Why I’m still playing ‘Super Smash Bros.’

Image from Nintendo.
Image from Nintendo.

As I write this piece in my college dorm, my favorite Smash Bros.-themed Amiibos from my vast collection are to my right, and a playlist of competitive Smash for Wii U matches is playing on my iPad to my left. I didn’t think to put this playlist on to get me in the mood to write about the same game, and I certainly didn’t realize that the little statues meant that I’m sandwiched in between Smash as I write about it.

The simple fact is that I love it, so much so that it bleeds into my everyday life, even nearly a year after its release.

SMASH 4 UNIQUELY BREAKS MY GAME-PLAYING FORMULA

Sometimes, when people learn I like playing video games, they ask me a simple question: What do you play? Then I have to go on my diatribe about how I like playing all sorts of stuff and then sell them off for more once I’ve had my fill.

I’m not one to play a single game for too long. I like to get my hands on as many modern game platforms as I can so that I can experience, and be in on the conversation for, a wide variety of new releases. This is because I love video games, rather than just loving to play Call of Duty or DOTA or what have you.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U may just be the first game to break that comfortable formula of how I’ve been playing games my whole life. I’ve been playing Smash 4 most days since it came out all the way back in October of last year, and I don’t see myself stopping until the inevitable Smash 5 that is most likely many, many years away.

COMPETITIVE PLAY IS THE HOOK

Ever since I played Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube, I have loved playing Smash Bros. as a party game, because it just might be the best example of that type of game in the whole industry. For me, competitive play has always been much more fascinating, however.

Competitive Smash keeps what I love about competitive games like Call of Duty and Street Fighter and simultaneously takes out what fails to excite me. In Call of Duty, I love how much variety there is to individual gameplay thanks to class customization, along with the big, diverse map design.  In competitive Smash, there are loads of diverse characters that play very differently, and while there isn’t customization (outside of custom move-sets in Smash 4, often banned in tournament play), the gameplay is loose enough for loads of wiggle room in personally wielding a character. Stages are also diverse, from loads of flat stages to more complex, multi-layered beasts.

Image from Nintendo.
Image from Nintendo.

What I wish I got out of Call of Duty is the intense involvement that comes along with a 1-on-1 face-off, something that Street Fighter most famously offers. However, the big problem with Street Fighter, worse than its entirely static, flat stages (something changing in the upcoming Street Fighter V) is the steep learning curve in pulling off the inputs for attacks before mastering all of the technical mechanics. In Smash, every single attack is easy enough for anyone to perform instantaneously, leaving all of the strategy in learning the mechanics and developing a personal play-style.

One aspect of Street Fighter and games like it that isn’t necessarily a bad thing but something I don’t like is the stress added to the experience thanks to a health bar. If one’s opponent drops one’s health very low at the start of the match, the tide of the match is turned in a huge way. In Smash, the percentage system, which makes one fly further off the stage to a KO the higher the player’s percentage, offers a less certain prediction of success and failure throughout the match. It is certainly possible for a player at 87% to KO an opponent at 39%, adding a constant sense of uncertainty that doesn’t lead to crushing hopelessness at being behind.

The variety in play-styles and stages, the intuitive controls, the engaging agency thanks to the 1-on-1 format, play that rarely feels crushing, it’s all there and in great form.

FOR GLORY EMPOWERS THAT HOOK, OFFERING NEW CONVENIENCE

Unfortunately, as much as I admired competitive Smash in the past, it wasn’t something I could engage in often because player mileage on that front was entirely determined by one’s ability to get players of a similar skill sitting in front of the same television. Competitively-minded Smash players have never been exactly common, and getting two human beings in the same room is hard enough already.

Now, playing competitive-style Smash matches with randomized opponents is easier than ever, thanks to the online For Glory mode. Available and running impressively on both the 3DS and Wii U editions of the game, For Glory plays by the following rules: 2 stocks, 5 minute time limit, randomly-selected, “Omega” stages only. “Omega” stages are a new feature of Smash, a variant for every stage that flattens it into mostly identical, single-platform affairs.

For Glory mirrors a familiar set-up in Smash tournaments, but for the stage selection. The advent of “Omega” stages is a smart compromise to make competitive play work quickly and simply, forgoing the complicated system of fairly landing on a stage-choice that is both competitive-friendly and favorable to both players.

smashthree
Image from Nintendo.

Thanks to For Glory, I can always play competitive Smash, so long as I have a Wi-Fi connection for my 3DS or Wii U to use. Whenever I find competitive-minded people, I can take things to the next level. Playing with friends online opens up the rules menu completely, ensuring any variation the two players want.

Online play existed before in Brawl for the Wii, but it was horrendous. Random play was limited to four-player matches on random stages with all items turned on, and the net code was a joke. Playing with friends allowed Smash 4’s same access to the rules, but the lag was still so bad that it wasn’t all that worthwhile.

BETTER BALANCING AND PHYSICS THAN EVER BEFORE MAKES THE CORE COMPETITIVE GAMEPLAY SUPERIOR TO PAST SMASH BROS. ENTRIES

Smash developed into a competitive game thanks to fan initiative more so than intent from Nintendo. The balancing in the first three Smash Bros. games weren’t impressive, with characters throughout the series that were obviously over-powered, like Melee’s Fox and Brawl’s Metaknight. While Smash 4 has its frontrunners in characters like Sheik, Diddy Kong and Rosalina and Luma, competitive play welcomes more variety in character choice and doesn’t necessitate character-banning because the balancing is just better. Nintendo has realized that people love this game competitively, and it shows.

The meta-game is deeper than ever thanks to regular online updates that change balancing decisions. Obvious, overlooked character flaws can now be erased from the game thanks to the magic of the internet.

Physics are lovely this time around too, placing the speed in a sweet spot between the blistering fastness of Melee and the muted, slowness of Brawl. Brawl’s random tripping is gone, too. Praise Sakurai.

smashtwo
Image from Nintendo.

THE BEAUTIFUL NINTENDO AESTHETIC WRAPS IT ALL TOGETHER

Whether it be Counter Strike or League of Legends or Blazblue or whatever else, no other competitive video game is as charming and aesthetically delightful as Smash. Nintendo has an unmatched library of characters in the industry, from impossible to dislike classics like Mario to goofy gems like King Dedede, a fat penguin whose hammer and trolling games are on point.  Stages represent Nintendo’s history of properties to a similarly impressive degree. Each is a warm homage to Nintendo fun, set to music that brings back the memories and kicks ass on its own.

SMASH 4 IS A SPECIAL, UNIQUE GEM

Playing the latest Smash is an essential part of my life that just about everyone who knows me is aware of in some way. My main is Mario, and I get a lot of fun out of training with him, showing off to friends whenever I can, even though I’m sure they barely care and aren’t very impressed. Playing around with all of the other characters is always a joy to, each match-up exciting and fascinating in its own way.

Every perfectly-timed knee to the face from Captain Falcon, every insane combo from Sheik, every spike off of Olimar’s pikmin, it’s all so, so freaking good, and I can’t tear myself away from it all.

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