This week, Complex Pop Culture staffers will write about the one pop culture event of 2014 that let them down the most, because we're all Grinches. Today, news editor Jason Duaine Hahn (Nintendo ID: JasonDuaine) explains how Super Smash Bros. for Wii U hit him like a Home-Run Bat.
After four editions and a seven-year wait since its last iteration, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was the one that did it for me. Months of teasers filled with hyped character introduction videos, an official tournament, and the release of Happy Meal toys Nintendo calls Amiibo couldn't mask the sinking feeling I got after playing Smash Wii U for about an hour. That feeling was boredom. I tried ignoring it, like when the idea of breaking up with a girlfriend materializes in your head for the very first time: Nah, I'm trippin'—this is still fun, just give it a minute. But I couldn't shake this feeling. The worst part is, I know how blasphemous I'm being right now. I'm not supposed to feel this way.
If you bought a Wii U anytime before the release of Mario Kart 8, as I did a year ago last month, you were essentially buying into a promise. The promise was that Nintendo's franchises would one day make their debut and make up for the lack of third-party titles. Mario Kart came and went, and Smash Wii U—the most anticipated title yet for the system—would round out 2014.
I was swept up in the idea that Smash Wii U would balance out the waiting I've done with the console. It doesn't. The characters on its roster? They need their own Wii U games, and most of them should've had one two years into the system's life. Falco is almost more a Smash character to me now than he is of Star Fox. This is a game the Wii U should have initially launched with—not the one meant to keep it on life support a little longer.
If the Wii U were a more well-rounded console, my disappointment in Smash Wii U wouldn't have been so acute. I would have treated it as any other fighting game, as something I play in between the more substantial titles. And yet, Smash Wii U is supposed to keep our attention for months until the next big title comes out in 2015. If this were the very first installment of Super Smash Bros., OK, fine. But it's not. We've been here before. Other than a few artistic changes, it's not that visually different from Brawl. Maybe my mistake was playing my copy of that installment (which dropped in 2008) to shake off some of the rust in anticipation of Smash arriving. I now wish I hadn't.
Smash Wii U is worthy of some praise. It looks good, plays better. Every piece anyone could have wished for is there and more polished than ever. But as I played through matches and switched new characters for old, something didn't quite click.
Smash Wii U is worthy of some praise. It looks good, plays better. Every piece anyone could have wished for is there and more polished than ever. But as I played through matches and switched new characters for old, something didn't quite click. I was trying to be wowed by the game. It's fun, but not as fun as the hype and the hopes that were built around it suggested. The eight-player matches are great madness, but it all feels forced and messy. It's as if Nintendo took a cue from Gillette and said, "Fuck it, just add more!"
Maybe it's the limitations of the fighting game genre. Perhaps it's the limitations of the Wii U hardware, or maybe it’s just the game itself. It just doesn't have the spark that came with its predecessors. There wasn't anything left to discover. This is the first time I’ve played a Super Smash Bros. and asked myself, “Is this it?” That first hour or so felt like the first five minutes of the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's Hercules when I realized that the movie’s coolest parts were all in the trailers. Not a good sign. I had more fun watching the player intro videos over the past year (and the reactions) than I did playing the actual game.
One of the reasons the original Super Smash Bros. was so great was the initial craziness of seeing Nintendo characters in a new environment. It was like seeing Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America sharing the screen for the first time in The Avengers. Fox McCloud out of his Arwing fighting Samus? Take my parents' money, now. The game was fun and fast-paced, a clean break from the other fighting games of the time like Killer Instinct Gold and Tekken. The other kids on my neighborhood block and I were glad to let GoldenEye 007 collect some dust for a bit. And when its follow-up, Melee, came out for the GameCube, I stayed up for more than 24 hours for the first time in my life. Brawl for Wii was more of the same. This is where the first spiritual Smash trilogy should have ended.
The essence of surprise I'd come to expect, whether it came from new characters or advanced graphics, has evaporated.
Nintendo should have used this year’s edition to give Smash a reboot of sorts, specifically its aesthetics (think Wind Waker), or in another way. Just having Nintendo characters on the same screen isn't cutting it for me anymore. The essence of surprise I'd come to expect, whether it came from new characters or advanced graphics, has evaporated.
Part of this is Nintendo's fault, and some of it isn't. They had to tease fans by releasing intros of characters like Mega Man, Pac Man, and Little Mac to milk the hype machine as much as they could. We needed something to be excited about. But when the game’s entire roster leaked in August, any semblance of Super Smash mystery was spoiled. There were no surprises left. Imagine if all of that was kept under wraps until a week before its release. Or, better yet, until gamers played the game and began posting about it themselves. That's not what happened. Everything that could have felt new didn't.
"All the things I embrace as new are in fact old things, re-released," Eileen Myles says in her poem "Peanut Butter." I wish I could embrace Super Smash Bros. again. My opinion is definitely in the minority. But I hope the next one will be able to complement its console instead of being burdened by the weight of carrying it.
Here's a way to fix this: Drop some surprise Smash DLC on us, Nintendo. And let it be just that—a surprise.