Hands On with Nintendo 3DS and Super Street Fighter IV 3D

Good news, everybody: after five minutes with a Nitnendo 3DS in my hands at the Capcom Unity Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Fight Club event on Friday in Los Angeles, my eyes did not fall out and I wasn’t rendered comatose by debilitating headaches.

What I did get was a pair of battles as Ryu, messed around with the touchscreen controls, got my mind blown by 3D imagery jumping off a handheld at me, and experienced the over-the-shoulder fighting perspective that’s unique to this version of Super Street Fighter IV.

Although I didn’t get a lot of time with the 3DS at the event — it was packed with something like 1,500 people, and the 3DS demo was capped at just two fights — I can say that the 3DS handles Super Street Fighter IV pretty well.

Nintendo’s new portable’s buttons feel solid. The analog stick, with a concave top, is a little less stick and a little more nub, though — a lot like the PSP’s analog stick, although Nintendo has clearly improved on that design. The 3DS stick is still small, but it moves and feels better than the old PSP version, and the concave nature of the stick helps it not slip off your thumb, which is helpful.

In all, the standard 3DS controls for Super Street Fighter IV feel solid. The game is plenty responsive and the analog stick and the D-pad work well. Control is basically of the kind of quality you can expect for the game on other platforms.

For the touchscreen, the 3DS adds four buttons you can tap to do different moves. The demo 3DS at Fight Club was set to Light mode, so the buttons were set to do special moves with one touch. Two of the buttons activated special moves — for Ryu, it was his hadouken fireball attack and his hurricane kick. These moves are usually executed by button combinations, and you can still roll the analog stick from down to forward and hitting punch to throw a fireball. The difference is, the touchscreen button lets you throw a hadouken without doing any work or remembering the combinations.

It goes a long way to simplifying the Street Fighter formula — something Capcom has worked into Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as well. The touchscreen buttons also allow you to do character-specific combos once you’ve built up a meter on the bottom of the screen by pounding away at your enemy. I wasn’t able to do much else with those touchscreen buttons — according to Capcom, you can map them to do anything, and you can also switch off Light Mode (and filter out Light Mode players) when you play online for a more authentic experience.

The plus side of Light Mode and the touchscreen buttons is that they will potentially bring in quite a few more players to the Super Street Fighter IV community on 3DS . I don’t know that they’ll ever really learn to play well enough to compete with Street Fighter fans who have been playing on traditional controls for years, though; it seemed much more like the touchscreen Light Mode buttons will be more of a crutch, and that Light Mode players will largely stay in Light Mode.

With 3D kicked on, the 3DS still handled SSFIV quite well. There weren’t any frame rate hiccups that I experienced, although I didn’t have a chance to really mess with the degree of 3D that the portable was running. For the most part, it looked nice — it wasn’t excessively incredible, but it wasn’t distracting, and for the most part the 3D added graphically to the experience.

The 3DS version of SSFIV also includes a perspective change, allowing you to choose between playing with the standard side-scrolling type fight arena (the look of Street Fighter since forever, with one fighter on the left and one on the right), or switching the camera so that you’re behind your character and looking over their shoulder. The difference isn’t exactly startling, but over-the-shoulder fighting does change up the experience some.

Mostly, playing in over-the-shoulder mode seemed to help with playing more defensively. Your focus is much more on what the other character is doing and their relationship to your character, who is always in the same place on the screen. That means judging the distances between you and the other fighter becomes a little more automatic than it does in standard mode, where you can change where you are on the screen as the other fighter moves around as well. It felt like the new perspective helps to see more attacks coming and to do a little more blocking and dodging in standard mode.

But the change seems like it’s largely aesthetic (although I didn’t get a ton of time to mess with it). It’s certainly a nice change, and it looks a lot cooler than the standard perspective, but it shouldn’t alter the experience drastically one way or the other. Some players will feel like it gives them a spacial advantage as far as how their brains work in judging the fight and choosing reactions; some will hate it and stick with the old method. You have the option to try out both and see what’s best.

Capcom has put a competent port together for the 3DS for Super Street Fighter IV, and from what I can tell, fighting game fans and portable owners alike should dig it. I can’t speak to it being a blow-out amazing you-should-buy-a-3DS-to-play-it kind of game, because it handles more or less like its console (and iPhone) counterparts — which is good news. The 3DS version also offers up a bunch of cool additional features and sports 35 characters and some interesting online features, so you should feel like you got your money’s worth. But as for playing it: it felt good and if you need Super Street Fighter on a portable, you’ll get it here.

As for my initial impressions of the 3DS: pretty interesting, though standard-ish portable/console controls and 3D support aren’t going to send me to the store, personally. For my part, 3DS isn’t a system that sells itself, and I’m going to need to see some kick-ass software to go along with the strong, but not earth-shattering, hardware. It’s worth mentioning that graphically, at least with SSFIV, it was pretty beautiful, though. But I could care less about 3D, even after seeing it live — so it’s up to Nintendo and its third-party developers to convince me that it’s worth spending the money and dealing with the machine’s short battery life to get excited about it.

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