This week Masahiro Sakurai gave his last character presentation for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with interest and anticipation for the final broadcast reaching a fever pitch. With over 24 million sales at last count and substantial DLC uptake thanks to the many and varied guest fighters, it's a game that has contributed a great deal to the success of Switch. More than that, though, few games can have a near three-year run of big headlines in the modern industry, and the unique cultural impact of Smash Bros. — and its outrageously diverse roster — can't really be overstated. It's a behemoth.
Now that one game ends, talk will rapidly shift to 'what's next'. Questions will arise along with speculation over whether future hardware will get a shiny port of this all-in-one extravaganza, or if Nintendo will maintain the one-Smash-per-generation record it's had going since the late '90s. The assumption is often made that this is entirely dependent on the series' designer, for better and worse.
Sakurai-san is indelibly linked to the IP — it's his creation and he's been at the helm creatively from the beginning, with the earliest prototype being produced alongside the late Satoru Iwata. He's been involved in notable games outside of the franchise, but since GameCube's Super Smash Bros. Melee took the franchise to a new level he's only led one project that wasn't part of the franchise: Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Masahiro Sakurai seemed his usual jokey, fun self throughout the broadcast, and was deservedly proud of his team and the incredible collection of content that's come into place in Ultimate. There was no talk of it being his last Smash Bros., no allusion to a grand farewell beyond the end of this project. It was all very positive and suitably celebratory.
Fans will be scanning interviews and remarks he shares, because there have been multiple statements in the past in which he's discussed retirement. A high-stress workload and repetitive strain injuries have been spoken about publicly by Sakurai-san in the past. He's now given well over a decade to continuous and seemingly non-stop Smash Bros. development, and the concept of Ultimate has been just that — an ultimate version of the game to beat all others. From all of the modes and features to the dizzyingly large roster, it's hard to see how it can be topped without the game growing almost too big.
And here's the thing — Masahiro Sakurai is an outstanding game designer. His attention to detail, work ethic, his intrigue in the broader industry and varied games, all make him a singular creative force. So maybe, just maybe, it's time to see him do something else. If he wants to, of course.
The aforementioned Kid Icarus: Uprising is a good (and the only) relatively recent example. Its control scheme was divisive, for sure, but the experience it delivered on the humble 3DS was unique and very impressive. For this scribe, even when battling with the control scheme, it was impossible to put down. A good point we've seen made elsewhere is that it's a game that simply wouldn't be greenlit nowadays as it's the antithesis to modern trends and providing accessibility in controls. As a product of its time, though, it's fascinating.
Let's also just consider what Sakurai-san's leadership and talent has done for Smash Bros.; it's evolved from a scrappy but intriguing take on the fighting genre on N64 to an integral part of the gaming scene. Even on systems that have struggled to sell like GameCube and Wii U, its entries have nonetheless continued to shift millions of copies and delight fans. If Sakurai-san has unfulfilled creative ideas, we'd love to see them become a reality, as he could undoubtedly produce something special outside the field of the platform fighting game.
And as for Smash Bros.? It could continue with a new creative team and, if Masahiro Sakurai desires, he could be a consultant. The original creative minds in franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda et al are all now retired or doing other work in a more hands-off capacity, with Nintendo finding young talent that has taken on leadership of projects. A similar approach could be taken if Nintendo and Sakurai-san agree that Smash Bros. goes on, even if he's no longer at the helm.
And new leadership can bring freshness, too, respecting the tenets of a franchise while trying new things. Look at the evolution of some of Nintendo's other major franchises, and the emergence of younger IPs like Splatoon, and it's clear that Nintendo still fosters a brilliantly creative development culture. Not only can Sakurai-san potentially spread his wings with new creative ventures, but a fresh take on Smash Bros. could step away from the approach of every entry getting bigger and change things up. When there's change, there's also potential.
Super Smash Bros. is a remarkable franchise, and Masahiro Sakurai is the creative force that has led multiple teams to create iconic entries. Maybe now, after the ultimate entry — the ultimate expression of the series' potential — it's time for bold new projects from the ultimate game maker.
