The Future of Smash is Characters

Future Characters

Today, I would like to react to SmashChu’s A Return to Form. I disagree with the points SmashChu has made for several reasons. I strongly believe that the future of the Super Smash Bros. series is not only the celebration of Nintendo, but gaming in general. Let me explain. First, I will need to cover two important background stories. The first is the history of characters in Smash, and the second has to do with why Sakurai himself. After I finish explaining the background and why third parties in Smash will inevitably happen I will discuss why it’s a good thing.

The Spirit of Smash

When the series first started, Sakurai and Iwata envisioned an accessible fighting game on the consoles. Before settling on Nintendo characters, Sakurai used humanoid-like characters. He even admitted at the time that these characters were only temporary until more suitable replacements could be made or found. Development initially started without any characters, the gameplay and the engine was being made before the actual game world. Sakurai states in an interview with Iwata and Itoi,

It’s hard for original, new fighting games that are developed for home consoles to be acknowledged and recognized. In addition, all of the popular fighting games have characters that all have an abundance of unique traits. Each consumer has a character they individually like, and each character is a key component in the game. So in addition to creating the game, it’s vitally important that you take these 8, or 16 characters and make them shine without diluting their unique flavor, and get them to stick in the audience’s head.

In order to solve this issue, Iwata and Sakurai went to Miyamoto to seek approval to use Nintendo characters in their upcoming fighter. Once they got approval they worked on ensuring that the characters remained true to their original appearance while building a game world. Sakurai touches upon the importance of making characters in his GDC 2008 presentation. For additional information on how Sakurai designs characters, I strongly advise everyone to read the translations, interviews and our Sakurai On articles posted in Character Design 101. It’s vital that everyone understands how and why characters are chosen, and how they are designed for this post.

Sakurai’s Interest

Moving forward, after Melee and Kirby’s Air Ride, Sakurai decided to leave HAL Laboratories. In his Famitsu column, “I’m Quitting Hal Laboratory”, Sakurai states the following two reasons why he decided to leave his company.

Roughly speaking, part of the reason is I felt that in the current organization that it would be difficult to continue making games. The other part of the reason that I left is because I felt there would be appeal in working with a variety of other content creators.

The second part of his reasoning for leaving HAL is key to why third party characters in particular are inevitable. Sakurai left HAL so he could work with a variety of other content creators. Since leaving HAL, Sakurai worked on a Mushiking-tamagotchi like game (Which I should really do a review of at some point) with SEGA, and worked with Tetsuya Mizoguchi on Meteos. He also provided some consultation with Kirby and the Amazing Mirror.

Most importantly though, Sakurai kept writing about a variety of games. It would probably blow the average Smash fan’s mind to know that Sakurai has written about a ton of games including Halo, Portal, God of War, Katamari Damacy, Street Fighter, Phoenix Wright, and much, much more. He’s written columns since 2003 and has written almost 500 of them. Masahiro Sakurai loves gaming in general. He is infamous for having said that when he was younger, he would work in a part time job just to buy games for “research”. Not stopping there, Sakurai has been incredibly active in Press START, which is a Japanese video game music festival. In his new collection of Famitsu columns, Sakurai has written a beautiful and incredibly thorough history of video gaming. I strongly believe that Sakurai will continue to direct the Super Smash Bros. series because it’s a way to celebrate his passion, and he can reach the most amount of customers.

The Best Character Game

He had an interview with GAMES ™ in which he talked about trying to make the newest Smash the, “best character game in the world”. In a lot of ways, the character selection in Smash for 3DS/ Wii U feels exactly like that. When discussing Little Mac in, “The Little Pepper is Hot!” Sakurai stated,

I never would have imagined that I personally would be able to work with the main character from such a game…Of course, I felt the same way with Mario, Pit, and Megaman. As a video game designer, I have probably have worked with the largest amount of popular video game characters in the world.

