The international phenomenon that is the Super Smash Bros. series will finally see its fourth iteration released later this year. Tentatively titled Smash Bros. for Wii U, the game will feature more characters, more stages, and improved mechanics. But many are wondering if competitors will embrace this new game.
Right now, the competitive scene is still playing the 2001 GameCube release, Super Smash Bros. Melee. It's an excellent game, and rather amazingly suited for tournament play. The speed and mechanics allow for a lot of creativity. When Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released in 2008 for the Wii, players looked at it with confusion. It was too far removed from the fast and frantic play of Melee.
Masahiro Sakurai, the game’s director, wants to bring back the Melee crowd without alienating those who preferred Brawl. What he’s helped create is a game that’s a little bit Melee, a little bit Brawl, and ultimately really neither.
Nintendo allowed me some extended hands-on time with the game upstairs at their E3 booth. I was able to play against some employees as well as by myself to try and dissect some of the mechanics. I used the characters Greninja from Pokémon and Zero Suit Samus from the Metroid series. Fast and agile, both favor my style of play.
The game is clearly much faster than Brawl, but not quite as fast as Melee. In Melee, a popular technique to throw off your opponent is to dash dance—essentially, making the character run from left to right really fast. It was less a feature and more of an exploit of the game’s mechanics, so in the new Smash, unsurprisingly, this was impossible to do.
In Melee, L and R dodging were critical to combat. The dodges were fast, and they could also be done in the air. For example, say your character was airborne, and another character was coming up for an attack; you could press the L or R button to have your character move in pretty much any direction you wanted it to.
In the new Smash, dodges really can’t be used that way. When the player presses L or R, the character just air dodges in the direction it was already moving. So if a character is falling to the right, it will also air dodge to the right.
Degree of movement is probably the greatest complaint about Smash Bros for Wii U. Although the game moves things in the right direction, it falls short in several ways, which may prevent it from becoming largely embraced by the Melee community. For an arena fighter like Melee, finding ways to expand your movement around the stage is critical for gaining an advantage over your opponent. In limiting some of these degrees of movement, Nintendo may have prematurely fated the game to not being featured as a favored esport.
Speaking of esports, the curse of the Smash Bros. series is that Nintendo made a party game for players to have fun, and then the community turned it into a sport. Sports like baseball and basketball seldom have their rules changed. With Smash, each iteration is different from the next. That’s not conducive to creating a proper esport. There needs to be a level of consistency that neither Sakurai, nor Nintendo, really cares to bring. And with Brawl, Nintendo even went so far as to make make drastic changes to the formula just to curb competitive play.
Having Smash Bros for Wii U become an esport featured in Evo, the biggest fighting games competition in the United States, or Major League Gaming, is not high on its priority list. Fans need to realize this.
Is the new Smash good? Yes, surprisingly so. Will the game replace Melee? Probably not. Could Smash Bros. for Wii U become an esport in and of itself? Probably. I wouldn’t be surprised if both Melee and Smash Bros. for Wii U were both featured at tournaments. I could definitely see Smash Bros for Wii U garnering a strong following—much stronger than Brawl at the very least.
In talking with some of the competitors after E3’s Super Smash Bros. Invitational Tournament, consensus was unsure. Yes, the gameplay was different than Brawl, and it did favor Melee a bit more, but really each player needs more time to break down the game's mechanics and find exploits. It’s mastering those exploits that made Melee such a blast to play. It will take a few months after Smash Bros. for Wii U’s release before players can come to a conclusion on if the game will be worthy of professional competitive play.
Image via Nintendo