One day after this post goes live, gamers outside Japan will be able to get their mitts on a demo of the clumsily named Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. Those who qualified for early access to this demo by turning on email notifications and obtaining a platinum Club Nintendo rank before a certain date were given an “unlimited” version of the demo a week early that is not constrained to thirty uses. Access also came with three other download codes to be given to friends to take advantage of the demo’s local multiplayer functions. Generous (read: friendless) internet users were giving away their spare codes and I was lucky enough to get just such a one. In the interim, the Japanese full release of the game hit 3DSs all around the world, despite childish notions of region locking preventing such a thing, and a great deal of streaming on platforms like Twitch hit the internet. What follows are my impressions from a week’s time with the US demo as well as a good deal of time watching live streams and reading discussions of the latest entry in the Smash Bros. series.
As one deeply interested in the competitive scene that has almost stubbornly grown up around the Smash games I had every intent of coming at this demo from an angle interested in any competitive viability. However, I do simultaneously consider myself a “casual” player of the series, quite able to enjoy an item-laden four person free for all at home or online. And knowing Nintendo’s history with the series I was tempering my expectations, to say the least, by predicting a Smash experience more in line with the casual friendly Brawl than the tournament friendly Melee. This being a preview based on a demo version of a condensed version of a console entry in the series, it cannot be stressed enough that these impressions are incomplete as to the real differences between Smash 4, as it has come to be known, and its predecessors. It is nevertheless what Nintendo has brought to bear, and so it remains only fair that I evaluate it without reserve.
Foremost in my curiosity regarding this first time handheld version of the game were the controls. The 3DS notably lacks some the of inputs available to all previous entries, and it relies on a circle pad instead of a full analogue stick. After some adjustment and only a week’s time against AI opponents of various difficulty levels is it apparent the controls are clearly not ideal. Flatly, they are inadequate for the kinds of inputs a game like this requires even for play against non-human opponents. Some clumsiness is to be expected when switching to a new control scheme, especially after having spent hundreds of hours with the previous layout, but it is clear that when “some clumsiness” subsides after that adjustment and the controls still feel clumsy that a fault is more likely to be with the controls than the player.
Famously the Smash games are known for tearing apart their controllers when played intensely and for long hours against competent rivals. It is worrisome therefore that a worn down controller on a handheld is tantamount to an entirely broken system and the occasional top screen shaking in its loose hinge is no vote of confidence that the 3DS will be immune to this trend. As to the clumsiness of the controls, they come primarily from the lack of a C-stick or equivalent, and the limited utility of the shoulder buttons. With lack of the former comes a sacrifice of aerial control while attacking and the lack of the latter presents less flexibility for performing grabs, dodges, rolls and shielding maneuvers. It may all be a bit more than the typical Smash player cares about but their omission is about as objective a differentiator as is like to be made between the console and handheld versions. Surprisingly, however, the circle pad presents itself as a reasonable replacement to an analogue stick which has been proven in other 3DS games and remains no less the case here. The full release will support button customization (a thankfully increasingly common trait for console titles these days) but the demo is locked to a default set up likely to trip up players accustomed to a GameCube layout.
Visually, and with consideration for the hardware, the game looks quite good. The framerate is smooth throughout and the presentation is aided by the bottom screen to get rid of those pesky percentage icons that would sometimes obscure the action in past entries when the camera pulled back. The added black outlines to characters, which can be toggled off in the full release, do help to keep the important aspects of the game clear at all times in an otherwise hectic atmosphere. Some hardware limitations have been identified in the full release, with particular reference to Olimar’s pikmin that appear to be animated at less than half the framerate of the rest of the game, and Nintendo has officially stated that the 3DS’s limitations had profound impacts on game development for both it and the Wii U version. Olimar is limited to only three pikmin at a time and series veteran fighter Ice Climbers had to be cut from the roster, which likely explains the addition of the unusual retro duo of the DuckHunt Duck and Dog.
The features of the demo that everyone will have access to tomorrow are quite limited in scope, with only Mario, Link, Mega Man, Villager and Pikachu as playable characters. The mode and stage are also locked to a two minute scorematch on Battlefield with either items on or item off in the “Omega Form” flat version of the stage. Local multiplayer with three other people or three other AI is supported but oddly only half of the character skins have made it into the demo, four out of the final eight. No other modes or options are unlocked but Nintendo rather cleverly did not streamline the demo version, instead only greying out the locked features, and characters, which allows players to see what the full version will have in store.
Time enough to fully appreciate the free demo’s offer will likely be spent well before the allotted thirty uses are consumed, but it does give a nice hands on glimpse of how Nintendo managed to cram the game onto the 3DS’s button layout and hardware. For now my impressions with respect to the “feel” of the game against previous entries are that it lies somewhere between Brawl and Melee with a decided skewing toward the former. That is, truthfully, my ideal end result for this game on the Wii U but it will be the little particulars that make all the difference. Two months away until the main event and the questions can begin to be fully answered.
So if you are a casual or dedicated Smash fan, let me know your feelings toward the 3DS or Wii U versions of this game. Also, feel very much free to come back after you spent some time with the demo version and tell us how your impressions lined up with mine.
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