Since the base roster, Sakurai has continued to expand the roster with four DLC characters: Mewtwo, Roy, Lucas and Ryu. While all four of these characters were handled with extreme care, I feel that Ryu sticks out as an embodiment of Sakurai’s goals with Smash for 3DS/ Wii U. In a lot of ways Ryu feels like an expansion of the Smash Bros. universe and a celebration of gaming in general. The care with Ryu’s title card (“A New Challenger is Approaching!”), and the little details shows that Sakurai is extremely careful when representing other characters in Smash. Some of Ryu’s references are from games that have never debuted on a Nintendo console, so I feel that the “strong connection” to Nintendo fan-requirement goes out the window. As a side note: Sakurai has only said it “might be” a requirement for third party characters to have appeared on a Nintendo console.

I want more characters like Ryu in Smash. With the roster reaching over 50, I think the current hype levels can only be maintained by highlighting the supernovas of gaming — not just the arguably B-list Nintendo Stars that are mainly left. I think this is what Sakurai is doing. He’s celebrating Nintendo and the strength of their IPs, but also wants to include candidates that showcase gaming’s finest. And now, at this point: I almost expect it from Sakurai.

A Road to the Future

Now, I would like to explain why it’s a good thing and a Return to Form is a dangerous road to take. The first is actually economics and political (in some way). There’s an abundance of Nintendo characters in the game, and the game relies heavily on Nintendo nostalgia. If they relied only on adding additional Nintendo characters, the amount of new fans that would be drawn to the series would be minimal. After a certain point, Sakurai would have all the “required” characters (Some may argue that he already does), and further expansion of the roster would just be appeasing characters who might have a small, but loyal following. With the addition of third party characters, Sakurai can broaden the reach of Smash and draw new fans into the loving world of Nintendo. This helps Nintendo strengthen their IP branding which has been a focus of theirs, especially in the last two years.

Furthermore, as we know from the Chris Pranger podcast, the avid Smash fanbase is in a loud, but vocal minority. We aren’t the core demographics of what makes the majority of Smash sales. A Return to Form would only appease the hardcore of the hardcore, the Nintendo “purists”. Most outsiders would see A Return to Form as a step backwards for the series. There is no need to limit the type of characters in future installments, as it would leave the majority of people confused and not . When discussing Snake and Sonic in Brawl, Sakurai was very happy to include them.

Sakurai: Yes, [Kojima] was very appreciative. He played as Snake in the finished game and said, “I really enjoyed that.” Since the fans have also responded well, putting in Snake and Sonic was well worth the effort.

Imagine the reaction if Rayman was announced for DLC. Now, imagine the reaction if Dixie Kong was announced for DLC. Which character would 1. generate the most amount of free publicity for the game and 2. draw the most amount of fans? Obviously, Rayman would excel in both of these categories. With a character like Dixie Kong, you are more likely to have overlap with the existing fans of Smash and Donkey Kong Country. However, Rayman could bring a bigger number of their own fans, as it’s not a Nintendo exclusive game, and is a universe that is not currently represented in the game. Now, there are some “supernovas” of Nintendo that haven’t made it into the game, or as DLC, yet. Yet, the amount of “supernovas” in Nintendo is severely limited and the Smash community has grossly misrepresented their own wishes as the wishes of the gaming community as a large. I would even argue that a lot of the choices within the Smash speculation community are already the ‘B-list stars’ of Nintendo. For additional information about the polling argument, please read The Dangers of Online Polling.

Universe Expansion

Lastly, I would like to talk about the issues of universe expansion within Smash. Since Smash Bros. is a universe crossover game, great care has to be taken to not only represent the character, but to ensure they don’t stick out within the game itself. For Melee and Brawl, the amount of new universes that were added were severely limited. However, with Smash for Wii U/3DS, the amount of new franchises that were given some form of representation dramatically increased. A lot of series were given their first stage, and in most cases given a playable representative. Combining the universes so they don’t feel out of place is a lot of work, and is a reason Sakurai gave in the Brawl era for not including a lot more Nintendo characters. The amount of third party characters in Smash has already doubled from the last game. I think we will continue to see more worlds and universes collide as Sakurai has become an expert in the process.  

