Super Smash Bros. 3DS is sitting idly in the shadow of Super Smash Bros. Wii U both in terms of marketing and hype in the gaming community. For every dozen Wii U screenshots released, one is released for the 3DS. At E3, for every dozen people in line to play the Wii U version of Smash Bros. there was a single person in line to play the 3DS version. One would assume the reason Nintendo is releasing the 3DS game in October prior to the Wii U version's holiday release is so the game doesn't get overshadowed entirely.
It makes sense that Super Smash Bros. Wii U would get all of the attention from an outside perspective. It's the true successor to the franchise's legacy, being released on Nintendo console as opposed to its handheld. It's got better graphics, it'll have more controller options, and it's where the competitive scene will be heading. Marketing money for the Wii U version of the game is in many ways better advertising for the 3DS game than marketing money specifically for the handheld version.
My experiences with Super Smash Bros. 3DS on the E3 2014 show floor, however, show that there's much more to these decisions than just hype and advertising. Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U is, simply put, a much better game. The 3DS version of the game has some off-putting issues that made my time hands-on with it much more worrying than overall positive.
It's all very common sense and obvious problems, too. Just imagine taking the frantic, busy fighting of a console Super Smash Bros. and putting that on the small screen and limited hardware of the 3DS. I had three major issues with the demo, so let me break them into different discussions so that they don't all bleed into each other.
The first and most obvious issue is that visually, the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. isn't able to crisply convey the detail required for a fighting game to a degree that most players will feel entirely comfortable with. To be fair, I played on a 3DS XL which made the pixels much more pronounced, but at the same time I can only imagine a smaller 3DS screen makes it that much less clear where the borders. Attentive gamers will notice the thick black borders on Smash characters in the game's screenshots. Those borders are important. They make the characters distinct enough against other players, items and the background so fighting can go on semi-smoothly. It's also likely that the 3DS version of the game has completely unique levels relative to the Wii U, so the backgrounds can be designed to provide additional depth.
Issue number two is closely related to the first , which deals with the pixilated and indistinct visuals. This issue is specifically related to the imprecision of combat. Visually, the pixelation can make it difficult to measure distances accurately. When so many characters depend heavily on distance measurement, being off by a pixel will change whether hits land or do not. Similarly, trying to line up to grab items in the midst of battle is rough. That's not just because of the visuals, however. It's due to the smaller screen in general. In close fights, with the camera zoomed in, images get lost in the mayhem. In distance fights, with the camera zoomed out, items are hard to pick out due to their size.
Third is the 3DS controls. This is not a piece of hardware designed for fast-paced combat, let alone a fighting game. While Smash may be less demanding than some fighters, lasting precision smashes and pokes with the the little joysticks was rough for me. I also felt like there was even some input lag, a disheartening revelation to be sure. That could have been a result of the wi-fi multiplayer, but I'm more of the opinion that Bandai Namco is just doing its best with what the 3DS has to offer.
And it's very obvious Bandai Namco is absolutely trying to make the best of the situation. The black edges on players and the 3DS-specific levels are an important design point. Also, and this only became obvious after I thought about these issues and played the mode itself, but Smash Run is specifically designed to make the best of the 3DS'... eccentricities.
In the Smash Run's pre-fight mode players fight through towering levels filled with randomized enemies from several of Nintendo's popular games. Some enemies are small, some enemies large, and depending on their size and difficulty the larger the rewards for defeating them. Rewards come in the way of stat boosts. When this pre-fight mode ends, then the player fights against their real opponents in a more traditional Super Smash Bros. fight.
The entire Smash Run mode is designed to extend the fight outside of true multiplayer in order to alleviate some of the direct ramifications of the game's inadequacies. Great players will burn through Smash Run, picking up a ton of stats and giving them an advantage that may otherwise have been lose due to the issues of precision and control. Slower players will acquire less stats, giving them a more appropriate position when facing stronger foes. Against AI, the "dumb" AI that fills the Smash Run tower, there's no stress over imprecision. It's casual fun, plus it makes the inevitable fight much easier to take less seriously. After all, it's not like it's a fair fight. The stats make everything wonky.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS will still be a fun and enjoyable game. Fans will certainly find a lot of value in the product. For those like myself who imagined it being a counter-part to the Wii U version of the game, it's best if we adjust our expectations. It's crazy to me that I even though differently prior to playing the game. It's for a handheld system, not a console. Have fun with it, don't worry about the finer detail that's missing, and if that's something you're unable to cope with then wait for the true Super Smash Bros. successor later this year.