After months of eager anticipation, the newest entry in the Super Smash Bros. series is here. Like many owners of the new handheld iteration of the series, I found myself picking up the fourth of four Smash games on release, only to undergo a decent amount of confusion. Something felt off. As a seasoned Smash Bros. veteran, I couldn’t find my way to the game modes I know and love. I now understand why I felt so lost. See, I started listening to my copy of Smash, and it spoke to me. Do you know what it said? It said, “It’s not you, It’s me.”
Let me start off by saying this: I don’t mean to criticize or attack the newest Smash. We here at GameKoop are big fans of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. Speaking personally, I’ve loved every minute that I’ve sunk into the various game modes these past weeks, and intend to sink many more in the near and distant future. But I’ve faced some serious disorientation as I’ve attempted to explore all the game has to offer, and I think the bizarre and poorly explained layout of Smash’s menus are to blame.
The first time I attempted to play Smash on my own (3 a.m. the night of release, after my fiancé had gone to bed), I wanted to launch headlong into the game’s redesigned classic mode. One problem – I couldn’t find it.
Where was the solo game mode, or a menu labeled for one player?
The menu headings offered little help. The biggest, flashiest, and leftmost-aligned icon on the menu is a big red button emblazoned with the word “SMASH.” As it turns out, this leads to the most familiar kinds of game modes – the two-to-four person battles launched from the character selection screen. Classic mode was relocated to the bottom right corner menu icon called “Games & More,” where I expected to be able to find things like the Home-Run Contest (also located here, but beneath a few more menus) or perhaps even the new Smash Run mode (not here; instead given its own main menu icon).
Menus from previous games in the Smash series divided game modes into group and solo-player categories.
Perhaps it’s my familiarity with the series that’s holding me back. As I hinted at earlier, every other game in the Smash series has divided up the first menu into games to be played by oneself, and those to be taken on with or against others. As a handheld game, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS seems to have thought it prudent to re-imagine this organizational structure, as no two people are ever playing on one system.
Instead, each of the three main menu modes offers the option to play with others in some way or another. Obviously the main mode is a multiplayer affair. Additionally, Smash Run offers competitive local multiplayer, and the Games & More section gives you the opportunity to cooperatively challenge both All-Star Mode and 100-Man Smash.
Admittedly, adhering to the old organizational structure would have been confusing. To have the multiplayer version of All-Star in a different menu than the solo one wouldn’t have made much sense at all. However, it feels like greater effort could have been taken by the design team to explain where all of the game’s modes can be found. The 3DS, as I’m sure you’re aware, boasts two screens – and yet when highlighting a menu option on the top screen, the information contained on the latter is unhelpful at best.
When looking at the jam-packed “Games & More” icon, the lower screen offers this: “Solo and group games, plus Training, custom fighters, the Vault, and more!” This text is complimented by a cluttered image containing Mii Fighters, the Sandbag, the Target Blast bomb, and a relatively obscured Master Hand; the menu’s only hint at Classic Mode’s location.
In addition to the oddly-nested feel of the game’s menu, there are a host of other options that are difficult to maneuver around in Smash 4. You may have noticed the lack of Miis on the initial character selection screen (CSS). No big deal, right? This is a familiar observation; they must be unlockable! Nope. The Mii fighters can be revealed simply by making one, which is found in the custom menu under “Games & More,” rather than on the CSS.
How about Smash Run? Have you jumped into this hectic maze of a mode yet and discovered the various Smash Run powers to be obtained? Cool, me too! In fact, I’ve been collecting Smash Run powers for weeks now. That’s not to say I’ve been using them, though. It wasn’t until last week that I figured out Smash Run powers must be equipped while building a custom version of the character you intend to play as, and this can’t be done from the regular custom characters menu. Smash Run has its own customization menu that is virtually identical to the other one, except you can add Smash Run powers. Why is this option not included in the main customization menu? It seems that the answer is that there is no answer.
Does it seem like much ado about nothing? I suppose. The game’s cast of characters is fantastic, and the various ways to play (alone and with friends) do offer a lot to keep Smash more interesting than most other handheld offerings. Still, it feels like it could be a bit more intuitive. Having to run around the game’s various menus and sub-menus leaves me feeling a bit too much like I did during all the endless sailing towards the conclusion of Windwaker – how do I get back to the fun part?