The Ultimate Showdown…and Ultimate Uncertainty

FROM THE AUTHOR
So…it’s been almost four months since my last piece. Whoops!

Sorry about that. The thing is, life’s been busy for me lately, what with trying to find a permanent job and all. I recently worked a short-term job that finished a while ago, so I’ve been trying to get my writer’s groove back in the meantime. I won’t make any specific promises, but I should be updating this a bit more regularly from here on. I apologize once again for the lull in writing, and hope you enjoy this latest piece!


(Video courtesy of Nintendo’s official YouTube page)

2018 is the year of “Ambitious Crossovers.” In a year that has seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe come together to challenge its greatest threat, and the universes of BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY all collide in a world-bending tag team tournament, Nintendo is ready to answer with its biggest multiverse mashup ever later this year.


Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was the Big N’s tentpole title for E3 2018. Its biggest draw is the fact that it brings back every single character from the series’ twenty-year history, while adding in a few new faces to keep things fresh. Metroid’s Ridley, long-thought to be ineligible due to his towering stature, joins the cast alongside the Inkling from Splatoon, with the two of them being the only whole-new characters as of this writing. Meanwhile, Princess Daisy from the Super Mario series debuts as what’s known as an “Echo Character,” a character that has similar traits to another (Peach, in this instance) while also having enough uniqueness to work as a standalone entity.

When considering the re-addition of returning lost characters, the likes of which include Wolf O’ Donnell from Star Fox and Solid Snake from Metal Gear, the total number for this roster is a staggering 65, though the game’s official website suggests that there may be at least one more newcomer waiting in the wings for later. On top of that, the game is also set to feature mechanical tweaks that are sure to thrill competitive enthusiasts.

Indeed, Smash Bros. Ultimate is looking to be the definitive experience across the board. The evolution of the series from its humble Nintendo 64 roots has absolutely lead to this, a culmination of Masahiro Sakurai’s near-twenty years of work on the Super Smash Bros. franchise. With all of that being said, however, that just leaves one question:

Where does the series go from here?


Yeah, I get it. Ultimate was only announced a few days ago, so why speculate now? Well, for one thing, it’s fun. It’s also a valid question to ask even now; Nintendo showed the most important card in its hand, and despite the game being half a year away from its December release, it’s still something worth pondering. Maybe it’s too early to start speculating the future of Super Smash Bros. as a series beyond Ultimate. In fact, it could be argued that it’s poor form. But the fact of the matter is that Nintendo will have to address this question at some point.

So with that said, while there are plenty of possibilities for what could happen to the series after Ultimate, let’s focus on two.


The first is that the game becomes a “platform,” title, meaning it gets updated regularly with new fighters, stages, and cosmetics like costumes; basically, think along the lines of League of Legends and Overwatch. (And no, that would not necessarily mean resorting to using a Lootbox-style system.) This would ensure that the game not only sees life past Day One, but each new character released has a chance to shake up the metagame, and would be adding to a roster that is already the strongest the series has ever seen, and that’s regardless of whether they’re entirely new, or an Echo Character.

Of course, it’s not the rosiest option. The main challenge in making Ultimate a platform is that Nintendo would need to devote more time and energy into supporting it. Sure, they’ve supported games like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, ARMS, and the first two Splatoon games past their eventual releases, but those were only for so long. It’s not impossible, but the idea of keeping the game alive indefinitely with regular updates sounds taxing for Sakurai, a man who has been known for working himself to the bone. Also, Nintendo would likely want members of Ultimate’s development team to work on other upcoming titles; granted, I don’t foresee Nintendo being in danger of stretching themselves thin, but keeping fresh minds available for future projects would be the smarter route to take.


Then there’s the second option, which would likely be the most divisive amongst the entire community, both competitive and casual alike: Reboot the series. This is a particularly-loaded idea, as it would mean doing a few different things, but amongst many other things:

  • Pairing the roster down to a select list of Nintendo’s best and brightest.
  • Renovating some of the old characters like Mario with new sets of skills.
  • Introducing potential new universal mechanics to freshen up the gameplay.
  • Maintaining a fine balance between competitive and casual appeal.

Obviously, Nintendo doesn’t necessarily need to go whole-hog if they decide to hit the reset button on Super Smash Bros., though it could be argued that some aspects such as specific character movesets feel a bit long in the tooth. That said, the series could stand to benefit from some changes and additions to make it feel new again. It should be noted that characters in Ultimate have received some significant adjustments, such as Link receiving a moveset centered on his incarnation from Breath of the Wild, but for other characters whose kits might not have been changed as much over the generations, some retooling could go a long way.

