Making the Next Smash Bros. a Smashing Success

Maxwell McGee shares his hopes and fears for the next Super Smash Bros. (SSB4) on the 3DS and Wii U.

The Super Smash Bros. games are a valuable series within the fighting genre. Now, I know what some of you are thinking: "Is Super Smash Bros. really a fighting game?" I don't know. Answering that question means defining, in certain terms, what a fighting game is. That's a topic I could dedicate a whole article to, so for the sake of argument, let's say they are, indeed, fighting games. Stop rolling your eyes. What's important is that these games help widen the scope of the fighting genre by attracting consumers who would not otherwise try a fighting game. Maybe some of those consumers go on to try other fighting games, and thus the genre grows. It's a good thing.

On the off chance there is some new Super Smash Bros. news at this year's E3, I would like to lay down my hopes and fears for SSB4. And I'm not just talking about which new characters I want to see!

NIXING TRIPPING In the next Super Smash Bros., there are several fixes from Super Smash Bros. Brawl that need to happen. Chief among these is nixing tripping. In Brawl, tripping was a mechanic designed to help bridge the skill gap between players by causing fighters to randomly slip and fall. I can see the intention, but in practice, tripping was confusing for newer players ("Why did my guy stop moving?") and frustrating for veterans ("I hate this game"). No one likes to have control wrested away from them arbitrarily, especially in the heat of battle.

FEWER SMASH BALLS Reducing smash ball frequency is another. I like the idea of this item: break it and unleash a devastating attack on the other players. This adds an extra element of tension to battle (players get excited when a smash ball appears) and more complexity to the mechanics without making the characters more complicated. Simplicity of control is key to this series' success. However, even on the low items setting, smash balls appeared too often. They should be a rare occurrence that highlights every third or fourth fight. Their overabundance distracts from the fight itself and places your attention solely on controlling these items.

CHARACTER BALANCE Then there are the characters themselves. The roster in Brawl was horrifically unbalanced, with Meta Knight standing tall above the rest. Balance issues are not uncommon in fighting games. However, in any other series, this problem would have been corrected through a simple update (or with the release of a new game). With Brawl, fans were left out in the cold. Thankfully, the community stepped up and released some excellent patches that don't even require a modified console. Balanced Brawl was the one I used, which balanced out the cast without changing any of Brawl's fundamentals (speed, hit boxes, and so on).

SMOOTH ONLINE Finally, the next Super Smash Bros. desperately needs a modern online mode. For me, playing Brawl online basically never happened because it was such a hassle. Finding a game online took forever, and when I finally got into a game it ran like a slideshow. Friend codes were an unnecessary burden for connecting with others, and hampered any replay or level sharing as well. Plus, if I was playing online, that meant I wasn't using the Balanced Brawl patch--unless I knew someone else using it. A healthy online mode adds longevity, builds community, and can even be a teaching tool for players. Hopefully the Wii U's hardware will not hamstring this upcoming fighter.

DON'T SPLIT THE GAME IN TWO In an early Iwata Asks column, as reported by Andriasang, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata discussed plans for the next Super Smash Bros. with lead developer Masahiro Sakurai. Two notes that stood out to me from the article were: "Iwata summed the basic idea nicely: players would spend time on the 3DS version, building up their character and collecting stuff, then show off their skills on the Wii U version" and "While it is important to have both versions of the game be enjoyable on their own, Sakurai feels that connectivity between the two versions will make the experience even more enjoyable."

As we've seen with Street Fighter X Tekken, if the community does not like your customization options, they will find a way to negate them. The choice is whether you support the community or make them disable the options manually (and resent you).
For me, it sounds like the 3DS version will focus on single-player through individual character progression and customization. Once you feel your character is ready, you can transfer your character to the Wii U and play against your friends in multiplayer. Hopefully, this doesn't mean splitting an otherwise complete game between two consoles, thus requiring a $100 purchase to get the full experience. I can see this very easily slipping into a Pokemon Stadium situation, where the bulk of the game is played through the handheld, and the console game is regulated to competitive modes.

This issue would be compounded if using customized characters were mandatory, and players who owned the 3DS version thus had an advantage over console-only players. Thankfully, there's a simple solution: make it optional. Being able to tweak how your character plays is not inherently a bad thing, but it shouldn't be a requirement. As we've seen with Street Fighter X Tekken, if the community does not like your customization options, they will find a way to negate them. The choice is whether you support the community or make them disable the options manually (and resent you).

A WIRED CONTROLLER From a hardware perspective, I have no doubt that the Wii U version of the next Super Smash Bros. will include a touch-control option for the touch pad similar to what will be on the 3DS. It will be novel, but it will not usurp standard controls as the preferred method of play--so long as the Wii U is restricted to one touch pad at a time. And since the Wii U will (sadly) no longer support GameCube controllers, it would be nice if Nintendo packaged a wired controller of similar design with the game, a la the Wii Wheel included with Mario Kart Wii.

Sure, the classic controller is nice, but its wireless design makes it impractical in a tournament setting, and many players who cut their teeth on Melee feel at home with the GameCube controller's design. The additional controller would be a sign of good will toward the competitive Smash community, which has managed to thrive without much support from Nintendo thus far.

I have high hopes for the next Super Smash Bros. With Melee, the game skewed more toward the competitive player, while Brawl overcompensated in an effort to be more widely accessible. After covering both ends of the spectrum, the developers should be primed to hit that sweet spot between complexity and accessibility. As Gonzalo ZeRo of the Smash Boards puts it: "You know what I would really like to see, a game that can be enjoyed [by] every kind of gamer: from the casual, to the hardcore, to the professional…So that everyone can play the game in ANY way and still enjoy it…This would help the Smash community to grow and be a better community overall across the world!"

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