Review by discoinferno84
Reviewed: 01/12/15 | Updated: 01/12/15
He's got the whole world in his hands...
Designing the new Smash Bros. must have been hard. Its understandable why Nintendo did it; adapting a famous franchise for their currently most popular system was the obvious, practical, and lucrative option. Actually producing the work, on the other hand, must have been Herculean undertaking. Its one thing to make a follow-up to Brawl, which was by far the most content-extensive title on the Wii. But how do you take something so over-the-top epic and cram it into a 3DS card? Not only did it have function with the limitations inherent to a handheld format, but had to meet the ridiculously high standards set by the previous game as well. The results arent perfect, but its a valiant effort nonetheless.
It looks promising at first glance. Iconic fighters like Mario, Link, Kirby, Fox, and a slew of others make their triumphant return. Zelda and Samus now have separate entries for their alter egos, resulting in some much-needed move set revisions. The Pokemon Trainer from Brawl has retired and left only Charizard to do the heavy lifting. The Ice Climbers were completely cut due to the technical limitations of the system. Metal Gears Solid Snake is also missing, though its likely due to licensing issues. Once they get over the loss of some of their favorite characters, longtime fans will find several new characters to master. Pac-Mans appearance is practically a given considering the growing ties between Nintendo and Namco, but its a pleasant surprise to see the original Mega Man complete with a range of signature attacks from the NES games back in action. Others, such as the Wii Fit Trainer and the dog from Duck Hunt, are completely unexpected. Some of the returning franchises boast even more characters, like Lucina and Robin from Fire Emblem: Awakening, Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy, and Palutena from Kid Icarus: Uprising. Aside from a few wasted slots (Did we really need Dark Pit?), the nearly 50-strong roster is varied and impressive.
Despite all the new faces, the basics remain the same. The goal is simple: knock your opponent off the stage. The more damage they rack up, the further theyll go flying. If they manage to make it back on solid ground, youll have to keep fighting. Aside from an assortment of punches, kicks, slashes, and throws, each character has a set of special moves taken from their respective games. Links Spin Attack isnt just for cutting grass, Mega Mans Buster even has the classic power-up sound effect, and Kirbys copying ability remains as versatile and somewhat unnerving as always. Hidden tactics, like Ganondorfs Reverse Warlock Punch and Samuss Grapple Beam ledge tether, have returned as well. Thats on top of the usual blend of dodging, tactical rolls, shielding, shield breaking, and wall jumping. The old ledge-grabbing tactics have been completely revamped; if your character grabs a ledge while someone is already on it, youll automatically latch on and send your opponent scrambling. The most important revision, however, is the removal of random tripping. It allows players to focus more on competitive strategies instead of luck. The overall gameplay pacing falls somewhere between Melee and Brawl; its slow enough to keep new players from being overwhelmed, but fast enough to keep veterans satisfied.
Thats assuming you can even keep track of whats going on. While the gameplay is solidly built, how it is presented and played certainly isnt. The Smash Bros. series was originally designed with televisions and consoles in mind; the scale of the stages, the number of items, camera perspective, and everything else were built for a larger screen. To make that work on a handheld, a few sacrifices had to be made. Longtime fans might have trouble getting used to the button layout, especially on the original 3DS model. Playing on relatively large stages like Corneria or Boxing Ring becomes a hassle because the camera has to zoom out to maintain view of all the characters. At least it spares you from seeing the limited texturing. Even with the optional highlighting reticule, its still easy to get characters mixed up or overlook smaller items. Thats really troublesome when you have to contend with motion-sensing bombs, banana peels, smoke balls, bee hives, and the slew of other weapons that randomly spawn. Using such items also demonstrate the 3DSs technical limits. The game runs at a surprisingly smooth 60 FPS most of the time. However, Assist Trophies are animated at 30 FPS, and Pokeballs only appear one at a time. Its telling that, unlike previous Smash titles, theres no way to adjust the frequency of item appearances. If there were, itd be too easy to crash the game completely.
These problems are even worse in online matches. Smash 4 is much faster than Brawls infamously laggy multiplayer...some of the time. As theres no way to see your opponents connection speeds before you commit to a match, youll often be flung blindly into an unplayable fight. Sometimes the game completely freezes before kicking you back into the menu. Even decently-running matches are slightly slower. Its doesnt completely break the game, but it messes up more advanced tactics and input timing. When you manage to get a great connection, the fights are smooth and responsive. Youre allowed to manage lobbies with people on your friends list, but theres no way to narrow down based on location, voice or text chat, and other features common to fighting games. The ability to play one-on-one matches with strangers via For Glory mode is a great feature for more competitive players, yet it lacks a ranking board. Though its possible to view other peoples matches via either live spectating or replays, you can't look up specific playbacks. Speaking of which, there arent any options for the replays you save on the system; theres no way to share them with friends, upload them to YouTube, etc. While the online multiplayer functions on the most basic level, it couldve been so much more.
The designers tried to make up for such shortcomings by giving you more gameplay options. One of Smash 4s most touted features is its customization menu. All of the fighters have unlockable variations on their special moves. Most have practical effects, like adjusting jump trajectories or attack range. For example, Ganondorfs Warlock Blade not only lets him wield a sword, but it extends his punch as well. The game also lets you equip items that boost the characters attack, defense, and speed capabilities. In an attempt to keep things balanced, you can only equip three things at a time. Tired of Bowser being so slow? A little tinkering with his speed stat at the expense of his raw power can make him far more dangerous. Some equipment has secondary effects, like auto-healing, stronger smashes, etc. While this adds some much-needed variety, its implementation is lacking. Aside from a brief description and stat chart, the equipment is utterly forgettable. Thats a step back from the image stickers in Brawl, which served the same function while delving into Nintendos back catalog.
