Sakurai’s Thoughts on the Competitive Community


Soma and I had a discussion on Sakurai’s changing thoughts on the competitive Smash community. Watch the full discussion!

The music used in this video was kindly provided by Lucas Guimaraes. Check out his tracks on BandCamp. Also follow him on Twitter!

Here are some quotes that were referenced in the discussion:


“I think I’ve left the gates guarding this game quite open.

As a result, I think that your initial impressions will be that it’s an easy game.

However, the good part of Smash Bros. is that people who learn quickly will be able to effortlessly understand and enjoy the game, while even sharper people will be able to easily dig into the hidden, deeper strategies and play passionately.

(I’m frequently intrigued and concerned by these people)

I do think that playing the game and not noticing these hidden elements is a bit of a shame.

I made this site so that everybody could learn something from it… …so it’s possible that there are some points where it’s a little too hardcore.

Smash Bros. Dojo Foreword (64, around 4/2000)


Interviewer: But all that effort created a game that, as its title suggests, truly was “Deluxe.”

Sakurai: I do feel like I’ve managed to live up to that title.


Interviewer: Going back to the topic of concepts, at E3, you said Melee would be “a game with a low threshold, so you could plug in and play at your leisure,” but it would also be able to endure being played very seriously.

Sakurai: That objective hasn’t changed one bit. You can play it casually, but you can also really get into it….However, because there are a lot of components where you can really play seriously and get into it, I do worry that it’ll be perceived or treated as a difficult game… However, a lot of elements were added, and with those additions came additional goals of mine, too…I don’t know how to say it exactly.

Interviewer: Normally with games, when a sequel comes out it becomes much more… …It goes further and further in a direction where only highly skilled players can derive enjoyment from the game.

Sakurai: Melee has that element to it, and there are people who might identify and criticize those parts. But, on a basic level, the game was based off of the idea that “if four people are playing, only having one player win is unfortunate,” so we added a lot of stuff to try to come up with a solution, like more hidden stages.


Sakurai: This time, part of the game is lighter, more casual, and anchored in the idea that “winning or losing doesn’t have to be so serious”: Special Melee. Specifically, I think modes like Super Sudden Death, Single-Button Mode, or Slo-Mo Melee, are a good gateway for people like that… …Melee is a game that’s relatively fast, but eventually you get used to the speed. It does take some time, however, so I think people that aren’t good at it should try Slo-Mo Melee.

–Nintendo Dream interview post-Melee’s release, early 2002


“I think it’s more important to aim for, within the population of people who play video games, the people who are at the bottom– well, it’s rude to say it that way, but the players at the base, where it’s wider, people who on a basic level don’t really care about games…having something that appeals to them so that they can play is vital, I think.


And normally, you just lower the difficulty and do nothing else, that’s the most common result, common solution. For example, there’s Kirby’s Copy ability. The reason why I implemented that is so that experienced players and new players alike could choose their own abilities and enjoy it in their own way…I designed [Kirby’s adventure] so that you could clear the game just by inhaling and exhaling…But the more experienced you become at the game, you want more. And so we have the more hardcore abilities…


My goal with Kirby was to create a game that could be played differently by any person, the way they would want to.”

–Tokyo Game Podcast, Ep. 03, 2002


“Competition is the source of fun in video games…While there’s no doubt that competition makes games fun, how you perceive losing depends on the person. For example, as a game designer you cannot ignore the fact players who have an unpleasant experience where they lose may begin to dislike, or tire of, your game.  Even if that isn’t the case, in a game where multiple people compete, only one person can enjoy the fruits of victory, while the other players don’t have fun. This isn’t a happy experience. If people are going to play a game, I want them to all be happy! Is thinking this way being too greedy?

…The rate of “accidents” is high, and overall it’s easy to inject variance into the progression of the game and results. I think it would great to be able to simply laugh and move on to the next game regardless of whether you won or lost.”

–Winning and Losing, Famitsu column vol 2., 4/25/2003


“Oftentimes, people will say that “intentionally not trying your hardest is rude [4],” but that’s not true! Situations where your opponent wants to play you at your best aside, there was a chance that my opponent at that time may not have even known that there was a person controlling her opponent on the other side of the machine. Moreover, you need to be able to play games and have fun! What constitutes “fun” may vary depending on your level of skill, but people who know how to play the game must gently introduce the game to the new, introductory players!”

–Painful Memories of Fighting Games, Famitsu column vol. 71, 9/24/2004


“That’s why new games tend to have relatively easy rules or systems, but I don’t always think that easy is necessarily the correct way. If people kept focusing on lowering the threshold, Star Wars would never have been born.”

–“Fast Pace,” Famitsu column vol. 112, July 22nd, 2005


Question: Why is the game speed different from “Melee?”

Sakurai: I wanted to make it easier to play is number one…I figured that [the Wii remote] wouldn’t be able to withstand the speed of Melee. … Also, one of the things I felt when reflecting on Melee was that while a higher speed game is definitely exhilarating and fun,  it makes the gap between beginners and higher level players too large, and you can’t really enjoy carefree, leisurely aerial battles. On the contrary, you might say it makes the game rough, but it does shrink the breadth of the game a little. So this time, I made the speed slower, but on that point I think it would best to think of “Brawl” and “Melee” separately, and enjoy them each in their own way.

