Many people have been waiting for this game to come out, and they’ve been waiting with reckless abandon. The amount of fan input on forums and between friends is astounding every time a new Super Smash Bros. is in the works.
“You think they’ll keep the roster the same size?”
“I hope they add (enter name of highly unlikely character addition) to the game!”
“They need to fix this character. He was way too strong in the last game.”
And so on ad infinitum.
Super Smash Bros., since its conception on the Nintendo 64, has been bringing together all of our favorite Nintendo representatives to duke it out under one roof and win our hearts. With all of the tournaments, LAN parties, and fan-spinoff things (such as the fan-film There Will Be Brawl, web-comic Brawl in the Family, or full-blown video documentary The Smash Brothers), there is no shortage on the good things that can be spawned from this ever-growing series. And now with the fourth installment breaking new waves, coming on both 3DS and Wii U (the latter coming out this winter), there will be years-worth of entertainment for the already millions of committed players and newcomers alike.
(For the sake of not writing out Super Smash Bros. for 3DS in a monotonous drag, from this point forward I will refer to the fourth installment for the 3DS simply as “SM4SH,” or “Smash” to encompass the whole series, as many fans have deemed appropriate).
Those familiar with the Smash franchise understand that there is little to be concerned about when reviewing it for obstacles of ill-meaning content. This is a very clean and friendly game and always has been. There’s cartoon violence, but no blood. When you defeat somebody, it’s for knockouts, not death. No swearing. No drug or alcohol references. And as far as sexual themes, those are largely non-existent, with one exception. The character of Zero Suit Samus wears a form-fitting outfit, with two of her alternative costumes being nothing more than a workout top and shorts–something that caused a bit of a ruckus when it was revealed to be in the game. Chief director, Masahiro Sakurai, insists that the designs for these particular outfits were designed by a female artist. That might help put off any sleights about sexism, but doesn’t do much good when you realize the target audience largely consists of children and young teenagers.
Unlike Brawl–the third and previous installment in the Smash series–SM4SH doesn’t really have any semblance of a story. This is something that might be different in the Wii U version of the game coming out this winter, but as far as the 3DS is concerned, there’s nothing. Whether this is because Sakurai decided a story to be unnecessary (Brawl’s “Space Emissary” story-mode wasn’t received well by most), or because the 3DS has only so much capacity, in this installment there’s simply no story to be found. Some would consider this a demerit, but in light of Space Emissary, others are thankful that SM4SH is sticking to its guns and keeping to the Classic and All Star modes, which will be further addressed in the Gameplay section. Because of the absence of story, there will be no rating given in this particular category, as it can be judged neither good nor bad.
Clocking in at a delicious 60 frames per second, the flow of the game is superb. With the exception of some internet conditions, the speed and smoothness of each character movement is perfect, pushing the 3DS to its absolute limits. The crisp colors and lighting are top-notch too, and evidence of how hard Nintendo has worked to make this generation’s Smash game look superior to the last. Each stage is keenly designed with textures that are rich, but still maintain the innocent, cartoonish roots of the games they’ve spawned from. The characters are fully-fleshed out, and even given a default (and removable) black outline to help distinguish them on the 3DS’s small screen.
True to Nintendo, SM4SH has a soundtrack forged of gold, capitalizing on several of the best tracks from every included franchise and a host of proficient composers. Some tracks are ripped straight from the original works, while others have been remastered and rearranged exclusively for the game. Because of constraints on the 3DS, each stage only has two unique tracks–something that the Wii U installment will amend with its release later this year. What’s more, there’s an entire library for all of the music in the game that can be accessed from the main menu. Because why not just listen to a remix of Legend of Zelda’s “Gerudo Valley” any time you want? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPsrvtzGI5w)
The audio is clean and distinctive, even playing into your combat proficiency as you learn to recognize audio cues that signify approaching attacks. Attacks that look strong are often emphasized with a slight dun sound, and a camera shake to emphasize the impact. Even the small things, such as the sound of switching tabs on the main menu, are soft, and capture the fun of the Smash franchise. Voice acting doesn’t play a dominant role in SM4SH, and never has for any of its predecessors, but it’s not altogether absent. Characters will often speak or grunt during taunts, victory clips, and when signaling or receiving an attack. After all, Smash as a whole is responsible for the rise of “FALCON PUNCH!!” as a half-acceptable exclamation. The only issue we found was Fox’s new voice actor. Quite simply, he doesn’t sound as cool as he should. And Fox is a pretty cool dude.
