There has always been, within the ranks of the Nintendo fan base, a great affection for the Super Smash Bros. series. There is something genuinely unifying about the shared experience of exploring the worlds, characters and scenarios of the world’s most prolific games publisher – and, it has to be said, of hoofing a Pikachu off a cliff.
The newest instalment is the culmination of six years of hype and speculation, and has worked fans into a foamy lather in preparation for its release. They will therefore want to know if the series lives up to its reputation. The response, like the game’s development, is long and complex.
There is little to expound on the basic gameplay of Super Smash Bros., given how little it has changed since its conception. Characters fight on a 2D plane against a 3D background, with the objective to fling other fighters off the edges, top or bottom of the stage. Unlike more traditional fighting games, the stages are open and characters often have radically different movesets, which lends a nice air of variety to proceedings.
This time, another roster update has provoked more excitement and speculation from fans, but in fact it’s rather disappointing. There are some big stars included – Pac-Man and Mega Man, for example, are long overdue for Smash – but clearing two roster slots for Robin (who?) and Shulk might come across as misguided. Still, let’s be fair. Nintendo have traditionally used Smash Bros. as a proving ground for obscure characters like Ness and Lucas (whose games are fantastic) so maybe we’ll see a big surge in popularity. Probably not.
Despite the fairly samey gameplay mechanics, the only real change to which is the removal of tripping, Super Smash Bros. does change things up in its different gameplay modes. Smash Run places players in a huge maze for a time, in which they can defeat enemies and collect power ups, before letting them loose with their increased power levels on more traditional enemies.
Classic mode returns, ironically with a twist, as the player’s character storms through a basically linear (although now with branching paths) collection of battles in order to reach (and challenge) Master Hand and the ever-creepy Crazy Hand. We also see the venerable All-star mode, which pits one character against all the others, sorted by year of original appearance.
Smash Bros.’ advantage has always been its wealth of content, and that is mostly in full view here. While it is disappointing not to have a full story mode as Brawl did, it’s no significant loss to the fun of the game and more than made up for by the ease with which multiplayer is available. The stadium mini-games return, with target smashing in an Angry Birds style as well as poor Sandbag taking his traditional beating.
There’s enough here to justify the price tag on its own, and that’s before the collectibles like Trophies and stickers enter the fray. There are customisable characters with a large range of different costumes and the ability to tweak the balance of power, defense and speed. In short, it’s everything a tribute to Nintendo should have and should be.
That doesn’t mean though that it’s without problems. For starters, Super Smash Bros.’ gameplay style is ill-suited to a handheld format. The circle pad is not precise enough for the minute movements beloved of fighting fans, and holding the system for any extended period of time causes hand cramps when playing on smaller versions of the console. The screen size is sometimes insufficient to distinguish characters from one another. The 3D once again necessarily adds nothing, since it can’t use 3D for puzzles for fear of alienating those who cannot peceive it.
Good as it is, it’s hard to see why Super Smash Bros. was released on 3DS at all. Not only did it lengthen development time when Nintendo really need some big sellers being released, but it also took sales away from the Wii U version. While they might have been banking on the larger installed base of the 3DS to deliver instant profit, Nintendo know that more than any other series except perhaps Pokémon and Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. is a system seller. They have squandered the chance to push the Wii U, a system which by most metrics is manifestly failing. The Wii U is not a bad system, but when Nintendo fails to push its biggest advantages – an excellent exclusive first-party library – it makes it harder and harder for it to succeed.