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The first 'Smash Bros.' in six years is available now, and you should play it

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There is a new Smash Bros. game, and it's available as of last Friday. You know when the last game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, was released? In 2008! Six years ago! So today is a pretty exciting day, at least for me. Hi, I'm Ben Gilbert, and I've been playing Smash Bros. with far too much sincerity for 15+ years. The new Smash Bros. for 3DS, however? I've only been playing that for about two weeks. The reviews are out! Our sister site Joystiq is pretty into it. I am also way into it, and I want to tell you why.

Look, we don't do this -- whatever "this" is -- at Engadget very often (ever?). In leading our game coverage, I've intentionally skipped previews, reviews and other standards of game coverage; our sister site Joystiq does a great job with that, and only so many of you want to know about the minutia of every video game. I'm making an exception for Smash Bros., mostly for selfish reasons: I desperately want to talk about the best game Nintendo's released this year.

WHAT IS IT?

Don't know what Smash Bros. is? Here's the launch trailer for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS:

Smash Bros. is a Nintendo-made fighting game starring everyone's favorite game characters. The cast ranges from Mario to Mega Man, and even includes recent cult classics like Xenoblade's Shulk. The latest game has "over 40" characters in total: The rest of the experience is tailored around supporting and extending the nostalgia conjured by those dozens of characters.

If nothing else, Smash Bros. is a trip down gaming history's memory lane. No other game allows you to pit Sonic the Hedgehog against Pac-Man, on a stage based on Pikmin, while deploying Pokémon balls as weapons. You know how mash-up artists take hit songs and turn them into something new? Smash Bros. is that, but with video games, and it's made by the company that created most of those games.

Rather than mashing up the gameplay systems from those various games, though, Smash Bros. takes the characters, their characteristics, and some of their game worlds, and brings them into a 2D, four-player fighting game. Players take those characters into one of many game-themed arenas and fight until time or lives run out.

Here's where things get a little weird: rather than a life meter, Smash Bros. relies on a percentage meter. The higher your percentage, the more likely your character is to be knocked out of the ring. If your character is knocked out of the ring, you either lose a point or a life. Here's a video that helps to explain:

Like much of Nintendo's best work, Smash Bros. is blessedly simple: there is one set of moves that applies to every character in the game. The challenge isn't in memorizing move lists, but in applying one set of basic controls across a vast swath of variables: which character you're fighting, the items on-screen, and how much more your character can take before being knocked out (among many other things). It is simple to understand, challenging to master.

MORE THAN WARM MEMORIES

Smash Bros. for 3DS is the richest addition to the franchise's history in over 10 years. It's a game focused intently on catering to both casual Mario fans and tattooed Nintendo hyper-loyalists. One mode allows you to quite literally fight your way through gaming history, era by era. You start by battling Mario and Donkey Kong, and end up facing off with Wii Fit's demo trainer. Yes, really. It's a game where you're just as likely to see Brain Training's Dr. Kawashima referenced as you are to see Super Mario Bros.'s iconic goombas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beyond the initial hook of nostalgia, enthralling as it is, lies a game of immense complexity. Smash Bros. is a game of variables, and knowledge of those variables makes a huge difference in how you play the game.

If you're new to the series, the bare bones variables are all you need to know: which buttons do what actions. It's entirely possible to have a great time playing Smash Bros. with a base level knowledge about its many, many systems.

Perhaps you play as Starfox's Fox McCloud, and you enjoy firing lasers at your friends as they engage in hand-to-hand combat. Plenty of fun to be had there! But maybe a Pokémon ball lands next to you -- one of the random items that drops mid-battle -- and you decide to pick it up. You throw it in the general direction of your friends, and a massive Snorlax erupts, sending your friends sky high and netting you two knockouts. Now you know a new variable!

Smash Bros.'s greatest asset -- beyond the all-star cast and rich library of worlds to draw from -- is its fighting system. It's no surprise that in tournaments Smash Bros. is played with all items turned off, primarily in an arena known as "Final Destination": a flat plane. That's because, though there are only two action buttons and jump, each character is highly nuanced in battle. More than simply replicate reminiscent actions from their respective games, each fighter has a wide variety of moves that are tuned to precision.

Yes, Mega Man has his traditional blaster and Link carries the Master Sword, but it's what you do with those weapons that makes playing Smash Bros. so fun. For instance, learning which moves have "priority" over your foes is just one of dozens of systems underlying the games' combat. "Priority" is knowing that your strike is going to beat out your opponent's strike -- if you nail the timing, that is -- and it's that stuff that hooks longtime players like myself.

FRESH CLASSICS

Smash Bros. on 3DS is a game you should play. There! I said it! Did you grow up with video games? Then you should play it. Don't like fighting games? That's okay! It's still a ton of fun, and there's plenty of stuff to do that isn't fighting.

Simply put, Smash Bros. on 3DS is the best game Nintendo's released this year (and that's saying a lot considering how good Mario Kart 8 is!). It's the best Smash Bros. game since the last best entry, Super Smash Bros. Melee.

No, it's not the full console game we're all waiting for on Wii U (where is that, Nintendo?). And yes, your hands do occasionally get cramped from playing a fighting game on a handheld console (even the 3DS XL). And yeah, the online still isn't where it should be (nowhere near as good as Mario Kart 8, anyway). Despite all that, Smash Bros. for 3DS is a fresh addition to the franchise, an excellent game, and an easy suggestion to both newcomers and longtime fans. It is the full console Smash Bros. we've all been waiting for, only it's available on your 3DS right now.

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