Where do we even start? Gameplay is, without argument, the forte and quintessential focus of the Smash Bros. series. There are so many directions it can be approached from, and so many things that must be addressed, that it’s daunting to even try. Perhaps the best way is to start with each gameplay mode and see what happens from there.
Digging down to its Nintendo 64 beginnings, Classic Mode is a very straightforward gameplay mode. You select your character, choose a difficulty setting on a sliding scale from “ha, you’re a pansy” to “you’re probably going to die a lot” (not exact terms, unfortunately). The higher the difficulty, the more gold it costs. Not much of a loss, since gold is pretty much only useful for buying trophies (one of our only real irks with this game). After you select your character and difficulty, the avatar of that character begins walking down a line, which leads to a fork, allowing you to pick which direction to go depending on who you’d prefer to fight based on the insignia of each line. When you reach the opponent, you’re informed of exactly what kind of battle it’s is going to be (one-vs-one, free-for-all, giant opponent, metal opponent, one-vs-ten) and a roulette starts spinning to choose your award for winning. The possible rewards are trophies, gold coins, customizable items, or nothing. If you lose the fight, you’re allowed to continue at the cost of more gold and a decrease in difficulty. If you win, this process repeats itself several more times until you reach the end.
From there, you are given a “light” path and a “dark” path to follow. The first leads you to Master Hand, the signature final boss from every installment of Smash. But the dark path, as most loyal Smashers would expect, leads you to a battle against both Master Hand, and his sporadic, unpredictable opposite, Crazy Hand, introduced in Melee (the second installment in the Smash series). MH and CH prove vicious opponents on their own, but the game designers decided to throw in something a little extra for those willing to brave the higher difficulties. After dealing a certain amount of damage, Crazy Hand vanishes, and Master Hand explodes into a lunatic mess of black. This new monster, known as The Swarm, takes on multiple forms, with more being added the higher you increase the difficulty. The Swarm is frightening in that it has no damage counter of any sort (that, also, is covered by its black shape) and can only be seen losing health as you attack it and its massive size begins to dwindle. At the end, should you overcome every form, you must destroy the Master Core, thus ending Classic Mode. With this completion, you receive a trophy of your character and begin the always creative credit sequence. This installment’s rendition involves your character striking the design team’s names out of the air as they scroll, and, as they fall, trying to fill in a picture of your character in the background. A fun denouement to help wrap up the game.
Have you ever played Kirby Super Star for the SNES? If so, you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what this game mode is about. After selecting your character and difficulty, you’re set against several, slightly weakened enemies from a certain period in history. Upon victory, you’re teleported to something of a “safe room,” which shows you a couple of things: the next group of opponents–all heralding from another generation of games (they progressively go from older to newer as you advance)–a portal to the next arena, your battle damage carried over from the last fight, and a few healing items should you choose to use them. Those last two are important. The healing items do not regenerate, so once you use them, they’re gone, and because all of the damage you gather stays with you, strategic consumption of them is required. Is it worth it to use a healing item early, knowing you’ll probably need it later? Will you even make it to the later rounds if you lose in the next arena because you didn’t heal now? This one addition makes All-Star Mode much more intense. All-Star also helps showcase several of the new characters.
This is a mode full of miscellaneous events. From the Home-Run Contest, where you rack up damage against the punching bag to send it flying, to the new Target Blast! where you do something similar, but with the end goal of launching a bomb at a makeshift fortress in hopes of toppling it. This latter mode shows some influence of Angry Birds, though is not quite the same. Then there’s Multi-Man Smash, with all of its sub-categories: 10-Man, 100-Man, 3-Minute, Rival, Endless, and Cruel, all of which involve killing as many opponents as possible, under various conditions. Cruel Smash is, as the name implies, very difficult, by the way.
