Today, we will be trying out a new format. This post will argue why Sakurai shouldn’t return to the next Smash. Another post detailing why he should will also be posted. We are going to let you the readers decide which argument is more convincing. Please read BOTH sides before deciding the winner. The link to vote will be at the bottom of each post.
The post is divided into subsections arguing one particular point. Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter, what you agree or disagree in this post!
Gets Lost in the Small Details:
Sakurai is known to have an obsessive personality, and he needs things to match his vision perfectly. As a result, I personally feel that a lot of minor, easy quality-of-life improvements are often not implemented. The lack of a stage hazard toggle because it was in Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale, for example. Or the inability to purchase customs in Smash for (or really, anything to combat the extreme difficulty of obtaining customs in Smash for in the first place). Because his vision often involves tailoring the game to the hardware to show off what makes it unique, this leads to situations like 8-player Smash being heavily integrated into Classic Mode, which is almost universally considered a step down from previous entries. Superficially, I appreciate the breadth of knowledge and attention to detail Sakurai brings and I understand the appeal that has to Nintendo diehards…but part of me wishes that we got a more polished single player and other additions over things like that. In general, it seems like he hates delegating and independent initiative in his games, given description of his work schedule, I can’t help but feel like maybe Sakurai is just a bit inefficient (although I understand that game development is no walk in the park).
Has Issues Meeting Deadlines:
Sakurai has a lot of issues meeting deadlines. Recently, his games have either been delayed, or have a long development cycle. Kirby Air Ride was originally an N64 title, then scrapped completely and (possibly) made from the ground up on the Gamecube! Melee was almost delayed, but was saved by Satoru Iwata himself. Brawl was delayed — twice! This was because of adding Sonic, and possibly the difficulties surrounding Subspace Emissary. Smash for Wii U and 3DS had a long development time, though to be fair it was two versions of Smash. However, because of the delay, the Wii U suffered from not having a Smash title at launch.
While Sakurai has argued against “Sakurai Bias” in the past, some fans believe it still exists. He has often made excuses for not including non-Sakurai Kirby content, or with overrepresentation of Fire Emblem and Kid Icarus. Even with his excuses, the fact is that there’s too much Fire Emblem and Kid Icarus content in Smash for Wii U. He tried justifying Corrin’s inclusion by stating he was hesitant against the idea — but the fact is almost 30% of the DLC characters was Fire Emblem alone. For fans of Smash who aren’t Fire Emblem fans, that’s simply too much content for the tactical RPG. DLC could have been better planned out, and included content that would appease all the fans. Sakurai may not like to admit it, but there seems to be some bias in his selection process.
Doesn’t Cater to the Competitive Community:
Dan Fornace, the creator of the indie game Rivals of Aether, posted a tweet that I think encapsulates this problem fairly well. In contrast to Sakurai’s statement– “We wanna avoid a situation where it becomes a game sort of like other competitive fighting games, where it’s only appreciated by a very small, passionate group of sort of maniac players,” Dan edited the statement to say “We want a situation where it’s appreciated by a small passionate group of awesome players.” To be clear, Sakurai has no obligation to cater towards the competitive community. However, it probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Nintendo and Sakurai’s attitude towards competitive Smash is probably one of the least appreciative attitudes towards a competitive scene by its own creators in relevant gaming history. I don’t think this is hyperbole– almost all creators and directors universally love seeing their game played at a high levels, seeing tactics and mechanics they never considered feasible or knew existed being played out in high-stakes matches, and they love supporting it. Reminder: Nintendo didn’t just want Melee (after the community raised $94,000 to donate to breast cancer research!) to not be streamed at Evo 2013, they wanted to cancel the entire Melee portion of the event. Much smaller companies have poured in far more support into the competitive scenes of their games than Nintendo ever has.
