Smash Bros. for 3DS – Review

Smash Bros. for 3DS is the first in the series of its kind: a handheld Smash title to work alongside the console game (releasing in November 2014). With the name comes a lot of hype, as well as a lot of expectation. The big question for the little cartridge is simply, “Can it hold its own as a handheld version of a console game?” What I discovered were some mixed feelings on the subject.

Visuals – 8/10
Due to the actual power of the 3DS, the graphical qualities of Smash Bros. for 3DS are different than its console counterpart. I thoroughly enjoy the comic-like heavy outlining around each character, and it helps to do two things very well: give even more depth with the 3D turned on and help to keep track of where characters are on the screen.

Of course, if you’re so inclined, you’re welcome to adjust the outline to a thinner gauge or completely get rid of it. I tried all three visual effects, and I must say, the thicker outline was my favorite for the above stated reasons.

Outline Visual Comparison
Don’t like the comic-like outline visuals? Get rid of them!

As far as frame rate fluidity, Smash 3DS holds up just fine, running very smoothly. The only times I encountered some type of lag were related to online play, which I’ll get to later. It’s a relief to see the title run so smoothly on Nintendo’s handheld: if both the art direction and actual performance had been just a little off, it would’ve made a drastic difference to gameplay – it’s hard enough keeping track of your speedy character flying all over the stage (sometimes, quite literally).

There are plenty of stages, but some feel like simple clones

The backgrounds and stages in the game are also very well done, though it didn’t feel like there were enough stages. Now, there are 35 stages to choose from, which is quite a hefty amount on paper, honestly, but somehow it still felt lacking. Perhaps it didn’t feel like there were enough distinct stages. What I mean is this; though the stages were different, some with insane animations running in the background, other stages felt like clones. A couple examples of this are the Unova/Kalos Pokemon stages and the Mario 3D Land/Mushroomy Kingdom stages. They didn’t feel different enough to me, simply coming off as clones, in a way. This could be argued as a gameplay complaint as well, but here, I’m specifically speaking on the visual and art designs of the stages.

All the other visual flares, from bombs exploding to the crazy amount of assist trophies running around in each battle, are superb. I really enjoy the visuals in Smash 3DS, especially seeing them in action as opposed to the insane amount of screenshots we were given before release of the game.

Audio – 10/10
For me, this was my absolute favorite part of the title. The renditions of familiar compositions in Smash 3DS are superb. Sakurai and his team must’ve understood how amazing the music truly is in the title, since you can have the music continue playing even when you close the lid to your 3DS. Also, Nintendo must’ve known this would be a fantastic aspect of the game, since they made the official soundtrack available if both versions of Smash are purchased and registered on Club Nintendo.

Seriously, I could listen to the incredible amount of quality music in Smash 3DS all the time. My favorite is actually “Green Greens” from Kirby’s Dreamland, but it is hard to try and think of any composition I didn’t enjoy. Don’t believe me? Have a listen to some samples of the music found in the game.

The compositions are definitely recognizable and don’t stray incredibly far from their original sources, but they most certainly add quite a bit and alter the way the songs play out: extra instrumentation, orchestral settings, and little flourishes added which, in turn, add to the actual gameplay and give character to the stages.

As far as the general audio in the game, HAL Laboratory did a fine job creating the [massive amount] of cues found throughout each section in Smash 3DS. From the little tune that plays when a “mystery ball” opens up to reveal the items inside, to the grunts and yells from each individual character, the audio is superb. Personally, my favorite aspects regarding the musical cues are ones that can easily go unnoticed; a perfect example is the traditional “death” sound when Mega Man is defeated. When I first heard it, I laughed so hard that I had to pause the game. Thankfully, this isn’t the only example – there are way too many to choose from.

If I have one complaint about the audio/music in Smash 3DS, it’s that it won’t be nearly as customizable – or as enormous in content – as the console counterpart. But, this isn’t really a flaw in the game, as the developers simply had to work with the amount of space and technical aspects of the software and hardware. The music in Smash 3DS is, simply, superb. I am definitely looking forward to my copy of the official soundtrack!

Smash 3DS GP 1
That’s right, you can relax like Lucina here and just listen to the superb soundtrack

Gameplay – 6.75/10
So, the visuals may not be for everyone, but they still hold their own, while the music is phenomenal. However, many players most likely only truly care about the gameplay in any Smash title, and rightfully so. Without tight controls and solid core gameplay foundations, a Smash Bros. Title can quickly become less-than-stellar. Add into the equation that this is the first iteration of a handheld title in the series, which doesn’t have the option of using a console controller, and there are valid reasons for concern. Well, unless you want to go about playing the game in other ways. Smash 3DS is a mixed bag in regard to mechanics and core gameplay.

As far as the actual controls, it’s standard Smash affair, with the “A” button handing out heavy “smash” attacks, while the “B” button is used for lesser damage attacks. The “X” button can be used for jumping as well, the left shoulder button being used for grabbing, and the right shoulder button utilizing dodge/shield. My first weary concern was how the circle pad would hold up under the strenuous usage, but that has since be quashed. I’ve played the game for about fifteen hours now, and it still feels as tight as when I first began. I know many others have reported their 3DS system coming apart due to Smash usage; as for me, it hasn’t happened and shows no signs of ever happening.

Now, when playing offline, there is plenty to choose from: traditional Smash, Smash Run, All Stars, Classic, Trophy Rush, Multi-man Smash, Stadium…the list is large. Now, whether all of these options are worthy single players game modes is an entirely different story. Traditional Smash, Classic, and All Stars are by far the best of the bunch here, with others simply being decent side-games (Trophy Rush, Multi-man Smash, and Stadium).

