Super Smash Bros.: Fanservice Over Balance, Please

At this point, we know practically nothing about the next Smash Bros. game for Wii U and 3DS, other than the fact that Namco’s making it in collaboration with series creator Masahiro Sakurai. The years leading up to the 2008 release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl were a study in speculation, with much of the discussion centering around which characters would appear in the game’s star-studded roster. So it’s unsurprising that overzealous fans would take a Sakurai quote about how the size of the Smash Bros. roster has “already probably reached the limits of what’s feasible” and immediately conclude that no new characters will be added in the series’ next iteration. Adding no new characters to a series that is the living embodiment of Nintendo fanservice? I very much doubt this is the case. All he’s saying is that Brawl‘s roster of thirty-five characters is a good size; there’s plenty of room in there to cut some characters and replace them with new ones. Making the new roster be the exact same as the Brawl roster would be monumentally disappointing, and whether Sakurai intends to replace existing characters while capping the roster size at thirty-five or whether he intends to expand beyond thirty-five, you can bet that we’ll see a few new faces.

That being said, I’d prefer to see the new roster include as much of Brawl‘s roster as possible, while expanding in excess of forty characters. Would this bring some balance issues? Most likely, which is probably why Sakurai hired an actual fighting game studio (the internal Namco team responsible for the Tekken series) to make it. However, it’s not like the Smash Bros. series hasn’t had a few balance issues in the past.

In the same interview, Sakurai notes that while some fighting games with large, fifty-character rosters can be fun, it’s difficult to make all the characters both balanced and unique. We’ve seen this happen already with Melee, which was criticized for introducing many clones but was praised for having relatively well-balanced upper tiers, thus birthing a strong competitive scene. By contrast, Brawl gained praise for cutting some of the clones and differentiating the remaining ones from their original counterparts somewhat, but it drew criticism for adding new clones and generally being an unbalanced mess with regard to high-level competitive play. Nearly every new gameplay tweak, from the removal of the wavedashing exploit to the introduction of the tripping mechanism, moved Brawl further away from being a competitive game and closer to its original, unbalanced, party-game status. Whether this was Sakurai’s intention or just a corollary of the development process, we’ll never know.

But now he’s worried about balance issues? While the debate continues over whether Smash Bros. is a true fighting game or a party game, the game is, at its core, fanservice to the highest degree. Some of the worst characters (Mewtwo in Melee, Captain Falcon in Brawl) are an absolute blast to play, and the roster is strengthened by their inclusion. Make that roster the priority; let the balancing come after. If the Wii U has the robust online capabilities that Nintendo claims, it should allow for post-release patches, which could do wonders for Smash Bros.’ balance issues. Because there will be balance issues at launch, just like any other fighting game, and it’s reasonable to devote time and energy into fixing them; but for a game like Smash Bros., with its unique crossover appeal, intuitive gameplay style, and relatively tenuous position in the world of competitive fighting games, I don’t think it should take precedence over stacking that roster with plenty of new characters.