By Jonathan Guillen
Directed by Masahiro Sakurai, Super Smash Brothers for 3DS (also known as Smash 4 or Sm4sh colloquially) is the fourth entry in the Super Smash Bros. series. The premise is simple: pick your favorites to duke it out against your friend’s favorites. The more you hit them, the further they fly until you hit them hard enough to send them into oblivion. Do this enough times and you win. The depth lays in the variety of ways to accomplish this.
With its menagerie of video game references, the game is a veritable bouquet of fan-service. Odds and ends have been lifted from a number of franchises ranging from 1980’s Pac-Man to 2010’s Xenoblade Chronicles. Needless to say, old and new fans alike are sure to find something to latch onto.
The game’s greatest appeal lies in its roster of 49 playable characters all taken from a variety of games. Included are Nintendo icons such as Mario, Pikachu, and Link in addition to guest star appearances from outside properties such as Sonic and Mega Man.
Considering hardware limitations, fans were initially skeptical of the 3DS’s ability to handle the fast paced action and storm of special effects the series is known for. Thankfully, all doubts can be laid to rest: Sm4sh looks good. The models (boy, are there a lot of them!) have a smoothed cartoon appearance with a healthy amount of detail that sets them apart from each other. If insufficient, there is an option to increase the outline around all combatants to more easily keep inventory in the fray of battle.
Animations are fluid with no noticeable hiccups even during the most hectic situations. Note that this applies to offline play only as online play’s smoothness depends entirely on the strength on both players’ internet connections
Not roster exclusive, the game’s soundtrack is primarily made up of various pieces belonging to the properties it plays host to. Matching its multi-decade reach, songs range in genre from chip tunes, as in the theme to Mute City from F-Zero, to the salsa tones of Gerudo Valley from The Legend of Zelda. There are even a number of modernizations of older pieces as in the case of Mega Man 2’s Medley, and Minor Circuit from Punch Out.
While the tracks may enhance combat and be nostalgic, some effect is lost upon passing through the 3DS’s underpowered speakers. Unnoticeable during retro tracks, some orchestral and acoustic pieces suffer due to hardware limitations. This isn’t a major concern as it does little to inhibit the actual gameplay, but it’s worth noting for a recurring pattern that will be addressed later in this article.
Sound effects are a treat as well. There is an array of contact sounds that perfectly match the amount of damage done at the various stages of gameplay. Said effects aid the mechanics in conveying gratification as well as power to the player.
Gameplay is fast. Gone are the days of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s (Smash 3) sluggish bouts with this return to form. Mind, Smash 4 does not quite measure up to Super Smash Bros. Melee’s (Smash 2) intense pace, but it does make a competent attempt. Controls, while unchanged from its past iterations, remain intuitive. Combined with the swift flow of gameplay, this translates to a rewarding system of mechanics. Speed of movement translates into reflex reliance which means when you get punished for making a mistake, it’s clear that it was your fault and not the game. Seemingly unforgiving, this accountability allows dedicated players to be rewarded for their diligence.
In fact, Smash 4 may be TOO forgiving. While combat moves quickly, games tend to drag on around the KO mark with few moves able to effectively finish bouts. There is also a matter of recovery moves (those which allow for a speedy return from oblivion) receiving an overall boost in this iteration which nullifies many game-ending attacks despite sending the opponent flying into what seems like certain doom. This could, however, be criticism steeped in how previous iterations handled late-game elements and not reflective of gameplay specific to Smash 4 itself. It’s difficult to say and only time will tell if this is a flaw or simply a paradigm shift.
To its credit, the increased time in high-danger battles translates to a more critical mindset for players. Imagine both you and your opponent are near the brink of death and the slightest mistake will end the match. There’s a sense of panic, of strategy change. No risky moves are allowed here and only one strike is necessary to win. It is at once both incredibly stressful and unbelievably exciting. The catharsis upon winning or frustration for being the one to slip is the very soul of these sorts of games and so it’s difficult to deny Smash 4 praise. Again, time will tell.
The controls themselves take some getting used to. The cramped nature of the 3DS’ hardware impedes accurate input at times. There is particular mention of these instances during smash-attacks and upward ’tilting’ attacks which require pushing the analog stick in certain directions before executing an attack. Although disabling “up” as the jump command and instead relying on “x” and “y” helps, the dilemma feels akin to battling against your own sword rather than an enemy swordsman. All in all, the controls for Smash 4 can be said to be solid though, again, limited by the hardware.
The single player campaign is scant if existent at all. Included is Classic mode, an Arcade mode composed of ten rounds of fights with varying rule-sets all leading to a final confrontation with the final boss, Master Hand. Admittedly, there is some amusement to be had in Hand’s various transformations on higher difficulties with the introduction of “Master Core,” an adversary new to the series. If playing on a high enough difficulty, Hand transforms into Core mid-fight and has a number of abilities that scale with the difficulty chosen during character selection. Aside from that, there’s a number of mini games littered about but not much to sate those seeking a single player experience.
It can be said that Smash 4 lives and dies by its multiplayer. Aside from the seamless play experienced when playing against friends in close proximity, there is the element of online play to be address.
Online play is a mixed bag. For every silky-smooth fight, there is another choppy, lag-ridden bout to be suffered through. As these matches depend entirely upon the internet connections of both players, there’s little that can be done about it aside from Nintendo smoothing out its net code or playing while limiting access to the connection by household computers as much as possible.
Sm4sh is a competent successor to the beloved franchise. Its most glaring flaws can be attributed to its platform but are negligible for those willing to condition their hands to the 3DS’s contours. The game takes the frantic, thrilling gameplay of Melee (Smash 2) and tempers it with only a bit of Brawl’s (Smash 3) casual accessibility to appeal to hardcore and casual players alike. It must be said, this is the sort of game you pick up A.) because all your friends already have it, or B.) you want to find friends who do. In any case, if you like Nintendo characters and own a 3DS, you’re bound to have a smashing time with this game.