Spin a globe, land your finger on Japan, and you’ll be pointing at a country that will shortly awaken to the unending thrill of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. While the rest of the world has to patiently hold out for another three weeks, we were lucky enough to take Nintendo’s most recent preview build for a test drive and it is undoubtedly shaping up to be something rather special.
It’s been three years since Satoru Iwata made his somewhat hasty announcement at E3 2011, even taking creator Masahiro Sakurai by surprise who clarified that they were still wrapping up Kid Icarus: Uprising‘s development and that work hadn’t yet begun on the new iterations.
Fast forward, and with Bandai Namco enlisted to assist Nintendo‘s creative force, the result is resounding in that we’re clearly soon to be treated to the most robust entry in the Super Smash Bros. series yet. It’s a tour de force of brawling perfection, and what will mostly take you by surprise is just how well the experience translates to a handheld.
Clear lessons have been learnt from the mixed response to Wii’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl – with Sakurai in recent comments referring to it as “a rather tame game” – suggesting that in making the series accessible to first-time players, it lost some of the game’s relentless excitement. That spark has thankfully been reignited, rejuvenated by a fighter roster that packs plenty of punch, wilder stage selection and a plethora of gameplay modes that promise to keep you entertained for years.
It all screams Sakurai, from the colourfully simplistic menu design to the inclusion of the Intensity meter – seen in Kid Icarus: Uprising – that allows you to use gold to strengthen your opponents and heighten your chances at receiving more lucrative rewards. This playful gambling mechanism will appear in the game’s Classic mode, tackled solo and which sees you proceeding along a multi-choice path that allows you to choose which opponent you want to face. Victories will shower you with character trophies, gold and parts – with customisation playing a key role largely due to the introduction of the Mii Fighter.
We were also able to delve into Stadium’s sub-modes, which levies sub-modes that include the survival-based Multi-Man Smash where you square off against hundreds of foes, perfectly timing the launch of a bomb in Target Blast to destroy as many as you can, and the returning Home-Run Contest. All-Star Mode makes a return, and is now accessible right off the bat. This sees you fight your way through a chronological timeline of characters with a limited number of recovery items and no opportunity to continue if you fail. It’s a satisfying challenge, but players will first have to unlock every fighter to carry them through it in entirety.
What will come as a disappointment is that Smash Run, the heavily-touted Nintendo 3DS exclusive mode that has you battling through labyrinths, can only be played locally. This sees four players look to neutralise randomly spawning enemies drawn from the roster’s lineage to heighten their character’s stats. Once the time limit expires, they will then face their opponents in battle and hope that their collected power-ups will provide the necessary edge to claim victory. This is exceptionally fun and has the thrill of the chase, but it is a shame that most will have to turn to CPU opposition rather than having the chance to call on nearby friends.
Shulk was the most recently revealed character that we could take for a spin, accompanied by a stage inspired by the Gaur Plain in Xenoblade Chronicles. Wielding the Monado, he presents a unique proposition for players that take time to explore strategies that come into play through the Arts at his disposal. These allow Shulk to change his abilities on the fly – whether that be achieving higher jumps but having a weakened defense, or granting himself faster movement at the cost of weaker attacks. These subtleties are a hallmark of Sakurai’s design precision, and more astute players will reap the reward of such roster addition.
Stage selection continues to be a sweet-smelling potpourri of nostalgia and well-considered nods, whether you’re entering Punch-Out!!’s boxing ring or swinging at foes across Animal Crossing’s Tortimer Island. Rainbow Road is equally glorious, and there’s a plentiful mix of old and new for you to enjoy. The stereoscopic 3D accentuates these luscious battlefields, with opponent knockouts slamming against the screen and Assist Trophies causing all manner of havoc.
While the controls are fairly comfortable on a Nintendo 3DS XL, the only aspect that will initially feel fairly alien to you is that, somewhat expectedly, you aren’t playing with a traditional controller. Attacks are within easy reach being mapped to A and B buttons, either X and Y can be used to jump, the D-pad is for mocking your opponents with taunts, which leaves the L and R buttons to let you hurl items and employ use of your temporary shield respectively. It’s only movement with the Circle Pad that took a little getting used to, although wasn’t too problematic after a few short bouts. I have previously tried the game on the original Nintendo 3DS (which I always found too small for my unwieldy adult hands) that was a less favourable experience for me, but if that’s your handheld size of choice you shouldn’t have any issues.
It is in presentation that Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS truly shines, and easily represents a towering technical accomplishment for the handheld. Running at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, even when 3D is activated, it proves to be as blistering and frenetic an experience as you’ve come to expect. There’s a cell-shaded shimmer to everything, with character models remaining as intricately detailed and accented by outlines to help track movement – although whether you choose to turn these off is entirely up to you.
I can admit to having felt wary as to how Super Smash Bros. would fare after its conversion to handhelds, but it has surpassed all expectation that I had for it. Packing just as much punch as its console brethren, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS tussles to deliver just as exhilarating an experience to the palms of your hands.