The customization is taken even further with Smash Run, a gameplay mode exclusive to the 3DS. Taking cues from Melees Adventure Mode and Brawls Subspace Emissary, Smash Run drops four fighters in a labyrinth crammed with platforms and enemies from various Nintendo franchises. The goal is simple: Explore under a time limit, slaughter tons of foes, and pick up whatever items they drop. Every last Kremling, ReDead, Goomba, and wild Pokemon leave stat boosts, allowing you to build up your attack, speed, defense, etc. There are also treasure chests containing unlockable character moves, extra equipment, and additional power-ups. Doing a Metroid-esque Shinespark and summoning laser beams is quite awesome. Actually playing Smash Run is another story. The platforming is straightforward, but it becomes a hassle when youre completely surrounded by enemies. Depending on your stats, its easy to get thrown around and killed without any chance of recovery. Its annoying when youre just out of reach of a valuable item, only to get denied at the last second. All of your efforts culminate with a brief battle with the other contenders. Most of these fights are based on the old Special Melee rules; giant characters, set stamina, and enemy teams are common. Others are designed as contests, like the traditional Race to the Finish mode. The problem is that rule types are randomly chosen; theres no way tell if youll have the necessary stats built up until the fight starts. It wouldve been far less frustrating had these matches been selectable separately.
Once Smash Run inevitably goes stale, you can fall back on more conventional single player features. Classic Mode returns with its usual assortment of giant and metal opponents, but its been expanded with branching paths, random rewards, and varying difficulty settings. Since you bet more of your in-game currency the higher the difficulty, there are much bigger risks and rewards involved with a playthrough. All-Star Mode is still a gauntlet of opponents set in chronological order, but little has changed about it. The same goes for the Multi-Man Smash modes; aside from recording matches and high score bragging rights for Cruel or Rival Smash, there are few incentives to play them more than once. At least Melees iconic Home Run Mode is back and tough as ever. That cant be said for Break the Targets, though. The formerly grueling test of your ability to handle characters moves has devolved into a simple Angry Birds knockoff. You merely launch a time bomb at a huge wood and block structure from different angles. In their attempt to make things more appealing to new players, the designers completely missed what made the target challenges fun and interesting. Its overshadowed by the new Trophy Rush, in which you fight through an onslaught of falling boxes and explosions to nab dozens of collectibles. Its entertaining, but it doesnt make up for the games lesser offerings.
The same can be said for the stage selection. As this is a 3DS game, there was an effort to design levels based on Nintendos handheld titles. Some, like the Magicant, 3D Land, and Paper Mario stages, are fun in their variety and colorful visuals. Gaur Plain inverts the usual layout by having all the platforms on the sides and a huge hole in the middle. The old Gameboy-styled version of Dream Land was a nice touch. Others fall flat, though. Of all the places in the Zelda franchise, the decided to go with a collapsible Gerudo bridge fraught with fire and ice attacks. The Unova Pokemon League has the same basic stage hazards, yet is even less interesting to look at. Not all of Tomodachi Life took place in the apartment complex; as funny as it is seeing your Mii cowering in the background, it wouldve made more sense to tour the entire island and vary the platforming. At least returning fan favorites like Jungle Japes and Brinstar keep things from getting too bland. Its disheartening when to play in the Living Room or the Trophy Rush mini-game, because theyre so reminiscent of Brawls level editor. It's a shame that feature didn't make it into this version. Even with the optional flat levels for competitive players, it feels like somethings missing.
The music fares better, though. Theres no way Smash 4 (or any game, really) could top Brawls gargantuan playlist. Instead, the soundtrack uses a couple of optional tracks per stage. Though lacking anything as grandiose as MGS4s Theme of Love or Wind Wakers sailing theme, this OST focuses more on the essentials. The Corneria and Fire Emblem themes from Melee are obvious choices. Tracks like Ocarina of Time Medley and the orchestrated Tetris Type A were far too good to pass up. Several familiar tunes are back, but as arrangements. The Gerudo Valley guitar instrumental and Donkey Kong Country 2s Stickerbrush Symphony are some of the best versions out there. The Gaur Plain theme and the Mega Man 2 remixes are more than enough incentive to play their stages. Combined with a little voice acting the Kid Icarus and Fire Emblem casts especially Smash 4s sound menu exemplifies quality over quantity.
Its been a long time. The build-up to this Smash Bros. was unlike anything else in gaming. No title could have lived up to the expectations, but this one tries so hard. The results are far from perfect; most the single player modes are flawed, the online multiplayer needs an overhaul, and every technical aspect of the gameplay limited by the 3DSs capabilities. Despite such glaring issues, the game has a huge roster, hundreds of collectibles, tons of stages, a deep (albeit bland) customization system, improved combat mechanics, faster pacing, and a great soundtrack. To take all of that and make it work on a handheld system is an impressive feat. Is this the best Smash Bros. ever? No. Is it one of the best 3DS games? Absolutely. Nintendos greatest fights are finally in the palm of your hand.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (US, 10/03/14)
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