When word came down that every veteran of the Super Smash Bros. series would be returning in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, fans were understandably ecstatic. Not only does that mean that long-awaited newcomers like Ridley and Inkling are joining the fray, but previously axed veterans like Ice Climbers, Snake, and even Wolf are set to return as well. It’s an absolute dream scenario for longtime followers of the franchise, as Smash Bros. Ultimate is set to offer the greatest fan service in gaming in the eyes of many.
There is, of course, a rather divisive catch that some competitive fans are less than thrilled about: the necessity of unlocking fighters.
During Ultimate‘s formal unveiling at E3 2018 it was confirmed that the “starting roster may be as small as the original Nintendo 64 game,” prompting tournament goers to voice their concerns about such a decision. Since the initial roster for that title was eight characters (12 after unlocking four hidden mascots), the thought of going through the paces to earn dozens upon dozens of combatants makes it more difficult for tournament organizers that need to provide competitors with the entirety of the roster for use.
Indeed, easy access is preferred for those actively keeping the competitive scene thriving, but I see another side to this decision. I believe that opting to have the bulk of the 65-character cast (with more likely to join) earned rather than given to gamers makes the experience a significantly deeper one for solo players trekking through the crossover-fuelled brawler – adding more value to fans by rewarding them for the time they’ve put into Ultimate.
I find a sense of excitement in the idea behind growing the cast at my leisure because it gives me something to do in between sessions where my Donkey Kong windmill punches a dear friend’s Pikachu Libre.
The ease of earning each fighter this time around was emphasized by series creator Masahiro Sakurai during the aforementioned E3 2018 showcase, stating that “we’ve streamlined the conditions for unlocking fighters and we want to make the process interesting so it feels like you are constantly recruiting popular characters to your side.”
A fair point to be sure, and a promising one for fight fans concerned that they’ll have to invest countless hours into earning the ability to play as their favourite mascot. The more streamlined the process of earning fighters is, the faster the character selection screen will grow, but there’s another major reason that having earn-able characters is a wonderful idea. That is because, well, frankly, it’s a hallmark of the series.
Outside of the now infamous ‘Falcon Punch’ maneuver, few things are more iconic to fans of Smash than the “Challenger Approaching” screen that has been flashing prior to every hidden fighter’s in-game emergence dating back to the series’ debut on Nintendo 64. It’s mocked, adored and meme’d by the community, but the silhouettes that accompany this screen (combined with the wailing of a siren) engages a primal sense of excitement.
Yes, we’ve encountered a new foe, but the real challenge is only just beginning. Now there’s the necessity of beating the challenger in order to recruit them, and these fights are an absolute thrill. They may not always go in favour of the human player (heck, I can admit that I lost to Dark Pit twice before earning him in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS), but there’s a legitimate sense of accomplishment after the one-stock challenge has wrapped up and a new character is available on the select screen.
Given Sakurai’s desire to include every past fighter from Smash‘s history, the need to unlock each combatant (beginning with the original characters) speaks to the tribute he’s hoping to pay longtime fans. In many ways Ultimate is a love letter to those that have stuck by the series since its debut in 1999, and ensures that these same people are able to recapture a little bit of the excitement they felt when first learning of the inclusion for each and every character that’s appeared throughout every iteration of Super Smash Bros. is something special.
Perhaps the nostalgia of reliving each character reveal appears as a gimmick to some, but it means something to me; perhaps it means something for others as well.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrives exclusively for Nintendo Switch on December 7, 2018.
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