Every pre-release period before a Super Smash Bros. game is a unique moment in time, and nothing exemplifies that more than this morning’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct, which was a bizarre 40-minute journey. With every informed viewer either firmly denying or clutching onto the supposed “Grinch leak” that promised characters like Geno, Isaac, and Mach Rider, what resulted was an unpredictable ride.
Let’s start off with the news—the first character trailer of the morning seemingly confirmed the leak, with Ken from Street Fighter being confirmed as a playable character. If one were to check archived YouTube and Twitch chats, they would likely see the cries of those who believed a prophecy was fulfilled. Within the same trailer, Incineroar figuratively and literally swooped down to lay waste on the so-called “leak” in an instant. Not only was the Pokemon not part of that leak, but it was also confirmed to be the final new character in the base game.
As viewers of the Direct attempted to recover from the extreme whiplash, director Masahiro Sakurai trudged along to describe in detail the remaining features of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Naturally, all of these fighters would receive their own Amiibo figures. In describing the game’s comprehensive Spirits system, Sakurai explained how collectible trophies would be replaced by “spirits” of characters from various games to act as equipment for characters.
Sakurai also went into detail on how online interactions would be different this time around. Eschewing the “For Fun” and “For Glory” online modes, online play is significantly more customizable this time around. These portions of the Direct, borderline tutorials, were significantly long—while the segments were informative, hungry fans were likely craving something else.
Believers in the Grinch leak continued to be disappointed when thought-to-be-foretold characters like Shadow the Hedgehog and Isaac from Golden Sun were confirmed to merely be Assist Trophies. Returning Assist characters were joined by a motley crew, not limited to Guile from Street Fighter, Yuri Kozukata from Fatal Frame, and… “Flies & Hand” from Mario Paint?
Those disappointed in Incineroar’s status as the “last fighter” might have had a sigh of relief when Sakurai confirmed that DLC packs were in the works. Five packs are in the works, each costing $5.99 each and coming with one new fighter, one new stage, and new music. A “Fighter’s Pass” that includes all of these will cost $24.99, with content being released until February 2020, according to small text within the Direct.
None of that would prepare viewers for the reveal of a new playable character separate from the DLC—Piranha Plant is here to fight, being offered for free for a limited amount of time after the game’s release. While previous characters like Wii Fit Trainer and Mr. Game and Watch have completely subverted expectations, the context of a somewhat believable leak with more “likely” characters made this reveal shocking.
Everything culminated in the reveal trailer for Adventure Mode “World of Light,” which appears to be a semi-sequel to the Subspace Emissary from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The trailer came across like anime or even Kingdom Hearts-like, with the oft-repeated theme song of Ultimate playing with newly-revealed lyrics. Some unknown force made of a legion of Master Hands obliterated the Smash Bros. characters, converting them into the “Spirits” as described previously. Kirby, Sakurai’s pet character of his own creation, appears to be the only survivor, with players having to liberate these corrupted characters—the mode appears to be comprehensive, with a world map and skill tree.
Needless to say, despite the craziness and unpredictability surrounding these 40 minutes, this was entirely on-brand for the cultural phenomenon known as Smash Bros.
I have distinct memories browsing through the SmashBoards forum during the pre-release time before Brawl released. With Sakurai delivering updates in piecemeal through the Dojo website, speculation was rampant every weekday. While we would have the occasional, dull “You Must Recover!” instructional blog post, character reveals were shown off casually and unexpectedly.
One such SmashBoards user bragged about their apparent insider knowledge, claiming that Sonic the Hedgehog would be revealed on a specific date. All users scoffed—until that very day, where the blue blur was indeed unveiled. Surprisingly, that one user was shocked themselves. The internet was in full force, more so than it was before Melee, and the wave of hype and speculation would continue with Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U thanks to Reddit and other communities.
The fan-following for Smash Bros. before the release of games might as well have its own lore. Who amongst you remembers the ESRB leak, where a video of a finished build of the game sent to the rating board for evaluation was leaked? So many were in disbelief when people thought that the character portrait of the yet-to-be-revealed Shulk was a photoshopped Little Mac, only for all those in their camp to eat their words once the character and stage leaks were made official with the earlier Japanese release of the 3DS title.
Now with the “Grinch leak” and other oddities like a small leak involving Wendy’s, of all things, the fandom has more to add to the lexicon and lore. The litany of character reveals, memes, and online discourse has become a culture entirely onto itself. Without even playing the title, the discussion and emotions involved in watching these Directs live have formed an almost political game. Conspiracy theories, comprehensive posts filled with evidence, and photoshops and viral memes galore run rampant.
Who knows how many Smash Bros. titles will come after Ultimate? We know for sure that Sakurai needs a break—we ask too much of the man. And one other thing is for certain—there is no other time like pre-Smash Bros. time.
Be sure to pre-order Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Nintendo Switch on Amazon before its December 7 release.
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