In summary, Fans enjoy third party characters, Smash becomes a celebration of video game history, they appeal to a wider audience, and are well worth the hassle. Excluding them is not necessary nor wanted at this point. Let’s embrace the future of Smash, and the characters themselves.   


What do you think? Do you agree that the future of Smash is more third parties? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. I see where you’re coming from. Smash has become such a celebration of gaming that backing out of third party support now would be a strange decision. However…I feel like they’ll be more selective about future third party content than what the article seems to think. They’ve been very careful about it as-is, and the more third party companies that get involved, the more complicated it gets to set things up in future titles. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say.

    Not only that…but I also feel like the hype that comes from third party reveals is…kind of overrated. Even though the internet exploded when Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Ryu were confirmed, people exploded anyway with nearly every character anyway! Even though a third party character brings more hype, it’s mainly only in the short term, as soon they become “just” another character in Smash, just as big a deal as nearly any first party character who makes it in.

    And, well…who’s to say Nintendo’s B-list characters don’t matter? Even though they may not have as much attention, are many of them not interesting characters in their own right? Smash is still a celebration of Nintendo first and foremost, and that can still include its B-listers if they have what it takes to be compelling additions to the series. After all, I think people are pretty big fans nowadays of Captain Falcon, Ness, the Ice Climbers, and Shulk, and that’s just the more obvious ones!

    So to act like all of these less prominent yet still interesting characters don’t matter compared to third party hype, just because they won’t catch as much attention in the short term? Not only does it feel shortsighted, it feels like it’s also taking away that chance for there to be future fan favorites…and I think Sakurai probably realizes that. I can see a couple more third party characters with each new game, with some occasionally leaving for various outside reasons, but I doubt we’ll ever see a mass influx…and that’s probably for the better.

    1. I agree with this. I’m more in a middle position between these two articles. Neither all third parties should be cut, nor that there third parties should be prioritized when choosing more characters. It’s more of that third parties would be the highlight of the game, but not the *focus* of the game.

    2. Actually, I can def name a -ton- of people who went apeshit over Megaman in all the “oh my gosh this is awesome!” way to the point he it -literally- the reason a lot of them bought their very first copy of a Smash Bros game for the first time in their life.

      I don’t think there -should- be a max influx but truly… the inclusion of third party “stars” is really not to be underestimated. However fun the game is, to keep adding Nintendo characters we -are- reaching the point where we’ll be adding really not much more than B and C lister anymore.

      I can definitively confirm you much much more people would know of Megaman, or even one of his side characters like Protoman or Zero(who are far from being as notable A listers than Mega), than there ever are going to be folks who know who King K. Rool is or even that he comes from Donkey Kong game. DK fans might know and loves him but the truth is he really is one of the B/C lister villains for Nintendo.

      1. When I showed my coworker the Mii Costume for King K Rool, he asked me why the Mii was in a crocodile outfit. It’s not like he wasn’t a gamer either; he owned a 3DS and played games regularly. K Rool hasn’t been used for a couple of games and is starting to fade from the publics memory.

  2. Some of my most wanted characters are pretty much Tier B/C (or even lesser)… But I agree with this sentiment, the third-parties has a bigger hype potential for the general public… But… Which options left that are actually good options?

  3. I’ve always tried to figure out how do 3rd Parties get into Smash. It seems like they need to have this criteria.
    or A strong history with Nintendo.

    This is why I get confused with Bomberman. He isn’t iconic and his series has only sold 10 million, but with so many games on Nintendo platforms, it’s hard to say.

    1. While it is subject to opinion, many do recognize Bomberman as an iconic video game mascot. He was particularly prominent in the 90’s and even shared a crossover title with Wario.

    2. I think people can recognize Bomberman, but the problem is:

      1) his series died out a LONG time ago.

      2) He’s now owned by Konami and Konami seems to be pushing away from the game industry than moving towards it.

