A Different Kind of Smash Bros.
Nintendo, as per usual has remained pretty silent about the upcoming Smash Bros. game. But they haven't been completely quiet. To catch everyone up to speed here's a quick rundown of everything we know about the game:
- There are two versions of the game in development. One for the Wii U, and one for the 3DS.
- There will be some sort of cross-platform connectivity between the two versions.
- The game is once again headed by series creator Masahiro Sakurai.
- Development started sometime after Kid Icarus: Uprising was completed earlier this year.
- The games are being developed by Sakurai's own Project Sora as well as Namco Bandai Games.
- Many of Namco's top talent are heading up certain areas of the development. These include developers from the Tekken, SoulCalibur, Tales and Ridge Racer series'.
- Sakurai has expressed interest in making the 3DS version of the game a more "personal experience" and is toying with the idea of a more robust character customization.
- Sakurai has stated that he wants to evolve the Smash Bros. formula into new territory, and that the link between the 3DS and Wii U versions will be key.
- According to Sakurai, the game may not expand the number of playable characters, as he feels it may become too difficult to balance all the fighters and keep them unique.
- Namco has produced a prototype that according to Sakurai "looks pretty good, and it's working great."
- Sakurai plans on reviving more old Nintendo characters, much in the same way he did with Ice Climbers and Pit.
- The inclusion of a Capcom character is not out of the realm of possibility.
This is pretty much the sum knowledge we common-folk have to work with. But though it may not look like much, it actually paints a rather telling picture. It is clear that Smash Bros. is about to get an overhaul. Nintendo is looking to mix it up by introducing many new elements to the series. First of all, Smash Bros. is finally coming to a handheld. This could definitely open up the play style to new areas of potential, as it allows for (as Sakurai says) a more personal experience. While I wouldn't expect the traditional play style to be totally forgotten, the focus in the 3DS version will almost certainly be on new ways to play, whether it be fighting in fully realized 3D environments, a-la Kid Icarus: Uprising's multiplayer modes, or a more fleshed out single player campaign. There is also the introduction of the touchscreen which, thanks to the Wii U's GamePad, will undoubtedly be featured in both games. How will the stylus come into play, if at all? What about all the other features the Wii U has to offer? Of course potentially the biggest change is the addition of a new development team. Namco is no newbie when it comes to fighting games, Tekken and SoulCalibur can attest to that. But those franchises are of the more traditional "arcade" variety when compared to Smash Bros. Having people come in with an outsider's perspective, especially when they come from a different background, will have a huge impact on the games. So how exactly will things change? Let's take a deeper look…
Smash Bros. on Wii U
When imagining what Smash Bros. might be like on Nintendo's new console, the most obvious implication is the increased horsepower of the hardware. It's no secret that the Wii was underpowered when compared to the other consoles of it's generation. Brawl of course didn't look bad but it left many fans wishing it was able to get the high-def treatment. Now we'll finally get an HD Smash Bros. and it will almost certainly impress. Smash is known for it's hectic battles, with often times a lot of things happening on screen at once. With four fighters, a slew of items that can fire projectiles, transform players, summon Pokémon, Assist Trophies and Final Smashes, and with stages that fly to different locations, or scroll to new areas, transform or can be destroyed, battles get absolutely chaotic. With a more powerful system comes the ability to implement a more powerful engine that can handle even more complicated situations. With a new engine, the physics could be greatly improved. Many fans were disappointed by Brawl, in that it altered the physics that many had grown accustomed to in Melee. Many complained about Brawl feeling all around too "floaty". This has even led to fans taking things into their own hands with mods like Project M that seek to restore the feel of Melee's controls. Hopefully Sakurai and his team will do as much as they can to please as many fans as possible in this regard for this next game, and the Wii U's capabilities should make that goal easier. Visually this will be the most polished Smash Bros. to date. Characters will have better textures and will move more fluidly and naturally. I'm sure it will be absolutely stunning.
The GamePad Game Changer
Aside from more power, the Wii U's biggest asset is it's unique GamePad controller with a built in touchscreen, capable of displaying the game away from the TV. With this new addition, there is potential to up the stakes and allow for 5-player matches. We've already seen many games on Wii U that support 4 Wii Remotes and one GamePad, and I wouldn't be surprised if Smash Bros. followed suit. Though in many of those games such as New Super Mario Bros. U and Rayman Legends, the player with the GamePad acts as more of an overseer than an actual participant, able to affect the environment and assist players when needed. Perhaps they'll implement a similar system, with one player able to watch over the match and influence certain things. Maybe the GamePad player could decide when items appeared in the fight, able to drop in Pokéballs, Heart Containers, Hammers and even Smash Balls. What if that player could actually take the role of Master Hand? With someone overseeing the battle, item drops would be much more responsive to the actual fight. For instance if two players are battling it out, each sporting high damage with one stock left, the 'overseer' might decide that now would be a good time to drop in a Heart Container, sending both players scrambling. Or maybe they just want to have fun, and shower the players with an endless barrage of Mr. Saturns. This type of system would of course have to be balanced properly to limit just how much power the 'overseer' has. You wouldn't want to take the tides of battle entirely out of the fighter's hands, as that would ultimately make it less fun for the players actually brawling. Aside from item drops, the 'overseer' could maybe trigger certain level changes. For example, if we take a stage like the Fire Emblem castle from Brawl, the 'overseer' could be in control of when to move on to the next area of the stage. This is a very basic idea that could work much better if some stages were built with this kind of functionality in mind. Remember the PictoChat stage from Brawl? Now imagine if while players were fighting, the 'overseer' was drawing new pictures, that they could then send up to the TV when completed, changing the landscape of the battle. These kinds of features would make the game fun and engaging, even while you're waiting for your turn to fight. Now I don't know exactly how likely it will be that they'll add a system like this, but it would not surprise me at all. If they do however, I know their ideas will be much more creative then what I've come up with here.
