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'Super Smash Bros.' for the 3DS: Controller Blues

Erik Kersting

Almost all portable games are single player, and for the most part, this feels like a single player game, which does the fantastic series a disservice.

Super Smash Bros. (3DS)

Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1-2
Price: $39.99
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Sora Ltd.
Release date: 2009-10-03

Fighting games are unique among multiplayer competitive games. Unlike the MOBA or FPS genres, they are generally not team based, nor do their competitions feature multiple players in a free for all frenzy like a racing game. Unlike sports games, there is no AI to help the player in a one-on-one battle for points. Instead, fighting games pit two individuals against each other in a modern day duel to the death based nearly entirely on skill and skill alone.

What also separates the fighting game genre from other genres is the need for intense precision. Sure, precision is important in any competition from soccer to LoL, but the amount of precision in a competitive fighting game reaches the unreal. Combos need to be pulled off in quick succession, techniques, glitches, and special moves require months of training in order to be used successfully in competition. In most fighting games, a player with significantly better strategy cannot beat a player with significantly better mechanics because strong mechanics allow a player more versatility, consistency, and adaptability. The more precise player will win more often in a game where pixels, framerates, and hit boxes are studied rigorously to understand the limitations of every character.

Look no further than some of the most popular competitive fighting game videos like this final Street Fighter match between Justin (Chun-Li) and Daigo (Ken) to see the amount of precision needed in a fighting game. Daigo, who cannot take a single hit lest he lose the match, blocks every single one of Justin's flurry of kicks and wins the upset. A split second off block and Daigo loses, but he is precise and pure precision and mechanical skill wins the match. Fighting games like this play out like instant Chess matches where two players are constantly trying to read one another and predict their opponent's next move. In Chess, how skillfully the player manually moves their pieces inevitably doesn't matter to the final result. In fighting games, the way the player controls their character is paramount to the player's success.

This is what all great competitive fighting games have in common, great controls to allow for player precision and speed. Special controllers are made or even brought back in order for competition to be made fluid. Ultimately the point of strong controls is to give the player complete control of their avatar so that the game does not decide the results, but rather the players playing it.

Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS is a continuation of the popular Super Smash Bros series, which is odd for a fighting game. On one hand, the Smash series is a lot more goofy and bizarre than most fighting games, featuring a significantly different type of gameplay (instead of having a total amount of hit points that goes down, players have a “%” that goes up and increases how far attacks displace them, inevitably reaching the point of booting them off the stage), oblong and dangerous stages, and randomized items that grant players special skills or temporary allies. These all combine into a wacky experience that limits the player's ability to control the events of a fight but allows for a great party game. Players can play as any of their favorite Nintendo characters and experience tons of ridiculous moments creating a memorable experience, similar to Mario Kart 8.

On the other hand, Smash in particular Super Smash Bros.: Melee has a strong competitive scene, even 12 years after release. Players play with no items, on limited stages, using difficult techniques to gain an edge on one another. Despite the game being made for “fun, not competition” and for many years the competitive scene being shunned by Nintendo, it has grown into one of the most popular and longstanding competitive fighting games.

Even with having two completely opposite directions that it could go in, Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS performs poorly on both fronts. It is not a great “game of moments” like Mario Kart or even other Smash games because the players are disjointed and playing on small individual screens. I played a little online with other players and instead of feeling connected to them, it only made me miss playing with my friends in front of a television. Despite being just as zany as the other Smash games, nothing feels grand or epic on a three-inch screen. Perhaps this could be remedied by playing in the same room as other players, but I doubt that. The single player campaign has never been a strong suit of fighting games, and it doesn't shine here either, as it can feel tedious at times going through the same “Classic” game mode over and over to unlock characters.

Much more disastrous is the competitive aspect of Super Smash Bros for the 3DS. I have absolutely no doubt that this will be a popular and fun competitive fighting game when it comes out for the Wii U, but on the 3DS, it stutters immensely. The controls are unruly at best, and precision feels impossible. While watching streams of professionals play the game the phrase “It is difficult to do on the 3DS” is stated often and with reason. It does not feel comfortable to play a fighting game on the 3DS circle pad or the 3DS's little buttons. I have played a significant amount of Smash in my life, probably more than 400 hours worth, but consistently I was unable to perform moves that I would easily be able to do on another controller. On top of that, Smash is unlike other fighting games in the sense that the camera is much further back from the player character. On a tiny screen with tons of action this becomes problematic because it is hard to follow one's character through all the chaos. Playing with a competitive mindset can feel impossible when the player has to forfeit some of their autonomy to the game.

Controls and precision are some of the most important aspects of a fighting game, but in Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS, they are executed extremely poorly. It is apparent that the 3DS version was probably an afterthought by Nintendo. Almost all portable games are single player, and for the most part, this feels like a single player game, which does the fantastic series a disservice. Smash and other fighting games are meant to be played with other people, with friends who become rivals on a simulated stage. Despite taking every good aspect of the Smash series and packing it onto a portable device, the result just feels half-baked and unwieldy for the player. These problems are almost all related to the 3DS. The content of the game is top notch, and I am eagerly anticipated playing virtually the same game on my television.


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