Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS is nearly upon us. This is a franchise that commands a huge following, a place on the international scene for tournaments and the love of those nostalgic for Nintendo classics.

Masahiro Sakurai is the creator and director of this series. He's been driving its vision and success since its first outing on the Nintendo 64. This new generation of Smash, still under Sakurai's guidance, is the first to spill onto the handheld scene. While we wait for the Wii U version, the one without an exact 2014 release date, we have the Nintendo 3DS version coming in a matter of weeks.

The big question that most fans have regarding the two is, "will the portable entry be worth purchasing." That's a tough one to answer, especially since there are some gamers out there who live and die by each generation's Smash entry.

I know this: I've had a lot of fun with this game, and I don't see that slowing down in the coming months.

A Straightforward Brawler That Doesn't Suffer Because It's Smaller

A rhyme on purpose? Not really, no.

Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS works because it's a tried and true formula. This is a franchise that's existed on every home console from Nintendo since the 64. When it first launched there, I don't think I would have been able to guess at its long-term popularity.

Yet, here we are, as hyped as ever for another new edition.

At its core, Smash is an extremely approachable fighting game because of its balance between simplicity and complexity. I lean towards the simple, casual side of the spectrum with these games. I play them for hours on end, I challenge friends to fights and I even try and get good with certain characters; however, I'm not the tournament scene type.

But that's what's so wonderful about Smash and its varying communities. There's room for me, the more casual player, and there's room for the tournament goer as well. Smash on the 3DS emphasizes the room for that latter combatant more than any other entry has in the series. There's a Final Destination form of every stage in the game, there are ways to tweak rules so that tournament play is easily created and there's even an online mode called "For Glory" that uses tournament standards.

Smash can be played competitively, and, mark my words, I think Nintendo may have created the new convention standard for waiting in line for demos. Going to PAX East in the spring? I bet you'll be playing Smash on your 3DS with the hordes of convention goers in between demos.

The good thing about this 3DS version is that it doesn't really suffer for being on a handheld. Yes, there are stories out there about people breaking their circle pads while playing this game. That hasn't happened to me, and I've been playing it constantly for a week now. Once I mapped my buttons the way I wanted and mastered jumping with a button instead of pressing up on the pad, I found this game as precise as I needed it to be. Is it as good as it is on the big screen? I'll say no, but it works, and it isn't a "bad experience" because of the portable size.

I've been comfortable with Smash on the go. It's been my playing choice during football, on car rides, after I put my son to bed and, of course, in the bathroom (call the cops!). This has been my downtime game because of how quickly I can fire it up and play, and that's a big nod to how it was designed.

Oh, the Game Modes You'll Play

Super Smash Bros. arrives on the Nintendo 3DS with a slew of modes built around getting into bouts and trials quickly, efficiently and easily. Every mode here feels like it was built with portability in mind, and that makes this version of Smash great for those with long commutes, pockets of free time and a crap load of other, real life things to do.

The standard mode from the bunch is Smash. This is a straight up battle of up to four opponents, whether they are AI or nearby friends with the game. You'll set up your settings (of which there are plenty from item choice to handicaps and method of stage selection), pick your fighters, assign difficulty and choose a stage. You'll duke it out in Stock or Timed fashion, and this is the Smash Bros. you know and love.

Then there's Smash Run, the mode exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS. Smash Run is weird, fun, frantic, frustrating and super interesting all at once. You'll pick your fighter, fiddle with a few settings and then be dropped in this huge arena with computer or friend-controlled characters. Then you'll fight in-game enemies that range in strength, attack style and value. As you beat them, they'll drop stat boosts and specials. You'll collect those boosts, getting stronger as you play. In fact, playing makes you stronger. So, in the default though tweakable time limit of five minutes, you'll move as quickly and efficiently as you can while beating enemies up, opening chests and diving into secret rooms.

Then the five minutes expires, and each now upgraded version of the starting characters does battle. What's frustrating about this, for me, is that you don't know exactly what the final event will be. More than likely, it'll be a free-for-all fight. Sometimes? Sometimes Sakurai decides to troll you and your stupid focus on defense with a race against the computer. The fastest character wins in a 2D race through an obstacle filled track. Sort of weird, right?

Smash Run is fun, and it's exactly what I meant when I said that this version of Smash was so clearly built with portability in mind. Here we have a mode where all fighters start at square one, level up and get huge enough for a final showdown that's actually quite exhilarating. That all happens in the span of seven or eight minutes, and it works.

Then there's Classic mode, which will likely be the third major prong of your time spent in Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 3DS. This mode basically plays out a lot like Sakurai's Kid Icarus: Uprising. You'll choose a fighter, and then you'll set intensity for the mode. The higher the intensity, the bigger the rewards. Once in play, you'll choose difficulty paths between each stage. The harder the path, the more coins and rewards you'll get. It all comes together with a battle against Master Hand, and maybe a little something extra crazy if you choose an alternate route.

