3DS makes it sound like some kind of mythical horn of plenty.

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The harder the fight, the better the loot; but if you lose, you'll end up dropping some of your prizes.

It forces you to wager on yourself, and evaluate your own skill at every turn.

The only online mode that worked without failure is Spectate mode, which allows you to watch and bet on live matches, complete with variable odds and payout multipliers.

I have spent more time than you would possibly believe watching other people fight and wagering on the winner; I'll find myself leaving my 3DS open on the desk while I'm working, occasionally glancing over to manage my winnings.

There are clever tools like the Bombchu, which can run along walls and ceilings in search of a target; Bottled Fairies, which will heal you, but only if your damage meter is over 100 percent; and the Special Flag, which can give you an extra life in Stock matches or an extra point in Timed.

There are so many new items, characters and levels, all mixed in with returning franchise favorites, that beginning to develop expertise with anything is kind of a tricky proposition.

In most matches, there was a noticeable amount of input lag that, while passable, made pulling off any kind of combo or technical maneuver far more difficult than in an offline match. I had completely stable matches with three random Japanese players, but a one-on-one match with a stateside colleague was a slideshow.

The good news is that when you find a stable match, you can usually stay with that group of players until they disband — but finding a decent lobby is far more trouble than it should be.

Case in point: After 20 hours or so, I'm still not sure which character I'm the most proficient with — except for, of course, myself. 3DS allows you to turn any Mii on your system into a playable fighter, and it's hands-down the best part of the game.

By choosing between three archetypes — the Brawler, Gunner and Swordfighter — and choosing four special attacks (there are three options for each slot, for a total pool of 12), you can essentially replicate and remix most characters from franchise history.

Moreover, when playing online with strangers, you're unable to use any customized fighters, including your Mii.