If you had told me growing up that I would one day play a fully functional Super Smash Bros. game on a handheld, I’d have pulled on a white glove and slapped you like Master Hand. Yet here we are in 2014 with the release of Super Smash Bros. 3DS, the first handheld entry in Nintendo’s esteemed series. Some worried it would be nothing but a jagged and empty husk of the game fans have dreamed of, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s far better than anyone could have imagined.
Booting up the game for the first time, you’re met with an almost overwhelming 36 playable characters. From old favorites like Mario and Link to new faces like Shulk and Robin, Super Smash Bros. 3DS is packed to the gills with an all-star cast of iconic Nintendo characters. Each feels terrific to control, from the rapid combo punches of Little Mac to Wii Fit Trainer’s deadly yoga poses, and it’s in each of these unique characters that you begin to see the carefully measured design on display throughout Super Smash Bros. 3DS. The designers have magnificently captured the essence of each fighter in their attacks, movement, and appearance, and it’s an absolute joy to see characters well past their hey-day so gloriously re-imagined and back in the spotlight.
When it comes to the actual Smashing, players will be happy to find the 3DS iteration enjoys a happy medium between the speedy combat of Melee and the loftier action of Brawl, making for an extremely accessible game regardless of prior exposure to the series. The time invested in balancing each fighter is utterly evident, and the developers were even confident enough to let you tinker with a specific character’s moveset and tailor their attacks to perfectly suit your style. Super Smash Bros. 3DS is flexible, accessible, perpetually fun and, somewhat surprisingly, feels right at home on 3DS.
That transition hasn’t occurred without a few changes, though. Fighters now appear with a thick black outline to assist visibility and you’ll rarely duke it out in a stage that isn’t at least somewhat confined. These and other small tweaks have all been applied in an effort to best translate the game to the smaller 3DS screen, and it’s largely successful. But while it can occasionally lack the sense of scale boasted by its console companions, Super Smash Bros. 3DS never feels like anything less than a full-fledged Smash Bros. game, and that’s an amazing achievement.
Those who’ve played past entries in the series know that Super Smash Bros. is much more than just a four-player fighting game. The game’s 3DS debut is deliciously robust, featuring familiar modes like Classic, All-Star, home-run contest and Multi-Man smash, each enjoying a refreshing facelift for this latest iteration. These can all be enjoyed solo, but many can also be played with a friend over local wireless, further extending the legs of this terrific handheld package.
The same is true for the bespoke gameplay mode Smash Run. It features a brand of action platforming not unlike Brawl‘s Subspace Emissary, but this time around it’s all about collecting power-ups to prepare for an impending match. It’s an interesting concept, and undeniably fun in practice, but not quite fleshed out enough to grab players the way Nintendo wants it to. With no direction and a hefty five minute time-limit, any sense of urgency is replaced with confusion as you wander through the area trading blows with familiar Nintendo enemies. It’s too bad, really, because Smash Run is fun in places; it’s just not good enough to act as anything more than a sideshow for the game’s fantastic four-players brawls.
For all of its single-player prowess, though, Super Smash Bros. 3DS also arrives with the promise of seamless and reliable online matches. Fans will remember a similar claim at the time of Brawl’s release on Wii and Nintendo had a lot to prove this time around after that train wreck. Luckily, the experience is leagues better here in most places. Online play itself is solid, with limited latency and crisp, responsive movements, but most of the time the matchmaking process is frustratingly touch and go. Even so, tons of different online modes are offered, from 1-on-1 item-less duels to full-fledged four-player smash chaos, so once you’re connected you’re guaranteed a good time. You can even spectate on other people’s matches and wager in-game currency on whoever you think will win. It would have been great to be able to set up tailored matches and tournaments ala Mario Kart 8, but after Brawl’s heartbreakingly broken online component this is a confident step in the right direction.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS is great for pick-up-and-play gaming, but it’s also absolutely packed with things to do for those that never want to put it down. Loaded with items, trophies, stages and characters from both famous and obscure Nintendo titles, this latest Super Smash Bros. is once again a love-letter to everything Nintendo. You’ll constantly unlock new additions to this illustrious museum by completing milestones and challenges, and there always seems to be a new way to challenge yourself in one of the game’s numerous modes. Players will find a ton of customization options available too, from control configurations to damage display and of course character movesets. But for all of its content, fans of the series will notice some glaring omissions from this latest entry, namely tournaments, special smash and challenge mode. Super Smash Bros. 3DS is still far from an empty experience, however, and you’ll likely have your hands full for a long, long time.
While its online play is far from perfect, Super Smash Bros. 3DS is an impeccably polished package that proudly brings the series back to its best while fearlessly treading new ground. Loaded with content, characters and customization, it’s a peerless experience on 3DS. No handheld brawler has any right to be this good, but for Nintendo, we’ll look the other way. This is a game you’ll be playing for years to come, so what are you waiting for? Get your Smash on.