I wanted to put down my thoughts on smash as a franchise and what I’m looking for in smash 5 before the news tomorrow permanently changes our outlook. Because it will, one way or another. This post is partially self-reflective, partially looking forward at Smash 5. Look out for the bullets for important points.
- I think Smash 5 is going to be good. My hopes are high.
Most Melee diehards are not in this camp, but Nintendo has raised my expectations with their treatment of two other flagship franchises – Zelda and Mario. Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey knocked it out of the park. Whatever they’re doing with Switch games, it’s working.
Now, a quick background on my history with smash. If you’ve read all my posts, you probably know this by now, but chances are you haven’t. Feel free to skip to the ****s if you don’t care about this stuff.
I grew up playing Smash 64, but only started competing with Melee in 2005. In 2008, lloD and I tried Brawl but decided to keep playing Melee for the most part. We really got into Brawl in the summer of 2009 when Wi-Fi was getting big on AllisBrawl. We would sink countless hours upon hours into Brawl Wi-Fi, and it finally gave us a chance to practice against human opponents (we would only enter a few Melee tournaments a year at this time, and otherwise only played against each other).
We continued to play both Melee and Brawl, and tried out all the modded versions of Brawl as well – my favorite was Brawl Minus. In 2010, I was also providing early feedback to the Project:M team on super super early builds of the game (the only feedback I remember giving was that Ivysaur was really good [and she stayed super good for a few years] and pointing out that you should be able to release ledge with the C-stick).
Somewhere in this mix of years I started getting into Smash 64 Netplay. I would play in bursts, here and there. In 2013, I moved in with Junebug in college and we started fiending Project:M. We would play a few hours per day, most days – this is how we mastered many characters in that game. That summer was the summer of PM for me, where we entered Xanadu every week and the whole community was hype for the game. We #FreedGimR and everyone was playing for the love of the game.
That winter, Smash 4 came out and the smash community blew up again. Our crew was playing Smash 4, too. Me, lloD, and Junebug were all PR’d in the top 4 range at some point or other, but our play was much more sporadic. Junebug wasn’t finding Lucario as fun, lloD didn’t like Peach as much. I was the one who played longest.
****** the summary of my smash history isn’t finished here but the next part is relevant to the rest of this post imo*******
In March 2015, I was playing all three games simultaneously in tournament: Melee, PM, and Smash 4. Melee was still my favorite, but I appreciated all games for what they were. If you’ve heard me talk about smash, you know I like playing multiple games and multiple characters. In fact, I’m (proudly) the only quintuple-Arcadian-banned player in MDVA (I was PR’d in every smash game, but 64 doesn’t have a PR and I wasn’t regular enough in those tournaments, so to get banned I entered and won the Arcadian).
However, that month I beat The Moon at a Xanadu and realized that it was possible for me to become a top Melee player. That was a big turning point for me, and that’s when I decided to pursue Melee as my main game. PM became a more casual hobby, and I tried competing Melee and Smash 4 on the side… and then I threw Rivals of Aether into the mix in the fall of 2015. I was pretty good at that game while I played too (I was last seed in the first tournament I entered so I played and beat Lz in round 1, then won that tournament), but that’s a totally different story.
Okay so HERE is the actual point that I’m building to: in March of 2016, after juggling several platform fighters at one time and attempting to compete at the top level in multiple of them, I had a realization.
- I realized that I loved competing in Smash 4, but I didn’t love playing it for the sake of the game itself.
From February to March, I had been analyzing and practicing Corrin a great deal, which culminated in my nearly defeating Ranai at Shots Fired 2 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awgwI7B6yEk). But I wasn’t loving all the time I put into practicing with Corrin, and was frankly disenchanted when she was arbitrarily nerfed (e.g. her run speed). The most joy I got out of Smash 4 was doing cool things in front of a crowd, especially with Kirby. Ask any of my close smash friends and they’ll tell you that my Kirby is one of my personal favorite topics of discussion because hell yeah my Kirby was sick.
But I basically never played Kirby in friendlies. All my practice was solo practice when I tried to innovate combos and tools to use in neutral, but the rest of it was giving people a show. This became really apparent to me later in March 2016 when I entered Glitch and noticed that I played significantly different depending on whether I played on or off-stream. Off-stream, I tried to play more “honestly” and would just lose, my heart not in my game. But on-stream, I got in people’s heads and kept showing things off that people had never seen before.
The theme of “innovation” is not a new one for my history with smash. I was doing the same thing with Mewtwo in PM in the summer of 2014 – I tried to have something fresh for the viewers every week. If it wasn’t a cool new trick like a guaranteed Confusion regrab or triple-teleport ledgecancel from ledge, then I would pick up a new character and show things off with them (there was one PM PR video where I had 13 characters in my image). I did the new-character thing with Smash 4, as well, and I got a lot of fulfillment out of that.
