In a (not-so) recent interview conducted in the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary Book, Sakurai made a comment on how he creates the roster for each Smash game and it really shed some much-needed light when it came to fans trying to predict what to expect.
“Industry trends around the time when development begins is a pretty big factor. I started development on Smash for 3DS/ Wii U right after I’d wrapped up Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Fire Emblem Awakening was released one month after Uprising. So what’s popular around the time when I begin designing the game is important.” – Masahiro Sakurai (Translation by Soma).
With this new information in mind, I got curious. Is this something new for Super Smash Bros for Wii U & 3DS or has this been Sakurai’s philosophy throughout the Super Smash Bros series? Could the trends of the time really help to influence the roster this much? Does this mean that with the seemingly eventual Smash for Switch we should not start predicting characters until it is actually announced?
Smash For: August 2012
Finally, here we are – the fourth & fifth game in the Super Smash Bros. series. The development for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U was quite different from the other games, mainly due to two games being developed simultaneously with many shared elements, characters included. However, while this joint development affected the returning characters, such as separating Zelda & Sheik or denying the Ice Climbers a place, I don’t believe it affected the newcomers. Smash For follows similar rules as the previous iterations in the series for its characters but, this time around, unique character concepts really got a focus.
For this article, I am going to go in the order these characters were revealed with clones and 3rd party characters coming in at the end. I will NOT be talking about the DLC characters however as they had a different process behind their inclusion. So let us start at the beginning.
The Villager from Animal Crossing was the first newcomer revealed for Smash For, something that was not a surprise for many fans. The series was one of Nintendo’s few major selling series that didn’t get a rep by the time of Brawl. In fact, the Villager was actually considered for inclusion in Brawl, but the plan didn’t go forward as Sakurai had trouble envisioning him in his head in 2005. The series had also continued to grow in those years with two more mainline, successful games coming out. The latest at the time, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, was also about to launch at the time of Smash’s project plan (it had been revealed so Sakurai knew about it), so Villager was also very relevant. But in the end, the series was one of the biggest of Nintendo’s franchises that had yet to get a character (the series got a stage in Brawl, the first without a related character in the series)so it was a matter of when and not why.
Wii Fit Trainer:
The Wii Fit Trainer was certainly a surprise to many Smash fans, considering the coach in a fitness game doesn’t instantly scream fighter. However, Sakurai clearly disagreed and, for him, it started with how yoga poses could easily lend themselves to a fighting game. Wii Fit Trainer was unique to most fighters because of all her moves are yoga stances, and that also made her unexpected which was further appealing to Sakurai. Wii Fit was also one of the most successful series on the Wii and sold a ridiculous amount. Everyone knew the Wii Fit games, and with them the Wii Fit Trainers. There was also another Wii Fit game being developed at this time for Wii U, so the series was also relevant.
Rosalina (& Luma) are interesting picks. Unlike most newcomers in Smash, she isn’t a main character or even one of the major A-list players in the Super Mario series (although, granted, they’re already all in Smash except Toad). With that said, Rosalina was a growing star in the series. Unlike Daisy and Waluigi, she debuted and existed in the mainline, console Mario titles. Her debut, Super Mario Galaxy, is one of the most critically acclaimed games of the previous decade and a must-have title for the Wii. She had also begun to be added to the expanded Mario universe, appearing as a playable character in 2011’s Mario Kart 7 and Mario Tennis Open. Yet, all of this isn’t as important as how unique Rosalina was. Sakurai comments in the project plan that Rosalina is a “puppet fighter,” something not yet seen in Smash. She also felt intergalactic, a unique feeling in Smash (there are space characters, but they give off a very different vibe to Rosalina).
Every Smash Bros. character has added a retro character and Smash For was no exception. Often, relevancy doesn’t necessarily matter for these characters’ inclusion, as Ice Climbers were fairly unique and Pit could be considered a Nintendo all-star. Yet we know relevancy was a major factor for Little Mac and we know this thanks to another considered character for Smash For: Takamaru. The Mysterious Murasame Castle hero didn’t make the cut because he wasn’t well-known outside of Japan. Little Mac didn’t have this problem as Punch-Out!! was an international series, but also it saw a brand new game on the Wii in 2009. So people both new and old to gaming would be aware of this character.
Other factors to consider though is that Sakurai has commented that he likes to bring back older characters in Smash. Little Mac was also a very popular candidate like Ridley and Geno which is something we know Sakurai listens to. He was an Assist Trophy in Brawl which could’ve worked as a basis for the character and his role as a boxer was something Smash had yet to see. So there were many factors going into Little Mac, although recognizability and retro status were still the two most influential reasons.
