Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Past, Present, and Potential Future of Smash Brothers

Super Smash Brothers has enjoyed an impressive run ever since its surprise hit appearance on the Nintendo 64 way back in 1999. Yes folks, the franchise of Smash Brothers is over 10 years old despite having only three entries. Smash Brothers Brawl is the best-selling fighting game of all-time, and Melee is close behind at second place. And while the Street Fighters and the Marvel fighters and the Mortal Kombats are more associated with the genre, Smash Brothers dethrones them all in terms of sales, reputation, and critical reviews.

In E3, it was announced that not only will Smash appear in the next Nintendo console (WiiU, stupid little name isn’t it?), but it will smash its way into the Nintendo 3DS. Yea, that one handheld that nobody is buying. This article is going to be huge, and it’s going to become purely dedicated to the franchise, where it has been, and where it should (in my opinion) be heading. In this article, I am going to showcase my dream Smash Brothers 4 title, and offer recommendations on how we can improve one of gaming’s most underappreciated franchises.

First things first, we are going to dedicate a few moments to Smash Brothers Melee. This is going to come off as a potentially blasphemous statement, and I don’t care. Ready for it? Here we go: Super Smash Brothers Melee is in my opinion the greatest fighting game in history. I rank this sucker above Street Fighter II, Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (I am still protesting 3), Killer Instinct (where is that sequel anyway?) and even Smash Brothers Brawl. Look, the fighters I mentioned are great in their own right; but Melee was the first fighter to truly become customizable to a point in which you can spend years brawling in different ways. Melee has the speed of the MvC franchise, the technical aspects of your strictest Street Fighters, and the combo-creating freelance gameplay of your earlier Soul Caliburs.

Smash Brothers Melee didn’t force you to rely on memorizing button combinations in order to pull off devastating moves. Instead, it forces you to learn 8 basic attacks (button “A” in four directions, button “B” in four directions) and quite literally build from there. Smash Brothers for the N64 was arguably the first video game to force you to alter your fighting strategy depending on what items suddenly appear in the field. Honestly, are you going to remain on the offensive towards your opponent when he is holding a bomb-omb? Smash Brothers also became the first major fighting game to get the environment involved by altering its happenings every so often, forcing you to sometimes play defensive not against other people, but from the obstacles in the course. Melee expands upon this by not only throwing more items in the field, but having the environment engage in the fight even more.

Unlike most fighting game sequels, that present more of the same without tweaking the formula too much, Smash Brothers Melee took all the strengths and weaknesses of the N64 cult classic and expanded and improved upon it. The game became much faster, much more furious, and allowed you to do so much more. You can now dodge attacks in the air, catch items, hold energy to deliver a more devastating blow, have more attacks to choose from (Melee was the first to have special moves executed by pressing right or left and “B” at the same time). The roster became much more balanced and while it wasn’t perfect, it was darn near close.

Earlier during this Melee lovefest, I mentioned its customizability. In single-player mode alone, there are multiple ways to battle. You can do an adventure mode, or just do it like a regular fighter and fight through the roster before taking on the final boss. Of, you can do an event mode in which pits you in dozens of different situations that you must fight through. Playing by yourself is rarely ever satisfying when it’s a fighting game. Honestly, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat wears on you a bit until the next person is available. But Melee has hands-down the greatest single-player mode in any fighting game….ever. With all the trophies you have to collect, the deep adventure mode, and the multitude of secrets, it will take a very long time before you ever create a collective sigh and wonder when others will join in on the fun. And then there’s the multi-player.

There are a dozen different multi-player modes, and each of them you can customize the way you want to determine the winner. Even for the fighting game purists, there is a stamina mode that allows you to fight old-school fighter style—with a health meter going down with every hit. And guess what, you don’t always have to fight until someone dies: you can do a timed mode, or fight for the most points, or even fight for the most coins. If you do the math after all the counting of different modes, there are over 60 ways to fight each other. And that’s not including the fixing of what items can be on the field.