But the game itself was not fun enough for me to keep playing, and the joy I got out of it was not sustainable. Not all of my matches would happen on stream. So after Glitch, I decided to officially retire Smash 4. I was still going to enter at Pound 2016, and you can see plenty of Kirby trolling on those vods, but I wasn’t going to try super hard.
I don’t think Smash 4 is a bad game. I think it’s much better-designed than Brawl as a competitive game, barring rage. But when faced with options like Melee, PM, Rivals, and even 64, it fell to the wayside for me.
So what does this mean moving forward? I’m going to make a big subject change here then wrap around:
- Smash 5 will either convince Melee diehards to compete in it as well, or Melee players will leave it alone. Smash 4 players will play it regardless.
The second part disappoints me a bit. The way I see core Smash 4 community members talk makes me feel like they’re okay with settling, and I really do think that is the case. And I totally understand why – the livelihood and career growth of MANY smash professionals will depend on Smash 5. Smash 4 is already on the outs, with tier 1 teams having dropped players across the board. People have to be okay with Smash 5, or it’s goodnight esports career for a lot of people. And I really hope that doesn’t happen.
Melee players are less affected by how good Smash 5 is as a competitive game. If Smash 5 is a sick game, then Melee players will be far more likely to give it a shot. If the game is meh, then they won’t. Of course, that’s assuming any given Melee player is willing to give another game a shot at all – many Melee players only make time for Melee, which is fine too.
But I’m in the other category – if the game is really good, you can bet I’ll be playing it. But I don’t want to settle.
Melee players have an impossibly high bar that no game will ever meet, and there’s no denying that. Just about nothing Nintendo could do can change this fact. Even if they were to release virtual console on Switch and put out Melee HD – what version is it, NTSC or PAL? Are controller polling issues fixed, so do we have fixed dashback? How are we supposed to lightshield when controller adapters don’t even support analog-trigger inputs (something that hasn’t been in smash since Melee)? It won’t be the same, and it won’t replace Melee as we know it.
Let’s swing back around, now. What does Smash 5 need to succeed across both major smash communities?
- Smash 5 needs movement that feels amazing, and characters that don’t promote excessively defensive or degenerate gameplay.
For the most part, I personally like the movement in Smash 4. But it doesn’t come close to the endorphin rush any Melee player gets from moving around with any given character, and that is thanks to the movement engine. Does that mean Smash 5 needs wavedashing and L-canceling?! Not at all.
First, I think directional airdodges and wavedashing are an amazing movement option that creates depth and makes it way more fun to move around, but they are not necessary. There are other ways to make movement interesting – drift control, the way double jumps feel, walljumps, crawling and associated tech, RARs, etc.
As for L-canceling, I think it’s a bad mechanic altogether. There is no reason to not L-cancel unless you go for an edgecancel, so it’s an arbitrary added input meant to increase your RPM at the end of the day. I like the way Rivals has solved this – they use whiff lag. That means moves that don’t connect have added lag, so you are discouraged from swinging at thin air. But if you land a hit, you can move fast to get your combos going.
Nobody likes to watch characters that promote degenerate or excessively defensive gameplay, and they aren’t fun to play against. In Smash 4, Bayonetta, Cloud, Rosalina, and Sonic come to mind (I’m sure some of you will disagree on one or more of these… cool). In Melee, Puff comes to mind, and ICs to an extent. At least with ICs, the character is bad and becoming less and less viable so long as you ignore Bananas over the last couple of weeks. But while characters like Bayonetta have exciting components for viewers, such as the constant threat of Witch Time, it gets exhausting to compete against.
The issues Smash 4 has with degenerate gameplay are child’s play compared to what we dealt with toward the end of Brawl (MK and ICs). As an aside, I scoff when people suggest banning Bayo regardless of whether it’s the right call, because the vast majority of them never lived through the struggle of trying to ban MK and/or ICs in Brawl. For the record, both MK and ICs were far worse problems than Bayo.
Let’s move on!
- Smash 5 does not need to be conservative with cutting characters – this will make room for characters that would fit very well in Smash.
EDIT – I’m removing the first-pass list of characters I thought could be cut from Smash from this post. I specifically mention that the list doesn’t really matter but people are heavily overfocusing on it anyways, so it’s gone because it didn’t really contribute to the points I was making.
[mild BotW spoilers] I think Breath of the Wild provides a great opportunity for new Zelda characters. First, Sheik doesn’t appear in BotW so her reappearance would require another redesign (not that I’m opposed to this). You could probably make the same argument for cutting Ganondorf. As for Zelda? Her moveset would require the use of magic, but a central theme of BotW is her struggle with the inability to utilize magic. I almost feel like having her fight with magic in Smash 5 wouldn’t be a genuine representation of her character from the meat of the game.