The idea of rebuilding the entire series from the ground up could be risky, and turn into a hot-button issue for some fans of the series. Most fans may be afraid of their favorite character(s) being left off the initial roster, or in a worse-case scenario, not being included at all. Fighting game franchises like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are no strangers to losing old faces with new entries, and people do get upset when their favorite is nowhere to be seen. But especially in the case of Super Smash Bros., which features some of the most iconic gaming names in the world, people may not take kindly to their favorite being left in the dust.


To reiterate, maybe speculating the series’ future in a post-Ultimate world at this point is premature, but it’s something I can’t help but wonder about. While the thought of bringing back every single character from the series’ history is awe-inspiring and wonderful, it does leave the future of the series a bit hazy. I don’t think Nintendo has to answer this question immediately, but at some point…whether it’s during the Switch era or sometime after…they’ll have to. Super Smash Bros. has become a household name for them, and it’s clear that Ultimate is the zenith of Sakurai’s work. So it does beg the question of where the series goes next.

For now, though, let’s bask in the fact that the most ambitious crossover in the history of media is just on the horizon.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Advertisements

The Evo Lineup Cometh Again

The first-ever Evo Japan delayed the announcement of the main Evo World Championship tournament series lineup by about two weeks. That didn’t stop it from being any less exciting, or in some cases, controversial.


Primed for the first weekend of August, Evo 2018 had its official lineup unveiled by the tandem of Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar and Mark “MarkMan” Julio back on February 6th. This year features a blend of the usual suspects and some new challengers, which includes:

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition
Tekken 7
Injustice 2
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle
Dragon Ball FighterZ

The majority of this lineup has been featured at Evos past, so most of it will be familiar to many. Street Fighter has been one of the defining fixtures of the tournament series since its early days as Battle by the Bay, so there was no way it wouldn’t show up. Also, with the Arcade Edition update of Street Fighter V coming out at the beginning of this year, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be closing out Evo.

Injustice 2 made its way to the Evo roster just last year, so it’s still relatively recent. But a bevy of balance updates and all-new downloadable fighters, including the likes of Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, should shake up the metagame substantially. Of course, there’s a good chance we’ll see Dominique “SonicFox” McClean of Echo Fox somewhere in the finals again, but let’s not get into bold predictions just yet.

Guilty Gear Xrd and Tekken 7 have been a part of the main Evo lineup since 2015, and yearly updates to both have changed the experience each year. With a total roster rebalancing coming to Rev2 next month, and Final Fantasy XV’s Noctis Caelum coming to Tekken 7 at some point in the Spring following the game’s most recent addition, The King of Fighters’ Geese Howard, that shouldn’t change this year.

Finally on the returning titles, both Smash Bros. in the main lineup is still a polarizing point of contention, as I’ve made clear before. In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’s initial year, I could understand having Melee on the main lineup. However, now that the game has proven to stand well-enough on its own in regards to entrants and viewership, that should no longer be the case. Just last year, the Smash Bros. U finals featured a thrilling grand final set between current champion Saleem “Salem” Young and recently-retired Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, a complete ten-game run where Young ultimately prevailed. Contrast that to Melee’s four-game grand final where Adam “Armada” Lindgren handily beat Joseph “Mang0” Marquez, and it paints a pretty clear picture as to which was more exciting.


The only two brand-new additions to Evo this year are Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. FighterZ making the cut doesn’t come across as a major shock, given Dragon Ball’s immense global popularity and the excitement surrounding the actual game going back to its initial E3 announcement. With how well recent FighterZ tournaments have gone, and more characters on the way in the coming months, it should make for an excellent watch.

That just leaves Cross Tag Battle as the only real surprise of the lineup, though I use the term “surprise” a bit loosely. While I’m overall glad it’s part of the main lineup, there’s something about its inclusion that hasn’t quite sat well with me. I mentioned back in my blog about the game’s controversial DLC plans that there was a sneaking suspicion of internal pressure to get the game out by Evo season. With this news, there could very well be a ring of truth to it. It’s not a bad thing, but if Evo was the reason for ASW’s release plans being what they are, it’s not exactly a good look, either. In short, it’s complicated.


One quick note: In addition to Street Fighter V: AE, traditionally the game to close out Evo, the other Sunday titles for this year include Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2, Dragon Ball FighterZTekken 7, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. While it’s a strong lineup, I’m torn on Melee’s inclusion.

