It's not easy launching a new instalment of a series like Super Smash Bros, as each entry has offered yet more options and choices than the one before. Added to that, the franchise has garnered the kind of fan obsession that makes any change or addition a bigger issue than it should be.
More than enough pressure, but its this kind of challenge that developers such as Masahiro Sakurai step up to and show the best of what they can do. This time round there's an added complication: how do you fit Super Smash Bros. onto a handheld?
Some background first. The series draws together characters from Nintendo's first-party titles (and recently has introduced a few faces from other companies). It's distinct from other fighting games in that there's no health bars and locations are rarely to a realistic scale. Stages offer a degree of verticality, and so there's some platforming agility mixed in with fighting prowess.
You don't knock your opponent down, but try and knock them out of the arena, through repeatedly striking them to increase their percentage meter, which as it increases with each landed hit, calculates the probability that an attack will send them soaring out of the arena for good - the higher the number, the farther your opponent will be thrown with each hit.
Every character has the same control mechanics, offering a range of simple attacks. Normal strikes are with A, but coupled with a directional input on stick or pad will see them perform a Smash attack, while character-specific specials are mapped to B (such as Mario tossing fireballs, Link using his bow or bombs).
But stages also fill up with items that can be used to damage, block or annoy your challengers further. From light sabers to guns, explosives or even food which recovers a little damage, the range of objects is large and varied enough to make each encounter unique. There are even Pokéballs that'll call some Pokémon into battle to assist, and secondary characters from other games that serve a similar function. Then there's every character's Final Smash, which means that when the ball drops on screen all fighters race to unlock it. The victor automatically pulls off a powerful attack that almost always sends rivals off the map.
The first thing that strikes you about this 3DS version is the amount of content the team have crammed onto the cartridge. None seems introduced just for the sake of it or to extend the game's lifespan: it's all extra game modes, unlockable characters and new stages. And all are presented in an intelligent and interesting way for the player, and you start unlocking stuff almost without realising even as you're still getting to grips with the intricacies of the combat.
The main game mode is Smash, a battle against one, two or three opponents, with the difficulty tweaked just as you like it. It's but one example of the heavy customisation that's available throughout the game. You can alter game time, lives, determine what items drop (or turn them off completely) and much more. You can even build your own customised fighters - which we'll get into shortly.
Level diversity also contributes to this variety. Each stage is built differently, and with great dynamism. During battles the stages will change - lava pools will flow up to swallow the bottom of one stage, anti-grav racing vehicles will tear through the middle of another stage, for example - to radically alter the flow of battle. Of course, you can also use "omega stages", single platforms with no changes present, for those wanting to focus on the fighting alone.
Then there's Smash Run, an exclusive mode to the 3DS game and a rather unique one for the series. Each player is dropped into a randomised dungeon that they've to explore and defeat enemies in within a set time limit. Each defeated foe drops XP perks for each combat attribute, split between offensive and defensive skills.
At the timer's end, the bonuses are added together and the character's stats modified as the fighters are regrouped and dropped into either a battle arena or some other test such as being the first to climb tower - because the twist is that the ending of Smash Run is randomised, so it's not just about trying to mop up attack power increases to win. It's a lot of fun, so shame then it's only available via local play and not online.