Every Smash game has seen a new Pokémon added and Smash For was no exception. Pokémon is Nintendo’s second most successful franchise after Super Mario and has been relevant with every Super Smash Bros. game. For Smash For, Sakurai was in an odd position. He was aware a new Pokémon game was in development but the game was set for October 2013 and he had no idea which Pokémon would be big. So, he did something similar to Ike in Brawl where he left a spot open for a ‘Pokémon from Gen VI’ (it was “next FE protagonist” there) and added him in later. Eventually he was sent some design docs for Pokémon X & Y, and from them Greninja was chosen. We don’t know what other Pokémon Greninja was up against (at least the other starters) but he was the most interesting and looked the best in Sakurai’s mind. Due to the timing of all of this, it seems the anime didn’t influence his decision like it did with Jigglypuff, Mewtwo & Lucario. Greninja’s later popularity there was coincidental, though it may have been influenced by the Pokémon Company’s knowledge of his inclusion.
With the dawn of the Wii, Nintendo introduced their custom avatars to the world and began to put them in everything. They star in every Wii series game, from Sports to Fit, but also appear in other Nintendo titles like Mario Kart Wii and Metroid Prime 3. Everyone who had a Wii had to make a Mii, and the feature continued onto the 3DS and Wii U. It’s safe to say the Miis are both big and relevant to Nintendo, yet Sakurai originally turned them down for Brawl due to fears of online bullying. However; this changed in Smash For and the main reason is customization. Since the initial proposal, Smash For was going to allow players to customize their fighters; the Miis made perfect sense for this. They were, after all, already custom avatars.
Palutena was a character that was universally predicted for Smash For, and with good reason. The Kid Icarus series had just seen a resurgence in relevance thanks to Kid Icarus: Uprising, which came out a few months before the project plan was drafted.Sakurai was its director, so he was intimately familiar with the character and could easily take ideas from one game to the other. On top of this, Palutena is a very important character to her series. In Japanese it’s named after her (much like with Zelda), and in Uprising she appears in nearly every mission alongside Pit. So she is important, relevant and a character Sakurai knew very well so her inclusion was, of course, no surprise.
Robin is one of the few characters in Smash For whose reasoning Sakurai has 100% confirmed. Initially, he wanted a character from Fire Emblem Awakening due to its relevance and major success, single-handedly saving the franchise. At first he thought of the game’s main lord, Chrom, but struggled to make him unique when put up against Marth & Ike. With Robin however we had a mage who was also a tactician and could use swords. This versatility in his weapon choice made him fairly unique for Fire Emblem characters. He was also a main character so anyone who played Awakening would recognize him. All of this pushed Robin ahead and ultimately pulled Chrom out.
Shulk was an odd choice for Smash; Sakurai even said this himself. His game wasn’t massively well known and only just saw release internationally. While the game came out in 2012 in the US, and thus was relevant at the time, it actually launched two years prior in Japan. Shulk was also another sword-user, albeit a futuristic one. However, over the years we’ve gotten a few hints at why Shulk made the cut. First off, Sakurai himself said the character was highly requested – especially in Japan. Next, we know that Sakurai is familiar with the series and is a big enough fan to go to the Xenoblade Concert during Smash’s development. Finally, it is possible that Monolith Soft personally asked for Shulk to be included. In the latter’s case it is also possible that they informed Sakurai about Xenoblade Chronicles X, which showed Shulk’s series also had a future and Smash could help to promote that, a value Sakurai has seen in Smash Whether it was all of these reasons or just one, it seems that Shulk’s popularity was the big deciding factor for his inclusion.
While Rosalina could be considered a side-character in the overall Super Mario series, Bowser Jr. had definitely built himself up as the series’ second main antagonist. Since his debut in Super Mario Sunshine, he appeared in every 2D and 3D instalment of the series by that point (excluding 3D Land). He was also prominent in spin-off series like Mario Kart, so he was very recognizable. When Smash’s project plan was being developed, New Super Mario Bros. U was revealed and Bowser Jr., with the Koopalings, were confirmed to return in their iconic Clown Cars. Sakurai has hinted that Nintendo may have given him access to the development files so this relevancy, coupled with the uniqueness of the Junior Clown Car, most likely earnt Bowser Jr. his spot. As for the Koopalings, they were also relevant and quite big names in the Super Mario series. The Clown Car allowing for a fixed hitbox is most likely what earned them their place but 8-Player Smash and relevancy likely contributed.
Duck Hunt is another character who Sakurai has 100% confirmed why he was included. Duck Hunt was this game’s surprise character like R.O.B. and Mr. Game & Watch. They represented Nintendo’s Light Gun accessory and so they could incorporate multiple games at once. Unlike other Light Gun characters like Mr. Stevenson (Gumshoe), Duck Hunt was an icon; Sakurai even commented that in the US, Duck Hunt had a 90% attachment rate with the NES (mainly due to it being a pack-in title). Lastly, Sakurai has commented that Smash allows him to bring back old and forgotten characters so Duck Hunt fits that bill as well.