Then you've got mini games, online battle and trophy collection. Going after trophies is just as fun as it has always been, and there's something oddly pleasing about panning around your massive trophy collection. Online play has been rock solid for me so far. Every combatant I've faced has been from Japan, as the game is out there. While I'm not necessarily doing too well (dangit), the matches have been lag free so far. This may change after launch here, but it's been as smooth as playing with someone in the same room.

I guess the only thing that isn't 100 percent clear with online play (and all things ranked, like the Home Run stuff) is the GSP, or "Global Smash Power." It's not a lower-the-number-the-better kind of thing. You just get a really high number, that maybe means you're better than everyone below. I'm not sure, and it isn't really explained in the game too well.

Roster Selection, Customization, Creation

Sakurai and crew face a unique problem when it comes to creating the roster for each Super Smash Bros. entry. They have to sort through a massive pile of Nintendo franchises, each with their own dedicated fanbase, they need to appease series fans by making sure the return of characters is satisfying and they have to add characters that fans never really knew they wanted.

Looking at this roster, the full scope of which we're not actually allowed to talk about, I already know that hardcore fans will react with a range from excitement to disappointment. There are some odd omissions, and yet there are additions that make this Smash pretty cool and interesting. Pac-Man, for instance, is a welcome presence that I don't think anyone saw coming before E3 this year.

For me, though, the roster has been perfect. I might be atypical in this regard, but I usually fiddle with a few random characters in Smash games until I find the ones I love. Those become my mains, and in Smash on the 3DS, my mains (again, the ones I can mention) were the Villager, Toon Link, Mario (all dressed in Stars and Stripes), Luigi and Zero Suit Samus. Moreover, two of the unlockables have also been awesome to play given my personal style.

What's interesting to me in regards to the roster, though, is its size. This holds true of all Smash games, not just the one on the 3DS. Like I said, I might be atypical in the fact that I stick with my mains more often than not, but I found this roster to be so enormous that it was almost too much. Understand, I'm not actually registering this as a complaint; instead, I have to say that anyone who complains about the roster not being large enough is way off in my book. The roster may not have the exact character you want (see, the Ice Climbers), but it's certainly large and varied enough to please all comers.

Now, to further flesh out that variety, some game modes will earn you points of customization for each character. You might get fancy pants, a power badge or new shoes. These aren't cosmetic changes (unless it's for the Mii Fighter character and you find a costume piece), they're stat boosters. You'll be able to create your own versions of each character by applying the moves and equipment you earn in other modes.

So, say you love the crap out of Donkey Kong. You use him to play through the Classic mode where adjusting intensity will earn you more rewards. You earn a pile of stat boosters. You go back into the menu, customize a version of Donkey Kong and save it to one of the 10 slots you have available. You use stat changers that make DK faster but less powerful. Or, maybe, you use a boost that gives a huge bonus to defense while sacrificing speed. You customize DK for certain opponents or your own personal play styles, then you enter a match that allows custom characters, select this version of DK and suddenly one of your mains plays in a completely different fashion. It's actually pretty interesting and adds a layer of depth no other Smash game has really offered before.

Finally, you have the Mii Fighter characters. Their stats and moves are upgraded in the exact same way that custom fighters are. You can make your Mii (and any Mii you have on your system will be viable) into a fighter, gunslinger or sword user. From those three molds, you can tweak and add moves, specials or stat boosts until you find the character you want. I made a boxing Reggie Fills-Aime that absolutely destroyed competition online (for about 20 minutes, until some crazy good Japanese person wrecked me for like an hour).

My only complaint when it comes to characters is the nature of unlocking them. It happens through playing Smash or Classic Mode, and, at most, you'll need to play 120-ish matches to get everyone in the game. That's all. Compare that to Melee and Brawl where you'd be playing for weeks and meeting super specific circumstances, and you'll see why I find this more casual and mainline approach to seeing all the fighters borderline boring.

Super Smash Bros. is a blast on the Nintendo 3DS.


Going into the portable version of Smash Bros., I think I had the same hesitations and questions a lot of fans have had for months. Mainly, I was concerned that the size of the handheld would limit the scope of the game.

That's not the case at all. Nintendo's asking for $39.99 for the 3DS version of Smash. Quite honestly, this game meets and exceeds that value, no doubt about it.

While I was bummed about the nature of unlocking the characters here, I haven't been able to put this game down. Sure, I have everyone there is to have, but I don't have all the trophies, I haven't completed all the challenges and I haven't earned all the customization stuff for my characters.

The crazy thing about Smash on the 3DS? Whenever Nintendo releases the NFC reader for the 3DS and the amiibo stuff, this game will get even bigger. It's huge as it is now, but knowing that it'll grow and features will be added down the line? Getting Smash on the 3DS for fans is a no-brainer. It's a great little game.

Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS from Nintendo. We played roughly 25 hours across all modes before starting this review.

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