catalogue and beyond, from veterans like Mario, Kirby, Link and Pikachu, to newcomers like the Villager from Animal Crossing or the Wii Fit Trainer (obviously the most 'balanced' character in the game), and even non-Nintendo characters like Sonic, Pacman and Mega Man getting a look in.
Each character has their own unique move set and play style to master, but as they all use the same basic control scheme - with no combos to memorise - it's easy enough to jump from one character to the next when you're finding a favourite. Do you want a heavy but slow powerhouse like Bowser, a lightning fast lightweight like Toon Link, or something in-between? Its completely up to you. You can even create and customise your own ideal fighters in the form of Mii Fighters, who come in 'Brawler', 'Gunner' and 'Swordfighter' varieties.
It was always going to be a challenge shrinking a game as massive as Smash Bros. down to a handheld format, but, perhaps surprisingly, Smash Bros. 3DS has weathered the scaling incredibly well. With heaps of modes to get stuck into, tonnes of things to unlock, and a veritable treasure trove of Nintendo goodness waiting for you, none of the magic has been lost during its transition to handheld form. While the mainstay of the game is still the frantic, two minute battles versus either three computer controlled opponents, or some friends in local multiplayer, Smash Bros 3DS has plenty of other modes on offer.
First up is Smash Run, a mode that happens to be exclusive to this version of Smash. A four player mode that can be played either locally with friends or solo (with computer controlled stand-in partners), it's kind of like a bite-sized version of the co-op 'Subspace Emissary' adventure mode from Smash Bros Brawl, only much less structured.
Each stage starts out with a five minute battle against random enemies from various Nintendo games. Effectively the set up to the main event, this brawl is your chance to stock up on supplies for the challenge yet to come, with stat boosting items on offer for each enemy you defeat. When the time's up, you find yourself picked up, and thrown into a random four player challenge, which can be anything from a simple battle, to more obscure challenges like defeating the most enemies in an allotted time, or a race to the finish. Sadly, the relentless nature of the enemy AI, coupled with the randomness of the final challenge make this less about skill and more about luck, leaving this a mode best suited as a way to blow some time on a break, rather than the main attraction on its own.
The series mainstay single player mode, cunningly named "Classic mode" has also been completely revamped. Much like every other Smash Bros., Classic mode takes you on a series of battles against computer opponents - but unlike previous versions, you get to choose the difficulty of your next challenge via branching paths. No matter which you choose, you'll almost always end up enjoying whatever the game throws at you, as far from straight one on one brawls, Classic mode is full of random quirky challenges - whether it's taking on a seemingly endless horde of Yoshi's, or a singular giant Pikachu. If you're after an extra challenge, you can even tweak the difficulty to suit by wagering coins. The more more coins you bet, the higher the difficulty becomes - and the better your reward will be.
The haven of masochists everywhere, All Star mode also returns to the game, pitting you against the entire roster, consecutively, with only a single life, and no continues to play with. Going up against groups of fighters, arranged by the year of their first video game appearance (starting from oldies like Pac-man and Mario to more modern foes like the Wii Fit Trainer and Greninja from the most recent Pokemon outing), this is by far the most challenging mode (especially after you unlock every hidden character), and one that only the most hardcore of players will conquer.
Over in the Stadium section, you'll find an array of mini-games from past Smash outings. Multi-Man Smash pits you against seemingly a never-ending supply of Mii fighters, Home-Run Contest has you beating up a poor old Sandbag to rack up damage, before seeing how far you can send him flying with a baseball bat, while the all new Target Smash is kind of Smash Bros' take on Angry Birds, letting you smash an oversized bomb into a bunch of wooden blocks and targets. This last one is actually a little disappointing, as it seems to have more of a focus on luck and repetition than any actual skill, especially when compared to the old school 'Target Test' mode, which gave you a maze, a load of targets to smash, and really tested how well you knew your character. Each of the three mini-games uses the same control scheme as the game's main modes, so they are pretty easy to get into - even if, thanks to some dodginess, they're pretty much impossible for the average player to master. But more on that later.
