Late last year, I wrote an editorial for GameXplain analyzing the GameCube’s launch lineup (not only the best Nintendo release window, I argued, but also one of the best system launches, ever). In it, while praising the many virtues of Super Smash Bros. Melee, what is indisputably one of the strongest multiplayer titles in the medium’s short history, I passingly made mention of it being a “relatively shallow” fighter.
Holy hell, did that open the floodgates.
The Smash nutjobs poured out from every crack and crevice of every Nintendo fansite, burning me in effigy and pelting me with a deluge of nasty comments, personal attacks, and ample pieces of “proof” about just how wrong I was – the typical assorted niceties, in other words, that have come to be the hallmark of online discourse. I learned an important lesson that day: people obsess over literally the weirdest things. And, also, that you don’t mess with the Smash heads; they’re like the Jewish-American contingent in politics.
Now, with a brand-new entry in the franchise currently in the works (or soon to be, at the very least), and a brand-new wave of skepticism regarding the fandom community’s reactions to and treatment of their sacred cow, I figured what better time to get the biggest Smash Bros. critics and one of its most avid defenders together in the room for a little tryst and see who emerged with the flawless victory. The rules were simple: I asked one question and they each got one answer. Oh, and items were allowed. Sorry, Smash purists.
Watashi (gaming ronin)
Wait… Sonic was in the last Smash Bros. game! That must mean it has double bathos! Right? (Maybe.)
All right. Given Smash Bros.’s pedigree of game design talent and character rosters both, the sheer amount of things to do with the titles, and its rabid fan following, is it safe to say the game has bathos? Or is it yet another example of fanboyism gone wantonly wild (like, say, with the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise)?
Andy Curtiss (freelancer and James A. Garfield history tour guide)
My first question is if bathos is the word you meant to use, because you seem to be suggesting that the game, either way, had a lack of merit. And despite my misgivings with the title, I would never say that it lacked merit. It’s a great game – for a party game. Because that is what Smash Bros. is: it’s a game in which four people can sit there and smash the buttons and achieve a seemingly random outcome completely independent of talent. Sure, you can do things like turn off items and choose stages that don’t try and KO you themselves, and you’ll get closer to what a fighting game would be. But at its heart, with all its features, Smash Bros. is a party game that does its job.
I would, however, go as far as to say that the level of fanboyism associated with Smash Bros. frightens me at times. And I suspect that the comments I’ve made above will mark me as a target for fire bombing by the aforementioned fanboys. All big games have their die-hard fans who would shed blood for their favorite titles, but a simple stroll through the forums of any popular gaming site at the time of release would have revealed that Smash Bros. fans have a tendency to be… unstable. So while I have not insulted the game at all, my conjecture that it’s not a fighting game, but a party game, will certainly invoke some wrath.
Adam Sorice (Nintendojo co-Editor-in-Chief)
If you are arguing whether or not the Smash Bros. franchise is a true-blue fighting game, then of course there’s no way you can even debate; it’s not a fighter. Not in the classic sense, at least. I love fighters as a genre, but being raised in a decade in which the arcades died changed my attitude to the genre. That cripplingly difficult final boss that I struggled to better as a group of close friends all cheered along before pushing me out of the way when I got my virtual ass kicked isn’t real (no, really, I didn’t grow up in Saved by the Bell), but the cripplingly difficult final boss that makes me want to swear my head off in my bedroom and then smash the TV screen with the controller is alive and well. I get pwned by the likes of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Super Street Fighter IV. Hard. Those kind of games just frustrate me, alienate me. When I struggle to intentionally unleash a super move for the fourteenth time and crawl to the move list which is full of Ks and Ps and Fs that are nowhere to be found on my controller, I just want to give up forever. The old-school fighter may have oceans of depth, but there’s a three-foot-thick slab of glass that I can’t break through and get to the really fun parts.
This is where Smash Bros. is different. While conventional fighters are only enjoyable with an opponent of equal skill (my dad, the cat, any CPU character on Very Easy mode), Smash Bros felt organic, inviting. What welcomes in players with a hand-holding system of easy-to-understand controls (you mean I press A or B and move the analogue stick? How simple!) and a variety of difficulty levels for every kind of player expands out into a wide, practically bottomless experience for the most hardcore of gamers.
And it’s not just the simplified take on fighting mechanics (personally, I’ll take Link’s Down + A aerial over a Hadouken any day), but the versatility of the experience. Some characters are powerhouses, some are so light that they could be kicked off screen, some are downright long shots, but every character has a niche and a bucket of nostalgia in tow. And how can you compare two similarly matched characters on a horizontal playing field to the multi-leveled, item-strewn landscape of Smash Bros.? Yes, “items are cheating,” the purists will wail, but the reason I love Smash Bros. is because it’s not a pure fighting game. The giddy joy of causing Jigglypuff to set a motion sensor bomb and then lie in wait for a dude with a massive sword is unique, it’s fresh, it’s joyful. It’s clever – it makes you feel clever. Sure, pulling off a sick combo in a bout with Chun-Li is exhilarating, but nothing offers that same bubbling sense of giddiness as when you maddeningly spin and slash and dance with your sword before slamming Yoshi in the stomach with a Poké Ball as Groudon erupts out and sends him hurtling off the stage.
So, yes, perhaps Smash Bros. is a party game. But if it is, then it is the most engaging, successful, hardcore-cum-casual party game in existence. I can’t attach a cable to the back of my ride of Mario Kart Wii and tow my dad into second place, but with Smash, I can put us on one team, alter the CPU’s difficulty, change items around, and maybe, with a bit of luck and complete spamming of Donkey Kong’s Down + B, he might stand a chance. Even with the lesser offerings of stock matches, time matches, coin matches, special rules, and more, Smash Bros. offers up by far the most inclusive and ergonomic plateau for multiplayer fighting I’ve ever come across. And when you add that to the mammoth single-player mode, the completionist Everest of stickers, trophies, and a roster so wide that using each and every character offers up a different experience (yes, even the clones), then you have one of the greatest franchises of all time.
So, yeah, maybe Smash Bros. isn’t a fighting game; maybe it is a party. But trust me – it’s one of the best parties you’ll ever crash.
Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for a dozen publications, including a stint as features editor for TotalPlayStation.com. He also likes mittens… when not fleeing for the hills.