It's entirely his call; if nothing else he's earned the right to choose what he does next. Perhaps what he truly desires is even more Smash Bros. development. We shall see.
Further Reading from the final Smash Bros. Presentation:
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's Final Fighter Is... Kingdom Hearts' Sora!
- A Closer Look At Sora's Smash Bros. Stage, Music, Final Smash, Kirby Transformation And More
- Steve And Alex Will Both Receive Smash Bros. amiibo Figures In Spring 2022
- Smash Bros. Ultimate Adds Doom Slayer And Splatoon Characters As Mii Fighter Costumes
- Three Kingdom Hearts Games Are Coming To Switch, But They're All Cloud Versions
These games started gaming for me, So I have nothing Else to say, but thank you.
I hope he chooses to start making fighters pass 3
Please take a holiday Sakurai. I want to see holiday pictures of him looking awkward at various monuments around the world.
Didn’t he lead Kirby’s Air Ride after Melee…?
Weather he retires or makes another smash or some new series or old series he will be respected and loved.
Thank you sakurai
@gaga64 yea I liked that game but I understand some people's opinions
If any one deserves a retirement it's this guy. What he has done in the last 10 years is nothing but magical. Absolute legend in the gaming industry and whatever his next adventure will be, wish all the best to this icon. #ThankYouSakurai
Microsoft bought him.
Such a sad end to his story
(I'm in no position to give the man life advice. He can do as he pleases, I just hope he's happy doing it.)
@gaga64 Meteos as well, right?
After this long journey with Smash I think the man needs some rest for a bit. I'm sure whatever he decides next he'll have my full support. #ThankYouSakurai
As much as I love Smash Bros and respect Sakurai's talents-- and perhaps because of this-- it's hard for me to not feel like he's been wasted putting the past decade of his life into that franchise. He's such a genuinely creative and quirky director, and while I appreciate him making the most of his work commitments, I also feel like it's been far too long since he's had the freedom to do something truly fresh or revolutionary.
@nessisonett maybe a 1-5 year holiday. The paces he puts himself through is life threatening.
Put him on the new Mario Strikers game!
Well I'm sure he will need to balance the game after Sora launches (seriously that dude's recovery looks broken) so I'd say at least another year doing patch clean up before he is truly free.
Guy's done some sterling work and a gargantuan amount of it if you think about it. He has also managed this whole delivery of works as well. He should rest up and take a break. Would love to see more of his works some time in the future, though! That's his call and I'll respect whatever.
Let others take over smashbros, focus on what you love to do.
Would love to see a new Kid Icarus game without arthritis-inducing controls. Uprising crammed so much onto the 3DS, so would be interesting what they could do with Switch.
Can anyone explain to me what Sakurai actually personally does with Smash Bros? He constantly laments how exhausted and burnt out he is, but from what I've been able to gather from interviews and articles, his duties are basically:
People constantly talk about the pace he "puts himself through" and how its "killing him", but I just can't seem to find any evidence of this being true outside of his own hearsay. He's been working on the same game (and only that game) for almost a decade, why is this a grueling 80 hour a week job? I wish we'd talk more about what a fantastic job his team does.
Reading these things I always get the impression that people are in the know that this is the last smash ever, do people know something?
@FNL THANK YOU! Every time he’s mentioned it seems like Nintendo has him chained in a basement on a treadmill on an inhuman pace. I’m not saying the guy doesn’t work but we ALL work, that’s life ¯(ツ)/¯
It’s not like Nintendo doesn’t have specific IP they can hand off to the guy. But having worked with essentially all the IP, you have to wonder if Nintendo properties hold the appeal to keep working with NCL at this juncture. Obviously Nintendo is a comfortable employer and sakurai seems to have more years as an employee/contractor than an indie, so having that work might just be his priority above all else.
That's the thing, like I'm not saying he just lays around in his pajamas and does nothing (although, it doesn't help with him bragging about playing 241 Playstation games while he was allegedly "working too hard and burning himself out"), but his job hardly sounds as grueling as a lot of other jobs out there. There are teams of developers who work on multiple games at one time, pushed against strict deadlines to push 3-4 games out in a single year. I'd call those people overworked.
