With Smash for the Switch’s imminent release, everyone seems to be in a speculative frenzy. Most people can’t resist the temptation to put forth their longtime wish for a character addition, vehemently defending its rightful place in the Smash roster. And then there’s the hardcore crowd who’s more invested in proposing technical changes to the gameplay, either inspired by what they consider to be “Melee-gold-standards” or some of the newer designs.
Smash is an extremely popular series, and its fans are very vocal—well, a certain population of fandom, I should say. Rarely do I find articles with suggestions to improve group play or analysis of strategies in regards to items. The casual and quasi-casual Smashers are a sizable group whose presence isn’t felt nearly as much as the hardcore crowd (probably due to the inherent passivity of the casuals), but they’re just as important to the legacy of Smash.
With this in mind, and being a longtime quasi-casual Smasher myself, I thought it might be nice to bring up some not-so-obvious recommendations for the upcoming Smash entry.
1. If eight-player Smash is to return, can we get more considerations for “usable” eight-player stages?
Eight-player Smash is a different kind of beast. Where one-on-one is a test of pacing and the ability to properly space yourself, eight-player fights make the player assess every engagement before they take the first step. Who’s going to come out of that cluster unscathed? Can I get him when he’s finished Bowser Bombing? What’s going on behind me right now? Is that a beetle that just appeared on the right side of the screen?
The number of variables floating around in someone’s head in any eight-player situation can be abundant if you break it down, and if the space is more confined the data gets harder to parse out. There are currently 31 stages available for eight-player Smash (not including any omega versions), but of those 31 stages there are only about 15 stages that allow for the spacing necessary for multiple mini-battles to take place, and of those 15 I counted some of them can easily get cramped once you add in items that largely affect the playing field. Battles can quickly go from tests of timing and skill to matches of chaos where someone (even experienced players) might be confused as to how a series of events in the span of a few seconds led to them getting knocked out. And then there are two stages of those 15 (Palutena’s Temple and The Great Cave Offensive) that are simply too big; the thrill of a melee in these stages is offset by a frustration of being unable to see the details of your character and what’s around them, which is the exact opposite problem with some of the other stages.
A good example of a proper eight-player stage is probably Hyrule Castle 64. It’s big, but between the three sections of it the players can space themselves out in groups of three or four, interchanging between groups when the circumstances call for it. And the best thing about this stage: it still works for four-player matches as well. It’s not like Palutena’s Temple where the last two players have to fight for 5-10 minutes because the blast lines are so far away, and that’s 5-10 minutes of other players sitting around and waiting for the next match.
Fifteen-ish stages for eight-player Smash is not a small amount, but, if you happen to arrange such a large gathering, the stage choices can get repetitive after a few hours. So how about just a few more stages that work for both four-player and eight-player, eh?
2. Let’s just forget about the custom moves.
We live in an age where most developers are looking for the next innovation in character customization, a way to for the player to build a unique relationship with their character, a way for the player to feel their character is truly Theirs. Smash is actually one game where this practice isn’t necessary.
In Smash 4 we saw the addition of two custom special moves, which amply contributed to the potential complexity of any match.
There were a few problems with this. I don’t know what everyone else’s experience was with Smash 4, but most of the people I’ve played with don’t own the game (I was always the owner); they’re usually long-time fans, but investing in a system with a thin library wasn’t for them, which is understandable. So when we did play they just wanted to get on and learn some new characters. They had enough trouble remembering their character’s moveset without any additional specials, and thus they had no desire to find a custom moveset that worked for them. With character choice, stage selection, and the plethora of items available, there was enough going on.
Also, and only through playing ARMS did I learn this, customization can actually hurt the roster of fighting games. In ARMS there’s a system where players can earn new ARMS (fighting gloves, to be distinguished from the game’s title) for each of these fighters, and these ARMS are originally owned by the other fighters. As I earned more fighting gloves in the game, I found my relationship with each character degenerate. Why would I ever use two out of three of Helix’s gloves when there are so many better gloves out there? And because I had the temptation to use other fighters’ gloves, I wasn’t using any of the characters’ personalized gloves, for the sake of performance. None of the characters had their own limitations anymore, and they lost personality because of it. The interchangeability robbed them of being unique, and it hurt the game more than helped it, in my opinion.
