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Super Smash Bros is one of Nintendo’s best-selling and most critically acclaimed franchises, with 4 games spanning 4 console generations (5 if you count the 3DS version separately). It’s inevitable that we’ll see an instalment for the recently launched Switch within the next couple of years, but with the latest edition reaching breaking point in terms of character roster and stage selection, and only differing slightly in terms of mechanics from its predecessor Smash Bros Brawl, it could be argued that the series is due for a shake-up.
If Breath of the Wild is anything to go by, Nintendo have shown they aren’t averse to mixing up the formula when it comes to their biggest franchises, of which Smash Bros undoubtedly qualifies. But what can they bring to the table to freshen up what is a very unique series in terms of fighting mechanics, in order to keep things exciting whilst preserving what makes Smash so successful?
Let’s examine some possibilities…
Easily the most radical change I’m looking at on this list, so let’s do it first. Every Smash Bros thus far has been played strictly in two dimensions, with the closest to 3D being Jungle Hijinx on Smash Wii U, where you could play in the foreground and the background, but still in 2D.
Smash for Wii U felt a lot like playing Smash Bros Brawl 1.5, because mechanically it was extremely similar, and it remained limited to two dimensions.
There are two options when it comes to going 3D for a fighting game, the most common being the Virtua Fighter/Tekken option of being able to strafe towards the camera and away from the camera, encircling your opponent, as well as side-to-side. The other is the less common, full 3D mode, as seen in Power Stone and the like. The latter is much harder to pull off successfully, but done right would make the next Smash Bros a completely different ball game. Imagine a fully-3D arena with 4 players battling it out trying to knock opponents off four edges?
A switch to 3D would lead to radical changes in how the core fighting mechanics worked, and may be a departure too great from the norm of Smash to be feasible. What is true however is that staying strictly in two dimensions does put limits on how far Sakurai & co’s work can go. I’d love to see them try to incorporate 3D, even if it’s just an experimental option for the game and allows strafing, if only out of curiosity to see what they’d do with it and how the stages would have to be designed to incorporate it.
It’s a well-known fact that Smash Bros Melee is regarded as the pinnacle of the series when it comes to competitive play. The 16-year-old game is still one of the most widely played games in the competitive scene, with tournaments all over the world.
The reason subsequent titles have failed to match up to Melee is down to the fact that Melee’s mechanics are just that good. The game is blessed with an almost accidental amount of depth (Sakurai has since admitted much of the depth was not deliberately intended by design) and balance that allows for a game that, whilst easy to pick up and play, is notoriously difficult to master and allows for different characters and tactics to be viable for competitive play. There are very few ways to ‘spam’ the game to get a win.
For me, the thing that sums up the depth of Melee’s gameplay is that someone can be good enough to easily defeat a beginner, but that someone would be utterly trounced by a seasoned veteran. That veteran would then in turn be destroyed by a regular tournament player, who herself would be demolished by the elite tier of tournament players. Some players in the elite tier don’t stand a chance against the true masters. Few games boast so many levels of attainable skill, and with new nuances to the mechanics being discovered even today, that it’s impossible to see the game’s popularity being toppled any time soon.
Sadly, this magic in a bottle hasn’t been captured as successfully in Brawl and Smash for Wii U. Sakurai has said that he wants Smash to be a party game, not a game for elite competitors. This is a shame, as what this line of reasoning fails to acknowledge is that a game being deep and balanced is appreciated not only by the elites, but by the casual players too – it’s much more fun to play a fair, polished and deep game with your mates than have one player discover a spammy way of winning every time, which cheapens the experience.
Fortunately, it looks like Nintendo is embracing the competitive community if the Splatoon 2 ads are anything to go by, and for the next Smash to stand out it needs to aspire to the same level of depth that Melee showed and still shows today.
I don’t mean more characters for the sake of more characters and cameos. I mean more unique characters that aren’t just a clone of previous ones (Dark Pit? No thanks).
Duck Hunt Dog is a great example of the kind of fresh character designs the game needs, with move-sets that change the way the player thinks about the game. Characters that utilise projectiles, have transformations, and respond differently to different characters and elements, make the game a lot more interesting. Some of the characters in Smash for Wii U were far too same-y and uninspiring, and the next Smash shouldn’t add characters for the sake of increasing the roster size.
This one goes without saying and will no-doubt be implemented. Smash for Wii U was leaps and bounds ahead of Brawl in terms of online functionality, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. We need proper matchmaking, parties, private tournaments, full customisation, online campaign co-op, leaderboards, friend leaderboards, custom matches, special matches – everything a modern online fighter should have. Online needs to be an integral part of the experience, and not just tacked on.
More Complicated Movesets
This is another controversial one, but the move-set needs to be developed. A key feature of Smash Bros was its simplicity – essentially every character has the same controls, with moves triggered with a direction and a button. Currently, the two buttons used are A and B, with A for standard moves and B for specials.
Now, this has been the case since the first game, with the biggest addition to this being the inclusion of a forward-B move, adding another special into the mix. That’s one significant addition in 4 games.
I’m not saying we need long complicated strings of inputs; that would indeed ruin the simple beauty of the control scheme. But how about a back+B move? Or instead of Y being a jump, what about some directional moves for the Y button to shake things up? Perhaps some diagonal specials? Another game with the same move-sets for the characters would just not be enough.
Mix Up Older Characters’ Moves
Speaking of stale, the characters that have been around since Smash 64 have barely changed in terms of moveset. Smash for Wii U was onto something interesting when it came to adding custom moves, but these were poorly implemented random unlockables and never really caught on due to their inaccessibility. They felt like a bit of an afterthought from the developers.
It would be great if classic characters had a customisable set of moves from the get-go, or we could play as alternate versions of a character with completely different set of moves (not just slightly altered like Dr Mario or Toon Link) and different fighting style/weight/speed.
Playing as what is essentially the same Mario for the 5th time in Smash Bros Switch will feel a bit flat.
A Proper Single-player Mode
If there’s one element (apart from online) the series has failed to truly nail, it’s the single player experience. In Melee we had the serviceable Adventure Mode and Classic Mode (the series highpoint in my opinion), in Brawl we has the ambitious but confusing Subspace Emissary, and in Wii U/3DS we had… a weird mishmash adventure mode and a decent-if-unspectacular Classic Mode.
Smash is primarily a multiplayer game but it can most certainly be a blast on your own at times. The best single-player experience I’ve had in Smash was the interesting and generously long Challenge mode, that gave you unique challenges contextually based on the characters (fight Luigi and Mario while they protect Peach, etc.)
With the array of franchises likely to be on show in Smash Bros Switch, this concept could be expanded upon brilliantly. I’d love to see it return and be fleshed out.
Perhaps the best single-player mode in a fighting game I’ve played however is Soul Calibur 2‘s Weapons Master mode. It was a simple top-down map of optional paths, with a fight at each spot on the map. You were awarded unique things for winning each fight, which you could then use you upgrade your character. And somehow they managed to weave a compelling story into it too, and each character’s was unique – compelling you to keep playing. Something simple like this would work well for Smash, again with its wealth of franchise history to draw from.
All-in-all Smash Bros for the Switch needs to shake up the series, as another edition with sharper graphics, a larger roster and the a same move-set won’t cut it. Sakurai has hinted that he won’t return unless he has fresh ideas, and that can only be a good thing.
Smash Bros for Wii U is available here from Amazon.