He also did the Meteos on the DS.
Nintendo has two stellar franchise staples thanks to Sakurai, between Kirby and Smash.
As much as I would love for him to be involved with Kirby and the Forgotten Lands, or direct a new Kid Icarus title for Switch...
We need him to continue pushing boundaries and create new IP. His ideas are too valuable to hole him up in a Smash Bros cage forever. He's already spent so much of his life and energy managing the Smash franchise.
Nintendo should realize this, and encourage him to help them create new brands and nurture new ideas.
This man deserves a long vacation but I have a feeling he is a busy body and won't want to rest on his achievements, I think he just loves what he does, I would love to see him take on something other than Smash, let him go wild with a new IP.
You might also be underestimating Sakurai's workload. Management in the business world takes a serious amount of mental capability that you're really sacrificing a lot of yourself to look and be good to others. Especially in a country like Japan, where the work ethic is considerably higher than that of western countries, Sakurai has to maintain the pressure of managing all fields of game development rather than simply directing and marketing with the occasionally testing and creative inputs. If his team at Bandai Namco don't reach a deadline, it is Sakurai that ultimately suffers the consequences, not the other programmers.
Right. And what does that include? The core game itself is finished. They finished the biggest groundwork when they made Smash Bros Wii U in 2014, then ported and updated it in 2018. It's now 2021 and they're just adding bricks to the rock-solid foundation. They don't have the same deadlines and crunch times.
Even then, the brunt of the work falls on the development team as Sakurai has, on numerous occasions, admitted that he has no part of outside of play-testing and adjusting numerical values for fighter stats. So... what has he been managing that requires such an intense mental focus that he is "killing himself"?
(Currently work as a project manager for a software company myself, with multiple projects on the go, so I'm trying really hard to connect the dots here)
3 years, over a hundred characters and still they couldn’t find an intern to type up text for a museum mode.
What he would choose to do next will be Smash Bros, he has already stated that he has the idea to reinvent the series, and he never said he was going to retire from game development. We have Sakurai for a while.
Until the next game.
Maybe the director of the next Smash game can give us back a decent single player experience/story mode.
At some point he will have to hand off the baton, Smash will go on for years and years to come, and he both wants to and should retire at some point. He's been a brilliant guiding hand for the series over the last 2 decades and change, I can only hope that whoever succeeds him is even half as great handling the series as he has been.
Sorry no sakari hasn't earned the right to choose, someone, a friend hopefully, needs to put their foot down and demand he takes it easy for his own good.
Ofcourse he'll be back for Super Smash Bros on the next-gen console.
I was thinking the same thing, it's time for a break of development, and then maybe it's time for something new.
Kid Icarus Uprising and Kirby's Air Ride show he can do really slick and unique games!
Does anyone else feel really sad? End of an era. We will never see anything like this again.
I mean... do I wish the guy well? Of course I do!
Would I also prefer to see him start working on a new Kid Icarus Uprising sequel to his own demise? A little bit, yeah.
Look, I got all these QR trading cards that I don't know what to do with... I don't want it to be for nothing...
Sorry to sound inflammatory and troll-like but did you guys get your game and both packs of DLC + free? I paid for mine. Nintendo and Sakurai can thank me! 😩
A new kid icarus on switch someday?
@FNL So you still think Smash Ultimate is a port? It's made from the ground up with a ton of changes beyond the roster.
Why do some people continue to say this nonsense.
The Smash fandom is a weird little world. I'm pretty sure that if Sakurai does work himself to death that'd he'd come back in three days.
I'd really like to see kid icarus uprising ported to switch with motion controls. A sequel would also be cool but that'd just be getting my hopes up.
Game developer worship. LOL
I like the idea of Sakurai becoming more of a consultant after returning from a long, well-deserved vacation. I'd really love to see a continuation of Kid Icarus in some capacity, be it an HD remaster of Uprising or a brand new game. As for Smash, I'd be perfectly content with the next entry being an enhanced port of Ultimate that can just continue to build on the content instead of starting from scratch with a presumably greatly reduced roster.