Ultimately, not caring about the competitive community is probably not the biggest concern for most people, and that’s fine. I also don’t think that caring about the competitive community means that the next Smash could should play more like Melee. That sort of game design minutiae isn’t really the point. But it does feel like Sakurai has always felt like casual and competitive enjoyment is mutually exclusive, and I genuinely do not believe that’s the case. Sakurai’s fears about casuals being stomped have always felt like extremely niche, bizarre corner cases that I can’t actually ever imagine happening in a real-life scenario (or alternatively, are applicable to every Smash game). Project M was just as, if not more enjoyable in casual play than Brawl was, I never felt that the addition of the Melee mechanics in that game made my casual friends enjoy that game any less, even when they were playing with other competitive players. And is it such a terrible thing to throw a bone to (a certain subset of) your most avid fans?
Finally, Smash has grown as an esport, and while I don’t think Smash should be designed to be an esport (whatever that means) or necessarily as a competitive fighting game, it is obviously popular and serves as a great advertisement for the game. Additionally, Nintendo could be making a lot more money with the game-as-service model (do you know how many skins I would buy for 99 cents each? The answer is all of them), and with proper sponsorship and growth could be even bigger. Smash is literally the only esport with sizable viewership that has no developer support, which is basically a wholly unique phenomenon within esports, imagine how big it could get with actual support (and for the record: tweeting out the stream link to a top 8 once a year is not really support).
Also final note: Nintendo, I know you don’t make money off of competitive Melee, but you could if you wanted. I would literally buy whatever new console you make and also offer you my firstborn if Melee HD was a thing. Just saying.
Sakurai has, ever since Brawl, turned the other cheek to the competitive Smash community. While many still play Smash 4 and even Brawl competitively, it’s tough to argue that those mechanics are superior to Melee in any way unless you are one that is opposed to pushing the game to its limits. Many would argue that there is no reason for Sakurai not to balance the game for these players. While of course it wouldn’t be fair if one character had a game breaking ability in items mode, does it really make sense to balance the game to the extreme for those players when they don’t necessarily care about perfect balance in the first place? Those who play with competitive rulesets appreciate balance tweaks much more than anyone else, so why not balance the game for them if they’re the only ones who would notice frame data or kill percents?
“Catering to the competitive community” can go many different ways. It could be a return to Melee like advanced mechanics and physics. Sakurai argues that this turns off casual players since they don’t want to be beaten so easily. But many would argue that it just makes sense that the more experienced player would win the match. Such a huge skill gap only lets the loser know how much they can learn in a seemingly simple game. “Catering to the competitive community” could also be just improving the Brawl and Smash 4 formula. Less landing lag, tighter mechanics, and other gameplay changes are all major changes that would need to be taken into account at the beginning of a game’s balancing cycle and development. While hazardless stages, saving rulesets, and more are all simple changes that would help the most passionate Smash players enjoy the game much more. Yet Sakurai doesn’t add these features for seemingly no reason. Most likely it isn’t to spite those competitive players, but with so many obvious and seemingly simple additions, it’s hard not to take it that way for some.
Poor Understanding of Competitive Smash:
When Sakurai does try to cater to competitive players (an extremely rare occurrence), it usually just ends up being insulting to competitive players. Take “For Glory” for example. The ruleset proposed in For Glory is one that someone with tiny knowledge of competitive Smash would come up with. Final Destination, no items, stock mode. But anyone who has put any time at all into understanding competitive Smash would know that most of the time, Final Destination isn’t even the fairest stage. Many characters benefit from a stage without platforms which creates unbalanced matchups. Many would argue that “Battlefield” is actually a better stage for competitive play due to pretty much every character being able to succeed in some fashion at the highest level. (For Smash 4, many would actually argue Smashville as well).