Now, most of you are going to argue that Brawl has all this and then some. This is true, Brawl has more characters, more stages, more gaming modes, and even a customizable map. However, in terms of the gameplay itself it took a step backwards. For some odd reason, they wanted to make this usually-hardcore fighter a bit mainstream by tweaking and fixing the speed and furiousness of the previous entry. The result is a slower game, a much slower game. And with the speed dimming down, the game just doesn’t feel as impressive when pulling off a killer assortment of combos. To add to that, they watered down several characters in order to make the roster more balanced. But what good is a balanced roster if you even watered-down Jigglypuff!??! And while there were more characters, the removal of Roy, Pichu, and especially Mewtwo is inexcusable.

Brawl is not a bad fighter by any means, but it’s like Marvel vs. Capcom 3: much more mainstream friendly, and with that we have a weaker, slower, and not as fulfilling fighter. Part of the fun is all the misguided mayhem, and this is where Melee (and Marvel vs. Capcom 2) succeeded the best. Can Smash Brothers 4 fix these lingering issues? Of course they can, but as of now, Super Smash Brothers Melee is the greatest fighter in the franchise, and arguably the best ever. The replay value of Melee stands as one of the best in the history of gaming.

Fixing Smash Brothers is no easy task, especially considering that they nearly perfected the formula to begin with—even if they took a few steps backwards. That being said, there are some elements that can be worked upon. The visuals are a no-brainer, and do not count in this article. HD-Smash Brothers will sell like hotcakes, no matter what. But here are 10 things I would like to see in Smash Brothers Armageddon (I am guessing that will be the title). These are in no particular order:

1) Improved Online Mode
This is a toughie because of the sheer speed of the fighting franchise. I honestly could not tell you how they can technologically pull off a lag-free versus mode over the internet. I think the only thing I recommend is minimize the amount of stages, and minimize certain items. Or, you can capture the hearts of certain purists by removing all items altogether. The fact remains that: Smash Brothers will never achieve its ultimate peak of quality until the online mode is implemented, and it works without any drag whatsoever. The exchanging of maps was a good idea, and worked well…that should become a staple in Smash Brothers.

2) Much Bigger Roster
I don’t want to hear any nonsense about balanced rosters. Look at Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and look at 3. While 3 was much more balanced, its character roster was so miserable that you become bored of it…..fast. The lack of Venom and Gambit to this day baffles my soul. Smash Brothers Armageddon needs to have at least 50 characters, I don’t care how, but it adds even more mayhem to a franchise that thrives on it. Add more Pokemon, add more third-party characters, bring back some of the forgotten ones, transform certain assist trophies into legitimate characters. This can be done, this can indeed happen, and it definitely should. Smash Brothers 4 should not become a Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Really Capcom…She-Hulk!!!?!?!?!?

3) Better Tracking of Statistics
This one is more implied towards the online portion of the game, but there should be a massive worldwide leaderboard system involving the game. Your accomplishments should find its way online for comparison with other people. They should also be easier to access. I am pretty sure that the original Smash was the easiest in terms of finding statistics. But like I said, this one is definitely not as important as some of my other requests, but would be nice nonetheless.

4) Not So Much “Fluff”
Part of the downfall of Brawl was that it added so much, that some of it became wholly unnecessary. The addition of CDs was a great idea. The trophies? Sure, that could work. The extra games that you can play for a mere minute? Not so much. The stickers? Meh, now we are pushing it. Smash thrives on replay value, but there comes a point in which its excessive. I think the next Smash should just stick with the trophies, and throw in the CDs. Nothing more, nothing less. Give me secret characters, and secret songs.

5) Removal of Final Smashes
This has to go. What was a good-looking idea turned into a bad one by creating these unnecessary one-hit KO attacks that cheapens the entire fight. I know that they can be removed in the item selection menu, but the mere offering is more proof that they are just trying to nab the mainstream-not-so-great-at-fighting-games crowd. Part of why Melee works so well is because no one character has that one irritating move that is unnecessarily deadly and pulverizes you regardless of situation.