      3) Because he’s owned by Konami the only way he’d get in is if Snake and Simon Belmont got in first and I’m not even sure if Konami would let Snake return let alone anyone else. Plus I’m not sure if Nintendo wants to include 3 Konami reps over other characters.

  4. While it’s true that I’m adamant about not wanting other third-party characters for Smash 4 DLC (the fact we already got one for DLC in the form of Ryu pretty much killed all my interest in seeing another guest for the sake of a guest), I’m admittedly more open to the idea of getting more as newcomers in Smash 5. Super Smash Bros. is arguably the most beloved massive crossover in the entire video game industry thanks to its unique gameplay and ability to make fit universes that at first glance wouldn’t fit together, and combined with the fact third-party characters are not unprecedented anymore I can understand how people may want to see characters from their favorite video games getting in Smash regardless of their “eligibility”. Smash possibly has the wildest roster discussions in that regard after all.

    However, I believe the transition from an era when third-parties in Smash are few guests to one when they’re series regular to the same extent as Nintendo characters will not be easy. The problem is that going to this transition may create the risk of making Smash feel like, as I said in my comment on SmashChu’s article, a “glorified MUGEN biased towards Nintendo” (and grossly biased, too). Just giving an example, but I believe a roster of 55+ Nintendo characters and 10 third-parties would actually make people roll their eyes more than hyping them for one simple reason: a complete loss of the sense of focus, whose ambition to « represent video game history » beyond Nintendo would feel too much like an afterthought to make third-parties feel like they fit in Smash to the same extent as Nintendo characters. I’m actually not completely against seeing maybe one or two third-party newcomers in Smash 5, but I’d hate them to badly overshadow the Nintendo newcomers, unless Smash 5 somehow manages to still feel focused in how it handles the opened massive floodgates of third-parties (for example, by being a VS crossover with Capcom, which is something I’d actually be curious to see in practice).

  5. I for one am all for more 3rd parties.Like i would love king k rool but man i love rayman even more.I would go insane of hype if they add dixie but man if they added Simon Belmont I would die of hype.Characters like Cloud, Banjo, Tails, Crash, Rayman, Bomberman, Sora, Layton, Zero, Spyro,etc would bring hype and more sales than a k rool, dixie, chibi-robo, isaac, Bdee, tetra, inkling, andy, daisy,captain toad,etc in terms of DLC.I mean if sakurai and nintendo plan is to market smash dlc to everyone whats a better way to do than to use iconic characters that every one knows than b/c tier nintendo characters that can save for the next game.Everyone knows who crash bandicoot and bomberman is not everyone knows who issac or chibi-robo is.I know i didn’t before i found the internet hell i didnt find out who isaac was until i found this board.I feel this post is gonna get a lot of hate but i just feel that smash dlc will be better off focusing on 3rd parties and saving the nintendo characters for the next game so you know we have people to actually add

  6. I very much enjoyed this article, and it makes me very hopeful for the future of the Super Smash Bros. series. While I do believe it exists as a Nintendo cross-over first, it is also accurate to describe it as a representation of gaming’s finest, and personally would be happy to see more.

    I will be happy with Rayman. I will be happy with Black Mage, or even Cloud Strife! I’ll take your Bomberman, your Dig Dug, your Miles “Tails” Prower, your NiGHTS, your Viewtiful Joe. etc. I do believe they can exist as gaming icons along side Mario and Link.

    However, I do feel there is still a place to represent what Nintendo themselves have created and that third-party characters will always be treated as a secondary inclusion, and I think there is room for more – or the last few “supernovas” you mentioned. That being said, it’s not like Nintendo will sit quietly between Smash installments. As they always do, I believe Nintendo will grow and expand to release many new and original games or introduce new characters to their existing franchises. Perhaps their are A-list Nintendo characters waiting to be concieved of for Super Smash Bros. that would take priority over the additional third-party characters.

    1. I believe some of his attacks come from Street Fighter III, which was released for the arcade and the Sega Dreamcast. Ryu’s down special – Focus Attack – originates from Street Fighter IV, and while it was ported to the Nintendo 3DS all of its original home console releases were for systems rivaling Nintendo.

