Super Smash Bros. has earned its keep as one of Nintendo’s featured titles along with Zelda and Mario. Fans of Smash come time and time again for the promise of new characters, new stages, new music, and new items you’ll spam endlessly after you’ve rolled to the edge of the stage. People’s childhood video game icons come together to endlessly punch the crap out of each other was a dream come true. Sonic beating up Snake, Mario, and Link is beautifully ridiculous. No game embodied the litany of video game icons and the antics that come with Smash more than Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U.
Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U, or the more aptly named Smash 4, had a roster leaked very early in its life cycle with a peculiar screenshot off the 3DS version. Many people on the internet refuted the evidence as a fake leak for the benefit of clicks and likes. It was later found out the screenshot had truth to it as characters like Duck Hunt, Pac-Man, and Mega Man had reportedly joined the cast. The unbelievable ride that competitors would ensue was one none of us saw coming.
After the game’s initial release on October 3rd of 2014 (September 13th for Japan), the competitive scene was already losing their mind from things that were deemed “OP” (over powered) and “broken.” Certain characters had properties that seemed to drive the balance of power in their favor. Some of the complaints included Fox being able to double-jab characters almost infinitely and could confirm it into a kill move. Diddy Kong could completely cancel his hitstun by hitting the neutral special button and could act almost immediately after it. Mega Man could escape nearly any combo by mashing the up special button. Link could trap characters by cancelling his jab with a crouch and use it to combo into a kill confirm. Wario could completely reverse all his knockback with something called “Wectoring.” I could keep going for hours with the ridiculous glitches and seemingly unfair character advantages. Luckily, Sakurai and his team were able to do something that had never been seen in Smash: patches.
In previous iterations, any unfair advantage or glitch was there to stay, and the competitive scene made the most of it…with reluctance in some cases. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was a game in desperate need of patches as one character completely broke the game in every aspect: Meta Knight. Meta Knight was far and away the best character to a point where he was banned in Brawl by some tournament organizers. Many players who played other characters felt as though they had to play Meta Knight or risk never winning. Unfortunately, so many top players played the character that the ban was the cause of a premature death of Brawl. This is one example as to why patches in Smash 4 were not only monumental but needed for the life of the competitive scene.
Patches in Smash were something that added completely new dynamics to the Smash atmosphere. It let the competitive scene have a bigger voice as Smash 4 would be in the public eye of not only the fans and fellow competitors, but also Sakurai and his team. Sakurai could now observe and see how certain characters used their tools and make changes that he saw fit. Patches also added a sense of excitement to people who felt their character could use a buff to get better…or dread for people who already played good characters. Patches became one of the main reasons for shifts in the meta of Smash 4. In the early stages, Diddy Kong and Sheik dominated the game. Diddy had a down throw to up aerial combo dubiously named the “Hoo Hah.” This combo not only would stack damage quickly, but the combo could kill the opponent at obscene percentages. Sheik had one of the very few guaranteed 50/50 setups in Smash. Her down throw to up aerial would force an opponent to either airdodge or wait and then airdodge, jump or attack. If the opponent guessed wrong, then they most likely lost their stock. These tools wouldn’t make a character great on their own, yet these characters also had powerful tools at their disposal in other ways and these moves were icing on top of a butt-kicking cake. The months following called for Diddy to be nerfed through patches whereas in Brawl, this Diddy would have been here to stay. Sheik was a character with a high ceiling, yet the character was hard to master and made people feel losing to her was somehow fair. Sakurai came through for the disgruntled community and eventually did nerf Diddy. The “Hoo Hah” was dead, but the character’s overall feel and tools remained the same. Sheik would also see many nerfs later in the game, but also retained her overall feel. This provided so much to the community as a scene that rose up from nothing and made a party game into a fighting game. The people finally felt heard and respected. Their voice carried more weight as expert play testers of Smash.
As the patches continued, characters like Luigi and Greninja were nerfed while characters like Mewtwo and Bowser saw buffs that would make them viable in the competitive scene. In addition to these patches changing characters’ properties, some patches brought new DLC characters with them. Fan favorites of previous Smash game were brought back in with Lucas, Roy, and Mewtwo being added. Sakurai then added Ryu from Street Fighter, Corrin from the newest Fire Emblem game at the time, Bayonetta from the self-titled games, and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 which never appeared on a Nintendo console. These additions brought new life to an already sprawling competitive scene. Ryu was unique to Smash as he still retained Street Fighter mechanics, such as inputting half-circle forward for a Fireball and the “Z” formation for a Shoryuken. Corrin added a projectile and unparalleled range to a sword character to where recklessly approaching became a nightmare. Cloud could charge his Limit and once fully charged turned his specials into kill moves. As much as these characters added to Smash, none would be more controversial than infamous than Bayonetta.
