EW discusses: Does 'Super Smash Bros. for 3DS' succeed on a handheld?
The Super Smash Bros. franchise has become one of the cornerstones of Nintendo’s identity. On every console since the Nintendo 64, eager anticipation has surrounded each new entry in the brawling series–the lead-up to Super Smash Bros. Brawl included daily teases for almost an entire year on the game’s official website.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS—yes, the device’s name is part of the title—marks a first for the franchise. This entry will be the first time Nintendo’s all-star battle royale has appeared on a handheld. It’s a curious step for a game that has become synonymous with four friends playing a game together on a couch, but Nintendo is hoping the magic can translate to the small screen.
Having had a chance to play the game for over a week now, Aaron Morales and I discussed whether the transition has been successful, or if we’re just biding our time with the game until Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
Jonathon Dornbush: You and I are coming to Smash Bros. from quite different places. I’ve had a long love affair with the franchise. I’ll never be mistaken for a professional player—fighting games are about as foreign to me as a game genre could be—but I’ve played each iteration of the franchise for dozens of hours. Super Smash Bros. Melee in particular stole more than its fair share of afternoons and evenings from me as a kid. There’s something about the core idea of Smash that I just love—it’s like a series finale of a TV show where every major guest star and long-running gag pops up, and a decade of history is crammed into one episode.
Smash Bros. serves a bit of that purpose, but for multiple decades of Nintendo’s legacy. For that, I’ve enjoyed the games both as a fighter and as a virtual hall of memories to the company’s past. Before diving into the sheer amount of content in Smash Bros. for 3DS, Aaron, what is your history with the franchise and fighting games in general?
Aaron Morales: I love fighting games, but I’ve never taken to Smash. I grew up in the arcades, dumping hundreds of dollars of quarters into venerable series such as Street Fighter, King of Fighters and Tekken. I love the intricacies of the fighting systems, memorizing combos, pulling off complex super moves. But Smash Bros. always felt like a button-masher to me, which is pretty much the worst thing you can call a fighting game. I just never really got it. My favorite fighters are razor-sharp precise, where Smash Bros. is loose and spastic. Because it eschews health bars for some percentage meter I never understood, I could finish a round of Smash Bros. and honestly have no clue whether I had finished in first or last place.
I’ve always admired the insane amount of fan service that Nintendo has packed into the series. From the obscure characters to the nostalgia-drenched stages, it’s like your childhood exploded on the screen. But actually playing it? Not so much. I’ve dabbled in each release among friends, but I could never get into it, and I certainly didn’t spend much time playing single player before quickly losing interest. So the chances of the handheld version hooking me were pretty slim. And yet…
I’ve played more Smash 3DS in the last week than probably every other version combined, I think largely because it’s so pick-up-and-play easy. You can get in a quick round while waiting for the train, play a few more on the commute to work. Once you hit your stop, simply close your 3DS, and when you re-open it, you’re right where you left off. I’ve actually been carrying my 3DS around a lot more because of the game, getting in a quick round here and there throughout the workday while waiting on things.
I’ve tried playing other fighters such as Street Fighter IV on the 3DS, and the system’s wonky circle pad and tiny buttons make it challenging at best to pull off dragon punches reliably. But Smash’s controls are so simple that it’s never an obstacle. Here’s a case where button-mashing will result in amazingly flashy moves. Before I get flamed, I do realize that Smash Bros. has a respected fighting engine and tournament-level play, but you also don’t really need to know much to jump in and get playing. Every character’s move commands are the same, even though they do wildly different things. And while I don’t have much in the ways of strategy, I’m actually enjoying button-mashing my way through my commute, even if I still rarely know whether I’ve won or lost.
JD: I’ve always enjoyed the franchise’s approachability—a newcomer can play Smash Bros. by simply mashing on a few buttons, and your favorite Nintendo personalities will pull off incredible moves with stylish flair. But there is a deep level of strategy for those who want it, and an amazing community has developed around the series—Nintendo even held an invitational at E3 earlier this year.
And I think you may be coming around to Smash Bros. in part because that button-mashing gameplay is so perfectly suited to a handheld. For those who don’t want to get too technical, they can play a match or two while furiously tapping on the A and B buttons and stop before the game loses its luster. For those who do want more, Smash Bros. has always delivered, and this 3DS version is no exception.