      1. If we’re going to be technical about it, none of Ryu’s specials would have debuted on home consoles, because there was a Street Fighter before the second one.

        I think the fact that Ryu’s references appeared on Nintendo systems is more important than debuting on them. Between Street Fighter II, SF Alpha 2, Capcom vs. SNK 2, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and Super SF IV, I’m pretty sure just about every move (besides the Focus Attack) appeared two or three times at least.

        Snake may have been a better option to illustrate that point. There were, what? Three MGS games released for Nintendo systems, one is a remake, one is non-canon, and the third is a port from a game that was eight years old at the time. (I wouldn’t really count MG1 and 2 for much as far as Snake’s Smash portrayal goes.)

        1. If you want to define the snake part even more then it was only 1 game as it was primarily the solid series being represented and at the time of Brawls release only Twin Snakes was out and not MGS 3D.

          1. That is true, thanks for pointing it out… I should have mentioned that.

            And while I’m commenting, I’d like to point out that my feelings are still the same as A Return to Form. Even as a fan of video games in general, most other 3rd party choices feel like they wouldn’t feel right in Smash. If B- and C-lister Nintendo characters would feel uninspired, B- and C-lister 3rd parties would feel even more so. But then again, I probably have more of a rigid view of “iconic.”

            I won’t disagree that 3rd party character would generate more hype than first party ones at this point, however.

            One thing I noticed in Smash is that we tend to get a lot of characters from the previous generation of systems, sometimes overlapping with the current ones if it’s still in circulation (mostly with handhelds)… especially from Brawl and Smash 4. In Brawl, we had Olimar, Ike, and Toon Link from Gamecube, and Wario, Zero Suit Samus, Lucas, from GBA, and Lucario from NDS. In Smash 4, we got Rosalina, WFT, and Shulk from Wii (and maybe Little Mac if you want to count his Punch-Out!! revival), and Palutena (for KI:U), Robin, Greninja, Dark Pit, and Lucina for 3DS.

            In other words, if we don’t see them in Smash 4 as DLC, expect characters like Inkling and Wonder Red to make it in Smash 5. I’m sure we’ll also have some gaps filled in and some retro revivals, so it’s not like we truly have nothing left from Nintendo to be excited for.

            I hope that we get some more IP revivals like Kid Icarus… especially Mysterious Murasame Castle and For Frog the Bell Tolls. <3

  7. I think this article really enlightened me than Smashchu’s previous article. True, Smash Bros. is the celebration of video games, which characters from various games compete each other, as to become every player’s “dream come true”. Third parties do have a power to support Nintendo to make the game successful as giving players hype on who will join Smash, and I do agree that the Sonic, Mega Man, and Pac-Man shouldn’t be cut for the future Smash as they’re iconic to their companies. However, on the downside, we know that we just can’t afford tons of third parties to Smash, as this game was mainly named as “Nintendo All-Stars”, and I do remember Sakurai said that putting too many third parties in Smash may lose that meaning, which he must be really careful on who he’ll decide to bring in.

    And of course, not anybody or everybody third parties can join Smash. Some third party companies can refuse the offer as they disagree with the crossover project may be part of the point. However, although that third party game having a strong history being part of Nintendo franchise may be the “minor” requirements, just like how Snake was in Brawl even the MGS series had less games released in Nintendo, I still think that part can be part of the “major” requirements to join in. It might have been “minor” back in Brawl, but maybe Sakurai changed the subject to make it “major”, as to avoid doubtful questions like “wasn’t that guy a Playstation/Xbox character?” or “I don’t remember it’s games were in Nintendo before?”. I strongly don’t think popularity is a major point of requirements, but rather the game were released globally as everybody in the world knows that character well, is a major requirement which I do believe. It might have not been major back in Melee and Brawl, but I think Sakurai changed that subject too to only bring characters that their games were released globally. Bringing characters that are known only in that region may end up having negative questions like “who the hell is that guy?” or “never seen or heard about him”, and nobody would buy them in the end. Not to mention Sakurai did planned bringing Takamaru as playable fighter during production, but declined it since his game Nazo no Murasame-Jo (Unknown of Murasame Castle) was never released in the West, and ended up being an Assist Trophy instead. Shovel Knight, who’s only known in the West, and Jibanyan, who’s only known in Japan, may be part of those who can’t join Smash because nobody in the world knows them as their games weren’t released globally.

