Developer: Sora Ltd./Bandai Namco
Preview Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 3, 2014
Call it a desire to bring in new gamers, call it a love letter to the people that have stuck with Nintendo handhelds through the years, call it deep existential terror and panic in the face of the Wii U’s sales numbers, but Nintendo has finally caved in to the requests of millions of anonymous forum-goers and created a Super Smash Bros. game for the 3DS. Even in the face of earlier previews, the initial reaction seemed to land somewhere between “ugh, finally” and “ugh, really”, with many citing the physical layout of the 3DS preventing comfortable play and the inherent smallness of the screen (even on the XL) model as being barriers to enjoyment. Perhaps to help allay these fears, or perhaps just in the same spirit of transparency the series has long held (at least compared to other Nintendo franchises), the Big N has seen fit to release a four-character, single-stage demo of the imaginatively named Super Smash Bros. for 3DS to the world. Which I suppose begs the biggest question…how is it?
I’m going to spare everyone the indignity of trying to explain how Smash Bros. works – it’s a bit too early yet for Grandpa to be trying to research video games for Christmas, so I’m going to assume if you’re on the internet visiting a gaming website you’ve played a round or two before, and if I use terms like “Final Destination” or “screw you, Metaknight” you’ll know what I’m talking about.
That said, the best news I have about Smash Bros. for 3DS is one I need to get out there right now to provide context for the rest of the article: it plays a LOT more like Melee than Brawl. Sure, everyone’s got their favorite Smash Bros. and there’s really not one that plays objectively better than others, but in my personal experience, I’ve noticed a lot of people agreed with me in preferring the faster pace of Melee to the slower, floatier, heavier battles of Brawl (even if Brawl had the most impressive character roster in video game history, and I’m including Marvel vs. Capcom in this).
Upon booting the game up for the first time, I immediately picked Mega Man – if you’ve read a single other article I’ve ever written or know anything about me as a person, this should not surprise you. I tried him for a few rounds, and noticed he was pretty nimble – a round or two as Mario confirmed my suspicions that everything just seems to happen a lot faster. While there still are speed differences between individual characters (you can’t expect Bowser or Ganondorf to control like Sonic or Pikachu) the overall feel of everything is much more fluid and frenetic. Characters cross the screen in a second, recovering from a strong hit or a botched jump seems a bit more forgiving, and it felt much more like the Smash Bros. I remember – bearing in mind that I easily spent dozens more hours playing Melee than I ever did Brawl.
With that in mind, the two new characters are an absolute joy. I spent 90% of the rounds I played in the demo as Mega Man, and even after someone pointed out the sound effects on the character-select screen do make it sound like the announcer is saying “Smega Man”, I never lost my initial enthusiasm. He’s a lot more close-up than you’d expect, which is awesome as I was afraid he’d be sort of a projectile-gimmick character like my poor Snake wound up being in the last one (look, I just couldn’t use him – if you could, more power to you). Most of his worthwhile attacks either require you to be positioned properly around your enemy (the Tornado Hold only works upward, the Spark Shock needs you to be right next to a character) or brings you close to them – finally proving once and for all the secret worth of the Top Spin attack outside of the end of Mega Man 3. I can already see the potential for a few of his attacks to be really infuriating, but that’s sort of the hallmark of a fun Smash Bros. match and I’m interested to see the sort of reputation he’ll get when the full game comes out.
That’s not to say the Villager isn’t fun, either. While closer to a more punch/smash based traditional character, he/she/it actually reminded me a bit of Mr. Game & Watch – which to me is a good thing. One of the Villager’s aerial attacks produces a random number of turnips between one and three which affects how much damage it does, mirroring Mr. Game & Watch’s number-sign attack, and the ‘random crap from my pockets’ nature of the rest of his attacks call to mind fond memories of getting attacked by sausages, or having a projectile attack caught and reflected at you. The Villager stands to be the character of choice for anyone who doesn’t mind a quirky learning curve, alienating all their friends by picking the “weird-but-awesome-joke-character”, or ideally both.
So here’s the important thing – how does it survive the transition to 3DS? Depending on how you felt about the initial announcement, “better than you feared” or “about as well as you expected”. Initial fears regarding screen visibility were, to these tired old eyes, mostly incorrect, which was nice to see. The pseudo-cel shaded graphics render each character both distinct from one another, and distinguishable from the background, even when the screen is littered with fireballs, laser swords, and Andross faces, like Smash Bros. tends to be. The screen’s size itself tends to be both a help and a burden – the fact that each screen only has to focus on one person helps keep you center-frame more often than in the console iterations, but that makes screen-filling attacks or Assist Trophies like the goddamn Nintendogs dog that much more frustrating. Early reports of people ripping the Circle Pad out of their 3DS while trying to do some special moves aren’t perhaps completely unfounded, but I found the controls responsive and manageable; really, I had a harder time keeping the face buttons straight, but I mostly blame that to my frantic play style more than any issue with the 3DS hardware.
Should you give a crap about Super Smash Bros. for 3DS? That depends on a few things. Do you own a Wii U? Do you plan on owning a Wii U anytime soon? And if so, do you need to buy two copies of essentially the same game? Look, I love my Wii U and I fully intend on buying the console version of Smash Bros. as soon as it’s out. However, with as well-made as just the demo was, I’m having some sincere thought about buying both versions just to have around. It hearkens back to the old Game Boy days where you could reliably trust a handheld port of a console game to be at least decent, but with the added benefit of you probably not having to talk your parents into buying you the same game twice! If you’re into Smash Bros. enough to want a copy with you everywhere you go, then you can absolutely trust Smash Bros. for 3DS to live up to your expectations.
Just don’t take it too personally if I don’t play against you online or anything. You all saw my Destiny article, you know how I feel about playing video games with other human beings.