I see what the Evo staff might be trying to do: The plan, provided both games find themselves on the main Evo lineup in the future, seems to be that Melee and Smash Bros. U will rotate Evo Sunday duties year to year. Still, I don’t see why the staff didn’t opt to ride the hot hand and give Smash Bros. U another go-round on Evo Sunday, given how phenomenal the game’s finals were last year. There’s more I could go into, but I’ll save that for a potential later entry.


By this point, you might be wondering: “Where’s Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite?”

For the first time since its introduction at Battle by the Bay 2000, the Marvel vs. Capcom series will not be on the main docket. Naturally, this has become the biggest story of the whole reveal show, yet there hasn’t been a concrete answer as to why. Cuellar said that player support for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite “fizzled,” which is a rubbish statement when you consider the fact that entry numbers for the game have landed within the top five of every single major tournament it’s been in since launch.

However, tournament turnouts only tell half the story. The other half, to be blunt, is the fact that Infinite tanked. While many agree that the gameplay lives up to the series’ pedigree, they also mention that everything else does not. Between dull visuals, a roster with a handful of issues (leaning too heavily on the previous entry and banking on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success being chief among them), sparse single-player content, and questionable PR management in the months leading up to the game, the game has not been all that well-received, and is likely the reason why Infinite will be regulated to a side tournament at best.

While it’s not unreasonable to think that Marvel told Capcom to not lobby for the game in the main lineup as Julio suggested, I think there’s another possibility to consider. Perhaps Capcom realizes that they dropped the ball on Infinite, and are working behind the scenes to do something to improve it. Wishful thinking, to be sure, but I like to keep all possibilities on the table.


All things considered, I’m willing to say that this year’s Evo lineup is looking to be one of the stronger ones, even without the presence of Marvel vs. Capcom on the main roster. Granted, I do think it’s a bit heavy on the anime fighters, with three as opposed to two like they tend to carry. Otherwise, Evo 2018 should be an interesting experience. All that’s left to do now is count down the months and get ready for the next battle.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Where Have All the Smash Bros. Gone?

2017 has, so far, seen Nintendo return to the high life again, thanks in large part to the success of its newest all-in-one console, the Switch. From its modest launch lineup headlined by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the system has amassed an all-star library of games, ranging from new franchises to pleasant surprises. What’s more is that there are plenty more amazing titles on the way for 2018.

Yet, there’s one entry that’s still missing from the Switch’s already-vast catalogue. One that everyone has expected Nintendo to unveil at one point or another, and so far, it hasn’t happened.

(Video courtesy of the official Nintendo YouTube Page)

The Super Smash Bros. franchise is one of Nintendo’s crown jewels, a fantastical compilation of the Big N’s extensive history brought to life in the form of a platform-based fighting game. It also holds the distinction as both a fun party brawler for Saturday evenings with friends, and a competitive juggernaut for tournament-level players. Much like many of Nintendo’s other franchises, Super Smash Bros. has a little something for everyone.

With each new Nintendo console starting from the 64 era, a new Smash Bros. title has graced it. Melee was the king of the Gamecube (and is still a fixture of tournaments today), Brawl was one of the Wii’s finest, and the more-recent Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS took the series even higher on two systems; the Wii U version, much like Melee, also sees regular time as a tournament fixture. Now that the Wii U era has come and gone, the world turns its eyes to the Switch.


There have been a handful of major events this year where many expected Smash Bros. to make its presence on the Switch officially known to the world. The pre-release Switch event held in January showed off much of the system’s library, including the debut of Nintendo’s newest franchise ARMS, and next month’s Super Mario Odyssey. Sadly, Smash Bros. was not among the titles shown off.

E3 in June showed off even more for the Switch, with games like Kirby: Star Allies and a new Yoshi’s Woolly World sequel, and the more recent Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle, which has been met with critical acclaim thus far. Once again, however, Smash Bros. was nowhere to be seen.

Some even thought that the Evolution World Championship fighting game tournament series could have been a perfect stage to show off a new title, especially with Smash Bros. for Wii U’s Top 8 getting an extra signal boost on Disney XD. Of course, Nintendo wasn’t even officially there.

There have also been smaller Nintendo Directs where people have predicted the game to show up, but those seem too small in scope for the reveal of a series entry as grandiose as this.

So, with almost a quarter of 2017 left to go and many of the bigger gaming events in the rear-view, the question arises: When will we see Super Smash Bros. on the Switch?


It should be noted that this isn’t a question of whether or not the Switch will see a new entry in the series. At this point, a Super Smash Bros. entry on the Switch is as safe a bet as the Golden State Warriors winning the Western Conference in the NBA this coming season. This is more of a matter of when this new entry will see the light of day.