Question: “Smash” had very strong fire imagery until now, but Brawl seems to focus more on the sky. Is it just me?

Sakurai: No, it’s not just you. This time, instead of focusing on “battle = to burn**,” I wanted to the game to focus on having an image of being able to fight freely, play freely, so I changed it up a little.”

–Sakurai answers some (old) questions, mid-late 2008


“Melee is the sharpest game in the series. “It’s pretty speedy all around and asks a lot of your coordination skills. People who were used to playing the first Smash Bros. and could play it well enough, and it was a game that aimed to elicit the highest positive response from its players…

…I had created Smash Bros. to be my response to how hardcore-exclusive the fighting game genre had become over the years. But why did I target it so squarely toward people well-versed in video games, then? That’s why I tried to aim for more of a happy medium with Brawl’s play balance.”

There are three Smash Bros. games out now, but even if I ever had a chance at another one, I doubt we’ll ever see one that’s as geared toward hardcore gamers as Melee was.

Melee fans who played deep into the game without any problems might have trouble understanding this, but Melee was just too difficult.”

Looking Back At Super Smash Bros. Melee, 12/9/2010

Q: The other day, I had my first run at Smash Bros. Brawl online play. What I found was that nobody ever went on the attack; it was like everyone was taking the approach of waiting for the other guy to take the offensive. There were no items, either. I wanted to shout at them ‘This isn’t how you do Smash Bros.’! As the producer, what do you think of fights like this?

Sakurai: The idea of Brawl’s ‘carefree brawling’ motto was to get rid of as many restraints as possible and allow people to choose whatever play approach they liked. I’d like people to take some freer approaches with their gameplay, but the sort of battle style you describe in your letter is not interesting or fun. That’s why I’ll probably be thinking of a way to deal with that in the next game. We’ve learned a lot about net play since Brawl was released, after all, so a lot more is possible.”

–Famitsu column circa 2013

“Recently, there was a tournament featuring the top Japanese and American players. In 1v1s, the natural tendency is to use low risk moves to gradually deal damage to the opponent. Smash attacks rarely came out, and the matches were prone to becoming long, drawn out affairs. When considering the variety of ways Smash can be played I think this was a shame, but the winner was certainly decided by skill.”

The Act of Balancing, vol. 480, June 11th, 2015


“Q: Recently, Smash has risen in popularity as an eSport. What do you think of the fact that Melee is as popular as Smash 4? (Male, Kyoto)

A: First off, it makes me very happy. They’re both games I made, after all. And I’m also surprised. Because it means that the players really understood the concept behind that game correctly. The one where skills gaps become very apparent, the one that’s highly competitive is Melee. But I want to avoid a design where stronger players utterly dominate weaker ones. We should make it so that new players can have fun as well. I’ve touched upon this idea in previous columns.”

–Reader Response 46, 3/24/2016


“If you think overpowered moves, links, or combos are unfair, then you should just use those techniques and win. Your opponent is doing the same thing to you. Getting hit by that combo starter is a result of the difference in skill between you and your opponent, and there’s a high amount of skill involved in converting that hit into a long combo. Watching high level matches, I didn’t feel that the character selection was particularly extremely limited, so as long as you have the freedom to choose, that’s fair.

Of course, if the gameplay becomes too unbalanced and reliant on specific techniques and characters, that’s a problem too. Also, relying on gimmicks is a whole different conversation. However, every game that is played competitively at a high level on a global scale has different characters, gameplay styles, and results. I’ve seen Smash tournaments in the past, where every finalist played a different character, for example.

I’m not the creator of these games, so I’m not trying to say anything definitive. But if I had to make a statement about these sorts of games, it would be, “If someone’s using a tactic that’s giving you trouble, just adopt their tactic, and win.” Of course, it’s not that easy– it’s about the effort you have to put in after that realization that matters.”

A Fair Chance, Sakurai’s Famitsu column vol. 512

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  1. That thing Sakurai said about Brawl played online, I think you might have misunderstood what they were talking about. I used to play Brawl online, and quite often if the stage ever went to Temple, people would camp the corners of the stage and never fight, just waiting for the time limit to run out so sudden death would start. It was actually really boring for me, since I don’t hop on an online game, waiting for people to join in on the match just so I can wait even longer for the chance to randomly blow up. I think that campy play was what he was trying to address, not necessarily people playing safely.

    Also, that image of competitive players only playing on FD might have been skewed by his perception. I remember hearing that Japanese stage lists for competitive play is a lot more strict than those in western tournaments, so FD or FD-like stages get played more often. I might be wrong about this, and I can’t quite find anything to back me up.

    Honestly, I do appreciate that Smash can be played in so many different ways, even if Sakurai himself prefers it to be one sort of way. I played Melee and Brawl casually, but Smash 4 got me interested in competitive play, even though I still primarily play it casually (thanks in no small part due to my country having no competitive Smash scene whatsoever). It works for me because I don’t have to worry about a ton of complex tech skills, and the flow of the game feels better suited for 1v1 than Brawl did (Brawl was always more fun for free-for-all matches to me). But each Smash game has their own feel to it, so each one can be played in their own way. It makes me wonder if Smash 5 will play still differently to the previous four, though I think Sakurai has found a happy medium between casual and competitive play with the direction he took 4 in.

    Also Zelda is totally viable and I will have a civil debate with anyone who thinks otherwise.

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