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October 2, 2014

Super Smash Bros.: The Final Hope



Have you ever woken up one morning and thought to yourself, “Wow!  I’ve been a fan of this ongoing franchise for the majority of my life!”  Yeah.  That was me not too long ago.  I can’t say I hate the feeling.

So, Smash 4, huh?  You know, it’s funny; if I remember right, the original Smash was pretty much a low-budget, throw-it-out-there title with little in the way of expectations.  Fast-forward to the present, and not only is it THE most high-profile release for the Wii U, but it’s also the one game that could convince people to even buy Wii Us.  Even though The Wonderful 101 has long since made a strong case for the console, but whatever.  I’m not salty at all.

I don’t know why I would be.  Smash Bros. 4, y’all! 


It’s safe to say that Nintendo’s got a lot riding on the game, and thankfully, they couldn’t have bet on a better title.  If the reaction and love for the 3DS version is anything to go by, we’re looking at a fourth batch of lightning in a bottle.

But I think it goes further than that.  In fact, I’d say that Smash 4 is one of this generation’s most important releases yet -- if not one of gaming’s most important releases, period.

Why?  Well, here’s a hint.  And by “hint” I mean “blatant answer”:


For those who don’t know (and why wouldn’t you, unless you actively avoid good things), Kamen Rider Wizard tells the tale of Haruto, a man fighting to protect the people from the Phantoms -- magical monsters out to wreak havoc and spread despair.  I mean that quite literally; see, the Phantoms are born when a Gate -- a normal human who awakens to magic potential -- reach their lowest emotional points.  The human dies, and in his/her place emerges a Phantom (even though said Phantom can assume that human form at will…and yes, they DO exploit the hell out of that ability). 

The trick is that if a Gate doesn’t fall prey to despair, they become a wizard.  As such, it’s up to Haruto -- as “the ring-bearing wizard” -- to preserve, and in a lot of cases restore, the hope of people in need of a helping hand.  And so begin his donut-eating, monster-kicking, henshin-filled adventures with his partner Koyomi and the allies he meets along the way -- a mayonnaise-loving archaeologist well among them -- as he pledges himself to others as, ultimately, “the final hope”.

It’s that kind of show.  But if nothing else there’s a reason why he’s got a hand for a belt buckle.  Why it sings?  Not so much.


What I find baffling -- and a little distressing -- is that for one reason or another, a lot of people absolutely HATE Wizard.  And unless I secretly have terrible taste, I don’t see the reason for the hate.  Like, people realize that the story is pretty much one giant allegory for suicide prevention, right?  So you can’t exactly say it’s not complex.  Given that the Phantoms are pretty much trolls and miscreants that thrive on finding out your personal information and using it to harass you, I’d say there’s something eerily relevant about the theming there, especially nowadays. 

Haruto’s development isn’t so much about him becoming a better person, but about him losing control of the situation he once had a handle on -- and the desperation that guides his actions from then on.  He may start out as a Cool Guy, but it’s hard to be cool when you start getting your shit kicked in on a regular basis and your little lady friend is constantly  minutes away from death.  And on the action front?  This is a character that does his best God Hand impression and kicks a Phantom into the sun.  Also, not to spoil anything, but one of the baddies is literally a serial killer -- as in, a serial killer who potentially killed less people after he turned into a monster.


I guess I see a little bit of Wizard in Nintendo.  Right now, it seems like the Big N’s got a thankless job right now, and takes plenty of heat just for being around.  In all fairness, some of that heat is understandable.  Nintendo’s in a bad spot, but some of that comes from their missteps, assumptions, and inflexibility.  There are things that they can do, and should have done long before this point (get more third party support, revive established franchises, and FOR GOD’s SAKE, PROMOTE YOUR WARES!).  They’re not exactly the innocent victims here.  Much like Wizard, it’s far from perfect -- but to its credit, at least the Big N doesn’t have a second Rider who’s only there as a jobber.

That all said, if there’s any company -- and console, by extension -- I’d stay loyal to in this eighth generation, it’s Nintendo.  It feels like they’ve got gamers’ interests at heart.  Or to be more precise, it feels like they’re one of the only ones out to make genuine, quality games -- a far cry from others trying to sell us on “experiences” that are memorable for all the wrong reasons.  This past E3 proved that for all its missteps, Nintendo hasn’t quite lost its handle on what (and who) matters most.  I’d sooner count on that than promises -- and delusions -- of grandeur.

Speaking personally, Nintendo’s becoming one of my heroes of the game industry -- to the point where I’m about ready to shout “Nintendo, hallelujah!”


I don’t think I’m THAT far off the mark, my biases aside.  Just look at Smash 4.  Just -- just look at it, will you?  Sure, there’s an argument to be made that it’s just another Smash game, i.e. the Big N banking on another established name to turn a profit.  And that’s true, in a lot of ways.  On the other hand, it’s not as if we get a Smash game every year, or even every two years.  Unless the rumors of “Smash Bros. 6” amount to anything, chances are high that we’ll have to sate ourselves with this new release for a good half-decade.