Also, I’m ruling out the possibility of this entry simply being a high-definition remake of Super Smash Bros. Melee, perhaps the most-beloved entry in the series by the hardcore crowd. Granted, this could happen at some point in the far-flung future, as Nintendo has some understanding of how big competitive Melee is. Not to mention, an HD remake could go a long way towards bringing the title into the future minus the CRT televisions many tournaments still use today. As far as the immediate future goes, however, an HD Melee is not in the cards.

That being said, the more-likely scenario is that this is a port of the Wii U and 3DS games, in line with the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Pokken Tournament DX. All of the content from the previous games returns, including downloadable content such as characters and Mii Fighter costume parts, while also adding in some new goodies like brand-new characters, stages, and even game modes if possible.

Of course, this port wouldn’t necessarily need much more given how jam-packed the previous game was, but it never hurts to dream, right?


In any event, let’s get back to the question at hand. And as far as I can tell, there are two possibilities as to when we will see Super Smash Bros. make its Switch debut. The first, as luck would have it, is actually coming up very soon.

(Video courtesy of the official Nintendo YouTube page)

As of this writing, we are a week away from the third Nintendo World Championships tournament, the third in its history and first since 2015, when it was held prior to E3 that year. In the past, the Nintendo World Championships have been known to pull out one last surprise for the finale; the very first one showed off Super Mario Bros. 3, and the second showed off Super Mario Maker. So it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the fate of the NWC title come down to a few rounds of Smash Bros. on the Switch.

The other possibility ties into another scenario that runs opposite of my first one: This game may not be a port of the previous games, but an all-new entry that won’t be out until 2019. That might seem far-flung, but keep in mind that 2019 is the series’ 20th anniversary, and Nintendo will likely want to celebrate it in style given how big it’s gotten over the years, both casually and competitively. And while it may seem like a long wait, the Switch is seeing no shortage of great games coming out over the next year, and there very well could be even more big titles beyond what we know of waiting in the wings. By that logic, it’s not like Nintendo is in dire need of a new Smash Bros. to bolster its sales.


Ultimately, I don’t know when it will happen, or what exactly it will be. For all I know, it could be either a bulked-up port, or a fresh entry to the series. It may come next year, or the year after. But mark my words; Smash Bros. will come to the Switch at some point in time. Right now, it’s all a matter of “Wait-and-See.”

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Eight Crazy Games…Plus One TBD

The pillars are set for video gaming’s biggest competitive stage…almost.

At the beginning of the month, I talked about what I thought was going to be announced for titles at the Evolution World Championship, easily one of the biggest video game-based competitions in the world today. Recently, the head of the tournament series, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, announced the 2017 lineup on a livestream.

How right was I? Well, first let’s take a look at what my predictions were:
Street Fighter V
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Killer Instinct
King of Fighters XIV
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
Injustice 2
Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator OR BlazBlue: Central Fiction
A “Day Zero” Super Smash Bros. Melee exhibition tournament

As for the official lineup, Cuellar revealed eight official games:
Street Fighter V
Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Injustice 2
BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
King of Fighters XIV

There will be one more game, but we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s talk about what’s officially there.


So, the lineup is almost exactly what I was predicting it would be. Street Fighter V was the ultimate gimmie pick since Street Fighter is a cornerstone series for the tournament. The new characters coming in the months leading up to Evo (as well as any balance changes if Capcom decides to answer the players’ call) will surely shake up the metagame, and it’s absolutely sure to be a part of the Capcom Pro Tour once again. Whether it’ll get primetime broadcasting on ESPN again is still to be determined, but with how well it worked out last year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see.

Tekken 7, King of Fighters XIV, and Injustice 2 were all games I was expecting to be there, considering all three series have a past history with Evo. From what I’ve been hearing, King of Fighters XIV has been doing well in terms of tournament attendance and viewership, and considering the series hasn’t been featured on the main Evo lineup since 2013, it’ll be nice to have it back. The same can be said for Tekken 7, though now it’ll be on console as opposed to being limited to an arcade cabinet.

For Injustice 2, it’s still fairly early to say whether or not it’s going to do well since it hasn’t come out yet, but I would imagine we’ll get some decent character variety with the game still being fairly fresh. (It was announced by NetherRealm Studios prior to the lineup reveal that Injustice 2 would be launching in May as opposed to April, which is when they traditionally release their new titles; this means that the metagame will only be about two months young by Evo.)

