I’m just going to come out and say it, I really don’t like Super Smash Bros 3DS. I hate that I have to say that because Smash is a series that I’ve loved since its inception back on the N64. Unfortunately though SSB3DS is quite simply an inferior version of the game I’ve loved playing for the last decade and a half. Not helping it is the fact that the 3DS is not the right platform for what they’re trying to do with this entry into the series, leading to a game that’s flawed both within and without. For some that won’t matter because this is still Smash and for them that’s all there is to it, but where past games took this unique fighting/party game and built upon its strengths, Super Smash Bros 3DS simply reshuffles the deck and tries to take things in a direction it feels like the series was not meant to go.
Now I’ll admit to being the odd-man out in a way because I always primarily played Smash Bros single-player and that’s going to colour this review somewhat, so keep that in mind. I’m not averse to Smash’s multiplayer or anything like that, in fact playing with friends is where some of my best Smash memories come from, but I tend to game alone more often than not and Smash has always had a wealth of strong single-player content. That is not the case with this entry, not only has the single-player content been massively stripped down but more importantly the meaning has been taken out of it. Gone is the massive Sub-space Emissary mode of Brawl and in its place are two anemic arcade modes, the standard mini-games we’ve been playing since Melee, and a 1-4 player dungeon mode called Smash Run which is a neat idea in concept but in practice feels completely pointless. Starting off with the arcade modes, you have the option of playing either Classic or All-Star mode. Classic has you going through five random fights with random prizes and then at the end fighting Master Hand; there’s no integrated mini-games or rival fights or anything like that, just five fights then the boss. All-star mode instead has you fighting through the entire initial roster broken up into groups based upon what year those characters debuted, giving you five or so 6-on-1 fights that you have to get through with a persistent damage percentage; it’s an interesting look through Nintendo history but it feels slapped together and bereft of context. While both modes are adequate and provide you with something to do, they’ve stripped a lot of content out of the Classic mode and all pretenses of story and context are gone, which makes all the single-player stuff feel kind of pointless.
Smash Run on the other hand tries to add some RPG aspects and ties into the ill-chosen theme of customization this game has. In Smash Run you’ll wander through a large dungeon along with several other players for five minutes, beating up random enemies from the variety of franchises represented in the game, collecting stat boosts from their corpses, and then having a big final fight between everyone at the end. In theory that sounds like a lot of fun, having everyone’s skill at both platforming and dispatching enemies directly impact their strength and building up to one massive majestic throw down at the end but as I said, it’s a much different story in practice. Those stat boosts and how much impact they actually have are too slight to really feel interesting and they’re ultimately meaningless because that final fight at the end rarely follows traditional rules, instead being a race or a sudden death match or something like that. Having no way of knowing what that final match will be means that it’s impossible to know what stat boosts you should be trying to grab, so instead of five minutes of careful planning and loot/stat grinding, Smash Run amounts to just wasting time while futilely running around fighting boring one-note enemies.
Of course that’s not to say that those ending Smash Run fights are hard, in fact they’re altogether too easy when playing against the CPU because the AI in this game is dead stupid. Every time a race happened, they would get caught on a step or something and I’d take an early lead, and while they seem to have the base idea of attacking down, they don’t seem to know when to do it. Out of curiosity I set up a CPU on CPU fight, giving each fighter a single life and leaving them both on the default difficulty settings. This fight that should have taken less than sixty seconds to finish ended up needing a whole five minutes to resolve. The fighters constantly stood next to each other while staring intently, jumped to various platforms only to instantly jump back to their original platforms for no reason, and generally ignored items even when they were directly at their feet. Baffled, I decided to run my little experiment again but with more AIs and I came up with the similar results. In fact it was worse, not only did Mario manage to blow himself up twice by dropping explosives at his own feet but when Lucina by some miracle managed to grab a final smash orb, she made sure to activate it as far away from the other combatants as possible so as to waste it entirely. I then tried setting the CPUs to the max difficulty level, hoping that maybe the top-level AIs would be a bit more strategic…that was not the case. Rather they were just a faster kind of stupid, they still ignored useful items and they still jumped around erratically. The only real difference I saw was a greater drive to actually stay on the stage and lot more attacking, not launching or using their specials in any significant way, just a lot more flailing about and hoping to hit each other. As you can imagine, this kind of play doesn’t exactly make for exhilarating single-player matches.
