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I'm not too sure about everyone here, but, loving Smash and the community as much as I do, it makes me want to throttle some *****es when something like that is so callously claimed (Smash being illegitimate as a fighter). Smash Bros. pioneered into a completely different dimension of game, but retained the fundaments of fighting games. Problem is, that the archetype runs so deep, that people often refuse to acknowledge Brawl as a legitimate, complex fighting game. For a while now I've wanted to take an in-depth look into what makes Smash Bros. so unique amongst other fighters. What makes it the game we've all come to love and value over all the other competition. My goal today is to analyze the facets that make Smash Bros. Smash Bros., and what makes every other fighting game a Street Fighter/Tekken clone by comparison. Hopefully I can articulate well enough that this may be the "go-to" post if you ever want to suckerpunch someone in the shame gland for talking out of their asses.
Let's see what we'll be covering:
A) Archetypes of fighting games
B) What Smash brings to the table
C) Why Smash is, holistically, just as (if not more so) competitive and legit a fighter than any other on the market
ARCHETYPES OF FIGHTING GAMES
As we all know, being the fighting game fans we are (most of us anyway) fighting games come in all shapes and sizes; not a single one is the same in many respects. We have Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Mortal Kombat, etc. Each game offers its own unique flavor to the fighting game archetype. But therein lies the problem. Each one simply tweaks and builds on the archetype; they never actually change it or add a new dimension to it. With this in mind, let's look at some of the general facets of these fighting games.
Let's start off with the primary objective in most fighters. Each opponent is given a health bar, and you have to find a way to deplete your opponent's before they deplete yours. Once you hit the opponent enough, they die and you win. Pretty vanilla. Now let's look at variables that can affect this or make it more interesting. There are none. It comes down to simply putting out more force. Due to restrictions such as being grounded, and not moving very fast, this removes a major could-be facet from the fray of most fighting games. It comes down to working in a little box in close quarters. A Judo match would be a good analogy. This brings up a few more points.
Stages. The stages in most fighters change almost none, with the exception of minor stage hazards. In Soul Calibur we have ring-outs, which are the gayest thing God ever put on this earth. In DoA we have the occasional electric fence that you can wall combo someone on to death with Jan Lee. Again, nothing too special; nothing that forces the players to adapt and cope. Lastly, we take a look at unique characters. The one thing that arguably ties fightings games together in the most meaningful way, is how the characters operate. The only thing separating most of these games though, is not how unique the characters are, rather, what system the characters fight with.
A direct-counter system like Soul Calibur. A pressure system like Street Fighter. A combo-heavy system like Mortal Kombat. A juggle system like Tekken. But what is always kept the same, is the similarities that tie each character together. Every character has a basic set of moves that don't deviate from one another: punch and kick variations (such as high/low kick, strong/weak punch, etc.) with a character specific special move set. Ryu and Ken's Hadouken, Cyrax's cyber net and detonators, etc. Most of the time, speed is not applicable, due to a confined setting. These are just a few of many character unique traits that are absent from a lot of fighters.
All that said, let's recapitulate in an abridged version. Fighting games as we know them adhere to a strict pattern. Differences between characters usually go only as far as special moves, and similar moves with slightly different functions. The dimensions of the game remain confined to close-quarters fisticuffs, which automatically alleviates potential dimensions. It does, ultimately, boil down to outputting more force than your opponent.
The general fighting game archetype has been tweaked here and there, but it has almost never changed. You are confined to an unremarkable arena, in which you're forced to strongarm your opponent in close range. There are just, plain and simply, a lot of restrictions, especially in movement and freedom. Trademarks include what I like to call "dial-a-combo", in which a button sequence results in a combo. Oftentimes, a combo's intended implementation is unrealistic to execute, but its pseudo-complexity belies its unrealistic nature. Killer Instinct Gold is a good example. Fulgore had at least 50 auto-doubles, and 100 combos, but none but one were ever used. Why? Because it was the strongest, and covered the most bases. In other words, just because a game like Soul Calibur has 8,000 different combinations, does not mean it is complex, despite it giving that illusion. If you ever watch an SCIV match, you'll see Hilde trying to do her auto-ring-out and a Yoshimitsu trying to spam her to death.
Overall, some fighters have a lot to offer. But the reality is that many of them are one-in-the-same in many regards. Each one operates on a rock-paper-scissors system, and that system alone. Each one only modifying the archetype slightly.
