Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on various topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, staff writer Gavin looks back on his history with the Smash Bros. series and tells us why he's weary of the latest iteration on Switch...
We’ve all got different tastes when it comes to video games and, indeed, everything else in this world. We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course, however ‘wrong’ they may be. People are welcome to believe that Skyward Sword is complete and utter trash, for example, although I remember having a cracking time with it over Christmas 2011. Sure it’s a slow starter, but I can’t understand the vitriol it provokes in some corners of the internet. Alternatively, you might enjoy, say, 3D Sonic games; that’s fine. You won’t hear any whining from me – we can still be friends.
However, working for this website has magnified a personal issue I’ve got with one of Nintendo’s crown jewel franchises; something that’s been bugging me for ages and which flared up last year with the launch of Switch’s biggest game since Super Mario Odyssey. Yes, it’s confession time – I just don't understand the world’s obsession with Super Smash Bros.
As perplexing as this may be to some readers (and some colleagues – sorry Alex!), I just cannot enjoy Smash in the way legions of fans seem to. I know I’m not entirely alone and that there’s a small band of us who watch from the side-lines with a sense of bemusement as the rest of the world goes Smash crazy. I see sales figures that show it’s now the biggest selling Switch game in Japan and I know it must be good – I know I must be missing something, but I simply can’t find a way in.
It’s certainly not for lack of trying – I’ve been burned before, multiple times. I bought (and subsequently sold) the first three games in the series. I picked up the original N64 game back in 1999 because, well, of course I did. Just watch the intro for a reminder of how cool this mashup was:
A fighting game featuring Mario, Link, Fox, Pikachu and Captain Falcon?! For an N64 kid, the magnitude of this crossover was impossible to resist, but from the very first moment something didn’t feel quite right.
Specific memories from that period are dim, but I remember using Pikachu a lot and spamming his lightning bolt move. I remember the controls never quite ‘clicking’ and feeling very odd about Mario’s jump not being on the ‘A’ button. Perhaps it had something to do with my youthful ignorance; obviously Mario’s jump wouldn’t be on the ‘A’ button in a fighting game. I was imposing my expectations based on Mario 64 onto this entirely different genre. Then again, Smash isn’t really like any other fighting game, certainly not anything I’d played to that point. Jumping didn’t feel weird with Link because his jump in Ocarina of Time was automatic and pushing 'up' on the stick was generally how you accomplished it, but for whatever reason the inputs never ‘sunk in’ and I fell into a quagmire where button mashing felt unsatisfying, but I could never muster enthusiasm to really master the controls.
I was also playing predominantly in single-player, which is obviously sub-optimal. I’d rope a sibling into a match whenever I could, but we’d invariably end up quickly returning to GoldenEye (Licence to Kill, Pistols, Facility) or Mario Kart 64 – yes, we’d rather fight in that game’s Battle Mode than throw down in Smash! It simply didn’t strike a chord as a two-player experience either and while I procured more controllers later on, the feeling of disappointment had set in and it was too late.
So, when Super Smash Bros. Melee showed up on GameCube, I thought I owed the game another chance. With more than double the amount of playable characters and a massive leap in graphical fidelity, once again I was drawn in. Knowing exactly what to expect this time round would help set my expectations accordingly, I thought, so I snapped the game up and hoped to be wowed.
Very quickly, though, that familiar empty feeling returned. Despite the wealth of fan service, familiar faces and all the excellent reviews, I just wasn’t having fun with it. No, that’s not quite right – I wasn’t having the sort of fun I expected after reading all the glowing recommendations. It was moderately enjoyable, yes - like a cup of tea or a nice walk - but I wanted the sort of raucous multiplayer mayhem I got from a bout of Mario Kart and Melee never provided that. The Adventure Mode single-player content should have kept me happy, but it felt like an add-on; a side dish with a smattering of platforming which only highlighted what, to me, the game lacked, even though it had Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom cronies.
In spite of all my previous experience, a curious mixture of confusion over what I was ‘missing’ plus the single-player Subspace Emissary mode and the ballooning roster of fighters (including Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake, for crying out loud!) had me eyeing Super Smash Bros. Brawl on Wii in 2008. With all those characters and stages, the game felt (from the outside) like an unbridled celebration of video games; a party that everyone was attending which I’d be crazy to miss…
So, once again (and against my better judgement) I paid the money, found the cheapest ‘good’ bottle of wine I could and went to the party. I stood in the corner rocking on my heels, analysing the attendees between swigs of cheap bottled lager before escaping to the kitchen to find another. As I suspected, the party was all pleasant smiles, awkward silences with Prefab Sprout on the stereo. We must do this again some time!
Nope, it just wasn’t working. Brawl did nothing to show me why this game was so incredibly popular and made me feel like more of an outsider than ever. By the time the Wii U iteration released, I’d learned my lesson: it’s just not for me, I thought. I'm not gonna be duped again by... what's that? 58 playable characters, you say!? Despite the slim pickings of the Wii U years, I somehow managed to stay strong and abstain.
Of course, Nintendo got me in a different way. As so many others did, I fell in love with the Smash series amiibo and have dozens sitting on the shelf now, despite never owning the game they were made for. I stayed strong, though, determined to sit out Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS and I managed to do so, feeling very pleased with myself for avoiding Nintendo’s cunning trap the fourth time around.
So, when Super Smash Bros. Ultimate finally landed on Switch, I was more than happy to sit this one out, too. Smash Ultimate? More like Smash Ulti-meh, amirite? That was before Nintendo’s endless barrage of Smash details in 2018’s Direct broadcasts, though. Despite having little interest in actually playing the game, I sat through every last minute of those deep dives and gradually got more and more intrigued. If previous versions were party-like ‘celebrations’ of video games, Ultimate is the Glastonbury Festival of Smash. Everyone is here; characters, players, the lot. Everyone except me, it seems.
With every bit of news about spirit events and upcoming DLC that comes to light, I read and once again doubt myself. Perhaps, I’m missing out – maybe Daft Punk are playing at the party this time and it's going to be amazing and I'm an idiot! The huge roster of fighters and the ample single-player content is potent, sure, but really it’s the sheer number of fans that – once again – has me wondering. It looks fun. I like fun, I like video games, I should like Smash Ultimate!
How many chances should you give a series? Is it worth me trying one final time to see what all the fuss is about? With so many other games to play – and limited time – I’m more weary than ever of putting down money only to be disappointed. I would say I’ll wait until it’s cheap, but this is a Nintendo first-party game we’re talking about. I almost caved when the Piranha Plant DLC was included (I bought the amiibo the moment it was released and it’s probably my favourite) but got distracted by other games on the eShop.
I can’t be alone, I know there are others who just aren’t that into Smash. With any other series I’d shrug my shoulders and mutter ‘different strokes, different folks’ before moving on without a second thought, but there’s something about the celebratory crossover of the series and the party-like atmosphere which is uniquely appealing. Laboured as those Directs might have been, they showed the blood, sweat and tears that Sakurai and his team pour into these games. I would love to support that sort of dedication. All it would take is an incredible DLC announcement to push me over the edge – Banjo-Kazooie would do it, however improbable that is. Until then, you’ll find me sitting on the fence feeling lonesome as lines of revellers traipse through sunlit fields to the Smash Festival.