I wrote a three-paragraph intro to this thing, but kinja deleted it. I’m slipping in and out of consciousness and simply don’t have the energy to write it again. Blame hecking kinja.
Excuse my French. Please enjoy this “extended cut” of an article I wrote for The Post, Ohio University’s official paper! I personally think the slimmed-down version is better, but there are some neat tidbits in here that didn’t make it into the final product! It’s written for non-gamers in mind (and is now a bit outdated) but I still think it’s pretty enjoyable!
All sports evolve over time, with new rules and standards incrementally changing the way the game is played. But what do you do when the entire game fundamentally changes?
Such is the question the Smash Bros. community is trying to answer with the advent of the highly-anticipated new installment of the series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for Nintendo Switch. And the game lives up to that title, containing 74 characters at launch and more to come in the coming months and years. And that doesn’t begin to count the amount of content in the game, with around 100 stages, 900 music tracks, and a fully-fledged single-player campaign.
Super Smash Bros. started in 1999 with its debut on the Nintendo 64, with a cast of just 12 fighters. With a simple premise of characters from different Nintendo and third party franchises coming together to fight each other, the series has been celebrated as “the most ambitious crossover” of the video game realm. Among those invited are iconic characters from Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon and so many more beloved series. It is a celebration not just of Nintendo, but of video games themselves, with guest characters from Final Fantasy, Sonic, Pac-Man and more joining the fray.
Helmed by the notoriously workaholic Masahiro Sakurai, each Nintendo console since the Nintendo 64, as well as the portable 3DS, has gotten one Smash Bros. installment. The newest entry in the series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, launches on the Nintendo Switch this Friday.
Although Super Smash Bros. is widely enjoyed as a party game for millions of casual players across the world, the series also has an intense competitive scene, one that many believe had been largely ignored by Nintendo in recent years. Because of elements introduced in recent titles that were considered by some competitive Smash Bros. players to be alienating, there is still a fervently intense following for Smash Bros.’ second installment on the Nintendo GameCube, Super Smash Bros. Melee, released in 2001.
At Ohio University, there is a competitive fighting scene for both Melee and the newest entry in the series as of the time of writing, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, which launched in 2014. Both groups have their reasons for playing their respective installments of the series, but many from both sides are eyeing the fast-approaching Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with fervent anticipation.
Adam Maslowski, a senior studying information technology and strategic communication, is the ex-president of the OU Smash Team as of two weeks prior, although he is still involved with the team, currently guiding the new president, Michael Antram. Maslowski is now the director for Bobcat Esports, an organization of 240 members and growing that started a year ago. It aims to unite all of the competitive gaming communities at Ohio University under one umbrella. Maslowski “mains” (a term for playing the most as one or more characters) Marth in Smash Bros. Melee, a blue-haired sword fighter from the tactical Fire Emblem series.
“We used to have really, really good players back in the day, like a year or two ago,” Maslowski said, referring to those playing Melee competitively. “We had some really decent players who could hold their own against pro players, but then they all graduated. So now that they’re gone, it’s kind of just us left.”
Aaron Barte, a currently undecided sophomore, is the vice president for the OU Smash Team, specifically in charge of those playing Melee competitively. Barte mains Fox in Melee, an anthropomorphic animal of his same name from the Star Fox series, and is generally considered to be the best character to play as competitively in Melee.
“Melee is so fast and feels so fluid when you’re playing the game,” Barte said. “Smash 4 [a common nickname for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U] is fun, it’s a step up from Brawl [the Smash game on the Nintendo Wii], but it doesn’t have the same fluidity and movement and the punishing that Melee does.”
Maslowski echoed Barte’s enthusiasm for the 17-year-old game, going into great detail about how the glitches in the game, which the Smash community refers to as “techniques,” require persistent dedication but open up an unparalleled level of movement and player expression.
“The movement in the game is spectacular. If you sit down and learn...it opens up a whole new depth of movement,” Maslowski said. “There’s a bunch of little things you can learn in the game that can really quicken and heighten the speed of your character and the way you play, to the point where you can do a lot of things in the game that a typical person who doesn’t know about the glitches or the techniques would not really succeed as well, because they can’t play that fast.”
Although Barte cites the responsive controls as the main reason for why he plays Melee, he also admits that his own nostalgia for the title is another reason why he has continued to play the game competitively for over five years.
“When I went to first grade, when I got sick, my babysitter would bring over a GameCube, and we would play Melee,” Barte said. “So it’s just a big nostalgia thing for me.”
“The game is just fantastic,” Maslowski said. “It’s arguable one of the most perfect games I’ve played in my life.”
Those serious about playing Melee insist that the only way to play is on a cathode-ray tube television (abbreviated as CRT). Now considered archaic and obtuse since the advent of flat-screen TVs in the mid 2000s, Melee players insist that the CRTs offer the least input lag, the amount of time from when they press a button to when they see a corresponding action on the screen. Likewise, the GameCube controller is revered among practically all Smash players of any game past Melee in the series as the definitive controller for the series. Nintendo recognize this, and have developed special adaptors so the controllers can be used with the Smash Bros. games on their newer consoles.
Despite the intense praise the game receives from those who dedicate themselves to it, both admit that the game isn’t the most accessible to those trying to get into the competitive scene.
