Lean into the chaos
Nintendo’s extremely popular Super Smash Bros. series recently saw the release of its fifth entry, the much-anticipated Ultimate. Featuring a staggering number of characters, settings, and music from the gaming giant’s history, the game pits fighters against one another in chaotic fights where the goal is to launch one’s opponents off the screen using various items and attacks—Mario gets fireballs, Mega Man has his arm cannon, and Link has his bow and arrow.
But the introduction of one item in the third game in the series, Brawl, took the game to another level. The Smash Ball, when broken open by a player, grants the ability to use a game-changing technique that can put all opponents to sleep, blast them with an enormous laser, or even toss them onto a racetrack where they become the victims of futuristic vehicular manslaughter.
But in Ultimate, lead designer Masahiro Sakurai decided to make a change. Feeling that these extravagant attacks were too disruptive to the flow of battle, he streamlined them and made them more uniform. And so, gone are the long-lasting transformations of Sonic into his Super form, or Wario into the unoriginally named Wario Man. Gone is Fox McCloud’s summoning of a giant tank. And, most tragically, gone is Kirby’s donning of a chef’s hat and subsequent cooking up of his opponents in a giant pot.
While I understand the desire to keep things moving, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when I started playing the game and noticed the change. But this isn’t the first time Sakurai’s played with the mechanic—Final Smashes have gone from extremely powerful in Brawl to much weaker in Smash 4, and are now back to their original impacts. And so, I hold out hope that a potential sequel to Ultimate will swing the pendulum in the other direction, and provide Final Smashes that are as disruptive to the game as possible. And because I firmly believe that one shouldn’t criticize without offering alternatives, I humbly submit some here.
The Metroid series is famous for its labyrinthe world layouts, which enterprising speedrunners have discovered ways to “sequence break”—accessing areas which the player isn’t intended to discover until later in the normal flow of the game. There are even nods to this process in one game, rewarding the player with a secret message if they manage to perform a series of difficult moves to return to a room that is seemingly impossible to get to.
Samus’s current final smash is a big fuck off laser. But why not honor the amazing work that’s gone into exploring her games by giving her a sequence-breaking Final Smash? When Samus grabs the ball and activates the attack, she glitches out of the level and skips straight to the results screen. As a bonus, this would be the least disruptive of all Final Smashes, actually accelerating the flow of the game rather than interrupting it.
Is it feminist? That’s the question that was on everybody’s minds when the original Bayonetta was released. Is the character an over the top parody of sexualized femininity slash Barbera Streisand homage? Or is she simply another in a long line of female video game characters presented to titillate male players? This debate will likely rage on forever, and could be the basis for a truly unique Final Smash for the powerful witch. When Bayonetta pulls off the move, her opponents better get ready to dodge a fiery rain of text arguing both for and against the character’s status as a feminist icon that sets the stage ablaze in the truly hottest of takes.
Ever since Brawl, players have noted the overrepresentation of the Fire Emblem series in Smash. Is this because Sakurai especially loves the games? Is it because these characters are mostly all “guy with sword” and they’re easy to implement? We may never know. What we do know is that Chrom’s Final Smash should incorporate both this fact as well as the most-beloved mechanic of Fire Emblem: Awakening—the ability to pair characters up and have them produce babies whose future selves come back in time to help you fight and have awkward conversations with their parents.
And so, Chrom’s Final Smash will replace every character in the match with those from the Fire Emblem series. A fun trick, for sure—but it doesn’t stop there. When the battle ends, players will discover that the entire roster has been replaced with every named character in the Fire Emblem series. This change is permanent.
The original Castlevania was a largely linear affair, with Simon fighting through Dracula’s hordes to finally take on the lord of the night himself. But the sequel, Simon’s Quest, is infamous for its cryptic design, partly as a result of its poor English translation. The game has the player traveling around an open world, collecting Dracula’s parts in order to resurrect him and break the curse the vampire placed on Simon just before his defeat. There are several points at which no player could reasonably be expected to progress without a guide, or the clues that were mangled in the localization process.
Throughout it all, the game cycles between day and night. Unlike in some modern titles, where this happens gradually and naturalistically, the switch is abrupt and freezes the action of the game as the screen darkens and displays the message “WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE” one letter at a time. While not the most positive aspect of the series, this feature has come to represent all of the frustration associated with Simon’s Quest. So how about Simon ditches his big cross Final Smash for one that plunges the arena into darkness, summoning hordes of skeletons to harass his foes? But before that, you better believe everyone has to wait as that famous text scrolls across the screen.
The Pokémon series is all about friendship. Or is it? When the games introduced the concept of breeding, players soon found that if they wanted a monster with perfect stats, they would have to breed a large number of the creatures until the game randomly generated one with the desired characteristics. What happens to the rest of the Pokémon? They’re “released”, which in fiction means sending them to live in the wilderness, but in the game’s data means they’re erased.
Breeding has become such a big part of the Pokémon games that it makes sense to give it a nod in Smash. Pikachu’s Volt Tackle, then, should be replaced with a Final Smash that improves all his abilities—speed, strength, and toughness. But this comes at a price. The iconic Electric-type’s player will have to give John Lithgow’s full “get out of here” speech to the rejects one at a time, slapping and yelling at them until they melancholically walk back into the woods. This must be done twenty times.
You might think the best way to capture the Metal Gear Solid’s cinematic nature would be to plunge Snake’s enemies into a twenty-minute, non-interactive cutscene. But that’s too obvious. No, Snake’s new Final Smash should be not just emblematic of the series, but of Konami’s shameful handling of the property and mistreatment of its creator, Hideo Kojima. And so, when Snake grabs that glowing orb, the player’s control of the character is immediately taken away and she is now forced to play an MGS-themed pachinko game in the corner of the screen for the rest of the battle. Is it useful? No. But it is art.