Perhaps one of the neatest additions to SM4SH is the game mode known as Smash Run. You and your three adversaries (which can be played locally to include friends) are placed on a single, colossal arena, spanning various architectural designs. Here, you have five minutes to destroy petty enemies and absorb the upgrades they drop. These upgrades apply to your character’s ability to jump, run, attack, defend, and use weapons. As you go about slaying enemies, your rivals might activate unpleasant gifts to try and impede your progress. At the end of the five minutes, all four of you participate in a select final event. Sometimes it’s a battle against one another, or a race, or a competition to see who can defeat more opponents, but, regardless, you want to try and get as many buffs for your character in the five minutes beforehand, or you’ll find yourself at an extreme disadvantage.
Sakurai said this mode was inspired by a similar game in Kirby Air Ride, which involved similar mechanics. The only major fault in Smash Run is that is has no online capabilities, limiting you to either playing by yourself against computer or playing locally with friends. This will not be fixed in the Wii U version, as it was stated Smash Run will be a mode exclusive to the 3DS version of the game.
Quite simply, this is a mode where you set the conditions and parameters of yourself and your opponents in order to train. Whether this is practicing with a new character, brushing up on an old one, or becoming more acquainted with items, you can do pretty much anything you want in this mode. There is no end goal, just tools for you to develop your skills and knowledge.
Something Nintendo added to SM4SH to try and change things up a little was the inclusion of character customization. There are two primary customization options: Mii Fighters and main character customization.
As you unlock customization gear throughout the various game modes, you can take the Mii’s off your 3DS and turn them into fully-realized combatants of their own. With three different classes to choose from (Brawler, Swordsman, Gunner), there’s a monstrous amount of variety available for your purposes. Modifications can be made to the strength, defense, and speed stats, with some items providing unique effects, like longer counters or starting a fight with a Beam Sword in hand, for example. You can also change the character’s appearance with unlockable outfits and headgear. More importantly, each of their special moves has multiple options, so the combination of abilities open to your characters is astonishing.
With the exception of being able to change character appearance, you can undergo the same process with every other playable character as well. You can augment them with various items or unlock new special attacks to create a brand new character template. You want Mario to shoot his fireballs faster in trade for their power? No problem. What about the other way around? A large fireball that moves very slowly? Easy. These are just two options for the same attack. There are multiple options for every special ability of every character, granting almost endless room for you to grow as a player and strategize.
Using the 3DS’s StreetPass function, StreetSmash allows you to battle little “tokens” against other people you pass by. The fights are short and odd, best described as a game of slingshot bumper cars. This mode was not intended to be played extensively, but still gives some pretty good prizes.
Straight-up, organized arena battles. These are the cornerstone of the Smash series. You choose your characters and opponents (unless playing against friends, who choose their own), select your rules, select a stage, and go. This segment will double as the “all the small changes the developers made since the last game” section as well. The rules are extensive, with a lot of room to create fun, strange custom modes, but the most fundamental decision is whether you play a timed battle (countdown timer, indefinite lives) or a stock battle (no timer, finite lives). Unlike other “fighting” games, there are no life bars, but, instead, a “damage counter” that racks up a percentile depending on how much damage you take. The more you’re hurt, the higher it goes, and the further back your character will fly with each successive hit. Knock them off the stage/screen and they lose a stock. That’s all there is to it.
Yet, it’s supremely enjoyable. SM4SH is a game of minute details and specific physics. It’s easy to pick up, but very difficult to master, as it requires the player to know all of the tiny idiosyncrasies of the characters and how they function. Exactly how far does a character move when they dodge backwards? What is the exact range of this attack, and would it be better to use it in the air or on the ground (the specifics of such abilities usually change, depending on these things)? Does this attack have enough priority to overcome their attack? What if I charge it up and make it stronger? But then it slows down. Maybe I should try to grab them. But then which way do I throw them? Each direction does different damage and sends them various distances. And how can I best follow that up into a combo? Will the combo even reach?
