Administrator Note: We fixed the Marth/Roy or Mewtwo over Wario translation. Thanks to Kewl0210 on reddit for pointing out our error!
Hello, everyone! I am Frostwraith, and this is my first article for Source Gaming. I’ve been a big Smash Bros. fan since I got Melee in my childhood and it helped introduce me to several Nintendo games. I’m also an active member of Smashboards. Having interest in game design, programming and the Smash series itself, my articles will focus on the design choices made on different aspects of the Smash Bros. series.
Notes: This article has content based on the author’s opinion that shouldn’t be taken as fact. Translations in this article were done by PushDustIn, Soma and others. The original Japanese quotes are provided in the footnotes.
A common fighting game term is “clone character.” Clone characters are characters whose movesets either totally or mostly derive from another existing character. As a result, this is one of the most hotly debated subjects among the Smash Bros. fanbase. Often regarded as “wastes of roster slots,” “laziness,” or “uncreative” by many fans, clones have nevertheless always been a part of the franchise from the very beginning.
Amid the criticism and controversy over the addition of clone characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U, a lot of misconceptions have arisen about them. As a result, I hope to aim to shed light on the circumstances that led to the addition of such characters.
The reason why clone characters exist
Clone characters in both Melee and Smash 3DS/Wii U are the result of different circumstances. In Melee, Sakurai wanted to expand on the roster’s size, feeling that the amount of characters planned for the game wasn’t a big enough increase from to the N64 game. In the newest versions of Smash, clones are a result of certain characters being originally planned as alternate costumes in a similar vein as the Koopalings, Alph, Wireframe Mac and gender choices for Robin and Wii Fit Trainer.
Are clone characters a waste of resources that could have gone to more creative and diverse characters?
According to Sakurai, clones in Melee were added after the main roster was completed, using the already existing characters as a base for the new additions.
As a result, the process of conceiving new moves and character designs is much less intensive compared to the originally planned characters. All that needed to be done was to make the new models and tweak some of the existing movesets.
Ganondorf was a special case and was described by Sakurai to be an ‘extremely lucky character’ to have been included in the game. His model was originally made for the SpaceWorld 2000 tech demo and happened to work well with Captain Falcon’s animations thanks to their similar body shapes.
In Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U, the clones weren’t exactly last-minute additions, even though they retain the same unplanned status as those in Melee. As stated in one of his Famitsu columns, Sakurai details the process behind the addition of Dr. Mario, Dark Pit, and Lucina. As mentioned above, they were originally meant to be alternate costumes for Mario, Pit, and Marth respectively. Sakurai explains that, since the alternates developed their own characteristics, the team had to separate their data, thus earning these characters new slots and their own individual records.
My theory is that the way the game is programmed, it might be difficult for the game to recognize different characters in the same slot as being different characters, hence why they needed to be separated. Minimal or not, differences that affect gameplay would cause a statistical fluke. For example, Dr. Mario’s record being mixed with Mario’s wouldn’t reflect playing as those characters as using separate identities.
The most important point is how Sakurai emphasized that the addition of those characters didn’t increase the workload. He further notes that even their balancing process was simplified compared to that of other characters. Whereas all characters were balanced against the entire roster, the clones were only balanced relative to their counterparts. Most importantly, Sakurai states they wouldn’t have been included if their addition required the same workload as a “normal” character typically needs.
Likewise, in response to various fan e-mails about Melee, Sakurai noted that, even if the six clone characters hadn’t been added to the roster, there wouldn’t have been enough time for an entire new character.
“If I could add one or two more characters, then [Wario] could have gotten in. Of all the characters I discarded, [he’s] ranked near the top.
However, even if I didn’t work on several clone characters he wouldn’t have gotten in.
Even if I deleted characters from before (Jigglypuff, Luigi) he wouldn’t have gotten in.
You might think it’s impossible that even if we delete one character in development that it couldn’t be replaced with another character….
I would have needed to get rid of both Marth and Roy or Mewtwo in order for Wario to get in
Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U features half the amount of clones, with two of them barely having any differences from their counterparts, suggesting that, in either case, all that could be added was clone characters or nothing at all.
Adding clone characters take may not take as much resources as a full character, but they still require work to be fully implemented
As mentioned above, clones indeed take less time to develop. In Melee, the investment done for the 6 clones wouldn’t have been enough to fully implement Wario.
However, Sakurai has also emphasized the fact that clones still take work to do. Trophies, Break the Targets stages (for Melee) and possible new animations (especially taunts and victory animations) are aspects about the clones that must be done from scratch. Likewise, some programming is also necessary when doing moves with vastly different properties.
Sakurai has given some insight in this matter in response to some fan e-mails about Melee:
“When adding a clone character, I skip some of the animation, but work on balancing is not decreased at all. Break the Targets, Trophies and more still need to be made.”
“For the move’s properties, I don’t directly establish the characterization or the effect.
Marth’s Shield Breaker and Roy’s Flare Blade’s difference is largely established through data.
As for programming, even though it’s only one move, increasing the character data by even one part in itself creates a lot of labor.”
For Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U, the workload was noted to be lesser, as explained in the previous section. Still, they had to get the same number of trophies as other playable characters (whereas alt. characters only have one) and some extra animation work was put into them, mainly for taunts and victory animations.
Why aren’t clones selectable as alternate costumes?
This is a question a fan asked to Sakurai regarding the clones in Melee and something that many people have considered as well.
This is Sakurai’s response:
“Are you basically suggesting that clone characters should be color variations?
I thought about it for a second, but I decided it would be difficult. Smash cherishes the characters in its own way, and clones respect a character’s individuality in their own way (as well).“
After all, clones have their own differences in gameplay that often derive from their own characterization and personality. Young Link is faster but weaker than Link due to age difference: his smaller body allows for nimbleness, but is not developed to have the same strength as his adult counterpart. By explicitly identifying those characters as separate, it’s easier for the player to know there are essential differences between them.
