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I love Smash Bros and I don't care who knows it. But still to this day I cannot believe that the Super Smash Bros franchise actually exists. It's a deep fighting game that also works as a fan-service party game. You have characters from platformers, racing games, turn-based strategy titles, and more, all beating the polygons out of each other using various power-ups on nostalgic battlegrounds to the tune of classic videogame soundtracks. This should have worked about as well as most fan fiction. Yet, somehow, against all odds, this Nintendo battle royale is both ridiculously fun and ridiculously high selling.
Now we have not one but two new Smash Bros games to look forward to, one for the 3DS and one for the upcoming Wii U console. We know next to nothing about these games except that Masahiro Sakurai (the man responsible for creating this series) is once again the director and that there will be cross-platform connectivity between the two games. Since Kid Icarus: Uprising has been completed we know he has started the development process. Beyond that, we can only hope that the game will bring back everything we loved and fix everything we were irritated about from the previous titles. What might those things be? Well …
Online Multiplayer (that works)
Super Smash Bros Brawl promised us online multiplayer and frankly fumbled the ball. It functions, much in the same way a wagon missing two wheels can still technically function as a way to pull someone behind you. Connectivity issues, slow matchmaking, lag, complicated friend codes, lag, and also lag hurt the experience to the point that it could barely be considered an online game.
Nintendo has shown with the 3DS and titles such as Mario Kart 7 and Kid Icarus: Uprising that they can provide a fast, stable, and easy-to-use online multiplayer experiences. They have not only quick matchmaking sessions but also communities with their own rules so you can easily find like-minded players. Hopefully Nintendo will be able to bring the same, if not better, experiences on the Wii U as well.
As more and more modern games act as if local multiplayer is a dirty word, the fighting game genre has stood strong, allowing you to look your opponent in the eyes as you defeat them. All Smash Bros games are go-to titles when you have a few friends over and need to keep them entertained for hours. The ability to choose which (if any) items appear, where you fight, and dozens of other various rule setting tools means the games are able to conform to almost any group of gamers. Don’t sacrifice this in order to get us online.
Attack of the Clones
Hey, I get it. No matter how grand your design you are limited by the physical storage space on the disk. One of the easiest ways to get a few more playable characters is to take an existing character and change his appearance and tweak a few things and now you have two fighters for the storage space of a little more than one.
In other fighting franchises, you might have a couple of clone characters, in Smash Bros it feels like a huge fraction of the characters are clones. A few make some sense; just how different would Dr. Mario be from plumber Mario? Not much. But would Ganondorf have the same fighting style as Captain Falcon? Not likely. The disk space argument doesn’t even hold water when you consider the existence of combination characters like Zelda/Sheik, Samus/Zero Suit Samus, or the Pokemon Trainer with his three variable pokemon. The very peak of clonage saw Wolf as yet a third version of Fox. Dr. Mario can exist, but as a costume not a new character. The Daisy color scheme that Peach had in Brawl is a step in the right direction.
Having alternate reality clone characters just feels like a cheap way to boost the roster numbers. Worse is when a clone doesn’t ring true to the character. The problem with Wolf was not only being a copy of a copy, but his character’s purpose is as a foil for Fox. There is nothing about these two fighting that feels like they were designed to be rivals. Wolf plays more like a ‘dark’ version of Fox. They didn’t make Shadow Link his own character, did they? So while Wolf is a different playing character, he would ring truer as the nemesis of Fox if he had a move set that was the Sagat to Fox’s Ryu.
Three's a crowd, Wolf.
OK, I just made up that phrase, but I think it accurately describes what I mean. Not all “clones” are bad. Mario and Luigi are the Ryu and Ken of this franchise. They started out as clones with minor variations and still maintain a fairly similar move set, though each sequel further attempts to tweak their differences. Their move sets still share the fundamentally same DNA but their play style is quite different. This makes canon sense, because they are brothers and started as palette swaps before evolving to be similar yet different.
Same goes for Falco and Fox. Seeing as they are both Arwing pilots it makes perfect sense for the characters to have similar training (move set) and weapons (special attacks). However, even if the moves are activated the same and look the same, their effects are totally different. How hard they hit, how fast they activate, what angle the knockback is, and more all are something a serious player has to consider. I have met players who can dominate with Falco but can’t last five minutes playing Fox, and vice versa. They sure stop feeling like cheap clones at this point.
Having subtle variations on a character gives people the ability to find one that perfectly fits their play style. It just has to make sense with the already established canon these characters have. That is the trade off you must make when you use well-known characters.
