Review: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

Sounds like a model code for a wireless router.
Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS, or perhaps SSBfN3DS. Catchy!

In a little more than a month from the publication of this review the Wii U version of Smash Bros will arrive on US shores, but in the meantime there is Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS to occupy Smash fans. The inclusion of a handheld version of a previously console-only game was something clearly considered from the outset, and it was asked of a development team that has considerable experience producing for the 3DS. So has the fourth entry in the illustrious Smash series been adapted successfully to the portable world? In many regards, yes. But ultimately the experience is left feeling like a limited paired down version of a main course yet to come.

Avid fans of the series were likely wary of the prospects for a handheld version of this title, with considerable doubt surrounding the fitness of the platform to simply control the game. The 3DS’s limited control scheme, featuring a circle pad instead of a full analogue stick and no second directional input at all, would mean the controlability of the game would likely suffer in order to fit onto a 3DS. This fear has indeed panned out, as the controls do operate and offer almost all of the same control the previous entries afforded, but do so only just serviceably. The circle pad, which tends to feel less like an input device and more like sliding a penny around on a table, along with the thin rectangular profile of the console, can easily lead to hand cramping and soreness after less than a half hour’s play time. The shoulder buttons can be out of place, particularly the L Button, when otherwise attempting to maintain a comfortable grip on the console. This button’s considerable importance, being the grab button and thereby making up a good third of gameplay strategy, means a continued shifting of grip on the device. The upper screen’s propensity to wobble with the slightest movement only exacerbates this issue. It becomes clearer by the hour that a game as twitch-based as Smash is a rough fit a best in comparison to the calmer affair of RPG inputs that otherwise occupy this reviewer’s time with the device.

It can be toggled off or made lighter. Personally, I had no problems when it was turned off, so I kept it that way.
Characters have an outline to help make them pop out on the 3DS’s small screen.

The game’s content is, at first blush, no slouch in the variety department. Along with traditional Smash modes there is the return of a Classic progression mode, All Star mode, some mini games in the Stadium menu, and the all new Smash Run alongside a more filled out online experience. The omission from the previous game is the detestable Subspace Emissary, the curiously named and over-wrought single player “story mode” that attempted to turn a 2D brawler into a platformer with some kind of plot. Any such pretenses have been (mostly) dropped this time around, with some of those cumbersome platforming elements making their return in the new Smash Run. The problems with this new mode are many, not the least of which is the large time commitment spent running around a massive map collecting specific power-ups for about five minutes only to end up in a competition that requires more speed than knockback power. No early warning is made of the powered-up match to follow so the wrongly speced will likely fail through little fault of their own. The online mode is a better offer over the last game’s, but only just. Open match-making is still just essentially an anonymous hook-up service aimed at getting the deed done and moving on, and the impersonal nature of it grows increasingly at odds with the personal nature of the Nintendo ecosystem. In the face of such blank online participation, it is little wonder the developer has historically seen no merit in it. But such shortcomings are by their own design, an apparently deliberate hampering of friendly anonymous online interaction. The mode’s attraction is further hurt by the considerable input lag and gameplay hiccups that can plague about half of all matches. The inclusion of a core-friendly For Glory item-less mode only soothes that problem so much.

The competitive scene has taken a close eye to this game more with the intent to glean early speculation about the home console version’s fitness for competition than to further the 3DS version’s use in something like tournament play. Doubtless there are some among the crowd who think the 3DS a good enough fit for this, and Nintendo’s own tournament hostings seem to reenforce those delusions. The truth is that this game will be largely abandoned by competitive players for a console version that offers better control and likely better stability online or otherwise. However, some important information has been uncovered that will impact the home console release. In particular some of the game’s mechanics that govern DI, hitstun and knockback power at higher damage percentages have been proven to be changed dramatically. DI is still a factor, thankfully, but it is now calculated in a way that necessarily changes how inputs should be made. Early speculation is that this will make surviving with this mechanic much easier. Hitstun and knockback are both changed by the addition of a rage system that increasingly powers up characters over a certain damage percentage. This means more vulnerable characters will have the ability to deal more damage with higher knockback, essentially an attempt to level the playing field. The reality is that these buffed characters will suffer more in competitive play, as their stronger attacks will knock opponents out of their comboing range. Characters that have been hit less will have their combos preserved for longer, potentially punishing characters at high damage in a way not intended. The combo potential of the game does seem greater than Brawl‘s by a long shot, with certain standouts like Sheik and Rosalina making early bids for high tier, but any observations of their performance must be recognized as through the lens of a limited control scheme.