So that does it for all the Nintendo characters that were apart of the project plan but there are three other characters that should be mentioned before I go into the guest characters. These are Smash For’s clone characters and in a Q&A after Smash For’s release Sakurai gave us a clear answer why these clones were added. They were initially made to be alts for existing characters due to being so similar in appearance and ability but with extra time towards the end of development they got boosted up to the playable status.
Lucina is a clone of Marth and was originally planned as an alt. This makes sense as in Awakening she is Marth’s descendant who pretends to be him. She fights just like him and dresses in a similar way. But ultimately she isn’t Marth, and her fighting style isn’t as clean or precise as Marth’s, so it made sense to separate them. As mentioned before, Awakening was a huge game for the series and highly relevant so having Lucina in is not that shocking. There is more going for her than just that however, as Lucina has been quickly growing as an icon for the series being used frequently in promotional material by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo. It got to the point that some fans thought she might/should replace Marth altogether!
Dark Pit is a clone of Pit and originally planned as an alt. This makes sense as Dark Pit is literally a clone of Pit created in Kid Icarus: Uprising. His inclusion in Smash For as an alt turned clone makes sense for the same reason Palutena made sense as a character: Uprising was big, relevant and well-received at the time of the project plan, and series director Sakurai worked on both Uprising and Smash For so Dark Pit was another character he was very familiar with. A big reason for separating Pit and Dark Pit was because their personalities differed; using the Three Sacred Treasures and having taunts and victory animations that felt upbeat didn’t quite fit Dark Pit, so he was made into a separate character instead.
Alph is an interesting case as he ended up remaining firmly an alt, but he does need mentioning as he was still added into the game for a reason. Alph shares a very similar build to Captain Olimar and both fight with their Pikmin, which don’t change at all, so him becoming and even remaining as an alt was easy. Pikmin 3 was one of the big early games on the Wii U and it was first revealed, along with Alph, in E3 2012 – around the time of the project plan for Smash For. So his timing, relevancy, build and protagonist status all leant to him making it into the game as an Olimar alt. Now, why he didn’t get upgraded as well? Who knows but maybe in the next Smash game we will see it happen.
And that does it for all the Nintendo-owned characters but we have two more to cover under the 3rd party banner, as well as some considered characters. Like I said in the Brawl article, the 3rd party additions often get added under different criteria to the Nintendo-owned ones so we need to rearrange our thinking to accommodate. So, first the ones that made it in.
Mega Man was the second newcomer revealed for Smash For and his reveal really excited the fanbase. This shouldn’t be a surprise, though, as Sakurai stated that, after Sonic, Mega Man was the most requested guest character for Brawl. Mega Man himself is a massive icon and the closest thing Capcom has to a cartoonish mascot like Mario. The series itself is massive with many sub-series and appearances in other media. In 2012 the series had just fallen stagnant after its main director, Keiji Inafune, left Capcom, but this didn’t affect Sakurai choosing him as his status as a legacy character was too strong.
Much like Mega Man, Pac-Man also has a strong status as a legacy character for all of gaming. He was a popular 3rd party pick and is the mascot for Bandai Namco. The character even has the attention of Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, who requested Sakurai add Pac-Man to Brawl. Back then, Sakurai couldn’t envision how Pac-Man would work but, like with the Villager and Miis, he eventually figured it out. The biggest reason that Pac-Man made the cut though was due to Bandai Namco actually developing Smash For. Sakurai said it made sense to add a character from the company because of this reason and while other characters like Heihachi from Tekken were briefly considered, but the only choice that made any sense to Sakurai was Pac-Man.
And with that, we have come to the end of this edition of On Character Selection. Before I sign off I want to quickly talk about Rhythm Heaven as data mining showed us that at one point a character from the series was planned for Smash For. Like with the Ice Climbers, emblem data for a ‘Rhythm’ series can be found in the character section of the games data. It makes sense for a Rhythm Heaven character to be considered as the series had been growing since its introduction on the GBA with a new title on every system since. Also, the concept of a ‘Rhythm’ or music based character is not one we have seen yet in Smash. As for who the character might’ve been, the infamous Gematsu leak hinted at it being the Chorus Kids from the DS Rhythm Heaven however it has not been fully confirmed.
While these were the only known planned characters for Smash For, other than Chrom, many more were considered. I mentioned a few of them above, like Takamaru and Heihachi, but another was Ridley. Ridley had a prominent focus in Metroid: Other M, the latest Metroid title, as well as the previous Smash game where he appeared as a boss twice over. However, the main reason he was considered was due to the massive fan demand for the character. Ultimately Sakurai failed to envision him and he was made into a stage boss instead.
So that is everything for the base game of Smash For but these aren’t the only characters in these games thanks to DLC. However, the DLC process was very different to that of the base game and seemed to focus on different priorities behind its character selection so I feel that it is worth a separate article (plus this one is getting close to being made into a boss article so let’s keep it player-sized). So, join us next time for the final Smash On Character Selection article where we look at DLC and beyond.