6) Power-Up System
While Final Smash was a bit of a cheap shot, there should be a rewarding power-up system that makes you stronger the better you fight. And when you reach certain levels, then you can deliver a devastating blow. For example: Link. At level 1, Link is fighting normally, nothing special. At Level 2, his moves becomes a little stronger. At Level 3, hitting a certain button allows him to create a devastating combo attack. And, at the final level, he can create a crazy combo that can pretty much instantly kill anyone in the way. Now, I know this contradicts my complaints about Final Smash---but with a power-up system you have to EARN your way to a deadly move, as opposed to just getting an item. I am all in favor of adding a MvC-like power-up system to give the fight just a little more depth.

7) Removal of Clones/Diversify the Lineup
The clones were mildly annoying, but a forgettable afterthought in Melee. Brawl however; it went into overkill as we had Fox, Falco, AND Wolf with similar moves. And then Ganondorf STILL doesn’t use his sword, while Luigi still isn’t that far separated from Mario, nor is Toon Link separated much from Link. Then there is the Lucas/Ness combo, and the Ike/Marth combo. I don’t have a problem with these characters per say, but their movesets should become much more varied, much more different from the others. I propose that certain characters when you choose a different suit/style, their fighting technique differs. For example: with Mario you can choose whether you want regular Mario, or Dr. Mario, or even Sunshine Mario with his jetpack. With Link you can pick the age, Young Link, Teen Link, or Adult Link—and they differ. Hell, throw in Dark Link for good measure. But, the point is, a more diverse lineup would definitely help Smash Brothers 4

8) Deeper Level Design Mode
The map creation mode was a nice addition in Brawl, but was quite basic. In a time when Little Big Planet allows you to create entire levels (and eventually mini-games), Smash Brothers 4 should have a far deeper level design. More options should be implemented, more obstacles should be thrown in, just more of everything. The implement was nice, now let’s expand it.

9) Make it More Hardcore
Smash Brothers Melee was the hardcore title of the franchise. But even then, there were some more hardcore elements in the original. In Brawl, the hardcore element , disappeared. Items disappeared, characters disappeared, the game was smaller in scale, it was not as complex and deep, it was not as fast, and even the sound effects weren’t as effective. Smash Brothers Armageddon should be a game made for the hardcore Smash crowd—the crowd that competes in all the tournaments, that discovered the wavedashing techniques, the kind that can transform Jigglypuff from extra character to a deadly force. The sounds need to be more explosive, the game has to be faster, and just has to be nastier. Even the CPU was tougher in Melee. This is Nintendo’s chance to go back to the tough-fast-furious roots. I want Smash 4 to test me, I want Smash Brothers Armageddon to test my skills and limits before even considering facing other opponents.

10) More Surprises
Part of the appeal of Smash is all the nice little goodies and surprises that are sprinkled throughout the game. The fourth installment should have more of this, but should include some really nice stuff that can be obtained only longggg after you first start playing. If I remember correctly, Brawl was easier in nabbing extra characters and trophies when compared to Melee, leading to finishing the game and finding all the major stuff a lot sooner than I wanted. For my final request, keep those extra goodies, those nice little snippets coming, because they are fun to find, and fun to see. And by more surprises I also mean more characters too.

But now that we are on the subject of upgraded rosters and whatnot, the question is, who else should be in the roster for the next installment? Brawl opened up a new can of worms by throwing in some third-party characters. While it was nice to see, now our imaginations are going wild as to whom else can we see battling Mario in the next Smash Brothers. Capcom time and time again has in a subtle manner expressed interest in working on the Smash franchise. There were even rumors of a Nintendo vs. Capcom video game that were quickly squashed. But we can always dream, right? And this is exactly what the next section is: a lot of dreaming. These are 15 characters I would love to see added to the roster for the next Smash Brothers:

1) Many More Pokemon
We have Pokemon Trainer, Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Lucario running around. But there are over 500 Pokemon in existence, and some incredible ones too. I would love to see Pokemon like Magmar, Alakazam, Gengar, Typhlosion, and others thrown in the fighting mix. I’ve always said there should be a Pokemon Smash Brothers, but until then I’d love to see more Pokemon in Smash 4.