I am just half expecting the Kingdom Hearts fans shift focus on demanding Sakurai to add Riku next as a "bonus" character.
And proceed to have 10 years of them telling me how much deserved it is every time they don't get it.
Regardless, Sakurai may end up taking over an oversight position on the future Smash title, if one exists within his career life. But I do believe he may have taught a few to think like him going forward in such development.
What new things did Smash introduce that weren't initialized in Smash Bros Wii U? You're referencing my comment as if you think that I'm implying that a port is a bad thing. It's not at all. But let's get real, the groundwork for Smash Ultimate was built with Smash Bros Wii U. They took an excellent formula they had created and expanded on it.
You listed a lot of ailments he allegedly ended up with and also mentioned a nice (and necessary to continue development) thing he did for his staff but ultimately haven't offered any more insight into what he actually does for the game. He, himself, admits that he doesn't actually do any development work on Smash beyond tweaks, data entry and occasional play-testing.
@FNL My god, finally someone who says this. THANK YOU. I have direct experience in the Japanese game industry as a programmer, and based on my experience the director role is often overrated. Truth is directors are much less involved in the development itself than people believe and I think your description of Sakurai’s work is pretty accurate (Directors typically have the initial game idea and then just roughly supervise what the team does, changing parameters and playing the game builds from time to time offering feedback. Other work is non-dev related: meetings, marketing, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I respect Sakurai and I think he is an excellent designer but I do think he is getting way too much credit. A lot of decisions are also made by the team and Sakurai alone without other talented individuals can do literally nothing. So his team deserves as much credit really.
@yoshis1900 Thanks, I've been hoping to hear from someone with some real experience with this who can speak a little more critically on the topic rather than taking Sakurai at his word and heaping praise on him.
I mentioned it earlier in this comments section, but I'm a project manager for a software company so I totally get that a lot of administrative work comes along with being a director/producer. But just ... not to the extent that allegedly comes with Sakurai's role. Even more suspicious is the fact that the core game has been largely developed since 2014 and 100% completed since 2018. I have no idea how or why he seems to need to work himself to "near death" when all they're doing is fine-tuning and adding DLC. Negotiating the inclusion of third-party characters in the game would be handled by a team made up of agents, lawyers and coordinators. Sakurai would likely be pretty hands-off in this department as well, save for maybe a few emails, phone calls and a Zoom meeting or two here and there, if need be. However, it's treated as if he's holding Microsoft/Disney/Sony execs hostage for 15 hours a day, locked in physical combat, to get them to allow him to license DLC Character 5 for use in the game. But that's just not how it would work. Sakurai and his team could get a character licensed over the course of a week without ever having to change out of their pajamas. Like you, I give total props to the team as a whole, but man, this whole Sakurai worship thing has really got to stop. It's weird. Sorry if I'm just breaking the illusion for all of the Sakurai fans here.
@FNL I hope that none of his team have been influenced by him (in regards to his reported work rates and willingness to sacrifice his health). It’s toxic to have someone at the top promoting such poor work/ life boundaries.
@ARPK oh yeah, that too
@Kid_Sickarus Agreed. That's one of the awful side-effects that comes with having so many people idolize someone like Sakurai. Members of his team will undoubtedly feel pressured to "keep the same pace", whether that pace is real or exaggerated. For all we know, the true source of Sakurai's burnout is from staying up all night playing Playstation or legitimate insomnia, or some form of mental illness, who knows? But by angling it as if he's tirelessly working 23 hours a day, 7 days a week on a single game, others may be asked "why aren't you as dedicated as Mr. Sakurai" or "if you want to make it, you need to show just as much initiative as Mr. Sakurai" or "how can you let your boss work harder than you? Shameful! You want to go home at 5 to have dinner with your family and see your newborn child? You'd never see Mr. Sakurai flaking out while there is work to be done! The man has given his mind, body and soul to this project and you can't even skip dinner?!"
@ARPK Did he make that too! I loved that game that much I wore groves into the screen.
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