Here’s where it gets juicy though: they can put the BotW Champions in!! Daruk, Revali, Urbosa, Mipha. Any combination of these would be amazing. Revali as a multi-jump archer, Urbosa as a fighter with her scimitar and lightning attacks, Daruk as a tank with armor (Daruk’s protection), Mipha as a quick spear-wieler with healing abilities (and could heal teammates in teams).
In all likelihood, I expect the Zelda roster to remain mostly the same, but with tweaks to vanilla Link’s character. I think it would make sense for them to give him the champion abilities from BotW, so he would have Revali’s Gale as UpB, maybe Daruk’s Protection as a counter or something. Not sure, but I have trouble imagining them just bringing back the Link moveset that we all know and love.
- Nintendo might implement multiple moveset reworks in Smash 5.
A lot of my thoughts on what the roster might look like stems just from this conversation on Zelda characters. This is Nintendo’s opportunity to do a great deal of reworking, and to step away from the iconic smash movesets that we know so well. I am hoping they take this step.
If they’re willing to put in a drastic character rework like I’ve described (BotW Link), then anything is up for grabs. I’m expecting a Mario rework as well. Chances are we won’t see FLUDD, but we’ll see Cappy integrated into the moveset in some way. And it’s hard to see all the other Mario characters staying the same if Mario changes – after all, the core movesets have largely remained static across Melee, Brawl, and Smash 4. Changing Mario’s drastically might lead to other changes as well. Peach has been looking much more sporty as of late, and Bowser with more personality showing through.
It’s also possible that we get classic Link, BotW Link, and just Mario’s DownB or SideB replaced with Cappy with no other big changes. But I really hope that isn’t what happens.
Mario and Link aren’t the only characters who have big franchise changes as of late – I am sure Nintendo will want to get new Pokemon representation into the game. I would put money on Decidueye getting put into Smash, as he seems to be one of the favored Gen 7 representatives. Charizard will probably stay in, but I think Greninja will get cut. Maybe we’ll even see Eevee?! But probably not.
Nintendo will also be making room for the Inklings, one or two characters from ARMS (probably Ribbon Girl and Spring Man, or they’ll be skins for each other), a surprise pick like Spyro or Crash or Banjo or some combination of them, and like six more Fire Emblem characters (please no more swordsmen – put in a rider or mage or lancer).
- Stocks on default, good competitive stages and/or better stage builder.
Modes won’t make a huge difference but there are definitely quality-of-life improvements that can be made. Most importantly, we need a way to play on reliably good stages, e.g. not Lylat. Having a more customizable stage builder with adjustable blast zones would be immensely helpful in that. And yeah, stocks on default please.
Alright I’m watching Norman Reedus in this creepy walking simulator now so I’m out of ideas for today. Last thing before I go:
- Waluigi is definitely going to be in Smash 5.
That’s all. Thanks for reading!
EDIT: The Normas Reedus thing is over so I forgot one important aspect to address – the ledge!!
- Take out ledge trumping, but improve on Melee/Brawl ledges.
Imo start with Melee ledge where you can act immediately off grabbing ledge, but either remove ledge invincibility, or remove invincibility on regrab, or remove the ledge… or something. Ledge mechanics are not that great in Smash 4, and watching DBFZ all weekend reminded me what’s supposed to happen when you corner your opponent: you get more mixups and better reward off your punishes.
In Melee, two of the best characters can say, “Oh, you’ve cornered me? I’m going to grab ledge and now you have to back up to respect my invincible ledgedash options. Oops, I messed up… I’ll just get back on ledge and try again.” It’s actually crazy to think about. Even Sheik has an invincible Ftilt. She can also just choose to do an invincible stall and control the pace of the game, but good game design would dictate that the person who has cornered his or her opponent should have that power. Peach might be the only high tier that properly functions as a disadvantaged character when put into the corner like that – once she’s on the ledge, it’s so hard to get back up.
Smaller tweaks can be made to things like shielding and related trigger-press defensive options. For example, make airdodging easier to punish (but keep landing lag if there are no directional airdodges), retain shield pushback offstage if shielding in the corner, and so forth. I think Melee has those defensive options fairly well-balanced, though we won’t be seeing the return of lightshields so I’m curious to see how that would factor in.
I have so many more thoughts about game design but I have to sleep early tonight, so that’s going to be it for now. If you’re reading this before E3, I’ll probably be co-streaming the Smash 5 Invitational on twitch.tv/rishi, so come hang out with me there. And if you follow my podcast (twitter.com/analogcast), this week’s episode will be coming out later than usual since we’re trying to follow the news as best we can.
Thanks as always for reading!