“The skill floor is so hard to hit, to be good in any way,” Barte said. “It’s just so fast, and there are so many technical aspects that it’s just so hard to access for new players. To be good, you have to put in at least a year of work. And that’s just to be competitive with people who are also very good.”
However, Maslowski notes the increasing value of high-level Melee play as a spectator sport.
“It’s just the fact that the game is a really good game to watch and respect. You don’t have to know all the hidden low-key techniques. You can just watch the game and really enjoy watching it,” Maslowski said. “The competitors are kind of lowering a little bit, but the spectators are increasing. Because getting to the level of the game that’s like where people are is just absurd now.”
Because of this, many players are driven to play the most recent entry in the series, commonly referred to as “Smash 4.” Doug Wait, a sophomore studying math education, is vice president of the OU Smash Club alongside Barte. Wait is responsible for organizing Smash 4 tournaments, but he and the rest of the club will switch over to Ultimate once it launches on Friday. In Smash 4, Wait mains Marth and Pit, an angelic boy based on the ancient Greek mythology of Icarus, suitably from the Kid Icarus series. He will have to see which players he gravitates to in Ultimate, but he plans on continuing to main Marth and Pit, and perhaps maining Meta Knight as well, a bulbous sword fighter from the Kirby series.
Wait wears his love for Smash Bros. with pride, with a sticker of the GameCube controller and of “Smashville,” an Animal Crossing-themed stage in Smash Bros., attached to his water bottle.
Wait was able to play a total of around 15 minutes of Smash Bros. Ultimate at an event after standing in line for about an hour. He is exuberant about its upcoming release, believing that it will win over nearly everyone playing Smash 4 and potentially even some playing Melee.
“[In Melee, they] made it super easy to move around the stage in weird ways. And then they took it away,” Wait said. “And now they’ve brought them back! So for Melee players, I feel like that turned a lot of heads.”
That feeling is shared by both Barte and Maslowski. All three spoke in great detail about how the movement so appealing to Melee players and the roster and level of polish present in Smash 4 seem to be converging in Ultimate, potentially making for a game that is appealing to both crowds.
However, Wait displayed some regret at having to say goodbye to what was his favorite Smash game.
“I love Smash 4. That’s the game where I felt I could express myself the most in,” Wait said. “[But] Smash 4’s not going to be around for much longer.”
Likewise, Maslowski is nervous about the effect Ultimate could have on the Melee side of the OU Smash Team, especially since there are so few top-tier players left as it is.
“We only really have three good players,” Maslowski said. “If one of the three of us decides to play Ultimate instead of Melee, I don’t know how good our scene will be in terms of quality, honestly.”
Barte admits that Ultimate might distract himself and other Melee players temporarily, but believes that nothing can truly replace it, and that fans of the game will recognize that.
“I think until they make “Melee HD,” which is kind of a Smash meme, I don’t think Melee players will drop Melee,” Barte said.
Wait is both nervous and excited about the possibilities that the unprecedented number of viable fighters in Ultimate could bring to the competitive scene.
“It’s a double-edged sword, but [I’m nervous about] the size of the cast,” Wait said. “So that means there’s going to be so many different matchups to learn… But the size of the cast also really markets it to eSports, I think. Because there’s going to be so much variety in the characters that are played… So I think we’re going to see a whole lot of new characters, a whole lot more variety in top-level play that I’m excited about.”
Until last year, there was no big competitive scene for Smash 4 at Ohio University. Last year, five people started playing the game at The Smash Team. This year, that number has grown to between 20 and 30. Wait is enthusiastic about how the success of Smash Ultimate could significantly grow their community.
“So hypothetically, if we advertise right, and get everyone on the same page, I could see us getting 50-plus people per night, “ Wait said. “So I just want to see us grow. I want us to be as big as those other scenes.”
Maslowski is optimistic about the future of the OU Smash Team in a post-Ultimate world.
“I think there’s also be a lot of influx of new players, and since we have new leaders, it’ll definitely be interesting to see how they handle that influx,” said Maslowski. “I think they have enough passion and ideas to smooth it out and make it look not too bad. So I’m optimistic.”
Super Smash Bros. is a series that is beloved in the hearts of millions of players, whether they play the version that came out in 1999 or is soon to come out in 2018.
“Most competitive games now, you can just meet online,” said Maslowski. “Melee, if you go to a tournament, you sit down next to the person, and it’s that kind of face-to-face contact. That human connection is something that just isn’t really treasured or touched on in other competitive games like Overwatch or Rocket League… It’s really helped me gain a lot of friends and networking abilities that I learned in-game ever since I joined freshman year.”
“It’s everyone’s favorite characters from everyone’s favorite games playing together. So it’s like every kid’s dream come true, and every adult’s dream come true in one game,” said Wait. “It’s awesome! It’s the most ambitious crossover! It’s magic!”
The OU Smash Team will have the “s’mOUre Ultimate” event this Saturday, their first competitive tournament for Smash Ultimate. The following semester, the club will meet to play Ultimate on Tuesdays and Melee on Thursdays at 8pm in the Copland Business Annex, in room 010. All people, regardless of skill level or experience, are welcome to spectate or compete.