I Have No Idea What I’m Doing – Game Critique: Super Smash Bros. 3DS

Title: Super Smash Bros. 3DS (Super Smash Bros. 4)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 4, 2014
Studio/Developers: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo

Get the Hype!
Get the Hype!

I had previously written about the special demo of Super Smash Bros. 3DS & the limitations that provided. Now that I have the full game, I can gladly report that it doesn’t have those issues of controls that I lamented in the demo. It does still have other niggling minor issues, but they shall be addressed in a few paragraphs.

Like with the relatively recently released Mario Kart 8 [reviewed here] & The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds [reviewed here], SSB3DS doesn’t attempt to reinvent the franchise, rather just tweak previous issues. This seems to be Nintendo’s mantra of late. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Fine tuning is good enough”. & this is something that I agree with, for the most part.

Not from the demo
Not from the demo

For whatever reason, someone at Nintendo said that it’s better to incrementally fix things then to reinvent an entire franchise. Other critiques (well, mainly Yahtzee Croshaw) say that is a decisive failing for the Big N (as many -well, me at least- call Nintendo) & is often seen in the Super Mario Bros. franchise, where little changes are made & often the games just seem to be rehashes of previous ones. In my view, that is ignoring that many new games aren’t really aimed at non-invested Nintendo fans. What they are aimed towards is engaging new fans to become invested fans & players who have new tried a franchise before to enter at the latest title & step backwards from there by refining the system rather than building it all again from scratch. That was one reason for the popularity of Mario Kart 8 & the continued popularity of the Zelda franchise & it will be why Super Smash Bros. 4 on both the 3DS & Wii U will sell well.

The core of SSB3DS remains based around fast frenetic fighting. It is the epitome of the button-masher with strategic depth. Where you can wail on the controls until you win or you can think actively plan how to beat your opponent (if you can). The game’s graded AI difficulty plays a lot more into this; because the high the number (ranked from 1 to 9) the more the computer controlled characters (up to 3) take advantage of items, chase the smash ball & exploit the system to knock you about as much as they can. You can wail on them but if you aren’t smart about your timing, the AI can overcome you with a shield dodge & knock you out with a perfect Smash Attack.

Unfortunately, the 3DS isn’t the best system for such frantic controls. Unlike the afore-reviewed demo, you can customise the controls, ridding yourself of the annoying Up to jump & so forth. Unfortunately, the Circle Pad isn’t a very precise method of playing. It feels slippery at times & hard to make the game know the difference between a tap & a hold. I’d honestly would have preferred having the option to be able to use the D-Pad but that’s something Nintendo might be able to amend with a software update. Fortunately, you can completely customise all of the buttons. So you can choose which is best for you. I switched the X & Y buttons from Jump to Attack & Special Attack, making it feel more like a modern Platformer, which is more natural to me as a player. Despite even with this, the nature of the 3DS unit isn’t the most comfort for long term gaming session. So you often end up with some nasty hand cramps if you spend too much time playing, which will cripple many users’ sex lives.

Based on a true story
Based on a true story

I’ll quickly note two other annoyances/negatives before I get back to the good.

The main annoyance is the format itself. The tiny screen on the 3DS means that when the action is zoomed out it becomes really difficult to see where you character is, especially versing 3 other opponents. There are options to let you see things a little better, such as thicker lines around the characters if you choose that option in the menu & a target box if you tap a character icon on the Touch Screen. Unfortunately, these options aren’t explained or easy to find. Also, even with them on, if the action is zoomed well out it can be hard to spot your character in the midst of particle effects & shifting backgrounds. More so if you have an item, like an Assist Trophy such as the Puppy from Nintendogs, hogging up the entire screen.

The other issue that I had was how unintuitive the menus are. There is no way to know where the things you are after actually are. Take the options menu for example: you have to crawl through several sub-menus to find it rather than having it on the very first page. Same with some of the other game modes & side games. Again: I feel that this is something that could be fixed with a software update. Maybe even putting a few menus on the touch screen as favoured short cuts so you can have instant access. It’s not a deal breaker in any fashion but is a tad vexing when you first start up or forget where things are.

Which unfortunately plays into the Trophy selection & purchase system. Like previous games, Trophies are just a pretty little thing to collect & there are several ways to do this. You can collect them in fights, as rewards for beating challenges or doing achievement unlocks. They don’t factor into the game play but reward you with cool information about them -more so if they are Assist Trophies in game. They are then explained what they do & how they affect the game play, which is handy with some of the new ones found in the game.

Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?
Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?

Despite the limitations of the screen, the game play remains insanely fun & even challenging if you put the AI’s level up. Being handheld, you are prone to playing short matches on Smash Mode, which you can have as fully customisable rule sets, including or excluding various factors or focussing on your personally customised characters. These customisation aren’t just aesthetic but also factor in modified moves that you collect in Smash Run & other side games; completely transforming how a character plays from tweaks to moves, weight (the ability to be knocked out of the arena or turned into a Cannonball by your opponent) & other little factors. You can also transfer your specially customised characters to other people’s consoles & to the Wii U edition via the soon to be released Amiibo figures. They work through a NFC chip & are supposedly meant for some games outside of the two SSB releases (such as Mario Kart 8) but they seem like a bit of an expensive investment so far.

