Sakurai may have 100,000 demands, but all I ever needed was the Duck Hunt dog


Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U (2014)

I’m always having to refute toilet graffiti, random WhatsApp messages and shouted street insults about me being some sort of Nintendo fanboy. But even I couldn’t help but delightfully squee like a constipated swine when Nintendo brought out an interesting new fighter for the Nintendo 64, featuring Nintendo characters, stages and items, all wrapped up into one veritable hit-parade of Japaneseness. A surprise birthday present from Nintendo to me, that’s what my old friend Shigsy told me via fax at the time.

Well, hip hip hooray for him because Super Smash Bros for N64 paved the way for a wonderful little chicken dinner of a series. Looking back on the N64 original now might leave newer fans of the series taking a step back, feeling a little short changed. They might even have their eyes taken out by the polygons. Eight characters, with four more unlockable (Ness? Who in Master Hand’s name is Ness?) and even less stages to pick. It says an awful lot about the progress Smash has made over the years that the Nintendo 64 title could now legitimately be called threadbare – although in the fun stakes, its multiplayer aspect is still anything but.

Hype for the GameCube’s Melee and the Wii’s Brawl subsequently went nuclear. Honestly, you should see these fans, they’re absolutely rabid dogs. The dire wolves of gaming fandom. I know, because I was one of them in the lead up to Smash Bros Brawl. And my fellow dweebs will remember that aggravating cocktease of a dedicated site called the Smash Dojo, which more or less spoiled every aspect of the game months before it was released – and still we queued up and lapped it up every weekday without fail, discussing wild theories.

Rumours! Leaks! Delays! Ridley! Probably the hype over Brawl and the delays it slapped us with on the way were a better experience than the game itself – great a game as Brawl was, it was the hype that brought us all together. It was like we were all part of something. That something was unquestionably tragic, but it’s good to be a part of it, isn’t it?

Smash Bros 4, or to give it its ridiculous full title, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U (all that, just for a ‘four’ pun) took many different directions right from the off. In actual fact, even the destination console seemed to be in doubt until it emerged that there’d be two versions of the game, a maiden handheld version on the moderately popular (at the time!) 3DS and the other, undeniably the main event, coming later on the somewhat ailing Wii U.

That 3DS, it’s brought out some pretty nifty software in its still ongoing life, but it left me cursing its name more than once in the buildup to Smash 4. That poor, long-suffering Kirby-bod, Masahiro Sakurai, the luckless fool tasked with heading up the Smash Bros series development, assured us all many times that while the stages in the two versions would differ, the characters (which is what everyone cares about – stages don’t matter a jot if half of them have migraine-inducing hazards and you revert to Final Destination all the time anyway) would stay the same.

Now let me tell you, I’ve suffered direct hazardous contact with the Smash Bros fanbase, and they stink. They are starving pack rats, ravenous sharks. They want 200 characters, 400 stages, a 600 hour single player mode and 800 songs with 40,000 trophies to pick up and they get very cross indeed if any of these perfectly reasonable requests aren’t fulfilled.

The result is a tortured, broken husk of a director in Sakurai-san. Every couple of years, when a new Smash Bros is being developed, he comes to the fore in a series of interviews or propaganda-laden Nintendo Direct appearances. At these events, and presumably under gunpoint from Nintendo’s top Yakuza merchants, he reassures people that he is not being worked to death, that he is actually quite happy, and he knows where his wife and children are being held.

An off-camera nod by the biggest and toughest henchman, and Sakurai takes us into the next character announcement, someone completely underwhelming like the Wii Fit Trainer or Rayman, and then it’s back to a close-up of his face with the subtitle “Please understand”. The screen goes black, and you are greeted with your own reflection, so you can stare guiltily at yourself. This poor man and his staff are suffering desperately, and all for you to complain about how Mario’s Sex Kick (eh?) got nerfed and Mega Man isn’t the right shade of blue.

The temptation is to focus only on the home console version, but given that the Wii U did well to achieve doorstop status, it turned out that the 3DS version sold almost twice as many copies. So we’ll have to speak about that version as well. Firstly, and I can say this candidly, it’s quite a technical marvel that they managed to get the game onto the machine in the first place. Naturally it’s a bit pared down, because whatever little horsepower the Wii U has, the 3DS rather obviously has even less.

So there’s a bit of a horrid loading time at first, and it meant that the Ice Climbers had to be expunged (I’m still not sure if they REALLY had to be). And no Events and no 8-Player Smash either, which was probably to be expected and wasn’t fully implemented on the Wii U game anyway, and is hardly much loss.

But every character, a whole ream of unique stages, Online Mode (as if) and plenty of tunes, trophies and trinkets – they’re all there and all available on the go. This didn’t placate many of the fans of course, who probably tapped into far-right spectrum rage and mewled horribly about how the 3DS Circle Pad is no good for Smash and it needs GameCube controller support and where’s my Melee HD and ree ree ree.

Well, if you ask me, Smash Bros have been on a bit of a downward trend since Melee. Of course, we’ve only had two games since then, but it often seems that as the number of characters go up, so too do the inane modes like Smash Tour and Smash Run. Intended as big selling points for both versions of the game, both modes flop.

For Wii U, you’ve got Smash Tour, which is an even poorer relation to Smash than Mario Party 10 was to its own series. It’s some class of sped up board game where nothing makes sense and you can’t use the characters you want. Items are used, spaces are landed on, messages flash past at the speed of sound and you’re left wondering why you couldn’t just go through a Melee-esque Adventure mode.

The 3DS’s Smash Run gives you a somewhat large free-roam Smash world, a bit like Brawl’s decent Subspace Emissary mode, although you’ve only got 5 minutes to explore it. At least here, you’ll encounter Lakitus and Redeads and a zillion other Kirby and Kid Icarus enemies, finding temporary upgrades for your character before you finally get to cut all of this fluff out and have one fight, and only one fight with your 3 competitors. It’s just a waste of five minutes every time, five minutes you could better spend doing All Star Mode with any one of the seven hundred playable characters.

Smash 4 was a good entry, and it was exciting to see it handheld as well. Now, the upcoming Smash Bros Ultimate can be played on the go or on the big screen as a matter of course, and has all of the characters and stages in one, plus who knows what else. I will get the game this Christmas, and I will love it like a firstborn child. And if that makes me a Nintendo fanboy, then just paint me pink, smack my bottom  and call me Kirby.

28 September 2018

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