One of the interesting things about this lineup of games is that we didn’t get either Guilty Gear or BlazBlue, but instead we wound up with both games on the main lineup. It’s hard to say how I feel about this. On the one hand, both series are incredibly fun to watch, and they each have their place in Evo lore for different reasons. (Part of 2015’s Guilty Gear top 8 was featured on SportsCenter while BlazBlue had one of the most emotional grand final sets a year before.) At the same time, however, it feels a bit redundant having two “anime fighters” on the main block, especially when you consider that they’re both created by the same developer. Honestly, I’m torn on this one.

What I’m not torn on is my stance when it comes to Super Smash Bros.’ presence at Evo. I still stand by the notion that Melee should’ve been given a Day Zero exhibition tournament instead of being given a full-blown tournament, because everybody knows that it’s going to come down to one of Melee’s Five Gods or Leffen. Moreso, one of them is going to end up winning it all. I’m sure it’ll be fun to watch, as competitive Melee always is, but knowing the probable winner takes some of the excitement away.

That being said, I’m very glad that Smash Bros. for Wii U got a spot on Evo Sunday. The game has come into its own over the course of the year, with different names rising to the top from tournament to tournament. Despite a few technical hiccups and other issues (which I may discuss later), Smash Bros. for Wii U has shown that it can hang with Melee in terms of views and excitement. Now, it has a chance to truly prove itself as a worthy Evo Sunday title.

Overall, it’s not a bad lineup at all. Are there things that I would change about the lineup? For sure, but I’m not going to pout about it because there’s not a whole lot I can say on the matter that will actually change anything.

…Oh, right. There was one more game, wasn’t there?


Five years ago, Cuellar left the last game up to the players through a fundraiser contest; the game that received the most donations towards breast cancer research would be the final game at Evo 2013. The winning title, as fate would have it, was Super Smash Bros. Melee, which barely beat out Skullgirls and Super Street Fighter II: Turbo in the closing minutes.

The contest is coming back again this year. All proceeds will be going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation this time, and whichever game wins not only becomes the ninth game at Evo, but will lead off Evo Sunday ahead of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, Tekken 7, and the traditional closer in Street Fighter V. The candidates include:

Super Street Fighter II: Turbo
Mortal Kombat XL
Skullgirls
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Killer Instinct
Pokken Tournament
ARMS (A title for Nintendo’s Switch)
Windjammers
Nidhogg

We have three Evo mainstays (Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat XL), a potential returning title from last year (Pokken), an absolute classic (Super Street Fighter II Turbo), an underappreciated gem (Skullgirls), an unproven title that isn’t even out yet (ARMS), and two non-fighting games as candidates (Windjammers and Nidhogg) for the final spot. It’s…an interesting lineup, to say the least.

The issue that I see here has nothing to do with any of the titles that are up for contention…though I am very surprised that UMvC3 may not be in the main lineup at all…nor does it have to do with where the money is going. I recognize that the money being donated is ultimately going to a noble cause. That being said, the larger problem with the charity drive is that it’s counter-intuitive to the main purpose of Evo.

See, the whole point of Evo is to bring fans of fighting games together under one roof. It might have seemed like a daydream once upon a time when it strictly ran Capcom fighters, but now more than ever has Evo become a unifying force for fans of all fighting games, similar to how the Olympics bring together athletes from all nations for all sports. Even with a good cause in mind, however, setting up something like this only serves to divide, not unite. There’s already been a fair deal of in-fighting among many of the games’ communities, and there’s bound to be more of it when the donation drive ends in two weeks’ time.

Community interaction is fine, I’m all for it. But when it pits communities against one-another and enables them to put down other titles while promoting their own, all of a sudden we have a problem. If anything, I would’ve preferred if the Evo team debated on the last title and decide it for themselves…or, in a worse-case scenario, just stick to eight and be prepared to catch flak from the communities that have been left out. It may be a lose-lose situation, but it beats the alternative of the other communities trashing each other in the name of their game.


Here’s the bottom line, though. Whatever qualms I may have with this year’s Evo lineup…I would’ve included Ultimate Marvel 3 and Killer Instinct over Melee and Guilty Gear Xrd personally…I think it’s still pretty solid. No matter what the last game ends up being, it’s going to be a fun weekend come the middle of July.

It’s a long wait until July, and I couldn’t be more hype.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

P.S. If anything, this is what I would’ve done for an Evo lineup:
Street Fighter V
Killer Instinct
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Injustice 2
BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
King of Fighters XIV
Windjammers (Purely for the sake of having something off-color by Evo standards)
Three “Day Zero” exhibitions: One for Super Smash Bros. Melee similar to last year’s “Battle of the Five Gods,” another for Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2, and a final one for Pokken Tournament.