But even setting that aside -- and setting aside the fact that this praise is coming from someone who JUST proposed that games can be more than shallow entertainment -- I can’t help but feel like in this day and age, Smash 4 is something special.  It should go without saying at this point, but I have to appreciate the abject refusal to abandon a decent color palette.  Moreover, plenty of the screenshots on the main site haven’t just highlighted the updated graphics; they’ve highlighted what can be done with them.  Time, and time, and time again Sakurai and company have offered up pictures of those faces, and their reaction to oft-insane goings-on. 

I’m sincerely hoping that in the full game, you can take pictures just as delightful -- if only so my brother can have something to stock on the console besides pictures of Captain Falcon.  (You’re better off not asking.)


But really, though?  Smash 4 is like a digital ambassador of goodwill, offering up plenty to gamers of all kinds.  Let us count the many ways.

1) The triumphant return of Mega Man to gaming.  (FIGHTING TO SAVE THE WORLD!)

2) The good humor shown by the devs in virtually every trailer, highlighting the fun instead of trying to be “epic”.  Well, barring the Reggie/Iwata fight.

3) The sheer amount of content right out of the box -- up to and including a cast that numbers nearly fifty strong.  Those are some Marvel numbers right there.

4) Almost as if trying to take a dump all over Ubisoft, there are nine playable female characters -- eleven if you count the alternate versions of Villager and Robin (again, taking that steaming dump), and twelve if you assume that Jigglypuff is female.  Thirteen, if you refuse to accept Marth.


5) A marriage of simple gameplay and complex nuances to please every audience without catering to or dumbing down for any of them -- accented, of course, by a slew of customizable options.

6) A genuine celebration of gaming’s history, bringing in faces old and new to honor our beloved medium -- so that even if it IS a product out for your money, it’s a product full of meaning.  That shouldn’t be anything worth getting excited about, but in this day and age, it is.

7) The ability to generate excitement by its own merits (through improvements, additions, and tweaks to the formula) through a steady drip of unfiltered information, instead of cheap hype-mongering and resignation.  No “You will buy this because it’s the next big thing” or “You will buy this because you will buy this” here.

8) Seriously, DID YOU LOOK AT IT?  THE COLORS!

9) Palutena.


A lot of people over on Destructoid have been claiming “dibs” on certain characters, and I respect that.  Speaking from experience, I refuse to touch anyone my brother mains, plays, or has played because “they have his stink on them”.  Beyond that, there’s the principle; when you choose a main in a fighting game, or even someone you’re willing to add to your stable of fighters, you’re making a commitment.  You’re forming a bond between you and your avatar -- someone who, however temporarily, harbors your soul.

The thing worth remembering, though, is that in a lot of cases you can’t choose someone exactly to your tastes -- that is, you can find someone who suits you in Street Fighter, but you can’t create your own world warrior (yet).  You have to adapt to preset characters.  Because of that, you end up seeing things their way.  In their eyes.  In ways you never would have thought of before.  It goes beyond just being a boxer or a wrestler; whether you know it or not, you’re considering every last one of their nuances.  You take away something from them, even beyond their strongest combos.


It’s the same with pretty much every character in Smash -- but for me, it’s with Palutena most of all.  It’s one thing to be able to play as a female character -- and make no mistake, I’m thankful this new game has effectively quadrupled its representation -- but it takes more than just adding in ladies. 

It’s about the quality of those ladies, as it is with any character.  What gives them that spark?  What kind of characters are they, in a fight and out of it?  What can you take away from a character from a world so separate from yours?  Games are capable of showing that, even without a dense narrative built into their code.  And while I’ve seen plenty of titles fail to offer up anything, I’m pretty confident that Smash 4 will offer up everything I could need and more.


Playing as Peach in the other games opened my eyes to some new possibilities, no question.  And while I don’t intend to drop her in the new game, I’m eager to see things from Palutena’s perspective.  I haven’t played as a goddess since Okami, so I want to see -- and feel -- what it’s like to have that potential at my fingertips. 

Even if there’s no dedicated story mode, I’d wager that I don’t need one.  Her animations, move set, and general appearance can tell me plenty.  I know enough about her from Kid Icarus (and even her announcement trailer) to think, “Yeah, this is a cool character.”  She’s got style, airs, and elegance -- and even some sass -- that you don’t see all that often.  Damned if I’m going to miss out on it now.  And thus, I call the greatest of dibs.

She’s got no shot at being mai waifu, though.  My heart’s already taken.


 A lot of people these days are sour over the state of games and the industry at large -- and I’m one of them.  I know what games can be, but too often these days it feels like they’re refusing to even try to reach that potential because they -- and the minds behind them -- act as if they’ve got no more merit than the average bag of chips.  But even before it hits store shelves, Smash 4 has proven that games can be more.  They can offer more.  You can have that simplicity, but you can offer up what matters most of all: a bond that goes beyond the limits of a simple disc.

It’s a game primed and ready to dispel all the cynicism and negativity swirling around us gamers -- the proof that there are games in the present and future worth believing in.  It’s a willing bringer of hope, maybe even more than simple fun.  And if that doesn’t make it a hero, then I don’t know what does.

And that’ll do it for now.  So let’s end on a high note, shall we?


Good.  My secret Kamen Rider propagandist agenda is coming to fruition.

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