The game also boasts the biggest roster to date, which is 48 characters (not including the 3 customisable Mii classes of Brawler, Gunner & Bladesman). Unfortunately, some of these are very much clone characters -like Pit & Dark Pit. The most disappointing is Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening who is a move for move clone of Marth, who is already included in the game. I found this a tad disappointing because I loved her as a character in her Fire Emblem appearance.

The character who’s become my go to fighter is female variant of Robin, the Tactician from the aforementioned Fire Emblem: Awakening. She has a great combination of ranged & close attacks not to mention good speed; making for an excellently balanced fighter. More so with her health draining close range attack, Nosferatu. I just wish that I could import the character model that I have in my version of Fire Emblem: Awakening rather then relying on the default Twin Tails appearance that SSB3DS provides.

When playing Smash mode, I tend just to go for random select options, so that I get a good feel for every character. Although there are some real stand outs for me. Such as Bowser Jr, who has varied attacks & alternate forms based upon the Koopalings; or the Duck Hunt Duo, that pairs up a Dog & Duck for some pretty unique attacks & very retro references.

Unlocking the characters is a lot easier in this game too. You can just grind away in Smash Mode, where you encounter an unlock every 10 battles & if that unlock beats you (which can happen easily), you just fight them again after your next battle. You can also unlock them by meeting various conditions in the Quest mode game but just grinding for them is the much easier option.

The arenas in the 3Ds version are all nicely varied, with some console exclusive ones -such as the Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks one. Where you fight on top of Link’s train from that game (where Toon Link drives it, unless you play as that character, then Alfonzo is the driver), making the stage constantly move. Some stages are more fun than others but everyone will find one that suits them. Despite that, Rainbow Road from the Mario Kart series and the retro F-Zero SNES stages are very annoying to be on because of how they constantly shift & have things move onto the battle stage all of the time. I ended up loving the every changing Fire Emblem: Awakening Fenox Arena stage, because of how it wouldn’t stay in one form but also doesn’t try to throw you off like other stages.

The music is also to due for! Mixing up some classic Smash Bros. tune with originals & retro remixes. Plus there are plenty of hidden tracks for many of the stages (triggers by hitting a certain button on Stage Select screen). If you can find it, you can access all of the unlocked tracks in the Records area & play them instead of the default these, as well as fav’ing them. No idea what that does but it’s a good option to have.

I’ve even tried my hand at Online Play; choosing the For Fun option over the For Glory hardcore player mode. Despite the lag from my own net connection, I won my first match in a Sudden Death bout. So, like every other online victory I have, it was more a pure fluke then any skill on my part. I personally don’t see online mode as something I’ll stick with, for various reasons, but Nintendo still manage to make a close system very fun to play. Their matchmaking algorithm seems to work well, so you aren’t played with the 3l33test of the 3l33t but you aren’t placed with the scrubs whom you can mow over either. It seems balanced so far but, most importantly, it feels fun. You don’t go in fearing you get some ubergamer waiting to show off his Wang Size in replacement of any other life skills. You get similar players with similar skills & you get the most out of the hectic battles. The lag still bothered me but, again, that’s more to do with crappy Australian net services & a terrible wifi router than system itself.
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Being on a handheld console, Super Smash Bros. 3DS isn’t really made for long gaming session but that doesn’t detract from the fun. Short burst whilst travelling or waiting are good enough. You can do more dedicated sessions if you want, no one’s stopping you really, but the limitations on the current 3DS battery (to be changed with the New 3DS release in Oz in November & next year in the rest of the world) can be a bit of a hindrance on the go. Speaking of “on the go”, the Street Pass system allows you to play an Air Hockey like knock out game, that rewards you with Coins & Trophies if you beat the computer controlled tokens of people who you’ve passed on the street. It’s fun but not demanding. A lazy way to unlock things in a way but you get ranking for each battle you win, supposedly making your icon a target for more serious players but that depends on the likelihood passing another console owner with the game.

In the end, despite the limitations of the tiny screen & the vexation of the menu system, Nintendo has refined Super Smash Bros. 3DS into a superb fighting game. What it lacks in general refinement against such franchises as King of Fighters, Tekken or the granddaddy of them all, Street Fighter, SSB3DS more than makes up for in being utterly chaotic fun. It’s not a serious game for seriously competitive players but what it is more than compensates for that quality. Despite not being able to test the wireless battle mode, basically all the game modes stand up. Some you’ll play once & forget about, others you may return to (such as Smash Run) for all the unlocks & bonuses. Am still waiting to see what special unlocks connecting it with the Wii U version unleash (apart from being able to use the 3DS & game as a separate controller for mutliplayer), as well as possible future DLC. It shall more than likely be a game that I return to again & again for brief bouts of bout fun.