Menu 1
There are a sufficient amount of game modes, but not all are worth playing

One addition to Classic mode is the option for choosing paths. As a character is walking along the path in Classic mode, the game time slows down for the player to make a choice between three different paths (until the end, when there is either only one or two paths). The difference between the paths lies in difficulty: the more difficult paths yield larger rewards, in the form of coins, customizable abilities, and trophies. You can physically see which paths are more, or less, difficult by the amount of coins/trophies to be gained if traveling them. It’s a small addition, but I rather like it. Let’s say I wanted to finish Classic mode on 9.0 difficulty (hint: it’s very hard), I could still take an “easier” path through it in order to finish, if I so choose. I found it to be a very welcome addition.

Menu 2
Classic and All Star were two of my favorites, while Smash Run is, sadly, a mess

The Subspace Emissary” was replaced in the latest iteration of the franchise. For the 3DS version exclusively, the mode Smash Run is it’s replacement. I was rather interested in this feature, especially considering it was exclusive to the handheld. Sadly, Smash Run is an absolute mess. The player traverses a single map for five minutes, destroying enemies and gathering various skill upgrades (defense, attack, speed, special.) Once the five minutes are up, the skills obtained go towards the player’s base skills, in order to aid them in the final section. Sometimes the final “battle” is to outrun or out-jump the other characters/players, while other times they are Smash battles with specific inclusions (i.e. – only Mr. Saturn appears as an item to use in the match.) Unfortunately, I truly dislike Smash Run; it has no direction and seemingly no purpose, other than the final battle that happens. And even then, why not just play the superior Classic mode or traditional Smash mode instead?

The final aspect to Smash 3DS is a double-edged sword: when playing locally with friends or even online with specific friends in closed matches, the gameplay is very fun. Local multiplayer is, by far, the best – very little lag and works flawlessly. It’s rather neat to be able to meet new people out in public and battle them, and it really does work incredibly well, propelling the handheld version of Smash into a very compelling purchase alongside the console version. However, when playing online with strangers? I was less than impressed.

Smash 3DS GP 3
Mega Man has become my main character: the new additions to the roster are very good, save Dark Pit

I would say about 80% of the reason I chose to buy the handheld version of Smash was due to online play without losing mobility. I wanted to play while on break at work, out at a coffee shop, or in the comfort of my bed. Sadly, out of the hours I’ve played in online matches, only a handful of them have been enjoyable. Incredible amounts of lag plague the system, with some matches glitching and lagging so unbearably frequently that a 3-Minute match literally turned into more of a 5-Minute match. But, you could just leave that match and find another stable one, right? Unfortunately, if you leave a match without finishing it, you cannot play online for a period of time, as the game thinks you are trying to keep your stats from being tarnished. Usually, it is a fairly small amount of time (ten minutes or so), but recently there have been some glitches that ban players for years. I understand the concept, and I’m actually not against it, but when you have matches with such terrible lag, what can the player do?

This really hindered my experience of Smash 3DS, and while some of the blame also rests on the actual hardware limitations (I’m certain Smash Bros. For Wii U will run a lot smoother while playing online), it still left a bad taste in my mouth. When online play was the main reason I purchased a game, this type of flaw is truly sad.

Thankfully, I had more luck playing with friends in private matches online, and local play is superb, but most of my 3DS friends are in various parts of the world, so it isn’t always easy to just hop online and play with them.

Smash 3DS GP 2
I was glad to see Sonic and Toon Link return, while sad that Snake didn’t make the cut

Entertainment Factor – 7/10
As stated above, most of my entertainment from a title like Smash 3DS lies in the online gameplay, which doesn’t truly deliver. I was greatly entertained by Classic mode and All Stars mode, but I dreaded playing online. Smash Bros. has never really had a story (other than SubSpace Emissary in Brawl), so the series has always relied on multiplayer. Over the years, it has evolved from simple local play to a blend between the two; local multiplayer being the absolute best experience.

I’m a dad now, and my play time is very limited; usually later at night when my wife and son are in bed and I have my own time to do what I want. I say this to point out that my options for local multiplayer have been limited as well, so I have to rely on strong online play for most of my multiplayer gaming, especially with a title the likes of Smash Bros. I would think others could relate to this in some way: jobs, social gatherings, family events, etc.

I still had fun with the game, and I found the character roster to be very enjoyable, though the addition of Dark Pit as a solo character, and the lack of Solid Snake are very disappointing. Most of the game modes are very fun, with Smash Run being the only notable failure. Let’s be honest here: this is a Smash Bros. game, so we all know what to expect. Smash 3DS delivers on that aspect, and it very much entertained me.

*I also wanted to note two things that don’t have any influence on my review, but I felt they were worth stating: playing on the 3DS XL is a much better option (you will easily lose track even more often on the smaller original 3DS), and Smash Bros. for 3DS really drained my battery quickly. I have a refurbished 3DS XL, so perhaps that’s a part of it, but I noticed a drop in battery life when playing Smash 3DS. Like I said, two things I simply wanted to mention, but don’t affect my review.*

Smash Bros. for 3DS is a decent title that could’ve been a must-have title. If you are looking for another 3DS game to add to your library, Smash 3DS is worthy enough to fit into your catalog. As far as a Smash Bros. game, though, I would recommend waiting for the console version if you’re only purchasing one version. Getting a free copy of the official soundtrack when purchasing both versions is very much a selling point, at least to me, but when looking at gameplay alone, Smash 3DS falls a little short, due to the severe lag found in online play with strangers and the mess that is Smash Run. Is Smash Bros. for 3DS a must-have for 3DS owners? I would say, no, it isn’t, though it is a solid game that will definitely hold you over until Smash Bros. for Wii U releases.

Overall – 7.9/10

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