It used to be that a Nintendo console’s software library was considered incomplete until you could play both a “Mario” game and a “Zelda” game on it. Those two games were the flagship Nintendo franchises that everyone waited for, and to the Nintendo development teams’ infinite credit, “Mario” and “Zelda” games are rarely disappointing.
Starting with the Wii – some would even say the GameCube – “Super Smash Bros.” was added to that must-have list. When the franchise started on the Nintendo 64, it was an excuse to stuff a bunch of otherwise unrelated Nintendo characters in a single game and answer questions like “Who would win in a fight, Mario or Link?” or “What would happen if Pikachu tried to fry Fox McCloud from “Star Fox” with a lightning bolt?”
It was a massive game of “what if” that struck a nerve and took off.
“Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS” (3DS; $39.99; Rated E10) and “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U” ($59.99; Rated E10) are fundamentally the same game, expanding this formula (for the third time) and refining it to the point where it’s hard to imagine any upcoming “Super Smash Bros.” being better.
Here’s the idea behind “Super Smash Bros.” You enter an arena as a popular character from a game franchise. Up to three others enter with you. All the players in the arena hack at each other. Being damaged means that a player flies farther when hit with a strong attack. Eventually, all players but one fly clear off the board. The one that’s left is the winner.
Of course, there are variations, many of which involve multiple lives, but the overriding theme is that video game favorites clobber other video game favorites, and everyone goes home happy.
A game like this hinges largely on the character lineup, and the roster of “Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U” is by far the best (and largest) the series has seen. Highlights include Pac-Man, Little Mac from “Punch Out,” and Bowser Jr. – who only counts as a single character but can take the shape of any one of the “Koopalings” that served as stage bosses in “Super Mario Bros. 3.” The “Duck Hunt” dog even comes out to play.
Add to this the usual smattering of “Mario,” “Zelda,” “Fire Emblem,” “Pokemon” and other Nintendo characters, and you have a quantity of potential protagonists so rich, you’ll have trouble picking a favorite.
There are milestones tracked, challenges to complete and trophies to obtain. There are game modes on top of game modes. There is online play. There is light platforming. There are arena minigames.
In fact, so much content is stuffed into these games that someone could easily spend 10, 20, even 30 hours with them, and still feel as though there is so much more to be done. You can lose yourself in this game. Better yet, you’ll want to.
“Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” the Wii entry in the series, was actually something of a letdown. It seemed to suffer from an overblown sense of itself, and the crisp, quick control that was so integral to previous entry “Super Smash Bros. Melee” was missing. These new versions bring back that fast action and add to it a balance that speaks to years of play-testing. There truly is no “best” character. While certain characters will mesh with certain player styles, there’s no sense of overpowering in the way that, say, Fox seemed to take over the hearts of “Super Smash Bros. Melee” players.
Any flaws feel like serious nitpicking, but I could cite the all-too-common lag in 3DS online play, or that some modes feel a bit disposable in both games. Still, the new “Super Smash Bros.” games are nearly flawless experiences, whether you take the portable one or the home console version.
New this week: In a slow pre-holiday week, “Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris” (PS4/XOne) offers more “Tomb Raider”-lite in the vein of “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light,” with four-player co-op play added.