Posted by Bryson ?B_Ja_Rob? Roberts? May 14, 2019 at 6:35 p.m. PDT
With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate only a few months away, the fighting game community is once again mired in the recurring debate: does Smash Bros. belong in the Fighting Game Community? Smash Bros. certainly is a peculiar case. Unlike most other games in the FGC, the Smash Bros. series started out with its own separate community, but got absorbed into the greater FGC much later on. Still, a vocal portion of the FGC feels Smash Bros. has no place in the community, let alone a stage presence at major tournaments like EVO.
So, let?s look at three major factors that generally qualify a game to be part of the FGC ? especially at the tournament level ? and see if Super Smash Bros. makes the cut.
1. IS THERE AN AUDIENCE?
The Smash Bros. games have had some of the highest viewer counts of any game for every tournament it is featured in. Using EVO?s stats since 2013, Smash Bros. Melee has been one of ? if not THE most ? watched game of the tournament. Super Smash Bros. for WiiU has also performed better than most of the main stage games at every EVO it has been featured in.
The Smash Bros. series is also one of the most successful fighting game series in terms of copies sold. Super Smash Bros. for WiiU sold 14.85 million copies, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has already sold 13.81 million copies. By way of comparison, Mortal Kombat X sold 11 million copies, Tekken 7 has sold over 3 million, and Street Fighter V has only 2.1 million copies sold. Considering that all these competitors are multi-platform, the success of the Smash Bros. series is unrivalled.
In short, Smash Bros. not only has an audience, it arguably has the largest audience of the entire FGC.
2. DOES THE GAMEPLAY WORK FOR THE COMPETITIVE SCENE?
The FGC is a dedicated enthusiast community; the bar for entry is very high. For a game to fit in this community, there is an expectation that the game must meet a certain level of mechanical breadth and depth in order to be worthy. Plenty of excellent games fall short this standard.
Dive Kick is certainly a highly technical game, but so mechanics-deprived that it was little more than a novelty. Fantasy Strike is undoubtedly a fighting game, but its lack of technical depth prevented its acceptance in the FGC.
Hype for a game is built around expert-level players executing expert-level tech, and Smash Bros. is as perfect an example of this as you can find. High-level Smash Bros. gameplay, especially for Melee, is extremely technical. Just watch or listen to the controller of a Melee player and you?ll realize the astronomical number of frame-perfect inputs and split-second decisions necessary for tournament play.
3. IS IT IN THE ?FIGHTING GAME? GENRE?
This might seem the most ?no duh? parameter yet, but the question over what genre Smash Bros. belongs is the most debated element of its inclusion in the FGC. What does it take to be a ?fighting game?, and does Smash Bros. qualify?
WHAT IS GENRE, ANYWAY?
Both inside and outside of gaming, the answer is elusive. The method of defining and organizing media by genre has never been codified, so the process is fairly subjective. People often assume you just look at the elements that make up a piece of media and use that to define its genre. However, this method often leads to confusing, overly specific, or outright misleading classifications. For example, you can?t say that just because a movie is filled with jokes it must be a comedy. Otherwise, every Marvel movie would be a comedy.
Video games genres are mostly defined by the problematic method of using mechanics to define genre ? such as platformers, FPSs, and RPGs. This system inappropriately lumps together wildly different games. For example, Mass Effect, Gears of War, and Resident Evil 4 all fall under the ?third-person shooter? genre despite having little else in common.
Instead of only looking at the parts that make up a game, a more accurate way to classify video games would be to look at the whole experience delivered to figure out genre. The primary experience we want from a Marvel movie is exciting action, which is why they are classified appropriately as ?action? movies. Mass Effect makes most sense as an RPG, Gears of War as a military shooter, and Resident Evil 4 as a horror game.
To figure out if Smash Bros. is a fighting game, rather than looking at its mechanics, we need to look at the kind of experience we want to derive from it and see if that matches up with other fighting games.
WHAT MAKE A FIGHTING GAME?
There is an excellent video called ?Aesthetics of Play? that lists nine fundamental reasons ? or ?aesthetics? ? for playing a game. The two aesthetics most important to fighting games are Competition and Challenge. Competition is the desire to show dominance over another player, whereas Challenge is the desire to master a game?s mechanics. The emphasis on Challenge is primarily what separates fighting games from other genres.
For the average player, Smash Bros. isn?t played as a fighting game. Generally, people who play Smash never engage in the Challenge aesthetic. It is the chaotic, anyone-can-win experience that draws most people to Smash Bros. Random items, overpowered Pokmon and assist trophies, and stage hazards all make Smash Bros. play more like a party game than a fighting game. However, when you remove these chaotic elements, Challenge then becomes a core aesthetic. In the barebones game modes, then, Smash Bros. more closely resembles a true fighting game.
THAT SAKURAI QUOTE
According to Masahiro Sakurai, creator and director for every Smash Bros. game, Smash Bros. isn?t a fighting game. He has said this multiple times over several years. This is often viewed as the nail-in-the-coffin argument for opponents of Smash. After all, if the creator himself doesn?t think it?s a fighting game, who are we to argue otherwise?
Well, context is key here. The first time Sakurai said this was back in 2006 in an interview with Nintendo Power. At the time, he was asked how there could be so much interest in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Brawl during a time when no one cared about fighting games anymore. Sakurai responds that the design philosophy behind Brawl was to create something conventionally different from a typical fighting game.
Then, in an interview with Gamespot in 2013, Sakurai elaborated on why he doesn?t see Smash Bros. as a fighting game.
?I think the idea of the fighting game genre can be somewhat limiting?. as soon as you define your game specifically in those terms, you start limiting your creative range because you?re thinking of the limitations of that genre.?
Perhaps a more accurate summary of Sakurai?s words would instead be to say he thinks Smash Bros. isn?t merely a fighting game.
The design of these games shows that the developers? ambition is to reach all kinds of audiences, from casual to professional. While Brawl may have been designed to focus more on casual players, Smash for WiiU and Smash Ultimate were designed with competitive play in mind. Why else would they bother with frequent balance patches?
Using the three parameters above, Super Smash Bros. easily qualifies to be a part of the FGC. It is understandable how frustrating it can be to see a game you don?t like or value hold such a place of prominence. However, Smash Bros. has earned the right to be in the FGC, and has greatly improved the community with its presence. Its unique approach to a genre that for decades was defined exclusively by Street Fighter should not be dismissed. Smash brings a ton of hype to every tournament, and helps the FGC grow. The Super Smash Bros. games are fantastic additions to the fighting game genre and community.