WHAT MAKES SMASH UNIQUE
Now for the interesting part. As we discussed before, almost every fighter out there gives its own flavor of ice cream, but that's the problem: they're all still ice cream. With Smash, it takes the general concept of implementing an arsenal of moves to defeat your opponent, but removes the restrictions of the fighting game archetype. Let's explore a bit what these restrictions are, and how Smash transcends them to add a whole new level of gameplay.
Let's just make a quick list of unique traits that Smash possesses above other fighters. Forgive me if I miss a few.
-Completely unique characters
-Range and priority playing a huge role due to unique character traits
-Survival and recovery
Now, time to delve into each facet.
Unique stages: As previously mentioned, most fighters have different stages for the sole purpose of scenery change, with an occasional gimmick. Smash flips this concept upside-down. Smash is the foremost game in its league/genre to allow the stage to play a pivotal role in your victory. Having the mobility and freedom to run, jump and everything in between allows for some creative implementations. Stages that cater to different character's latent abilities. Norfair being great for Ganon because it makes his otherwise inadequate recovery, adequate. Final Destination being the Diddy brothel (because if he picks it, that means you didn't ban it, so the "rape" was consensual, so you're not a victim, you're just his ***** now) thanks to there being no way to effectively cirumvent the bananas strewn about the expanse of the stage. This all makes it so each character has to adapt a strategy to that stage, and work use his/her resources to the best of his/her ability.
Unique characters: In most fighters I've ever seen, as mentioned in the previous section, characters differ, but how much? Minor differences do exist, such as a different animation for the same class of move, but they're often too negligible to notice. Smash, again, takes the core concept to the next level by giving the characters differing, well, everything. No single character has a single similar trait aside from clones. Ike is, by all means, the antithesis of Fox. Ike's move implementations are completely alien to what Fox's are. The only similarity is the general direction in which each attack goes. Same goes for every character. These differences include weight class, KO moves, trajectories, framerates, planes, gravitation (falling speed, etc.), size, hitboxes, range, etc. I could go on for hours. The characters are fettered by models only in the sense that they have the same amount of moves and each move corresponds with the direction which is pushed, i.e. forward = fair.
By and large, Smash is Smash primarily due to the vast uniqueness of each and every character. This makes it so a player has to adapt to not only a playstyle, but the character accompanied by it as well. Each one necessitates a new way of thinking and playing. Due to the variables given by the stages and other characters, every match-up is infinitely different and each move interaction has to be known, adding quite a lot of depth to the equation.
Counterpicks: Smash is probably the only fighter in the world that has such a vivid counterpick system. Due to each character transcending uniformity, and every mode of attack being available through any given character, a system consequently arises that feeds one character's strength and the other's weakness in a large way. Sure, there are other fighters with counterpick systems, no doubt, but due to aforementioned reasons, I find it difficult to believe as they're... shall we say "intimate". What I mean by intimate is that each character interacts on the minutest of levels, whereas in many other fighters, counterpicks are based more on countering styles from my experience.
Precision: Hitboxes in Smash come in all shapes and sizes. Their knockback power no different. What these unique hitboxes and priorities create is a rock-paper-scissors system for each move. It adds the dimension of precision and prediction and vivifies them. If your opponent is above you, and his dair rapes your uair, then you find a way around it, or use a less conventional move by being creative.
Survival and Recovery: Yet another big'n. This is probably the second most important dimension of Smash gameplay. What this concept of survival and recovery does, is it makes you and your opponent work for your kills. No longer will simply overpowering your opponent suffice. You will need to think, predict and act quickly to successfully kill your opponent. Beautiful thing is, that thanks to no boxed-in confines, if you're near death, you can implement a strong defensive game. You have to find a way to both survive, and concurrently catch your opponent in a vulnerable state to kill them instead of just spamming hadoukens while the other guy hides in the corner crouch-blocking. It also adds a great deal of longevity to matches.
Free-roam: I've mentioned this many times already, but I don't believe I've given a full explanation as to why it's so terrific. What makes your freedom in Smash Bros. so wonderful is the fact that it opens up for new types of gameplay. Camping, defense, offense, etc. It alleviates strict close-quarters combat, allows for more mindgames such as baiting and punishing and necessitates precision. Not being held captive in a small, boxey arena means more room to make a comeback, more strategical implementations and an endless myriad of other things. In general, it is the gateway for several other facets to be mentioned.
Creative Methodologies: Again, hearkening back to the uniqueness of each character's moves, Smash allows for something most games do not: attacking out of context, if you will. What I mean by this is since you are granted such freedom of movement, an attack that would normally not be used in a certain context can be used to catch an opponent off-guard. A good, yet simple example is Ganon's fair. Most good Ganon users won't attack with it as it's "intended", which is when facing the opponent. Instead, they will jump behind them, shattering the opponent's expectations, which means they drop their shield and eat fair from behind. Most other fighters, you don't need to anticipate anything other than a high/low/grab attack, since most combat is about-face and full-frontal.
The reality is that in a lot of fighters, since you are fully-frontal, you can't really catch someone off guard with much but cross-ups. "Attacking out of context" isn't really an option, since you're always facing forward and have no stage exploits at your disposal.
DI: An entirely new idea added to fighting games. DI, or, directional influence. DI, as most of you know, is a method in which you can manipulate where you are sent after an attack by using the control or c-stick. What this offers is more depth to the prediction system, in which you must predict your opponent's DI and react accordingly.
Tier Lists: Ever wondered why tier lists are such a big deal? It's because along with Smash's unique gameplay, a unique imbalance gets mixed in. Sure, other games have tier lists, but Smash's is different I believe. I've never seen an entire community get hyped up and get into 10,000+ reply debates on why a character shouldn't be where he/she is in relation to another character. What makes Smash so incredibly fun is overcoming obstacles. Finding ways to circumvent hindrances and use everything in your ability to emerge the victor despite unfavorable odds.
Simply put, there is an endless network of intra-character relations whose significance in the difference between winning and losing is paramount. Most other fighters do have tier lists and character discrepancies, but they lack the intimate relationship that Smash characters do with the rest of the cast. As stated earlier Smash's quirky gameplay allows for multifaceted combat, which in turn, allows for deeper character analysis.
SMASH IS FREAKING LEGIT
Hopefully by now you've gotten the picture that Smash is a little more complex than people like to give credit. Unfortunately, a lot of what has caused the disrespect for the Smash community and game in general is the ill-perceived notion that it's strictly a party game due to its less "abrasive" presentation, and the ostensible simplicity of button pressings. What Smash trades this memory-oriented scheme for is the need for precision and timing. Smash Bros. has always retained the fundaments of every great fighting game, but ousted old archetypes and presented new, improved concepts that dilutes some aspects, but adds plenty more to even the playing field out.
Sure, Smash has its share of shortcomings. Things that would be considered degenerative to competitive play. Brawl for instance has things like planking. But the fact of the matter is that this doesn't subtract from the overall Smash gameplay, both as a fighter and as a competitive game. While it is also true that Smash brings only a few truly new ideas to the mix, those ideas form most of what comprises Smash, mixed with old models given a new twist.
If you ask me, being a fighting game fan since day one, Smash is probably the most complex, multi-faceted and brilliant fighter of all time. If not by gameplay alone, in its analysis, community and staying power. ****, I don't know of any game in ****ing history that lasted 8+ years with a strong competitive scene like Melee. Notice the word "strong". That means that just because a few people still played SFIII for a decade doesn't mean it had a strong competitive scene.
The intricacies and vectors of Smash I do not think were intentional. I do not think Sakurai was sitting with his hug-box thinking of some incomprehensible system on which his new fighter would work. But *** it all, whatever HAL lab and Nintendo collectively thought of conglomerated to make one of the most prolific and unique fighting games to ever hit shelves. It's just a crying shame how many people take Smash at face value, and fail to recognize the potentialities that lie in it through its unique characteristics. Wanna know how other game's match-ups work?
"So, uh, hey, how Cyrax beat a Human Smoke?"
"Just block his teleport punch and punish him. Don't use detonators 'cause he'll t.punch you and be out of range of them."
How Smash match-ups work:
I see a difference, believe it or not.
So, in closing, I hope I was able to enlighten a few people as to why Smash is the amazing game it is. Why it is no less a veteran to the fighting game world than its generic counterparts. Why it has such incredible staying power, and why it is, whether you like to admit it or not, one of the most legit competitive games ever made.