Now the GamePad has a slew of interesting features, and Sakurai is notorious for using every tool in the toolbox, so I'd expect to see all of them utilized in some fashion. The obvious one is the touchscreen, and I'm sure it will be used in all the expected ways. It allows for additional "virtual buttons" that can easily be tapped with a thumb. I'm sure you'll be able customize the controls and map moves anywhere you wish, and having a few buttons on the touchscreen will open up the variety of play styles. But perhaps there will be moves that utilize the touchscreen in a deeper way. Maybe they could use it to increase the interaction with Final Smashes. For example, in Brawl Donkey Kong's Final Smash involved the player tapping buttons in time to DK's bongo playing. When executed properly, opponents would be sent soaring. This kind of Quick Time Event (QTE) would be best done using the touchscreen. Link's Final Smash involved a pre-rendered barrage of sword slashes which had no interaction from the player at all. But by making quick flicks with your finger on the touchscreen however, the player could then be in control of just how many hits they're getting in. Or what about Snake's Final Smash, in which he came to the foreground of the screen to launch grenades upon the battle? It's not hard to imagine how the GamePad could take that idea to a whole new level. These ideas raise an important point to remember though. With so many different control options the Wii U has to offer (GamePad, Pro Controller, Wii Remote) you don't want to give too much of an advantage to someone playing with a GamePad. The Wii U can only support up to two GamePads at one time, and this cuts the frame rate in half, so it would be impossible to play 4 player offline without throwing some different controllers in the mix. Striking a balance between utilizing the touchscreen in a meaningful way without making it essential will be quite a challenge.
Nintendo is sticking with motion controls once again by including a Gyro Sensor in the GamePad. This is actually a feature I don't expect to have a big impact on the game. I don't really see a very practical way to include it in gameplay. I think it could add an interesting way to view Trophies, by holding the controller and moving it around, you could get a virtual look in the Trophy Room. Aside from little features like that I really don't know. Anybody out there have any good ideas? Comment away!
The Wii U GamePad features a front facing camera that can be used for video chatting, and even Augmented Reality, as seen in the ZombiU demos. I think a likely use though would be a feature that was utilized by the 3DS remake, Star Fox 64 3D. In the multiplayer mode in that game, there was an option to display a real-time video feed of your opponent's face as you battled it out in the skies of Corneria. Every victory and defeat added an interesting layer as you could see in the other player's face their satisfaction or complete frustration. In Smash Bros. it's not hard to imagine a similar system. The problem is how you hold the GamePad. For players looking down at the controller it's not an issue, you're facing the camera. But if you're looking at the television, all the camera can see is a perfect view of your nasty nose-hairs. So I'd expect this function to work only if you are streaming the game to the controller.
NFCNFC, or Near-Field Communication, is a technology that is rapidly being implemented around the world for a wide variety of applications. But as far as gaming is concerned, it is a system that allows for physical objects such as cards and figurines, to affect and influence in-game activity. It has been most recently used to great success in the Skylanders series of games that have players swap out characters in-game by placing figurines on a pedestal. The Wii U GamePad has this functionality built right into the hardware. Nintendo hasn't discussed exactly how they'll use it aside from the possibility of easily adding money to your online account with pre-paid cards. What this means for Smash Bros. however, it is very likely fans will be collecting cards and figures come release day. Collecting has been a big part of the Smash Bros. experience. It started with Trophies in Melee, then even more Trophies and Stickers in Brawl. Traditionally the only way to collect these has been in game, but if Kid Icarus: Uprising is any indication, Sakurai has no problem exploring new ways to collect. Uprising has a feature which makes use of the 3DS's Augmented Reality function by encouraging players to collect real world AR Cards of characters, weapons, enemies and even locations. Jigglypuff fan who wants to have one by his bedside at night. They could make them a bit more functional somehow, other than just unlocking a Trophy, but it would most likely remain an optional function. In any case, don't be surprised if Nintendo announces a toy store take-over.
As of the writing of this article, the Miiverse is still somewhat of a mystery. We know that it will make it easy to connect with friends and other players from around the world and share thoughts about games in a 'Twitter-like' fashion. But what other functions will it have? Surely Nintendo has a few surprises in store. Not to mention Smash Bros. still has up to 3-4 years development time, and by then the Miiverse will hopefully have evolved. To speculate now about how Miiverse might impact Smash is a bit too early. Until we get can bring the Wii U home and plug it in to our televisions, we won't know the full scope of it. But one thing is almost certain, it will seamlessly connect the Wii U and 3DS versions of the game. Miiverse won't launch with 3DS support, but they've already said that it will get it, and I'd wager it will definitely get it before Smash Bros. comes out. Whatever the Miiverse might bring, Smash is sure to be a big part of it.
This leads to a good point. The Wii U's release is about 5 months away. There are still so many questions about the system that need to be answered. After it is released and we get a lot of quality time with it, it's capabilities will become defined, and our vision of Smash Bros. will become much more clear.
So what do you want to see on Wii U? Have you're own ideas of how Smash might be impacted by the GamePad? Sound off in the comments!
Next time I'll dissect Smash Bros. on the 3DS.
Keep on Brawlin'!
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