I wish “Smash 3DS” could have come out when I was in the 5th grade: it would have made my hour-long bus rides to and from elementary school incredible. It’s an almost-fully-featured portable version of “Super Smash Bros,” one that improves upon the mechanics of its predecessor. It’s unfortunately missing a few staple game modes, but it’s still one of the best multiplayer experiences you can have on a handheld.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco Games

“Smash 3DS” touts a staggering lineup of 49 characters, by far the most in any “Smash” game to date. Most of the new fighters are interesting, meaningful additions, especially Mega Man and Pac-Man, whose iconic retro images feel right at home among the classic Nintendo heroes. Unfortunately, several veteran favorites did not return (you will miss Ice Climbers, Lucas and Snake), but the 15 new characters are so much fun to play that I didn’t spend too much time missing them. There are also 23 new stages, the majority of which hang with the best the series has to offer.

Gameplay is much improved from the previous “Smash” game, 2008’s “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.” “Brawl” was controversial among hardcore fans of the series, who felt that the game was dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience. In particular, a “tripping” mechanic was implemented, which many felt added a degree of randomness to each fight, ruining competitive play. “Smash 3DS” has taken a step firmly in the opposite direction, removing tripping and speeding up competitive play. No, it’s still not quite as tight as 2001’s “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” the fan-favorite game in the series, but as a handheld fighter, there really aren’t any better options.

Playing multiplayer with friends ran nearly perfectly both locally and online. I hardly noticed any instances of lag. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the competitive online play against random players. In most of my randomly paired matches, there was enough lag to completely ruin competitive play. But “Smash” has never been about playing online, it’s about playing in-person. And it works just as well with the small screen.

The unfortunate letdown of “Smash 3DS” is its lack of a single-player Adventure mode and Event Match mode. After “Brawl’s” fabulously fanservice-y Subspace Emissary Adventure mode, it’s very sad to see a “Smash” release without something comparable. It’s especially disheartening that the game lacks Event Match, which brought enormous gameplay variety to single-player “Smash” and even featured co-op play in “Brawl.”

But, in their place are two new gameplay modes.

The first, Smash Run, is based on the City Trial mode from underrated 2003 Kart Racer “Kirby: Air Ride.” Four players run around a rather generic environment while fighting iconic enemies hailing from the same games series as the playable characters; the goal to collect power-ups which raise specific statistics. After five minutes of exploration, these stats come into play in the end-game challenge. For this, the players come together to participate in a randomly selected activity, usually focusing on one of the statistics, like running, jumping or straight-up fighting.

This mode is forgettable for two reasons: one, the environment isn’t nearly as interesting as the one in “Air Ride.” I felt this mode lent itself better to a 3D space, which feels more natural to explore. Two, I felt as though success in the challenges depended more on character choice and luck rather than the skill of collecting the power-ups, defeating the mode’s entire purpose. Furthering my disdain for this mode is its befuddling lack of online play; it’s local only.

The second new mode is “Target Blast,” a brick-breaking mini-game inspired by “Angry Birds.” It’s fun, but too similar to Rovio’s megahit. It’ll hold your attention about as long as “home-run contest” did in each prior “Smash” game.

Even though I wasn’t too hot on the game’s new modes, I still had an absolute blast with “Smash 3DS,” and most likely will continue to do so until “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U” launches in November. If “Smash U” offers a better single-player experience while retaining the incredible multiplayer of “Smash 3DS,” it has the potential to be the best “Super Smash Bros.” game of all time. But until then, you and your friends are going to enjoy the hell out of this one.

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