Stages of Doom
The stages in Smash Bros are some of the most inventive of any fighting franchise. There are destructible mansions, moving platforms, raging rivers, and even fighting on the tops of race cars. However, as each sequel comes out the stages become more and more like another enemy. Huge walls of lava, mega laser blasts, and more that usually end up taking out more players than the actual fighting does.
We don’t want all of the stages to do nothing. A few moving platforms and destructible environments are great. However, there are many stages where winning is as simple as successfully dodging the stage’s hazards. This goes beyond "pro" players who only play on Final Destination. When I can win a match by dodging lava for five minutes without throwing a punch ... something is off. The threat is supposed to be the other fighters.
Sure you can choose to not play on them you can even exclude them from what is available for random selection, but why waste the resources on stages many people don't have fun playing on. The original game in the series had stages with a good balance of hazards, the second got a little worse but not too much, but Brawl went a little nuts with a third of the stages truly distracting from the fighting.
And just stop it with the rapidly scrolling stages, both vertical and horizontal, OK? I don't know anybody who likes them. Self-scrolling stages are usually less enjoyable than water levels in platformers, why bring that noise to a fighting game?
Keep your Balance
No matter the fighting game, there will always be some characters that are seen as either too weak or called ‘broken’ because they have strong exploitable qualities. This leads to fan-made tiers in which they rank characters from most to least likely to win. Winning with the ‘lower tier’ characters is possible, but unlikely, especially in high level play. Thanks to the internet connectivity of the current market, developers have been able to make minor patches when exploits are discovered. The more crafty developers release beta versions or have pre-launch tournaments that root out any glaring balance issues.
The Brawl version had such major balance issues that they outright banned the use of certain characters in competitive tournaments. It's a shame that the most loyal and hardcore fans can’t experience the full roster all in the name of a fair fight.
Beware the Dark Side of the Updates
Nintendo typically loads their games with plenty of content because they haven't had DLC to fall back on. They are slowly embracing the concept of DLC and it will very likely be something to expect on the new console. While fighting games currently receive post game support with patches, they also get a fair amount of downloadable content. New characters and new stages are excellent ways to extend the life of a game, especially for a once-a-console franchise like Smash Bros.
However, there is a rather unpopular trend some developers have started of having content locked on the disk that you have to pay for to unlock. Debating the morality and reasons of this practice is a subject for another time. All I’ll say is that I personally hope Nintendo knows which trends to follow and which to avoid like the devil if they want to keep their customers happy.
Let me be clear, the character-specific massively-flashy Final Smashes are a glorious addition to the franchise. How you get to use them is the area that needs fixing. You have to play with items on, wait for a smash ball to appear, and then chase it down while attacking it.
Don’t lose the item, it is great fun for casual play. However, any strategic pros and cons of these moves are lost due to you not being able to access them during an item free match. Take a page out of other fighting franchises and introduce special meters into the franchise. This would allow the many, many players who prefer to make this a game of skill instead of a game of luck to utilize the Final Smashes.
The 'Achievements' Grid
Now there's a trophy worth fighting for.
Nintendo has always held to the opinion that achievements and/or trophies that simply increase your digital score are not something they want to bother with. Masahiro Sakurai developed an ‘achievement’ system that he used in both Super Smash Bros Brawl and the recent Kid Icarus: Uprising. You complete a task and get an in-game reward; the harder the task, the bigger the reward. You don’t get the digital bragging board, but you are unlocking more content for your game.
Prat Falling (aka Tripping)
Smash Bros always walked that fine line between luck and skill that allows it to be both a casual party game and a serious tournament fighter. Thanks to the ability to turn off items and select the stages lacking hazards, you can almost completely remove the element of luck. Except in the Brawl version. Masahiro Sakurai thought it would add to the chaotic fun if characters could randomly trip up when attempting to run. This little element of surprise was not something you could toggle on or off.
Fighting games are at their best when they play out like a hyperactive game of chess. Attacks have counterattacks. Blocks have workarounds. There is a lot of strategy that all happens in the blink of an eye, especially in Smash Bros where it is more important to get someone off the stage than it is to just keep damaging them. However, imagine playing chess and having to roll dice whenever you try to take your opponent’s pieces. If the die comes up ‘4’ then your piece dies instead. That is what tripping is; something you can’t control and can’t predict that could very easily lose you the match.
You know… like in Melee.
Seriously, tripping sucks.
Well that’s all for now for 'Fix, Keep, or Ditch', but this is only the tip of the iceburg. In the future I’ll discuss my thoughts on which fighters should return and any new challengers we might see.
What do you think? Anything I forgot to mention you want fixed? Or do you want to see a different franchise get the Keep it, Fix it or Ditch it treatment? Leave your comments below.