Editorials & Essays are Thought Experiments (or Why Super Smash Bros is or is not a Fighting Game)

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The biggest YouTube boom has been the Video Essay market. It’s hard to say when it really started, maybe around 2014 or so, but I am always interested in them for the simple reason that they are thought exercises. They are ways to make your brain think about media in a new way and context and it annoys me that no one else sees it that way.

To prove this I think it would be interesting to dive into the most heated video game debate of all time (I can’t wait to see who thinks that’s true or not): is Super Smash Bros a fighting game?

Considering the main mechanic at play in the game is punching, shooting, slashing, kicking, and whatever the hell Pirhana Plant is doing it’s clear the game revolves around conflict and fighting. That should solve the question right there. You fight as the main piece of gameplay, hence, fighting game. However, that is not what people mean when they ask that question is it? They aren’t seeing if it’s a fighting game based on its mechanics but instead it’s viability and complexities in the professional fight game circuits. They mean if it’s closer to Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Dragon Ball Z Budokai 1 (the best fighting game ever made, trust me), and considering it has a professional community, though that is apparently more toxic than a Brittney Spears song, that should meet the criteria. Unfortunately that alone does not mean it’s successful.

A key element that separates Smash Bros from DBZ B and it’s ilk is how Smash is much of a party game. Consider that jumping into a match without changing settings has the characters fight in fantastical and mutable locations with bonus items raining down from the sky to grant boost, assists, and hindersnces for the player. The stages are filled with multiple characters all fighting each other instead of the honorable one-v-one arena of other games. Heck, even games that give you multiple characters like Marvel vs Capcom or FighterZ force you to use only one at a time, except for combo skills. To continue with that, the way scoring works is far different. Again, in a normal pickup and play match it is about who can knock their oppent off the stage more times in a set time limit over just knocking an opponents health to zero.

Therefore, to get it to fit into the fighting game mold better restrictions had to be placed on it. Arenas has to be flat and balanced. Power ups couldn’t be falling out of the sky to give one player an overwhelming advantage, and the win condition had to be changed to a set number of knockouts that’s easily readable. All of those changes, some made progressively easier to change as more versions were released, are all options and abilities the player can control. But then the question: is it still Smash if you have to change so much of it, remains. Like the ship of Theseus if you’d like.

Now breaking away from that for a moment, I am terrible at fighting games. I’m actually bad at all video games, but fighting games in particular really press my just better than your dad level of skill. No matter how many I fight to learn, or YouTube tutorials I watch I still feel like the game is unresponsive (yes I did all the inputs as fast as I could, why won’t it work!). This does connect to Smash because, though I do suck at everyone but Little Mac, Bowser, and Cloud, those three I’m marginally decent at, I feel more accomplished when playing the game as it’s intended.

All fighting games have tier lists. It seems antithetical to the point of them, but developer intentions can only go so far before reaching the impossible choice of whether to clone a character or make a new style that needs to balance with the other characters. That makes sense. Street Fighter originated as a game to play in a single location with spectators in order for people to show off their skills. Building from that would be difficult. But out of all the series of fighting games Smash had the most wiggle room in terms of character skill and ability thanks to the items. If pichu is hard to control it’s okay because you can grab a laser sword, scyth, or pieces of a laser gun and just shoot your opponent with.

For something annecdotal, when I was playing Smash with the totally not dead co-King of this blog, Shane, he was surprised when I told him that competitive Smash Bros games don’t use items when playing. For he sees the items as a grading curve to equalize everyone.

Now, there is a strong argument against that. Having items at your disposal changes the nature of how you play and learn characters. You don’t get to learn expert parry times with Roy, Marth, or Peach when you’re just trying to grab the Pokéball or Kirby Star. Skills like guarding, grabbing or wave dashing feel far less useful when you can just get a mega mushroom and stomp on everyone. It lowers the skill ceiling instead of raising it. That’s fair enough. BUT… there could also be a compromise. Being good with a character and knowing how to use items makes you a far deadlier player than just one of the other. An anecdote to support this is how, in college, my dorm had a couple state rank Smash players living and visiting it. Hence, I learned to get my butt kicked often. However, when the settings were put closer to factory default I still lost, but was able to get one player to zero stock while using King DDD and Wiimote and nunchuck. The point is that, when trying to push the square shaped game into the rounded hole of fighting games it lost some of what made it unique.

Does any of this mean it’s not a fighting game? I don’t know or care. Again, I suck at all of them. But, that debate, that measuring of what makes all the different games unique is an interesting mental exercise to have.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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