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Stray Thoughts: The Future of Smash

✊ When everybody's smashing things down...

Last year Masahiro Sakurai, creator and long-time curator of the Nintendo video game series Super Smash Bros, announced that he would be retiring from the series after the last new fighter was released for Super Smash Bros Ultimate. As part of the announcement, he speculated that whoever took over for him would need to take the series in a new direction for the next installment. That's because Ultimate--appropriately named--is effectively a summation of the entire franchise. In addition to all the new content, it also contains every fighter and level that came before (I'm 99% sure, which means someone is going to fact-check this and point out that the Nintendo Light-Zapper was a playable character in Melee). Whatever comes next for Smash, it's going to have to feel different.

And this makes sense. Smash is fairly unique among Nintendo franchises in that it doesn't get re-invented every console generation to take advantage of whatever the new hardware gimmick is. There wasn't a fancy motion-control scheme for the Wii or anything like that. The Switch version plays just like the Wii U and Wii and GameCube and 64 versions did. And you can only keep that going for so long before you hit diminishing returns. You're not going to make this series more interesting by just expanding the roster again (to say nothing of the fact that every new character means more work keeping the overall game balanced).

Now there will be resistance to this. There's a big competitive scene built around Smash and players don't like change. Change is risky. It's entirely possible that the first game in the series that tries something new will be the first one that fans generally don't like. But it's important to try new things  anyway. Because even if the game isn't as beloved as its predecessors, some of the new ideas that do work will stick around. For example, Skyward Sword was not a particularly well-liked Zelda game, but it introduced the stamina wheel and the paraglider, which were integral parts of Breath of the Wild, which was hugely popular.

So what's the future of Smash? Well, I have some ideas. If anyone at Nintendo is interested in pursuing these, my DMs are open.

Super Smash Bros Tag Team

Speaking of gimmicks, MarioKart Double Dash is one of the more gimmicky titles in that series. In that game, you have two drivers on a single vehicle and you swap between them. So why not take a page from that book? Instead of having a single fighter, have a pair of fighters who play more-or-less the same but with some notable differences, and let the player swap between them either at will or on some predetermined interval. There's plenty of precedent for this in the series already. Pokemon Trainer allows you to  swap freely between three different characters. The recently added Pyra and Mythra do the same thing. And there are plenty of pairs to choose from in the existing roster who play basically the same with nuanced differences. Pikachu and Pichu, Link and Toon Link, Samus and Zero-Suit Samus, Zelda and Shiek, Marth and basically everyone else from Fire Emblem. And there are plenty of individuals that could get an other half easily enough. Mario gets Luigi, Sonic gets Tails, Ganondorf gets Urbosa. The possibility's there.

Super Smash Bros International

Is a pair not enough for you? Refocus the game around its specific franchise elements and pit them against each other. It's not Link/Toon-Link versus Mario/Luigi, it's Hyrule vs the Mushroom Kingdom. Have the characters segregated by "realm" in the story and you unlock them by conquering territory. Okay, honestly, this isn't that different--you'd have to spice it up even further. Maybe characters from the same franchise can't fight against each other? The story can be about fighters needing help defeating their nemeses. Kirby can't actually fight King Dedede in this game, so he enlists the help of Dark Samus.

Super Smash Bros Underdogs

Why not get away from the core roster entirely? Do a Smash spin-off that consists of also-rans, sidekicks, jobbers, and C-listers. Start with a line-up of Luigi, Air Man, Dribble and Spitz, EMMI, Meowth, Whispy Woods, Beedle, and Doctor Robotnik. Over the course of the game you unlock Knuckles, Probotector, Slippy, Howard and Nester, Virtual Boy, Jessie and James, Golgo 13, and a Tetromino. And then bring in the weird stuff.

Super Smash-Up Bros

Don't want to get rid of the core roster but want to dramatically change the way they fight? Add a job system. You don't play as Mario. You play as Ninja Mario or Pirate Mario or Doctor Mario. Hell, you could go full action-RPG with it. Play through the story to unlock and enhance your fighters' abilities. That'd pretty much be the end of the pro tournament scene, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea!

Super Smash Fighter II Turbo

Speaking of tournaments... This would be a departure. But... Re-think Smash as an arcade tournament fighter. One on one with life bars and secret special moves. Where you have to pay $.25 on the eshop each time you boot it up. And fatalities... hey, that gives me another idea...

Super Smash Bros XTREME!

If you weren't aware, the conceit of Smash is that the game is all in the imagination of a little kid playing with toy figurines, smashing them together in an act of hilarious cartoon violence. Well... little kids grow up. And their taste in violence gets more, uh... mature. If Smash is the imagination of a rambunctious grade-schooler, what about the imagination of an angsty teenager? There'd be an option in the settings menu to turn off blood. Probably.


So those are a few ideas. Do I think any of these are likely? Not at all. The important thing is that the series tries something new.

And also that it revamps its menus--those things are a pain to navigate.

That's what I think anyway,