The full roster. All 49 of ’em. 51 if all Mii Fighters are counted as separate characters.

The roster on offer this time is of note if only for its massiveness. Previously so called “clone” characters that shared the same moveset animations had been a staple since Melee, and the differences were sometimes more than most players could appreciate. This time around the differences between entrants like Pit and Dark Pit have been made even more unclear. Time will likely resolve the differences, as it did the differences between the otherwise identical Mario and Dr. Mario, but it puts a feeling of bloat upon the roster for the first time in the series. Third party appearances are still in, this time with Pac-Man and Mega Man (minus Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid) and the returning Sonic. A long term examination is required for many aspects of a game like this, but initial impressions lead the roster to feel full of samey characters in a game that has probably reached or surpassed its ideal maximum roster count.

Ultimately Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS attempts to serve up a handheld experience that improves upon its predecessor, but only opens up new problems by dint of its platform of choice. The home console version will likely see many of these complaints ameliorated to some extent, if not fully. Casual fans of Smash with an interest the game’s portability will see a lot of usage out this title, but all others are best served by waiting for the main course to arrive.


  1. This time around the differences between entrants like Pit and Dark Pit have been made even more unclear. Time will likely resolve the differences, as it did the differences between the otherwise identical Mario and Dr. Mario

    You’re making a false analogy here. Mario and Dr. Mario are not clones just because they happen both to be called Mario. Their movesets were different–and not in a subtle way, either. Fireballs and pills both worked differently, and Dr. Mario was significantly and VERY noticeably slower than Mario in execution and general ‘feel’, with increased push (and damage too, I think) from his moves as the trade-off. No observant person playing either character could fail to spot this. It was not subtle, and it was not something that anyone with a brain needed to be told.

    Dark Pit and Pit are, as I understand it, essentially the same: speeds, recovery time, movesets, etc. At present, I have not played it myself to verify this, but it is what I have heard from the few people I know who have played the game.

    So there is a problem here that was not present in any of the preceding Smash titles: there are different, selectable characters, each occupying separate spaces on the selection screen, who are not different at all. That was never the case before: all of the characters were different enough from each other that by playing them, one could instantly see how and in what ways they were different.

    Of course, this is only a problem at the level of what we might call something like ‘honesty’: Nintendo is presenting us ‘options’ that aren’t really options. It’s nothing new, though: they’ve done this in Mario Kart forever. I think the difference here is that, in previous iterations, they did not do this, and consequently people feel a bit cheaply done by, as Nintendo has said, “Here’s a new character!” but, in fact, it’s just a skin for an already-present character.

  2. Dr. Mario’s differences from Mario are not quite what you’ve described, and really not so pronounced that “most players could appreciate” it. You’re a bit more savvy than most, Lusi, give yourself that much credit.

    His run speed is in fact slower as you say, but all his attacks are the same speed and power as Mario who himself was not a speedy or powerful character, and his attacks all do very similar amounts of damage. Pills and fireballs work quite the same, except that pills bounce a bit more and of course they look and sound different. The actual differences, the ones which most players and you probably need to be told, lay in the sweet spots for their move-sets which are otherwise identical in Melee (in Brawl and Smash 4, Mario has that stupid FLUDD thing as his down-B).

    Dr. Mario’s sweet spots are found in different areas of his attack hurt boxes and cause different kinds of knockback, not necessarily greater knockback, and it ultimately means Dr. Mario has a better aerial and spacing game as both neutral air and forward air sweet spot very differently and cause different knockback trajectories. Likewise his down-B (tornado) and up-B caused different kinds of knockback and have better comboing potential. I think the fact he was just now mistaken for being much stronger and slower shows that those differences were not so easily sussed out as you say.

    Dark Pit and Pit might have similar differences in how their attacks function, and they clearly appear different in the way Mario and Dr. Mario’s pills or cape look different. The point being that if I the same amount of time to play Melee and try to cite, accurately, the differences between Mario and Dr. Mario I probably would not have noticed things like Dr. Mario’s neutral-air gets stronger the longer it’s out, his cape is slightly longer and faster and gives him more horizontal aerial movement, his down-B can be mashed for increased vertical movement or his forward-air sends opponents up instead of down when sweet-spotted, because those are the only meaningful differences between the two. Maybe that makes me a dummy? Feel free to call me a dummy (as if you needed my permission), I know you want to! Let it out!

