‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ goes all-in on fan service, and it’s better for it

Nintendo is billing the Switch-exclusive Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the definitive franchise experience, packing in over 100 different stages, several different modes, and dozens over characters – including every single character ever included in previous installments. More fighters were just announced on August 8 during a special Nintendo Direct event, and it can be easy to poke fun at Nintendo for overstuffing the game with the likes of Marth, Ike, and Chrom from Fire Emblem.

The huge character list is causing competitive Smash players a panic attack, but the game’s director, Masahiro Sakurai, hasn’t lost sight of why the Super Smash Bros. series became popular. It wasn’t balance and competitive tournaments that made the fighting game irresistible.  Instead, the game rode the wave of fans eager to see their favorite characters pummel each other to smithereens. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s huge character list is simply a fulfillment of the game’s original promise.

The chance to see Samus wail on Mario is the hook.

Early advertisements for the original Super Smash Bros. barely touched on the game’s fighting mechanics. “Introducing Super Smash Bros., where all your favorite characters go toe-to-toe in one four-player, star-studded slam-fest,” the ad announced. At the time, it was a stretch to say all your favorite characters were included in the game — but it was designed to be a piece of fan service first and foremost. The chance to see Samus wail on Mario is the hook.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate takes this appeal to its logical conclusion. Nintendo realizes it can make fans of less popular characters very happy simply by including them on the roster. That’s regardless of whether or they’ll bring anything new to the table, because it simply doesn’t matter to fans. Is there a reason why Chrom has to be in the game when he shares his moves with another Fire Emblem hero? Do Simon and Richter Belmont both need to be present? Not really. But the beauty of Smash Bros. is that none of it needs to be there. It t prides itself on excess.

Nintendo struck gold with Super Smash Bros. Melee, which increased the character roster and caught on with the competitive scene due to its faster, deeper combat. Melee continues to be played at fighting game tournaments in 2018 – most recently Evo – with many professional players simply ignoring more recent games in the series.

Melee is always going to be there, and despite matches that often feature just a few characters, the competitive Melee community remains committed to playing the game at the highest level. Building on the framework of that game might seem the obvious approach for a new installment, but a spiritual successor still wouldn’t be Melee, and it would risk undermining the fanservice fun that gives the game its appeal.

With the number of characters Nintendo is including in Ultimate – and you can bet more will follow as DLC – attempting to keep it fair would be a losing battle. There’s no way a game with this many options could be as balanced as Street Fighter V or even Dragon Ball FighterZ. Instead of emulating those games, Nintendo is shrugging its shoulders to ask — who cares?

That’s a lot of stuff in Ultimate, but if anything, the game should add more.

Tons of assist trophies, Pokémon, and other items are being added, alongside the list of new characters. The game contains 103 stages, and new modes force you to make use of more than one character, putting you out of the comfort zone of your favorite fighter.

That’s a lot of stuff in Ultimate, but if anything, the game should add more. Nintendo should add Waluigi. Add 37 more Fire Emblem characters that all use swords. Add obscure Pokémon no one has thought about in a decade. Add items that temporarily pause the match and force players to complete a dancing mini-game in order to survive.

Nintendo should go nuts.

Super Smash Bros. is a ridiculous concept that gives Nintendo fans a wink and a nod. Maybe the game will find a competitive scene. Maybe it won’t. What really matters, though, is good, dumb fun.

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