The crossover fighter genre has some of the most rabid fan bases in all of this interactive entertainment we call videogames. A fighting game allows players to compete on both a reflexive and strategic basis. A crossover game gives you the option to play as popular characters from other genres of games and sometimes from different media (i.e. comic books). Put the two together and you get a game that allows you to have a large amount of control over characters you already know very well.
Thanks to the Capcom vs series we know what a fight between Megaman and Wolverine would probably look like. Thanks to the Super Smash Bros series we could finally see how a Samus vs. Link fight might play out. The upcoming PlayStation All-stars Battle Royale will let us try to take down a Big Daddy with Parappa. There is just something enjoyable about getting to control one of your favorite characters in a new way, or getting to pound the stuffing out of one that annoys you.
Unfortunately, every silver lining has a cloud attached. The giant cloud of doom that hovers over this genre is the character speculation list. They are easy to make, easy to consume, and insanely popular. Of course, this could also describe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and we all know that not all PB&J's are created equal. A large majority of these speculation lists are like being handed said sandwich with moldy bread and jelly dripping out the sides. They just leave a nasty taste in your mouth.
Well I demand better, dammit. Here is my list of pitfalls almost every crossover fighter character speculation list falls into.
It including lots of characters the developer/publisher doesn’t own
Example: King K. Rool was in the SNES game so Nintendo can use him.
There are always exceptions to the rule, but typically developers will prefer using characters they don’t have to pay royalties to use. It simply costs them a lot less resources to use characters they already own, so a huge portion of their roster will be from licenses they have access to.
In the example above, I have been seeing this character in Smash Bros. speculation lists since the very first game in the series. They figured that:
1) Donkey Kong is already in the game so he needs his villain.
2) King K. Rool was in all the SNES Donkey Kong Country games so he’s a Nintendo character.
Except that he’s not a Nintendo character, he was designed by Rare. Why do you think they had to use entirely new enemy types in Retro’s Donkey Kong Country Returns? News flash: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro are owned by Activision. Sony doesn’t own them just because their old games were PlayStation exclusives. So if Sony wanted to put any of them in their long and oddly titled Smash clone … they’d have to pay out the Sackboy for the privilege. The extra cost doesn’t end there. They have to pay different levels of royalties for the different regions on the international market. This also limits their profits if they want to sell a future re-release or digital version down the road.
Obviously, this does happen. We already have Big Daddy (the bouncer type, at least), which is owned by Irrational Games currently, as well as Heihachi Mishima from the Tekken series, which is owned by Namco Bandai, being confirmed for Sony’s fighter. We’ve seen the Smash Bros. series get Solid Snake and Sonic. These few exceptions to the rule should not open the doors to wild speculation.
All of these characters were included because of corporate quid pro quo and profit deals. Putting a couple of these third party characters on a list with solid reasons why they would work is fine. Having a large amount of them on a list stops it from being an educated prediction and just makes it look like you haven’t done your homework.
Including fan-favorite characters you aren’t a fan of
Example: Knuckles has tons of fans so his inclusion is a no-brainer.
A fan-favorite videogame character is usually one that is far more popular than the actual game they originate from. They are typically a side character in a popular franchise that steals the spotlight whenever they show up. I’m going to just go ahead and state the obvious here.
This character is put on the list to prove the writer knows his audience.
This is the same as putting chocolate down in a list of your favorite ice cream flavors. You put it on the list because you know that half of the comments will complain that it isn’t on the list. So you give the babies their bottle with a half-hearted bullet point and move on. If you truly believe it, put it on there and your passion and the logic behind your decision will shine through. If you don’t, leave it off the list.
Including your favorite characters because they are your favorite
Example: Geno would be soooo cool you guys!
Yeah. We all have certain characters we like more than others. Something about them just clicks and we want to spend more time with them. Putting a character you are passionate about can make for a good segment on the list… if you have good reasons to back it up.
Honestly, the example I used could fall into other categories but I used him here because when he shows up it feels more like a sales pitch than a reasoned speculation. It typically tosses the logic of how he is technically owned by Square Enix aside to detail how he would be the “best fighter evah”.
Getting too far removed from logical reasons for your list choices ends up making you sound just like that one guy who stood behind you in a long convention line that kept trying to convince you why “Buffy could have totally killed Voldemort”. And that just leads to having to awkwardly hear him read from his Willow/Hermione fanfic.
Including funny characters for the lulz
Example: Ethan Mars from Heavy Rain would be hilarious in All-Stars Battle Royale!
Hey, yeah. Maybe it would be funny if we had a character who attacked by yelling “Jason” whenever you hit X. Sure, his special attack could be when the entire screen goes black for a second, then all the other characters are defeated, and Ethan wakes up with an origami crane in his hand. Yes. All this would be funny.
Certain jokes have a terribly short half life once you pop the top on them. They go from hilarious to annoying so exponentially fast that it is probably a bad idea to put them in a game you are hoping people play for a few years. There is a big difference in a joke character like Dan in Street Fighter and a character that is just a one note joke.
You put this in your list because you want to entertain people. But at the end of the day, instead of having a solid, well thought-out list, your #6 will forever be talking about how funny it would be if Kevin Butler using the Move was a playable character.
Including a gratuitous alternate version of an already confirmed character
Example: Epic Yarn Kirby would be different than Kirby because… yarn.
You needed the list to be a certain number in length.
Including extremely obscure characters
Example: Did you know that when Miyamoto was designing the original Donkey Kong he was actually trying to make a Popeye game? Because he couldn’t secure the rights from Kings Features, Popeye became Jumpman, Bluto became Donkey Kong, and Olive Oyl became Pauline. Thus it would be a fabulous nod to Nintendo history if Popeye was a playable character in the next Smash Bros. game.
You are doing this to prove your videogame knowledge is massive and your tastes are refined. You will recommend a character that has only appeared in a single game that was only released in Japan that you frankly probably only know of because you got bored surfing through Wikipedia one day.
Do characters like this get included in the published games? Of course they do. Ice Climbers is a prime example of characters pulled out of obscurity. Characters like them or Mr. Game & Watch have started this trend of lists swinging for the fences of the least well-known characters around. It really just smacks not only of being a smug master of trivial knowledge, but it also seems like you are really just wanting to be able to point back months later and get your “I totally called it” moment. Without a series of solid clues backing up your train of thought,however, you come off more an Inspector Clouseau than a Sherlock Holmes.
These are the main points that I personally believe turn most speculation lists into fluff pieces instead of serious discussions. Sure, we are merely talking about what fictional characters might show up in some videogame. It isn’t the most serious topic in the world, but it is one that people are passionate about. If the same people whose very profession it is to take the industry seriously don’t treat it with respect, how are we to expect others to?