I’m not sure how to categorize my feelings for Smash 3DS. When I had a chance to preview it back in September via the Club Nintendo trial, my impressions were fairly positive. I had already managed to sell myself on the game, if only for the soundtrack offer. I would gladly pay $35 for a double disc Smash soundtrack. I remained optimistic about the game. In small doses, it held up well.
October has arrived and now that I have the final game in my hands, I’m not sure what to make of it. Do I hate it? No. Do I love it? Also no. Do I like it? Maybe yes.
I mean, it’s Smash… in a handheld. My brain tells me that’s an awesome thing. But my heart just can’t apply the term “awesome” to the game. It’s a game with a well-designed core that tugs every nostalgia heartstring that I have, but it controls poorly, has an unintuitive menu system and adds an ill-conceived extra mode that makes me long for Subspace Emissary. At least the cutscenes there were pretty sweet. Fox + Diddy for the win. So what happened?
First of all, I feel as though I now understand better the plight of the video games journalist. We don’t do reviews here at GamerFeed Radio. I’m not a journalist. I’m not fair and balanced. I’m just a dude in his mid-thirties that still has way too much time to play video games. Best not to pull on that particular thread too strongly. I don’t know what I’m talking about, so I’m not putting a numerical score on anything. But I’m starting to understand what actual, qualified games journalists must go through when they preview a game, unintentionally (or intentionally) build hype, and then assign a score that the masses find ‘questionable’ when the final version doesn’t quite hold up to the preconceptions. Basically, I’m still pissed at IGN for talking me into buying The Conduit. But, I’m getting over it with the help of my newly gained insight.
What I played in the Smash 3DS demo was such a narrow slice of the game that my impressions piece was built on a number of assumptions. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to end up with in the final version. Hell, some of it was hidden behind greyed-out menus that I couldn’t even access. But I was hopeful. More characters, sure. A mysterious new mode exclusive to this version? Sounds great. A chance to get a jump on Smash Wii U, the version I actually wanted to play? Sign. Me. Up.
Well now I’ve taken a dose of reality to the face like a Donkey Kong hammer, I realize that had I been more guarded in my evaluation, I should have been able to see what was coming. Sure, there are more characters, not just in the final game versus the demo, but versus any of the previous games in the series. This is a great thing. They’re all pretty well-balanced and offer some varied play-styles to choose from. I don’t even mind the clones, which some are causing a stink over. Come on, it’s not like the old days when half the roster was clones, it’s three characters. In the end, it’s clear the character selection and tuning received the bulk of the effort from the development team, and rightly so. That kind of forethought certainly didn’t go into the menu layout. Yeesh.
As for the all-new, exclusive Smash Run mode? Well, I should have looked closer at what came out the last time they concocted an all-new mode that had to offer a unique solo experience by utilizing a fairly specific combat system. Platforming and beating up on standard enemies hasn’t felt right in either Subspace Emissary or the old-school Adventure Mode. The combat system just isn’t designed for it, as Smash Run once again proves.
Beyond that, the whole Smash Run experience is predicated on the quest for stat buffs and I just don’t think stat buffs are going to matter that much in practice. Sure, I can feel it when I have a hefty speed boost, but it just feels like I switched from my mid-range character to a speed demon like Fox. It doesn’t affect the gameplay that much. It can’t. Nintendo wants these Smash Bros games to be about stats and building *your* character and saving it to your amiibo. And that’s fine in theory. But a boost to my stats can’t be so notable that it unbalances the game. I’m not going to be able to take a bruiser like Bowser or Donkey Kong, buff his speed to Fox-like levels, save it to my amiibo and go destroy some friendships by annihilating my best buds in an embarrassing fashion. Building the ultimate character is not on the menu; the likely scenario is a slightly different flavor to your favorite franchise lead. Let’s not forget, this is the company that came up with the idea of the blue shell. Please understand: Nintendo likes a level playing field. I’ll refrain from getting back on my “gaming socialism” soapbox yet again. You’re welcome.
While the idea of training your character is neat in theory, in practice it will probably just be easier to switch to another character that plays the way you want. An expansive character roster cuts both ways. These games make a point of incentivizing you to play through various modes as each character in order to unlock trophies, so why not just settle on the one that has the balance you prefer built-in? If the stats don’t feel like a rewarding mcguffin and aren’t worth the time to mess with, the defining, centerpiece mode of the new game sags like recently smashed sand bag. Well, at least they didn’t lock a set of alt character trophies behind a Smash Run playwall.
As far as me wanting to get a jump on the Wii U version, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. My rational mind understood that the two simply wouldn’t control the same. Nintendo seems to think it’s close enough, since they’re allowing you to use your 3DS as a controller for the Wii U version in addition to gamecube controller, gamepad, pro controller, wiimote-only and wii-mote/nunchuck. Sigh. Somehow I suspect that they’d offer balance-board support as a control option if they thought they could make it work. Shift your weight hard in the direction you want to smash, but don’t you dare jump on that thing.
So the 3DS version generally approximates the control inputs you need to play Smash. No, I’m not down on losing the c-stick/right stick for uncharged smashes. The problem is that the circle pad just doesn’t feel accurate enough (or sturdy enough, as the many owners of broken 3DSs will tell you) for extended play. That’s a pretty big deal since movement and smash attacks make up, like, 79.8% of the gameplay. It’s to the point where people are angry that there isn’t an option that lets them switch to the d-pad for movement, totally not getting that the core mechanic of the fighting system – the central concept of the entire franchise, mind you – is based around differentiated tilting, tapping and smashing of an *analog* input device. D-pad movement make game not work.
Anyway, while I appreciate being able to check out the new characters and stages, I won’t be able to use Smash 3DS to train for our big GamerFeed Radio Smashstravaganza tournament that’s coming up in December, and that’s a let-down. I’m telling our illustrious attendees to practice with Brawl, since (and I’m guessing here) they’ll probably control comparably. Or at least closer than Wii U/3DS will.
The question I keep coming back to is “Why did Smash 3DS need to be made?” It seems like the intent is for the two versions to work in tandem: you play on the go and build stats, then you transfer them to the console version to power up your character. That makes sense, but ultimately I think the problem is that these are two separate games; two separate experiences. Given two options, I feel compelled to make a choice and go with (what I expect will be) the superior option. That, and $95 for the entire, intended experience is getting tough to swallow in 2014.
I think the core of the issue is this: This needed to be a single, cross-platform game. Nintendo’s first, true, first-party cross-platform game. A showcase game that would stand as proof that the company can do 21st century things while it’s still the 21st century. A single experience where I can take it with me when I travel and when I come home again, my console experience will be enriched as a result. Unfortunately, Nintendo just isn’t there yet; they don’t think in those terms. Maybe one day they will, but in the end, I’m left with another game that simply didn’t live up to my expectations while I wait for November 21st to roll around.