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Before we go any further, it’s important that you know how much I love Smash Bros., Nintendo’s crossover fighting game franchise that has up to four players beating each other silly.
I can’t think of another series I’ve put more hours into. My friends and I would play Melee (the GameCube entry in the franchise) for hours on a nearly daily basis. I even went to a few tournaments (don’t ask how well I did). I was addicted, and I loved it.
However, the last Smash Bros., Brawl on the Wii, was a bit of a disappointment. It slowed the gameplay down, and the roster was an unbalanced mess. Sure, we still played tons of it, but it never ignited that same spark as Melee did. That’s why the competitive community still plays Melee while generally ignoring Brawl.
So, the next wave of Smash Bros., which starts on Oct. 3 with a release on the 3DS (a Wii U version comes out later this year), has a lot to prove. Nintendo has a chance to finally make a worthy successor to Melee.
And it’s done just that.
What you’ll like
It’s closer to Melee than Brawl is
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS features the same gameplay as past entries in the series. Players fight as different Nintendo characters (and some third-party guests), damaging their enemies enough so that they can deliver a blow that knocks them off the side of the screen and kills them.
The framework has always made for an exciting experience, even on the disappointing Brawl, but Smash 3DS brings the action closer to Melee’s fast pace. Characters generally move a bit quicker, and players don’t float in the air as long as they used to. This makes it easier for you to perform combos and other tricks.
It works on the 3DS
This is actually the first Smash Bros. to come out for a portable system. I was a bit concerned it would have to make some sacrifices to work on a handheld, but those worries didn’t pan out. Smash 3DS plays just as well as any of the console versions. The nub handles maneuvering and fighting just as well as any analog stick, and Smash Bros. even looks great and runs at a consistent, smooth frame rate. If you were thinking about skipping out on the 3DS version and just waiting for the Wii U release, I’d tell you to go ahead and jump in with this one.
The new characters
Of course, most Smash Bros. fans get excited about only one thing when it comes to a new game: the added characters. Smash 3DS adds plenty of newcomers to the roster, and almost all of them are creative, interesting additions. Mega Man, for example, is the only fighter to have a projectile for his standard attack. Rosalina and Luma can effectively control the battlefield by fighting in two places at once. Little Mac can earn an instant KO if he survives long enough to fill a meter and punch an opponent at close range.
Every new character seems to bring something we haven’t seen in Smash before, and unlocking them and learning how they play is a huge source of enjoyment.
The improved Classic Mode
Brawl features a story mode with tons of cutscenes as its primary single-player offering. Smash 3DS doesn’t have anything that fancy, but its main solo activity is actually more interesting. It’s actually a new take on Classic Mode, which has been a part of the series since it debuted on the Nintendo 64. You choose one character and face a series of challenges with different rules until you fight a boss at the end. Some matches are 1-on-1, some have you fighting a giant version of a character, and some rain down an army of weak opponents on you.
In Smash 3DS, you can actually choose between three different paths with different opponents for each match. This adds some variety, and it also lets you choose who you’re going to fight. Classic Mode is also a great way to unlock trophies (collectible models of hundreds of characters) and outfits for your Mii Fighter (yup, you can use your Mii in the game), and equipment and new moves for customizable characters.
Unlocking stuff is always fun, but Smash 3DS has an interesting risk/reward system in Classic Mode. You can spend more coins (an in-game currency that you can use to unlock more items) to increase the difficulty, which results in more unlocks. If you die, you can restart, but you’ll lose more coins and the difficulty will automatically lower. It’s a challenging and fun way earn new items.
Brawl had a terrible online mode that lacked options and rarely seemed to work. Smash 3DS, however, offers players a better option. You can play with friends near or afar with all of the same options you get offline. You can also play with strangers in two different modes, For Fun and For Glory. For Fun turns on all the items and stage hazards, making Smash more of a party game and less skill-based. For Glory turns the items off and only lets you play on the Final Destination versions stages (a new feature that gets rid of the gimmicks of a level and turns into a simple flat surface, which is perfect for competitive play). It also tracks your wins and losses.
While most of the people I played with were all the way in Japan (since the game is actually out there), I was still able to enjoy a lot of relatively lag-free matches. Sure, sometimes the lag was distracting, but you’ll always have some of those when playing a fighting game online.
I also fought some matches with fellow GamesBeat writer Jeff Grubb. He’s in Colorado, while I’m in Ohio. Our games played marvelously, with almost no noticeable lag. I also whipped his butt, which is an important fact to include in this comprehensive review.
What you won’t like
A smaller music selection
Say what you will about Brawl, but it featured an incredibly huge soundtrack with tons of great music. Smash 3DS, however, has a much smaller selection. Like Melee, each stage only has two possible tracks that play in the background, and Nintendo recycled a lot of the music from past games. I understand that this was probably a memory issue, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment.
You can never tell how great a fighting game will really be until the public has time to master it, but Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS has everything it needs to finally get the competitive community to move on from Melee. The new characters are excellent, and the gameplay is smooth, fast, and exciting.
I do wonder how some of the mechanical changes will impact the competitive scene. Gliding is out, and you can no longer hold on to a ledge as a way of keeping your opponent from getting back on a stage (they now simply take you place on the ledge). These aren’t necessarily good or bad things, but they are different. I’m excited to see how it shakes up the tournament scene.
But even if you’re a more casual Smash fan, you’ll love everything that the 3DS version offers. It’s a perfect handheld iteration of one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS comes out on Oct. 3. Nintendo provided us with a code of the game for the purposes of this review.