2) Mewtwo and Pichu
The reason they have their own category is because they were in Melee, and for some odd reason removed from Brawl. Mewtwo is far cooler a character than Lucario, and Pichu was a cute ball of devastation in his own little way. They deserve to come back. Especially Mewtwo.

3) Samurai Goroh
Arguably Captain Falcon’s best-known rival is a big, fierce, strong, sword-wielding baddie with a nasty attitude and short temper. Sounds perfect for Smash 4, as he can slice through opponents with his sword and push others away with his physique.

4) Little Mac
Send this boxer into the ring with his arsenal of boxing moves and quick agility. It would be interesting to see Little Mac attempt t fight with no kicking moves.

5) Mega Man
Considering that Mega Man is inexplicably missing from MvC3, he should be included here to take on Samus as they are a bit similar in design. Mega Man can be slow, but extremely powerful with that unpredictable blaster.

6) Knuckles
We have Sonic, so why not add Knuckles? He can fly, he can punch, as he is a stronger, mightier, slower, but more intimidating version of Sonic. Nobody dare mention Tales.

7) Geno
It has been 15 years since we last saw him in a new game. But with the fanbase following him, its hard to believe that. No more, its time to bring Geno back. Give him all his majestic magical powers and weaker defense to the battlefield. I would love to see him brawl.

8) Ridley
While this one is tougher considering his size, Smash Bros. did manage to miniaturize Bowser so why won’t they do it for the famed Metroid villain? This sucker can fly, breathe fire, throw its body around quite fiercely, and of course has that deadly tail.

9) Giovanni
Pokemon Trainer exists with his three Pokemon, so why can’t Team Rocket have their variation? I’d love to see Giovanni with three evil Pokemon taking on the other characters. And like Pokemon trainer, just see him in the background.

10) K. Rool
Donkey Kong’s archrival should have his time in the sun too. Pit him against Bowser for baddest brute in the Smash Brothers series.

11) The Golden Sun Crew
Whether it be Issac, or Felix or Alex, Golden Sun has a lot of sword-wielding heroes with plenty of power and some Dijnn to boot. Everyone knows that if the next Smash has Final Smash again, we will see a major Dijnn attack that will take 30 seconds to execute, but will look gorgeous.

12) Bomberman
He has gotten no love in recent years, so its time for a comeback. Bomberman should have an arsenal of explosives to counteract with his weaker fighting abilities and slower speed. I’d love to fight with someone that has an endless supply of bombs.

13) Kamek
This could spice things up, by throwing a character that has the ability to alter all the other characters and potentially the environment.

14) Crono
No chance in hell. But Chrono Trigger would be an awesome inclusion to the Smash Brothers series, as there are plenty of awesome characters that can jump in the roster. Frog King anyone?

15) Captain Syrup
Wario’s biggest nemesis not named Mario, Captain Syrup is a very athletic, tough, nasty female pirate that can easily hang out with the tough females like Samus and Peach. She can wield a pirate sword and be just as fast as Shiek.

Bottom Line: The Super Smash Brothers franchise boasts a perfect record as they yet to release a disappointment. While Brawl is nowhere near as good as Melee, its still a worthy addition to the bunch because of its balanced fighting roster and great inclusion of ideas. What we need however is a Smash that is more the speed and intensity of Melee, mixing in with the great sounds of the original and the plethora of effort presented in Brawl. Unlike most Nintendo franchises, which has seen better days, the Smash franchise is just as strong as ever, and can only go up from here, granted we get our online mode fully fixed and our roster a bit tweaked. Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about Smash Bros. is making me want to play Melee again.

Here’s to Smash Brothers!!!

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