The only real gameplay difference (and oddity) in the Smash 3DS experience can be found in StreetSmash mode, (basically just a StreetPass battle mode). This is where the game has you fight in token form against other player tokens you've collected via StreetPass. Just like the regular game, you're trying to knock opponents off a stage - only this time the action's top down, and you're in control of a spinning top rather than a character. A little bit disappointing, considering what they could have done with the StreetPass functionality, perhaps the only reason to play Street Smash is to collect gold - and gold can be earnt by doing pretty much everything else in the game.
The Vault's Trophy Store is where you'll be spending the majority of the gold you collect. The "king of the collectables" in Smash Bros games, there are literally hundreds of trophies on offer, with the Trophy Store letting you buy new trophies, and review the trophies you've collected so far, either collectively or individually. As a nice touch, each trophy is also accompanied by its own blurb detailing its place in Nintendo history, making the trophies essentially form one big Nintendo encyclopaedia. While you can unlock trophies and collectables by simply playing the game, it's far more fun to play Trophy Rush, a mode that has you essentially smashing falling boxes while avoiding hazards. It's a fun break from the game's other more serious modes and can net you a lot of rewards very quickly, although we are a bit disappointed there's no multiplayer option.
Speaking of multiplayer, you'll be pleased to know that - as the backbone of the game - it's extremely easy to jump into a multiplayer game of Smash Bros, either in local or online game modes. Everything has been streamlined to reduce the time it takes to find a game, and jumping into a session is as easy as hitting the 'With Friends' button, while 'With Anyone' lets you take on the world. From here, the online play is split into two distinct sections; 'For Fun' and 'For Glory'. 'For Fun' is for the more casual players, and sees you battle on randomly assigned stages assisted by items and final smashes. 'For Glory' on the other hand is for more serious Smashers, banning items and turning each stage into a variation of Final Destination (ie. a singular flat plain). Games are generally a lot of fun in either mode and it feels great going against players from all over the world.
However, there are a few big problems with Super Smash Bros 3DS in multiplayer, and as the most important part of the game, it really lets the game down. First up is the online play. Nintendo has had a long history of awkwardness when it comes to online play, and currently this title is no different. Gameplay can really suffer from performance issues due to laggy connections, and when you're talking about a twitchy fighter, even a fraction of a second of delay can completely mess up an otherwise great experience - although thankfully, this problem is pretty much non existent in fights against friends.
However, by far the biggest issue is the total lack of single card download play. One of the 3DS's biggest strengths, download play lets you play together with friends who don't already own a copy of the game, by letting them download a kind of temporary, multiplayer only component from you. While Nintendo's last big multiplayer centric 3DS game, Mario Kart 7 featured full support for download play, letting four players play together, even if only one of them owned the game, Smash Bros 3DS omits it entirely, requiring each player to have their own game if they want to play together. For a game that so heavily relies on multiplayer with friends, that's a pretty big downer, and should colour your decision when you're deciding which version of Smash Bros to go for. On Wii U, you buy the game once, and everyone can play together. On the 3DS, you'll have to buy it four times over to play in a group. That may be great for Nintendo - but it's not so great for us.
One of the games only other major shortcomings just happens to be a key part of the experience; the controls. While the game does offer completely customisable control mapping, your character's movements are limited to the circle pad only, which can feel a bit imprecise, or awkward. We'd have really loved to have seen an option to assign movement to the d-pad, but instead, the most accurate input the console had is reserved for taunts.
The other unfortunate fact is that the 3DS just isn't as comfortable as a traditional gamepad, and it's very possible you may find yourself cramping up after long play sessions (we played using a Nintendo 3DS XL and still had issues). If you're planning on a few all night sessions, it may be worth investing in certain 3rd party peripherals to make the console a bit more comfortable to hold.
While it may not be perfect, Super Smash Bros 3DS proves to be a solid entry for the series. Its the handheld version of Smash we've all been waiting for, and has obviously been crafted with all love Nintendo can muster, packing in plenty of content to keep you coming back to to the game time and time again. It's quite possibly one of the best games out on 3DS right now, and well worth the purchase for those on the go. However, if you have trouble with tiny screens, prefer to play in multiplayer with your friend, or don't fancy playing on anything but a Gamecube controller, it may well be worth holding out for the Wii U version. For the rest, this is classic Super Smash Bros., and that makes it one heck of a knockout.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS