Super Smash Bros. should be right up my alley. I love fighting games. I love Nintendo. I even loved playing Smash Bros. during the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube days. So why do I have such a hang-up with enjoying the franchise now?
The decline happened rapidly. After months of anticipation, I gave up on Smash Bros. Brawl on Wii after just one sitting. Though there’s much debate about the competitive merits of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I simply felt like I had enough of the franchise as a whole. In the moment, it felt like more of the same game that I’d spent hundreds of hours on before and I just wasn’t in the mood to dive back in.
Years later, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U would hit the scene. But by that point, my life had taken me in a very different direction with regards to fighting games. Starting with Street Fighter IV, I developed a passion for competitive play. Over the course of thousands of hours of play and training, I got really good at the genre and have been able translate my core skill set to many other games in the genre, from the manic Dragon Ball FighterZ, to the quirky ARMS.
That journey fundamentally changed the way I enjoy fighting games. Kudos to those who enjoy Smash Bros. or any fighting game as a button-masher, but that’s not the headspace I’m in right now. I enjoy fighting games for the way in which they test your mind, body, and soul. I want the satisfaction of knowing that my knowledge of the game proved beneficial when you whiffed on an attack and I was ready with the appropriate punish. I want the satisfaction of smacking you with a devastating combo that I’ve practiced for hours and can perform at will, even in the most high-pressure situations. I want the satisfaction that comes with knowing what move you’re going to do before you do it, allowing me to systematically pick you apart. To me, there is nothing better in video games than partaking in a duel of video game knowledge, skill, and dexterity that only fighting games provides.
Naysayers be damned, all of that can be done within the realm of Super Smash Bros.. Putting aside party modes, wacky stages, and items, you can have those types of meaningful fights in this series. The continued success of Super Smash Bros. Melee as an eSport is proof of that. Even with all of the crazy stuff on, you can still be rewarded for approaching the game with skill.
During my time with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I attempted to translate my traditional 2D fighting game skills over to this one. It wasn’t a complete failure, but it was quite the struggle that I never figured out in full. There are nuances to the way that the game plays, from the focus on knocking people off the stage, to the way the controls work for normal attacks, to the game’s emphasis on fighting in the air that really tripped me up. On top of that, I was still deeply involved in the Street Fighter competitive scene, so I never truly gave it a chance. Why put the effort into Smash Bros. when I can immediately have more fun and be more competitive with almost any other 2D fighter? Not to say that those fighting games are better, but they are designed around skills I’ve already developed, versus having to add learn new ones specific to this one series.
I will say though, there were a handful of matches I vividly remember playing in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U that gave me glimmers of hope for finding that spark someday. In a For Glory match against an annoying Robin player, I was able to use my fighting game fundamentals to counter his tactics and eventually win the set. At a local electronics store, I happened to be standing by the demo when someone challenged me to play. He was a self-proclaimed fan who clearly knew what he was doing, but once again, my skills from other fighting games covered my lack of Smash-specific knowledge to get the win. Using my skills to take the W’s in those games was quite the thrill.
With Smash Bros. Ultimate on the way, maybe this is the game and the time for me to get back on board with the franchise on my terms. Though he was available as DLC in the Wii U game, having Ryu on the main roster could help me bridge the gap between my Street Fighter knowledge and Smash Bros. play. Furthermore, with the game being portable on the Switch, and with what looks like a meaty single player campaign in World of Light, I’ll have more opportunities to play it on my commute. Also, since I’m currently on hiatus from competitive Street Fighter, maybe now I can finally give the game enough attention in order to enjoy the game in the way I want to enjoy it.
I don’t have to be the next Hungrybox or Mew2King in order to get enjoyment out of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’m largely okay with playing with items and crazy stages more often than not. I just want to be competent enough in my abilities that I can excel at a level just beyond button-mashing. Bridging the gap between my existing fighting game skills and this franchise has been a struggle so far, but I’m hopeful that I can find a happy place with Ultimate.