    Anyway, these things will be illuminated in future, if they aren’t already on some forum, unless of course Nintendo really did just make a straight-up clone. I’ll admit I haven’t spent much time with Pit or Dark Pit, not caring much for their playstyle, but I’m not dismissing the possibility that there is no meaningful difference, as I think my review indicates.

  3. You’re a bit more savvy than most, Lusi, give yourself that much credit.
    I don’t know that this is true. I’m not a ‘tournament’ player by any stretch of the imagination. But it was obvious to me immediately that Dr. Mario plays ‘heavier’ than Mario, but is ‘stronger’ as a trade-off. These aren’t hyper-critical evaluations, nor am I splitting hairs. It’s obvious stuff: anyone who plays both characters will readily see the differences.

    Maybe that makes me a dummy?

    Feel free to call me a dummy
    Okay, dummy!

    Dark Pit and Pit might have similar differences in how their attacks function, and they clearly appear different in the way Mario and Dr. Mario’s pills or cape look different.
    Everything I’ve heard is that, appearances aside, they are identical: no faster, no slower, no ‘heavier’, no ‘stronger’. How much of this is true depends, I suppose on the observance and motivation of the people making the claims. It’s entirely possible that people are being wilfully obtuse in an effort to have something to complain about. I wouldn’t put it past people on the internet. I wouldn’t put anything past people on the internet.

    Anyway, these things will be illuminated in future,
    Absolutely. The 21 November release of REAL Smash will lead to a deluge of serious information about the game’s mechanics, instead of the present trickle.

  4. Lusi, you big silly goose, those aren’t hyper-critical evaluations because they’re not accurate!

    I think part of the problem with finding these kinds of differences soon after release (like the ones I listed above) is that they’re beyond monotonous to do, and can’t even be done accurately in Training Mode since for some reason (please understand) knockback and damage dealt in Training Mode isn’t the same as it is in other modes…..!!

    I’m not making that shit up, I promise.

    Because Nintendo.

  5. knockback and damage dealt in Training Mode isn’t the same as it is in other modes


  6. YUP. For no real apparent reason, the Stale Moves mechanic (as the game calls it, otherwise known as diminishing returns) is not active for… reasons.

    You can probably guess, but this changes how attacks cause damage and knockback when repeated over and over by becoming weaker and weaker. The exact ways it works I don’t remember, and how it’s refreshed isn’t simple (if I recall), but it has a major impact on how moves combo with other moves. And in Training Mode this just doesn’t apply. All moves are at full strength all the time. The Rage mechanic (I don’t think this has an official name) is active in Training Mode, however.

  7. I’m still busy unlocking characters, but I haven’t had any problems with the circle pad or shoulder buttons after switching grab and shield.

  8. I still have a few characters left to unlock but I have been enjoying my time with SSB4fN3DS. I had issues with the shoulder buttons at first since I normally used the “Z” button on the Gamecube controller for my grabs. I still have trouble with the circle pad when it comes to using smash attacks and it has cost me a few battles but I’m getting the hang of it a bit.

    Adding the ability to change the special moves of the fighters is cool too, but too many of the moves are just slight variations of what they replace(although I know having 4 completely unique options for each special would just make this game totally impossible to balance.) For what it is, SSB4fN3DS is a good but not great entry into the series.

  9. @DA: I tried some different variations on the control schemes and appreciate that this is an option in a game otherwise stripped of them. However, I wasn’t able to find anything more optimal for me than the default scheme.

    @Gyme: Unlocking all the additional special moves is a pretty lengthy task and since you can’t use them in online play (you can’t even use Mii Fighters for some reason) I haven’t given them too much weight. Some of them seem like neat variations and probably do throw things all out of wack. But Smash was never a game in much balance to begin with. Most of the time a few good characters stand out above a bunch of crappy ones.

    Also, it should be noted I found yet another feature they removed aside from the Item Frequency. They also removed the random stage selection filter. Previously, when selecting Random during stage selection you could set up a filter to designate which stages could be selected at random. Not anymore! Was that because the 3DS’s processes couldn’t handle it too, Nintendo? Sure. :/

  10. Dang, I thought that I just hadn’t found that in the settings. That’s annoying. I know this isn’t the first game to be missing it, but I wish we’d seen the return of awards. It was always a badge of honor to get itemless or other fun awards.

  11. Actually, scratch that. It’s an unlockable option (as it was in every other Smash). “Additional Rules” aren’t open until you play 200 matches. woopsie

  12. Ah, good. That’s dumb that you have to unlock it, but good that it’s at least there in some fashion.

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