Why is/isn’t Y a clone of X?
Not every character can be a clone of another. The main feature of a clone character is the fact they share a lot of animations with another character. For that to happen, it’s imperative that both characters have a similar body shape.
A fan e-mailed Sakurai about the possibility of making King Dedede a clone of Kirby in Melee, to which Sakurai responded:
“Dedede as a Kirby clone?
I…can’t do that! That’s impossible!
When deciding clone characters, the body structure has to be exactly the same.”
As explained in a section above, this is the main reason why Ganondorf was designed as a clone of Captain Falcon. Similarly, Jigglypuff in the original Super Smash Bros. shared a lot of animations with Kirby, something of which there are still some remnants in later entries of the franchise.
Alph, Rock Pikmin and Viability
Just like the Koopalings or gender switchable characters, Dr. Mario, Lucina, Dark Pit and Alph were intended to be alternate costumes. Later in development, however, unique properties were added to some of those characters.
As those alternate characters had different properties compared to their counterparts, they were separated, so they would be properly recorded as separate entities. Lucina was the first character to receive this treatment, then Dr. Mario and finally Dark Pit, who has very few differences.
What about Alph, then? Many fans have wondered this question after the full roster’s official confirmation. It turns out that Alph too was also meant to make the jump from alternate costume to a clone character. Rock Pikmin, a type of Pikmin introduced in Pikmin 3, in which Alph also debuted in, were meant to be part of the moveset. Whether Rock Pikmin were meant to be a distinguishing element between Olimar and Alph or not is unknown. Regardless, due to time constraints, the ideas were dropped and Alph remained a costume swap for Olimar and Rock Pikmin were not added as part of the moveset either.
It’s likely that, since Olimar was already a difficult character to implement due to his more complex moveset and 3DS limitations, it wasn’t as viable to make a clone character out of him, unlike Mario, Marth and Pit, who have more straightforward movesets.
Beyond implementation viability, more reasons for the existence of clone characters
While I may have elaborated on the clone characters purely from a technical point of view and using my own experience on software programming, Sakurai has also offered other reasons besides technicalities. It’s not just because they’re easier to add and make less use of time and resources; it’s about pleasing the fans and staying truer to the characters.
In addition to Sakurai’s comment above on why clones aren’t just costume swaps, Sakurai has also stated, in response to fan e-mail regarding Melee, that clones are a form of “fan service” and were made under the expectation that players would be happy with their inclusion.
“Clone characters are for the fans, through and through (literally, “clones are free/ service”).
Even if we delete one clone, the amount of new characters wouldn’t increase by one.”
“Warning: Deleting a clone character to increase the amount of newcomers is simply not the case.
It’s interesting to see people have different understandings.
I made them thinking that people would be happy to see them.
…it’s futile to change my mind, so stop.“
A similar statement by Sakurai from a Famitsu column has him compare the clone characters in Smash 3DS/Wii U as a “free dessert”.
In my opinion, I believe Sakurai sees clone characters as something of better value than alternate costumes given his emphasis on character individuality and has the expectation that fans will enjoy the fact clone characters are treated as distinct characters with their own characterization and personality.
Evolution of clone characters
Along with being part of the Smash Bros. series since it’s inception, clone characters also have a tradition of becoming more diversified as the series progresses. Animation overhauls and new moves mainly contribute to turn clone characters and their respective counterparts more diversified.
Since Luigi was the first character to undergo this treatment, this led to the origin of the fan term “Luigification”. The clone characters introduced in Melee to later return in Brawl or Smash 3DS/Wii U (Falco, Ganondorf, Dr. Mario and Roy) also had this treatment. Despite this treatment, clone characters never deviate too much from their original, only having slight changes each installment. Characters who have undergone this evolution are known as “semi-clones”. They may have gotten their own quirks, but the core idea behind the movesets as a variation of another character’s moveset remains.
Divergence may also happen through changes to the character cloned from, as is the case of Mario’s F.L.U.D.D. versus Luigi’s Luigi Cyclone and Dr. Mario’s Dr. Tornado. Likewise, Marth’s Shield Breaker changed its animation to a stabbing move, while Roy’s Flare Blade remains with an overhead slash animation.
Despite many fans wanting more unique movesets to those characters, especially Ganondorf, they have never deviated so much from their original clone movesets. My theory is that, much like how non-clone veterans never changed too much from their original movesets except for animation overhauls or special move changes, it seems Sakurai applies this same philosophy to clone characters.
As shown in Sakurai’s GDC 2008 presentation slides as well as the project proposal for Smash 3DS/Wii U, characters are designed with a general concept in mind, only given specific moves afterwards that fit into those concepts. Being a different take on an existing moveset is essentially part of the clone characters’ general concept. Roy is always compared to Marth, being an inversion of the tipper mechanic (stronger at the base instead of the tip), Dr. Mario is a slower, but more powerful version of Mario or Young Link and Toon Link being faster, lighter and less powerful versions of Link. As a result, even if animations are overhauled and some moves are different, those characters will always be connected somehow to their counterparts.
Clone characters have always been part of the Smash Bros. series and I think that won’t change in the future. They’re easier to implement and can offer interesting takes on existing movesets. Speaking for myself, I don’t really mind them and find it interesting to see how they evolve as the series progresses, emphasizing each character’s uniqueness more.
What do you think of clone characters? Are they really a bad addition despite their ease of implementation? Are they better off as alternate costumes? What kind of changes to existing clone characters would you like to see in the future? Let your voice be heard in the comments!
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