    At the same time, Nintendo characters are also important to Smash as it’s based as “Nintendo All-Stars”, but the only negative part is that some games weren’t released globally. Plus those games didn’t even have sequels/series, which is the point that they have no chance to join Smash, as Sakurai did stated before. Some Japan exclusive games were introduced in Smash 4, but none didn’t make it as being fighters, as they all ended up being an Assist Trophy, or collectible Trophies. So, bringing in Nintendo characters that had no sequels throughout their games and only known in Japan, may be difficult to be in Smash. Although Fire Emblem characters and Lucas had a chance in the previous Smash games, things became different for Smash 4, so I wouldn’t think other characters would do the same thing like the “lucky ones” did.

    So for the third parties, I don’t know if we’ll ever get more of it for the next DLC, but if we do, I hope of having the second character for both Sega and Namco. I don’t think they’ll add in another third party company to this DLC, but maybe they will for the future Smash, as I think Capcom, Sega, and Namco are the limited companies for this Smash. I’m hoping for Puyo Puyo’s Arle to join Smash as Sega’s second rep, but that game’s very famous in Japan than in the West, although it’s been released globally. Klona for Namco’s second rep maybe possible, but maybe Heihachi can be another since Tekken series are the face of Namco. But either way, can’t expect anything at this point if I need to avoid any regrets and disappointments.

    1. Yo-Kai Watch was only known in Japan, but now it is released in West. I guess they may add Jibanyan as downloadable content but they could be unlikely. I inclined to think that he’ll have some appearance in the next smash because it was a bit hit in Japan and also Nintendo is localizing the first game in the West. Plus the anime will the series in West to become popular.

      I agree that we should get second Sega and Namco rep. I think for Namco second character make sense to come from a popular franchise like Tekken and Soul Calibur. You probably know the Sakurai considered Heihachi from Tekken but having problems making the moveset for him in smash but who knows Tekken Character could be added in the future. If I could choose for a second Namco character I would want a Digimon rep because it started out as a virtual pet game and a video game before manga and anime started. Agumon is the mascot I do not think he’ll fit and but it is possible. I think Veemon would fit the smash better. For Sega, I guess Arle from Puyo Puyo or Aiai from Super Monkey Ball would make the most sense. Hope for best in the future.

  8. For starters, including more characters from the already represented 3rd party series’ is probably an effective road to take.

    There’s still no guarantee Sakurai will return for the next game though… I smell another article?

  9. I’m kind of in the middle. I think they’re going with third party characters as DLC rather than first parties because that way they have more Nintendo characters to pull from for Smash 5 and can drop some or all of the DLC ones.

    Example: If you add an Inkling as DLC now, what happens in Smash 5?

    You either have them return or cut them. If they return it won’t be a new character to draw people in so they now have to remake the Inkling, and then have a new character on top of that. With this method you’ll burn through characters even faster.

    With third party characters, no one can really EXPECT them to return. So by adding them as DLC you can add new interesting characters to keep the game going and at the same time, ensure the longevity of the franchise by not wasting what few Nintendo characters they have left to pull from.

    I don’t think Smash has to be “Nintendo-only”. There’s over 50 characters now. Everyone’s got something and even 10 third party characters is a small fraction compared to the whole roster.

    I’m honestly surprised Smash 4 had basically every character return. I figured some characters from each series would be replaced with their newer counterparts and stay around Brawl’s size. It’ll have to happen at some point. I think the amount of characters is at its max. I can’t imagine seeing a 70-80 character roster and if we did, everything else (stages, modes, items, music, etc) would suffer for it and remove what makes Smash special, the whole package.

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