I love Super Smash Brothers.
The lightweight combat system, position-based strategy, agile and easy to learn controls, and host of memorable characters make Nintendo’s fighting game franchise a core part of my identity as a gamer. I have fond memories of endless hours spent playing Melee with my friends, I love learning and strategizing with new characters, and I will never miss Smash on the main stage at EVO.
Super Smash Brothers is a bad franchise.
It is not terrible or poorly made, it just isn’t good.
Clone characters are commonplace, the concept of cast balance is completely disregarded, and the development team does not seem even the slightest bit concerned for the demand of the fans. Even Melee, franchise’s Sacred Cow, is not immune to these criticisms.
When I decided to pick up a Wii U with Smash 4, I was actually excited. Brawl may have been a catastrophic failure, but 4 was good enough that people were playing it at EVO, tripping had been eliminated, and they were adding Cloud as a DLC character, so it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot.
My early experience with the game was positive, thanks to the shiny new coat of paint the game had received. I was delighted that unlockable characters were still a thing (even if they were ridiculously easy to unlock), there was a wealth of challenge levels to defeat, and the joy of 8-player Smash is hard to deny. The cast even seems vaguely balanced, or at least better than Melee or Brawl where the competitive field was entirely ruled by a handful of characters.
However, once I got past the fancy exterior, the wrinkles in Smash 4 began to rapidly show. The cast of playable characters is riddled with even more clone characters and baffling decisions than Melee (Three Kid Icarus characters, one of them a clone? But no Ice Climbers? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?)
All but a handful of stages are unplayable, not just competitively, but because their basic design makes them no fun. Keeping Brawl’s air dodges and changing the ledge grab mechanic removes the majority of the complexity from the aerial and recovery aspects of the game. Also you still can’t play as Ridley.
Now, I know what you’re all going to say:
“Grant, calm down, it’s just a party game.”
“Don’t be that guy, who cares if it’s balanced as long as it’s fun.”
“It’s not supposed to be competitive, this is Nintendo.”
But that crisis of identity has plagued Smash since it first released on the Nintendo 64: if Nintendo wants to choose between a game that is fun to play at parties and a game that is competitively balanced, it will choose parties every time.
I respect that decision, and it lines up with the corporate image Nintendo has made for itself, but on the other hand, I thoroughly reject the premise that it is a choice that needs to be made. You don’t need to choose between competitive balance and casual ease of play. Smash’s untapped potential is that it can be both.
A balanced cast of characters, healthy mix of competitively viable and more chaotic stages (don’t worry, nobody wants to take away your PokeFloats), and mechanics that reward taking risks and clever use of position are not mutually exclusive with the simple controls, straight-forward objective, and general fast-paced fun of Smash. Nintendo is completely capable of having its cake and eating it, too, but refuses to do so. This isn’t even theoretical, because Project M already did it.
For those unfamiliar, Project M was a hacked mod for Brawl that turned it into the best game in the series. They completely rebuilt Mewtwo and Roy from the ground up as viable characters, rebalanced the entire cast to make the tightest competitive game possible (including splitting Pokemon Trainer into three distinct characters), and completely changed the physics engine into something you might actually want to play. As a cherry on top, there were tons of alternate costumes that added a lot of flavor and fan service to the game, and before they shut down production they were working on adding Knuckles and Fire Emblem’s Lyn to the cast.
I played it extensively both in competitive games and at crowded parties full of people who wouldn’t know a wavedash if it SHFFL’d on their Shine Cancel, and the agreement was universal that it was better than any other game in the series.
If a bunch of unpaid dudes from the internet can make a Smash game that is both competitive and fun, why can’t Nintendo? Why do I have to take advantage of a loophole in the Wii’s programming to play a game where the characters are relatively balanced? Why must I suffer the monstrosity of awful design that is The Great Cave Offensive?
I love you, Smash Bros. Why won’t you let me like you?
Project M 3.O Startup Screen: http://i.imgur.com/RNRCr8c.png
Featured Image: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/super-smash-bros-brawl/images/808961/title/master-hand-photo