Is your body ready?
Is your body ready?
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Not just the same old race – Game Critique: Mario Kart 8

MarioKart8BoxartTitle: Mario Kart 8
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 31st of May 2014
Studio/Developers: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1
Publisher: Nintendo


It’s been roughly 20 years since I started playing the Mario Kart series, beginning all the way back with the first Mode 7 game on the SNES. I do count myself a veteran of the franchise, despite not playing MK Double Dash!! on the GameCube or Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. The former because was more into F-Zero GX on the GameCube & the latter because of the still outrageous prices on 3DS games.
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At any rate, I’m still well versed in many of the mechanics of the series, having played an extensive amount of Mario Kart Wii a few years ago.

Like so many other games that Nintendo makes these days, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t revolutionise the franchise but it does refine it in the most perfect manner.

If we were to turn this into a more mechanical metaphor, it is as though Nintendo have fine tuned the engine to enrich performance at the same time they trimmed down all the useless weight and refined the handling whilst leaving it feel familiar.

If you played Mario Kart Wii or Mario Kart 7, you know what you are getting into -especially with the MK7 additions of hang gliders & underwater levels- but the new items as well as vehicles help to enliven the gameplay from the previous games.
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Most notably is the improved AI in the opponents, making even the easiest difficulty (50cc) a challenge at times, with AI controlled opponents using shortcuts, boosts & items more cleverly. Yet best of all is the lack of blue shell spammage when you are in 1st place (you still get it but not as much) as well as the Horn item that allows you to prevent blue & other shells from hitting you. The AI gets smarter the higher the difficulty but I never once (so far) felt as though the AI was using exploits to win. Pretty much all non-1st place results for me have been my fault; drifting at the wrong time or accidentally hitting myself with a rebounding green shell.

These refinement coupled with the seriously impressive 1080p 60f/ps graphics makes Mario Kart 8 one of the prettiest current gen games out there.

Another nice tweak is that all the new tracks have branching paths, so you can choose which way to go. Some offer speed boosts, others have items, whilst many just offer a pretty alternative way to go. The older (read: reused) tracks from previous games have also been altered a little but offer nothing new but they fit within the new gimmick that the game offers.
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That is the much touted ability to hover & have invented, looped tracks. This pretty much turns it into a cartoonie version of F-Zero GX, which makes me scream out for another game in that near forgotten franchise. Yet the anti-gravity sections of the track do add their own little mechanics & challenges, such as getting speed boosts from hitting your opponents not to mention the added risk of falling off (or being knocked) the edges of the track -making Rainbow Road even more frustrating in this incarnation as any previous (if you don’t come to it with the right mindset that is).

The lack of overall tracks is a bit disappointing. Only 16 new tracks (4 for each 4 cups) with another 16 reused tracks but they all flash by so quickly when you’re racing that it all seems so little in the scheme of things.
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This is honestly one game from Nintendo that I’d welcome DLC for but only if it offered entirely new tracks & power-ups for a decent price (not to mention the dreaded Australia Tax that we will probably have to suffer on any possible DLC).

I do like how it drip feeds you unlocks, such as a randomly picked new character for every cup that you finish & a new part for every X amount of coins that you gather in any of the racing modes (supposedly including all the coins collected in online/offline multiplayer races).

Unfortunately, as of time of writing, I am yet to try to online functions, due to dodgy internet connection in my house but reports from friends is that it a solid experience, with the game still running at 1080p 60 frames per second every with 15 other opponents on screen. I don’t think any Xbone or Ps4 game can come close to claiming that (or even being able to play anything in 1080p as of yet).

Of course, the game has already generated a ton of memes but the most popular so far seems to be the Luigi Death Stare. Once again highlighting how nerds get obsessed over the tiniest, inconsequential detail in things (something I’ll hopefully write about soon).

Another great thing about this game, at least at time of writing, was Nintendo offering a free high end game download with purchase. Basically, sign into the Nintendo club, register MK8 & wait 48 hours for a link to pop up sending you to the free game collection screen. This offer does run out on the 31st of July & not sure how many games of new consoles it will push out doors but if you’re paying a high price for full games it is an exceptionally good offer. I went with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD because basicaly played all the other games on offer & wanted to play Wind Waker again in shiny new graphics.

In the end, Mario Kart 8 does nothing to shake up the bedrock of the franchise or the kart racing genre in general but it still does everything exceptionally well. With an unbelievable level of polish & challenge (prepared to get slaughtered when you jump up to 100cc mode) that levels any pretender Mascot racer games in the dust!

One thing I would want though if/when they continue the franchise is for them to turn it more Super Smash Bros. & make it more a general Nintendo mascot racer. So add characters from The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Animal Crossing & Metroid. Not sure how you’d be able to get Pokémon involved but sure some fan out there has already thought of a way.

But, basically, if you have a Wii U: get it!

If you are yet to get a Wii U: buy the MK8 premium pack (with bonus Mario Kart Wii steering wheel) & claim the free game so you have two games to play whilst you wait for friends to buy their console so you can mutliplayer it up!

I’ll be waiting.

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