When we look at balance changes made to Smash throughout its patch cycle, we see another example of Sakurai (and the development team in this instance) not understanding what players are asking for. Many unnecessary nerfs were made (the origin of the “Better Nerf Greninja” meme) and many characters desperately needing buffs were ignored (#BuffThePuff). It leads many to question who is making these changes. Why buff a move no one ever complained about by .2%? Why was that change necessary? If all these minute changes are being made for the primary purpose of balancing casual gameplay, why even make the effort if none of those casual players would never take the time to notice in the first place? Either Sakurai and the dev team isn’t even taking competitive thoughts into account, or they have no actual understanding of competitive smash in the first place. The former of which would be much less insulting for many.
New Blood Would Shake up the Formula:
A new director would definitely shake things up. While Sakurai has constantly surprised the community with some of his choices, there’s some things that have relatively stayed the same. Sakurai has stated that he believes new fighters shake up the formula for Smash. A new director would take a new approach, and maybe build a better structure for those fighters to really thrive. It’s no secret that Smash Tour and the Classic Mode on the Wii U had lukewarm reception among the community. In addition, many people felt the Wii U version was lacking in single player content (possibly due to his idea of home vs. stadium). With Splatoon, Nintendo saw new success from their ability to utilize young talent within Nintendo, and Kimishima has said he’d like to look into new ways into introducing the young developers at Nintendo, and to incorporate them more. With Nintendo’s looking to incorporate new talent, it might be time for someone else to take the mantel to see what Smash can evolve into.
One thing I learned from writing the Metroid Series Analysis was that, often, the original director of the game may not be that knowledgeable on their own series success. The director doesn’t love his game and they might not understand why people liked it. They are removed from outside perspectives. This argument can be levied at other Nintendo directors as well, but Sakurai may be missing why his series is successful in the first place. He may even be making the series based on what he wants to work on, not what is best for the series.
Consider the 3DS version. The entire generation of Super Smash Bros. was built around just having to have a 3DS version. But the 3DS has plenty of limitations. Those who have played the game know there are issues connecting with other players, even when near by. The new mode, Smash Run, can’t have more than one player in the arena despite it being a major feature of its predecessor, Kirby Air Ride’s City Trial. The Wii U version also suffered. Why is Classic Mode so weird? Because it had to be different from the 3DS version. Why are the modes all over the place? Because there had to be a difference between the two games.
There are other complaints that Sakurai didn’t understand. Some fans complained about the inclusion of costume characters such as Lucina and Dark Pit. Sakurai said that fans should see it like a free dessert, but some fans may argue that, ‘would they be happy with a poorly made dessert…even if it was free?’ Fans did not like these characters because they reduced the value of characters already in the game. They are too similar to existing characters, so one has the potential to be superior to the other. Super Smash Bros fans have never been ecstatic about clone characters.
Sakurai seems to be missing why everyone loves Super Smash Bros. I’d argue that the series should be handed off because it is time to let someone try their hand at it who grew up with the series and can feel what made it great. Sakurai is an amazing game designer, but for all his strengths, he’ll never understand Super Smash Bros like you and I.
I find a lot of value in changing the Smash Bros. series by bringing in a new director. Franchises grow and die based on how they transfer over to a new generation. While Sakurai may look unaging, he can’t make games forever. A new director, with Sakurai as a creative advisor, would certainly make the “passing of the torch” a much easier and organic process.
Made Up His Mind on Certain Characters:
Sakurai has high expectations for characters that join Smash. In the past, he has talked about some of the criteria he uses to decide is a character is worthy for Smash. However…there are characters that have very vocal support, but have not been able to join the roster. Ridley, and Waluigi are two of those characters. Sakurai has stated in the past that he feels Ridley would require a lot of work in order to be represented correctly, something that some fans argue against. Waluigi, while not as requested as Ridley, does have a fanbase. However, Sakurai had only a few choice words for the purple menace, “Just because you try hard doesn’t mean you’ll make it into the battle.” A new director might be more willing to compromise to bring heavily requested characters, or changes to characters that some fans may want (such as Ganondorf).
Have you read this post, and Why Sakurai Should Return to the Next Smash?