Back in the day, I bought Super Smash Bros. for the N64 on day one. In high school, Smash Bros. Melee was constantly hooked up to the TV of our dorm. So needless to say, I played a lot of Smash Bros. growing up. But for nearly 8 years, I haven't touched it -- until I picked up the 3DS game yesterday, that is.
Red Is "Go," Green Is "Stop"
In the first episode of 90s sci-fi classic Sliders, Quinn (the protagonist) finds himself in a parallel world where traffic light colours have the opposite meaning of those in our world. Thus while driving, Quinn keeps repeating a mantra to himself: "Red is go. Green is stop." After a lifetime of conditioning, driving for him suddenly feels unnatural and confusing.
This is how I felt playing Smash Bros. on the 3DS with its default controls. In games these days, the "A" button (or "X" button on the PlayStation) is almost always the jump button -- and on the rare occasion it isn't, the "B" button (or "O" on PlayStation) tends to be. In Smash Bros., however, A and B are the attack buttons while the buttons often assigned as strong and weak attacks -- i.e., X and Y -- both act as jump buttons. While this made sense on the N64 and GameCube thanks to their unique controller layouts, on the 3DS' standard gamepad layout, it is amazingly counterintuitive.
Also, as pressing up on the thumbstick also makes you jump, I found myself jumping on accident a lot -- especially when trying to perform any of my up attacks.
Luckily, this can all be changed in the options menu -- including turning off the up on the thumbstick jump -- allowing you to set up the controls however you want. And when using the controls that seemed more intuitive for me, the expected happened: gameplay improved, frustration level decreased.
Tiny Screen is Tiny
During my stream of Smash Bros. yesterday, I was playing on my original 3DS. And while it was outputting to my TV, there was just enough video lag that I was forced to use my 3DS' tiny, tiny screen to play instead. Did I mention that it's tiny?
Anytime the characters are far apart it is nearly impossible to see individual attacks -- and when you add in all the typical Smash Bros. flash and explosions, you'll be lucky to keep track of your own character. By the end of the three-hour stream, my eyes ached from straining to see the little characters -- heck, they still hurt now a day later.
Before the stream, I also tried out the game on my 3DS XL. There's no doubt it was generally easier to see what was going on, but there were still more than a few times when the characters were so spread out that I lost track of the action. Given the choice, I'd rather play Smash Bros. on the Wii U with my 42" TV in a heartbeat.
Unique and Varied Characters
Smash Bros. on the 3DS has a ton of characters to start (and more than a few secret ones to unlock). I've spent most of my time with the game so far just sampling the vast roster. I had almost forgotten how unique nearly every character is from every other -- not only in design and size but in move sets as well. It was a blast just discovering how to play each of them. On one hand we have MegaMan, whose attacks tend to be ranged attacks (even his normal attack is a gun); and on the other, there's a character like Little Mac who almost acts as his own projectile with his lunging punches. Personally, I found myself gravitating to any character with a sword because of the bit of extra range on normal attacks that it grants you.
As for how balanced the game is, I found that a few hours of play is not enough to make even the most basic judgment -- they are just too many characters.
Lag, Lag, Lag, Lag, Lag
I did a fair amount of online play in Smash Bros. on the stream. And for the most part, it was filled with more lag than fun -- despite being on a speedy connection on my end and in the early a.m. here in Japan. One fight was so lag-tastic that it would run for maybe a second before freezing for five. It was impossible to play. Moreover, while lagging, I couldn't even enter the pause menu to quit out. I just had to suffer until the match eventually ended.
Most matches, however, were at least playable. But even then, an odd half a second lag pause would show up every once in a while and throw everyone's timing off. That's not to say I didn't have one or two lag-free matches. They were pretty great -- so it really is a shame most were far more aggravating than enjoyable.
Game Modes and Unlocks Galore
There is a lot to do in Smash Bros. There are the normal quick matches where you can fight against computers or local players, online matches with items or no items, and more than a few mini-games. You can grand slam the punching bag, play the Smash Bros. equivalent of Angry Birds, or face wave after wave of Mii's. There are two modes worth talking about specifically, however.
The first turns the game into a side-scrolling Metroidvania-style platformer where you must kill enemies and hunt for treasure and power ups while the clock counts down. Then, when the time runs out, your powered up character enters a standard Smash Bros. timed battle with other similarly powered up characters.
Honestly, I found this mode tedious as many of the enemies were a pain to kill. However, there was another mode that I loved.
This mode is similar to the classic single player Smash Bros. from the N64 days. Only instead of just picking a character and fighting six random battles, you now are able to choose your path. Some have great rewards but are harder to win.
There is also a survival mode version of this which acts as a Nintendo game timeline as you encounter the characters in the order in which their games came out. However, you have one life and limited healing items to get you through the many battles.
By and large, the point of all these playmodes is to gain trophies, to gather items for your Mii character to wear, to acquire new attacks to customise the characters, and to unlock the game's many secret characters. And let's be frank, it's nice to have so many different ways to play to keep things fresh.
Do you like Super Smash Bros. in any of its past incarnations? If the answer is "yes," you'll like this one also. It has a ton of ways to play and allows you to keep changing things up to avoid boredom. However, my gut reaction is still to wait for the Wii U version. But if you just have to play the new Smash Bros. as soon as possible, at least make sure you have yourself a 3DS XL to mitigate eye strain. Your eyes will thank you.
Super Smash Bros. was released for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan on September 13, 2014. It will be released in North America and Europe on October 3, 2014. The Wii U version of the game is currently scheduled for a fourth quarter 2014 release.
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