Seasonal Smashing

I like Super Smash Bros. I think. I’m never quite 100% sure.

I do know for a fact I’ve purchased each and every one at launch (with the exception of the N64 original) and, in fact, still own my copies of both Brawl on Wii and …for Wii U on, uh, Wii U. Melee? No, unfortunately; while I’m rebuilding my GameCube collection now I’ve got my original (GameCube-compatible) Wii hooked up to my TV once again, Melee is not a title I’ve particularly prioritised re-acquiring.

Anyway, fact is, I’ve always at least made an honest-to-goodness attempt to like Super Smash Bros. And I’m very much looking forward to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Switch, which, at the time of writing, is launching in just over a week. And I intend to spend most of the holiday period playing it!

While Super Smash Bros. is one of the most recognisable of Nintendo’s franchises today, it’s entirely possible that some of you reading this might be unfamiliar — or at least might be unfamiliar with how it plays if you’ve never actually given it a go for yourself. It’s always provided a rather interesting and creative take on the fighting game formula, combining it with elements of other genres — particularly 2D platform games — to produce something altogether unique.

In Super Smash Bros., it’s not about reducing your opponent’s life to zero for a “knockout”. (Well, okay, there is a variant where you can play like that, but I don’t know anyone who does.) Instead, you have to damage your opponents as much as possible until you can send them flying with one of your powerful “Smash” attacks. The more damage the character has suffered (represented as a percentage figure that goes up to a maximum of 300%), the further they fly when you hit them with a Smash. If they fly outside any of the four boundaries of the stage you’re fighting on, you are rewarded, they are penalised or both, depending on how you’ve set the game up.

That “how you’ve set the game up” bit is an important part of why Smash (as we shall refer to it hereafter) has remained so popular over the years. This is an immensely customisable game, allowing for everything from highly competitive two-player matches on simple stages with no distracting items to utterly chaotic eight-player party games where it’s every man, woman, dinosaur and Pokemon for themselves… and where the stage design is just as likely to kill an unwary player as their opponents are!

It’s not just about how chaotic you make the game, though. As previously noted, you can adjust the rules of the game to your liking. Want to deal more damage so matches are quicker? Go ahead. Want to play with “hit points” rather than damage percentages? Be my guest. Want each player to have a stock of lives rather than scoring and losing points according to how the match flows? You can do that too. And if you’re fed up of how that one friend of yours consistently wallops you with one specific item and it’s really irritating? Turn that damn thing off!

Smash is a game that you can make into as much of a “party” experience as you like, or you can tip it in completely the other direction towards highly competitive esports if you want to, too. In theory, it should be a game that absolutely everyone can get on board with and enjoy. Which is why it surprises me a bit that I’ve had slightly mixed feelings about it over the years, and I have some friends who really don’t enjoy playing it at all.

In the latter case, I can reasonably readily explain that through the fact that, among the group of friends in question, there is one guy who is really fucking good at Smash, two guys who are moderately good at fighting games in general (in terms of casual play, anyway), one guy who has a reasonable understanding of the basic mechanics but struggles a bit with tactics and dexterity (this one is me) and one guy who doesn’t play video games very much any more. The latter, while perfectly familiar with how video games work and someone who was quite a gamer back in the ’90s and early ’00s, tends to get absolutely dominated by the former, and that’s not very fun.

The fact that this happens is sort of testament to the fact that various incarnations of Smash from over the years are well-balanced games that demand skill and understanding of their mechanics — otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to get consistently “good” at them — but at the same time… I get it. There are games I don’t like playing, both in the electronic and tabletop space, simply because I’m not good at them and — perhaps more importantly — don’t understand how to improve at them because I get so comprehensively reamed by my opponents each and every time I play that there’s never really any sort of learning opportunity.

Smash Ultimate at least looks like taking some steps towards levelling the playing field with its handicapping system, though at this point I feel like the damage has already been done; the people in question have been experiencing Smash games since the original N64 version, and the, uh, “bottom” in this scenario has, by this point, fairly firmly established Smash in his mind as something that he doesn’t really like. Which is unfortunate, because the rest of us in this little group have always enjoyed playing it together.

So far as my own mixed feelings towards the games go, I feel this is primarily down to the fact that I simply haven’t spent enough time with them. I couldn’t tell you who my “main” was in any incarnation of Smash, for example, because I don’t really have a firm idea of what my preferred playstyle is — although some people will tell you that if you’re picking a “main” rather than fully enjoying that massive cast you’re already Doing Smash Wrong. Your mileage may, as ever, vary.

All this is my own fault, really, but I know certainly in the case of the Wii U version the lack of a solid, ongoing single-player “campaign” of sorts meant that after an initial honeymoon period, I only ever really played the game when in the company of my friends — and since we’re all in our thirties and boring now, such get-togethers don’t happen very often. That meant I didn’t get much practice, because I was always playing something else.

Which is why I’m particularly excited for Smash Ultimate, and specifically its World of Light single-player mode coupled with its Spirits mechanics. World of Light appears to be something akin to Mario Tennis Aces’ excellent Adventure mode, in that it presents you with a variety of different scenarios and tasks you with finding a way to deal with them within the context of the standard game mechanics, and the Spirits system is just the sort of RPG-style collectable metagame that I absolutely love. Couple that with the fact that the things you are collecting are characters from games and series that I have come to absolutely adore over the years? Yeah, I’m definitely all-in, and I make no apologies if I happen to end up showing particular favouritism towards characters such as Shantae in my Spirits loadout…

Joking aside, I feel this significant single-player component is a really interesting addition to Smash in that it’s not a finite, separate-feeling experience as in the case of the (excellent) Subspace Emissary from Super Smash Bros. Brawl on Wii, but it’s also not as directionless as the rather arcade-style single-player offerings in the Wii U incarnation of the series. It provides something with clear goals and objectives to explore that — hopefully, anyway — will teach you how to play the game more effectively, and perhaps even get a feel for what your favourite fighting style actually is. I’m really looking forward to exploring it.

And then, my dear Tim, you better believe I’m coming for you!

More about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

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4 thoughts on “Seasonal Smashing”

  1. I’m totally in the category of not understanding Smash… I mean, I get it, but the couple of short encounters I’ve had playing it have left me baffled. I can see the appeal though, and I think part of our is that myself (or nobody I knew) really ever every through a ‘smash’ phase…

    … I do have a Switch now though so maybe it’s my time to smash!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I bought and played every Smash game as well but didn’t like Smash for Wii U, the lack of a story mode really lowered my motivation to play it, Bayonetta only being DLC also damped that. So of course seeing no sign of a story mode in Ultimate for a long time made me decide to not get it. I still watched the last Direct out of curiousity and of course they kept the biggest surprise till the very end where I was already like “NO THANKS”, but the reveal of World of Light turned that into a “GIB ME NOW!”

    Liked by 1 person

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