Obviously though all my griping about the AI doesn’t matter if you only plan on playing in multiplayer but that side of the game is most certainly not without its issues either. Probably the biggest problem is latency, it varies from match to match but the game has a bad habit of freezing up for about a half second whenever someone gets launched out or sets off a big explosion, stuff that happens pretty much constantly in this game. The more players that are in a match, the worse this issue gets, so if you’ve got four players participating and items on-how the game is meant to be played as far as I’m concerned-things can turn into a goddamn slideshow. The other major issue I found when playing with four players is that the screen pans out too far in order to accommodate everyone as they run around the battlefield. This has been the case in every Smash Bros game but the 3DS screen is pretty small so the issue is exacerbated and keeping tabs on the action when it gets all zoomed out is less than pleasant. I should note that because I was playing the game pre-release, I only got to play the multiplayer online and with people from Japan where the game is already out, so I can’t speak to how well it plays locally; from what I’ve read though it harbors all of the same issues I mentioned, including the lag. It’s also worth noting that I don’t think the online is any fun. Smash is best enjoyed on the couch with friends because it’s a game that allows you to do some really annoying stuff and the social interactions that breeds are best enjoyed in a real life environment. When people use those same tactics online (like using DK to carry someone off the edge or playing as Samus and having her do nothing but stand off to the side and constantly charge up and fire off energy shots) you can’t reach over and punch them in arm for being an asshole and conversely you can’t wear a shit eating grin while everyone gets mad at you for being that asshole. It’s a game best enjoyed in social situations and playing online removes that aspect of it, leaving a sense of dispassion for the proceedings.
Moving onto a more technical complaint, the 3DS control scheme is by no means the ideal way to play this game. The analog disc (or whatever it’s called) has always been somewhat slippery and imprecise, that’s why the D-pad is there to compensate. That isn’t the case in this game though as they were trying to keep things as close to the standard Smash control scheme as possible and as such the movement is confined to the analog nub while the D-pad is used for taunts. This means that precision movement is something of a crapshoot, and while that’s not necessarily a big deal in a crazy free-for-all Smash battle, when doing the Home Run Contests and stuff like that, you’ll find yourself constantly running past the bag or hitting just short of it as a result. They do thankfully allow you to reconfigure the face and shoulder buttons however you like but the fact that the movement is locked to the disc is a definite bummer. That lack of precision when combined with the tiny screen that’s unsuitable for how far back the game pulls the camera, makes clear that the 3DS is not the device you should play this game on. While it’s certainly interesting to be able to play Smash Bros “on the go” for the first time ever, it feels like they didn’t make the proper concessions to fit the game to the platform.
Honestly I could complain about SSB3DS all day, I never even got into its weird fixation on customization or how it buries almost all of its single-player content three menus deep, but the game’s not all bad and I do want to discuss some of its positive aspects before I close this review out. Probably the biggest point in this game’s favour is the character selection as it’s the most varied and interesting that it’s ever been. While there is still a definite issue of redundancy in the cast (do we seriously need two Pits or all those sword guys?) the majority of the new characters actually do feel pretty interesting and come with some unique mechanics, such as Little Mac’s KO bar or Rosalina’s teamwork with Luma. There’s also a good spread of influences here, touching on all parts of Nintendo’s history; the Duck Hunt Dog for example has all of his special attacks derived from old NES Zapper games, throwing out clay pigeons and summoning the outlaws from Wild Gunman and Hogan’s Alley. In a neat twist specific to this 3DS version, many of the stages are based upon Nintendo’s handheld legacy which is a really nice touch. This allows for some interesting environments like the multi-level Tomodachi Life stage that hides apartments people aren’t in and the Dreamland stage that recreates the original Kirby’s Dreamland in glorious Gameboy authentic green and black. While these things don’t make up for the game’s many flaws, for those who are going to pick this up in spite of those issues, it’s something to look forward to.
At its core this is still the same good old Super Smash Bros that you’ve been playing for years and there are glimpses of potential here and there with the fun new characters and the interesting stages; unfortunately though this package overall is bogged down by technical issues, the lack of worthwhile single-player content, and the 3DS itself. I’m holding out hope that next year’s Wii U version will save things, both because it will assumedly offer a more stable online experience and because its controller and connection to an actual TV screen will make for a better feeling game. As such I would suggest waiting for that version because this one just doesn’t feel up to snuff. That said, the game’s more ingrained issues such as the lackluster single-player content and bad AI will most likely exist there too, but that’s another review for another day. So with all that taken into consideration, it is with a heavy heart that I give Super Smash Bros 3DS a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It simply does not satisfy on either the single player or multiplayer front and while I enjoyed its new characters and stages, I never felt like there was much worth doing with them.