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'Super Smash Bros.' is finally in your pocket, and it's still fantastic

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A fighter that feels good in the hand

The latest Super Smash Bros. game features just about everything you would expect from the series. The roster of characters is absurdly huge, featuring everyone from series mainstays like Mario and Link to new characters like Pac-Man and even the ghostly trainer from Wii Fit. You'll be fighting across stages pulled from Nintendo's rich history, including a green-hued stage that looks like a GameBoy and Mario Kart's infamous Rainbow Road. There's a whole bunch of modes to play through, both solo and with friends, and at the end of the game you still fight that weird giant hand.

But the newest Smash Bros. differs from past games in one key regard: it's on a handheld device for the very first time (a Wii U version is expected later this year). It sounds like a huge change — but Smash Bros. feels remarkably fun and familiar despite the move to the 3DS.

If, somehow, you've never played a Smash Bros. game, the concept is simple: characters from virtually every Nintendo franchise, from The Legend of Zelda to Pokemon, duke it out in four- person fights. Smash Bros.' key strength is its insanity, as the battles are so fast and frantic that it can be hard to tell what's even happening at times. Items like laser guns and fire swords are dropped into the middle of the battle to keep things interesting, and many of the stages change over time, forcing you to keep focused on more than just your opponents.

Super Smash Bros Miis

It feels remarkably fun and familiar

The new Smash Bros follows in the grand tradition of Nintendo games by only slightly tweaking the tried-and-true formula. You can still play normal matches alone, with friends locally, or online, and there are modes that throw you up against crazy obstacles like defeating 100 Miis without dying. The 3DS even adds a fun exclusive mode called Smash Run, where you spend five minutes fighting through a side-scrolling level collecting power-ups, which you then use in a big final fight. In short, there's a lot to do. As always, the game provides a nice balance between single and multi-player content: it's most fun to play with three friends, but you'll want to venture through the different modes yourself to unlock all of the characters, stages, and other assorted goodies.

The amazing thing is that it feels just like the Smash Bros. millions know and love, dating back to the Nintendo 64 original. The smaller screen doesn't detract from the action; characters can get pretty tiny when it's really zoomed out, but it's all perfectly manageable. I'm far from an expert — just ask the Japanese players who already have the game, and routinely destroyed me in online play — but never once did I have an issue with the controls. Competitive Smash Bros. players may disagree, but for me it all just felt right even without a Gamecube controller. For me, Smash Bros. is all about those tense moments at the end, with two players desperately holding on for dear life, and those still exist on the 3DS. They’re just a bit smaller.

The conflict between complexity and approachability has always been part of the series. Smash Bros. is incredibly deep, with some characters that take a long time to learn, and a pace of play that rewards those who understand every element of the game. But, like Mario Kart, it's also remarkably accessible: you don't have to be a fighting game nerd to pick your favorite Nintendo character and have fun beating the crap out of your buddies.

Super Smash Bros

But with the 3DS version of the game, Nintendo has taken more steps to ensure that the hardcore are happy. The biggest nod to the burgeoning competitive Smash Bros. scene is the ability to customize characters. You can build a Mii from scratch and outfit it with clothes you've unlocked while playing, as well as equip it with the special moves best suited to your play style. You basically get to make your own fighter from scratch. The same goes for the Nintendo characters: while you can't change the way Captain Falcon or Princess Peach looks, you can equip them with items that influence traits like strength and speed, as well as switch up their movesets. Smash Bros. already has an insanely huge cast of characters to choose from, but the new customization feature means that it's virtually impossible not to find the perfect fighter for you.

You basically get to make your own fighter from scratch

Nintendo did a fantastic job in bringing the full Smash Bros. experience to a portable device; there's a weird thrill in being able to play a few rounds to unlock a Luigi trophy while riding on the bus. But despite how good the game is, it’s missing one key feature. Like all of the best multiplayer games, Smash Bros. is at its very best when a bunch of friends are on the same couch, huddled around the same TV, yelling at each other because, man, Bowser is such a jerk. You can play locally on 3DS with friends who also own the game, but it's not quite the same. That means I'm definitely going to have to buy the Wii U version as well, whenever it does come out — luckily, this game is hard to get sick of.

Super Smash Bros. is available on the 3DS on October 3rd. The Wii U version is expected later this year.