Smash for the Switch doesn’t need to make that same mistake (even though they’d never add the interchangeability, but I hope you got the point). The complexity is already present, and the special moves of each character defines them in a positive way. And, I think most of us agree, if we had a choice between the development team working on two custom moves for each of the 50+ characters or them working on even one more character, we would choose the one new character every time.
3. Bring back the fan.
Smash has a long history of fighters and items coming and going, and there are a few staples that have avoided the cutting room floor. In terms of items there’s been the hammer, the star, pokeballs (Snorlax, in particular), and the bumper (which was once the flipper, yes, but the same thing really). One notable omission from the fourth entry in the Smash series was the fan. Now, no one probably has the fondest memories of this item; at me mentioning it we are all probably reminded of the times our dick friend, Dan (or whoever), picked up the fan and Whap-Whap-Whapped us into throwing our controller in frustration. It’s one of the most difficult items to escape in the game, and it isn’t even powerful, but the memories associated with it are very strong, even if they’re painful (and some of us probably have some nice memories of pissing someone off with them too…). Just like other annoying/surprising items (Nintendogs, Mr. Saturn, Goldeen) it deserves its place in the game, adding to the number of Goddammit!!! moments that make Smash so much fun.
4. Get rid of (or nerf) the gust bellows.
(I promise I will get to the gust bellows part, but it’s going to take a few paragraphs of prefacing first).
Maybe one of the stupider things a human being can say is, “This item is OP!” since OP is only reserved for identifying something that throws the competitive equilibrium into a flux and using items is generally reserved for play that is not considered “competitive.” In some circles, items are seen as random insertions that can sway the momentum of a battle, a cruel intervener of RNGesus who will decide the winner in place of skill. This might be true to an extent; some items are obviously more powerful than others, and should one happen to materialize in one player’s vicinity rather than the other there might be a bit of luck in determining the victor. But to say that there exists no strategies to mitigate or even neutralize an item’s effectiveness is just flat-out wrong.
There was a time when I thought the hammer was an unstoppable and dangerous item. If you were fortunate, someone picked it up far away from you and they would use it on the other suckers while you (smartly) ran away. Then it occurred to me one day while I was using Roy that his counter not only nullified all damage but dealt more back on the attacker. Eureka! Come at me, Hammer-Man! And then, after some of my friends got launched a few times, they wised up to the strategy and added a little hitch to their approach, making me preemptively counter—I subsequently got smashed in the face. So I started thinking about my counter timing and the whole thing became this big encounter resembling a bullfight…
If there was a point to the paragraph above it’s that, despite the power of some of the items, there are all sorts of meta-games and strategies that develop out of these interactions. And while these interactions are sometimes stacked in the one side’s favor, that doesn’t mean that the outcome is certain. There’s still spontaneity, surprise, and a lot of fun when items are involved, even for those that consider themselves somewhat competitive at Smash.
Having said all of that, the gust bellows, unlike pretty much every other item in Smash 4, way too highly stacks the odds in the user’s favor. First of all, this items feels really cheap, and this mostly has to do with the way it doesn’t factor-in damage. The bob-omb KOs people early, but not at 0% (and it’s risky to use as well). The Dragoon KOs people outright, but it’s very difficult to collect all three pieces. Even the beetle factors-in damage as a way to escape its grip. But the gust bellows cares not for damage.
Is it impossible to escape it? Not exactly, but it’s damned difficult for some characters, depending on their recovery. The gust bellows user only gets one jump, but should they time it right (and this timing doesn’t take too long to learn) they can push most characters far enough off that their third jump won’t be enough to make it back.
Maybe instead of it being able to constantly blow, it should have shorter bursts? That might save it from being scrapped altogether. But in its current form it not only aggravates players who just respawned, it also isn’t a very satisfying weapon to score KOs with. Personally, I just feel really dirty after using it. But, hey, gotta win, right?
I will post part two of this article later on this week. Feel free to add your own not-so-obvious recommendations in comments section below in the meantime. And remember, with a game as absurd as Smash, no recommendation is absurd enough not to be considered.
Update (3/22/18): the second part of this series can be found here.
Let me also give a shout-out to SSBWiki for their pictures and comprehensive pages. Thanks for the work your admins and users put in!