What struck me most about the game was that there’s really no singular way to play Smash Bros. Yes, the standard Smash mode—choose a character, pick a stage to fight on, and play with either friends or computer-controlled combatants—has been my go-to, but the game doesn’t necessarily prioritize one offering over another. It encourages players to dive into its menus and modes, which, admittedly, can be a bit daunting for those unsure of where to start, but the game rewards that exploration.
The one mode I find myself largely ignoring was the 3DS-exclusive Smash Run. It asks players to fight enemies culled from every major Nintendo franchise and collect power and defense boosts along the way. Once time runs out, players fight in a standard match against characters who also have improved power, defense, and speed.
The mode doesn’t add much, and while it’s fun to see enemies from Super Mario Bros. meet foes from The Legend of Zelda, they aren’t fun to actually fight.
So as I settle into a routine of playing mostly traditional matches, I may end up letting the game’s frills fall by the wayside, but the core fighting experience is just as strong as I remember.
AM: I’ve only been playing the classic Smash mode, because I’m just overwhelmed by how much content Nintendo has crammed into this little device. It really is staggering. I count 48 characters (plus an endless number of characters you can create using Miis) and 26 stages, though there could be more I haven’t unlocked. And what a cast of characters it is. Besides the usual suspects, I’m most tickled by the introduction of the Wii Fit trainer and the dog and duck from Duck Hunt, gloriously weird additions to the world’s most bizarre lineup.
And the stages are equally creative, with an insane amount of action going on in the background, and auto-scrolling levels that make you platform while you fight. If anything, it’s possible that there’s too much chaos. Especially with four players, it can be hard to tell what’s happening on such a small screen. I actually prefer one-on-one battles, so I can see what’s going on and get a better sense of the combat system. I plan on continuing to mash my way through Smash. If Nintendo intended the 3DS version as a gateway drug to the Wii U version, it very well might be working on me, as I’m already way more interested in the big boy version. Smash Bros. definitely isn’t Street Fighter, and I’m starting to realize that maybe that’s OK.
JD: It’s definitely an impressive roster, and may be my favorite of the franchise. And if none of the existing characters work, Nintendo lets you take your player-created Miis and outfit them with a move set and ridiculous outfits. While the Miis have been invading games since Nintendo first introduced them on the Wii, they’re a smart and fresh addition to an already expansive cast.
The stages are a nice mix of classic and new additions, though I must admit, unlike you, I’m a sucker for those chaotic scrolling levels. An arena inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, for example, is one of my favorites, despite how deadly it can be at times. The ingenuity behind it and others, such as a Mario Kart level and even a Nintendogs living room-set stage, are ridiculous but fun to navigate while trying to land just one more hit. Yes, there are Smash Bros. players who love playing without items or the distractions of hectic battlefields, but I love embracing the absurdity that can result from some of the game’s scenarios.
And much like you said, Aaron, Smash Bros. for 3DS, rather than satiating my appetite for a Nintendo fighter, has me primed to play the Wii U version, which we’re still told is coming this year. I think we can both attest to a local match against each other playing smoothly, and certainly alone or with other fighters the joy of Smash Bros. remains intact. But I found online matches to suffer from some technical hitches, which made me yearn only more for the days of four-player Smash fights on a couch with friends. It’s more difficult to gather four friends with 3DSes, which isn’t a knock against the game, but it certainly changes my relationship with Smash Bros.
I still find myself nightly trying to sneak in a few matches before bed, or trying to unlock one more character before catching my subway. I may not be able to enjoy the franchise in the same way as I once did, but I’m finding new reasons to fall in love with it all over again, one match at a time.
AM: Smash Bros. has always inherently been a multiplayer game, and though you can certainly play it online against three others, perhaps that’s not the 3DS version’s greatest strength. Where it’s grabbing me is as a fun single-player diversion that could very well prove to be the amuse-bouche to the Wii U’s main course.
JD: Before we go, I have to ask, who has been your go-to character to play? I’ve been partial to Little Mac, a new addition whose move suite is perfectly suited for close-quarters pulverizing.
AM: Is it gross if I say that I’ve been using my Mii character Aaron, a brawler bedecked in vampire garb and sporting cat ears? Er, I mean Link… Link is cool.