And so, so much more. SM4SH is a game where microseconds count, and can change the flow of the battle if you so much as make one mistake when things get down to the wire. This is why it’s one of the most highly competitive franchises in existence (the second installment, Melee, strived off competitive gameplay), with people putting in hours upon hours of constant work and refinement into the characters of their choosing. In light of learning from past mistakes, SM4SH corrects a lot of things its predecessors did not have in hopes to make a better game for casual and competitive gamers alike. Unlike in Brawl, there is no more “tripping” feature (thank goodness), the character balancing is more refined so that any character can be good if wielded properly, the speed of the gameplay is a smooth junction between the fast clunkiness of Melee and the slow heaviness of Brawl, and–as an added bonus for the competitive players–the designers made every single stage capable of having a “Omega” form, or Final Destination form. For the layman, this means that the most competitive gamers, who usually stuck to a select few stages, and Final Destination in particular, are no longer confined to that stage anymore. They can experience all of the backgrounds and music of every stage, simply by transitioning the arena from its normal form to its “Omega” form. To some, this means nothing, but it means everything to others. A beautiful addition, truly.
Worlds above what it was for Brawl, the online in SM4SH has surpassed most expectations. It still deals with some lag issues, but that has more to do with an individual’s internet connections than the quality of the servers. Online, there are a few modes available as well. You can either make a room to play with friends, or you can brave the world and play against anybody, either For Fun or For Glory. Under For Fun, you may use any custom characters you’ve designed, and items are all game. You can play free-for-all’s or team battles on pretty much any stage.
For Glory is for the more competitive player. There are also options of free-for-all, team battles, or 1-on-1’s, but unlike For Fun, the items are off, and only a few of the simple arenas may be selected, making the game rely far more on an individual’s skill, removing the risk of losing because of a lucky item or a stage’s influence.
There’s a Spectate mode that allows you to watch various battles all across the world, and “Conquest” shows you two, select, warring characters and which is doing the best in the Americas, Japan, Europe and Oceania, and in the world at large. The characters change about once a week, and if you use that character and win, you’ll help tip the scale in favor of your preferred character. This leads to earning points and awards, though nobody is entirely sure how that award system works, as Nintendo hasn’t revealed much this early in the game’s release. Conquest seems like it will be a long-running event, with room for a lot of interesting developments. At the time of writing this article, Blue Team (currently represented by Bowser) is dominating Red Team (Villager) 73% to 27% throughout the world.
- Powerful, smooth gameplay with plenty of game styles
- Online, while it has its troubles, is much better than anticipated
- Expert atmosphere created by grand music and graphics
- Characters are far more balanced than past games
- Smash Run game mode has no internet capabilities
- Zero Suit Samus calls into question the target audience
- Select audio samples, particularly everything Fox says
- Aside from trophies, gold is practically worthless
SM4SH is paving the way for a new generation of gamers to hop on board with those who have come before them to enjoy a series of constant and relentless success. With its nearly indefinite replayability, room for possible future DLC, masterful development, and the bringing together of characters of dozens of franchises, SM4SH delivers everything it always has and somehow even more. If it wasn’t overwhelming enough, the Wii U version is coming out soon and brings with it promises of even more features and high-quality fun. Nintendo is going to be hard-pressed to surpass themselves should they decide to unleash a fifth generation of Smash upon the world someday. Actually, who are we kidding? It’s more a matter of when they unleash it. And if we’ll even be prepared. Until then, enjoy this exceptional game, and we’ll see you on the smashing grounds.
A challenger approaches.”
Final Rating: 9.7 out of 10
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God bless, do a barrel roll, and always remember to smile.
VERSE OF THE DAY: Colossians 3:13-14
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
SONG OF THE DAY: “View of the River Styx” by Demetori.
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