Few things on Earth match the sheer feeling of superiority when one drops a Falcon Punch directly into an opponent’s face. For many players of Nintendo’s smash (ahaa) hit Smash Bros. series, Captain Falcon exists solely in the world of the charge-up-and-beat-‘em-up. Anyone who pauses to reflect on his role in the F-Zero franchise will likely be rocketed from the stage by Charizard frantically brandishing a haunted hammer.

It’s inescapable, Super Smash Bros. reigns as one of the most energetic, playable, and infuriatingly addictive games on any platform. Now in its fourth (and soon-to-be fifth) incarnation, the game is available on a portable platform in the shape of the 3DS, but can it hold a Fire Flower to its ancestors?

In what feels like a clear play to be a flagship title (after all, it’s being released on Wii U and 3DS near-simultaneously) nearly every bell and whistle Bandai Namco and Sora Ltd. could cram into a cart is present. Virtually every mode supports up to four players via local wireless or online, and the game is jam-packed with little touches such as custom background music selections, a trophy case system, and a repository of tips. The interface is slick and responsive, and the whole thing is dripping with polish.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS review
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS review
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS review

First and foremost are the game’s titular Smash modes. Here, solo, group, or custom rule play is available. Standard play-throughs of the main campaign will reward players with unlockable characters and areas, not that they’re needed – there are plenty to choose from out of the box.

The gameplay is classic: players beat on each other until they are sufficiently pummelled to be smashed off the screen. Suicides by falling or negligence with dropped explosives also come into count, and a raft of items ranging from sensible to delirious are liberally poured onto the field of play.

Each character can by-and-large be slotted into one of three categories: brawler (up close and personal), sword/melee weapon user (self-explanatory, surely), and ranged weapon user. The nuances and almost Darwinian differences between the characters is what keeps games in this series kicking for years. It takes a Herculean effort to learn and master each one and all the combinations in-between.

Elsewhere, Smash Run is a time limited ‘kill as many baddies as you can and gain stat boosts’ platformer. Six stats can be ramped up in the hope of being able to crush a strong opponent at the end. It doesn’t feel like a core mode, but serves to provide a good counter-weight to any urges of rage-quit brought on by a defeat in the other modes. When Street Pass is activated, a mini-game similar to Super Monkey Ball’s Monkey Fight can be played to win prizes and in-game gold.

Trophies in the game are unlocked from a 35 piece grid, Minesweeper-style. When one is unlocked it hints at the next few to be attained. It feels a little awkward, but with so much else to occupy the players time it’s hardly a sticking point.

Arguably, the staying power a game of Smash Bros. is based on its online and multiplayer capabilities. The online modes are fairly comprehensive, offering options to narrow fights down to Nintendo friend lists, all comers, spectators, or an ever-running ‘Conquest’ mode. Online matches are catergorised into ‘For Fun’ or ‘For Glory’, essentially weeding out the casual bashers from the competitive Bros.

The netcode works reasonably well, when it actually works at all. Players with up to 500ms latency are still beatable through some work of black magic, however many players have reported network errors due to being behind standard home firewalls – something Nintendo must surely be working to patch.

While the overall roster of fighters is immense (36 before unlocks), right off the bat players are able to customise the stock fighters or create their own from a Mii. Attack, defence, speed, and special moves can all be tweaked and saved in one of 10 slots per character.

It’s a level of depth rarely seen in a handheld fighter, and will surely serve the competitive SSB scene for years to come. The standard stages are as varied and dynamic as anything seen on the Gamecube’s Super Smash Bros. Melee, which is pretty impressive.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS review

There are drawbacks to the 3DS’s limited hardware (including the assumedly stuck-on K2 Ice Climbers!), such as the removal of in-match character transformations (Zelda to Sheik, for example), but this is resolved by making the ‘alt’ characters selectable from the get-go.

When the action spreads to the corners of a map, the 3DS screen starts to feel quite limited, and the action begins to become incomprehensible. There’s also the need to get used to the handheld format, which veterans of previous titles may find a little too ‘in your face’ when the action really heats up.

Playing on a 3DS-XL is definitely recommended. Stereoscopic 3D is there and can be made a lot more palatable to the eye by using cell-shaded character outlines, but really suffers when the player’s hands start to move frantically in battle.

Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS is a benchmark for fighters on the platform, and has the potential to be a long-standing version for competitive play. It’s packed to the gunwales with features, options, and challenges, and is fun and inviting to play from the outset. While there are limitations to the 3DS offering, players looking for a portable and fairly comprehensive Smash Bros. experience need look no further.