Platinum Game’s Bayonetta is one of the touchy subjects in Smash to discuss. The character’s inception brought a smorgasbord of issues and complaints from nearly every Smash community member. If you have ever played a Bayonetta game, you would see Bayo’s main strength is her ability to combo people to seemingly no end while sometimes juggling enemies in the air. Platinum Games is well known for this as they also developed the Devil May Cry series, a game also very combo heavy and action packed. Sakurai has stated in a previous interview about Smash 64 that the atmosphere of the game and characters had to be the focus and not so much the fighting game mechanics. Sakurai states, “You have to have some main characters in a fighting game, and when you line up character 1, 2, 3 and so on, the main characters end up blurring together. With a game for the arcade, it’s ok for character development to take a backseat since players are content with the fighting…for the home console however, you have to set up the general…atmosphere of the gaming world right from the start or else the game suffers. That’s why I asked to use Nintendo characters.” From the start, Bayo was bound to be combo heavy or fans of her game would be disappointed to see she lost some of the gusto that made her popular. This gusto ended up being the bane of Smash 4, as her combos could take people’s stocks starting at 0%. At any point, Bayo could land one of her many combo starting moves and convert it into a guaranteed death no matter what. Plenty of Smash figureheads called for the complete ban of the character or a very heavy nerf as many top players planned on using her if nothing could be done. Players also felt any person who picked up the character was “carried” by Bayo and not by their talent and skill level. There were even claims the game would die just like Brawl if the problem wasn’t addressed.
Luckily, Sakurai heard the pleas and nerfed Bayo in a multitude of areas. Some moves had increased knockback making it harder for Bayo to combo from them, such as her dive kick. This certainly changed the character for the better, but Bayo still retained several ways to kill you from low percentages along with having moves that felt like a “get out of jail free” card. Bayonetta has two mechanics that can get you out of combos and even capitalize afterwards: Bat Within and Witch Time. Bat Within was activated if you hit the dodge button at the exact frame before you get hit, turning Bayo into a group of bats that would avoid the attack and only take half the damage. Witch Time was a counter that would slow down time for the opponent for three seconds, allowing Bayo to set up a kill move or a devastating combo. The cries of people saying Bayo carried players and would never go away. To add fuel to the fire, many players who played Bayonetta shared her love of being dramatic and boisterous. Players such as CaptainZack, Mistake, and Lima would look to embarrass their opponent and follow it up with several in-game taunts. In Zack’s case, he would sometimes pose in real life after a win. These people added personalities and more villains to the community, which sorely lacked in that department.
Smash 4 was dominated by Gonzalo Barrios aka ZeRo. ZeRo’s unrelenting ability to win made him the indisputable best Smash 4 player ever, but his constant winning made him a villain in his own right. Though he was a villain, he was very well respected, and every top player loved him as person. The other top players all got along with each other, so the game suffered for lack of rivalries and people to root against…except ZeRo. Nearly every tournament, the focus was “Will ZeRo not win?” which, in hindsight, is an unbelievable feat for ZeRo. Once Bayo started to win a fair share of tournaments, ZeRo became the hero that no one knew they wanted. In some ways, the community benefitted from this feud. ZeRo and Bayonetta started to make headlines in publications such as Kotaku and Polygon, although sometimes for the wrong reasons.
As Smash 4 entered into its waning years, ZeRo called it quits for a number of reasons. Gonzalo felt that the competitive scene was becoming more of a struggle than something he enjoyed. Part of that came from the hate and vitriol people had for him from his utter domination. Part of it came from the inclusion of DLC characters that made it tougher for him to enjoy competing. Another part came from being tired of all the travelling to fight against characters he already didn’t enjoy playing against. Smash 4 got its wish, but at a price. Smash 4 started fall off in viewership once ZeRo retired as the game seemed to be centered around Bayo and despising her. Many future Top 8’s would include two-three Bayonetta players. Tweek, a top 3 player who originally played Bowser Jr. and Cloud, even played more Bayonetta as time went on. Some accused him of turning his back on the community for picking the hated character. The controversy surrounding Bayonetta only died down once Smash Ultimate was announced in March of 2018 during a Nintendo Direct. That announcement came at a good time, as many people were unsure how long Smash 4 would last in such a toxic state.
The history of Smash 4 was one that came with a new normal in patches and DLC characters, hate for characters and players alike, and one of the strangest arcs in competitive gaming. Through all the strangeness surrounding Smash 4, it is a game that many people will miss. The excitement of an upcoming character and the speculation surrounding it through leaks while the game was out was an interesting and fun-filled part of Smash 4. Some of the greatest Smash tournaments ever happened along the way such as Civil War, Genesis 3, and Frostbite 2017 where the diversity of the cast really shined as we saw characters like Link, Lucario, and Villager do well. Even Bayonetta and all the drama that came with it added an interesting wrinkle to Smash 4, despite what others may tell you. Through all this, Smashers came out on top because of their new-found voice. In Ultimate, Sakurai has already shown us that the community’s passion and drive was rewarded with several changes that are welcome to the competitive scene. Sakurai even put characters such as Ridley and King K. Rool into the game, which were characters that had been speculated since Brawl. Smash 4’s life may not have been pretty, but it seems almost fitting that it ended up that way. Just as Smash has always been, Smash 4 was a beautifully ridiculous game to watch and we wouldn’t have it any other way.