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.
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.
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!
Mains: Yoshi (64), Game and Watch (Melee), Wario (Brawl), Wario/Pac-Man (Smash for 3DS/Wii U)