What Will Namco Bandai Mean for the Future of the Smash Bros. Series?
In the world of competitive fighting games, there’s one series that no one seems to be able to reach an agreement about. That, ladies and gentlemen, would be the Smash Bros. series. The developers themselves have confessed that the series was never intended to be taken seriously on a competitive level, yet that hasn’t stopped fans from organizing regular full-fledged tournaments, crafting homebrew balance patches and updates, and even forming their own committee on tournament rules and practices.
Nintendo recently revealed the explosive news that development of the next Smash Bros. game would be handled by none other than Namco Bandai. One has little choice but to wonder how exactly the beloved series will be affected by this.
First, it’s worth noting that the Smash Bros. developers never had any intentions of the series becoming so popular amongst the competitive crowd. Creator Masahiro Sakurai disclosed that the series was originally created to be Nintendo’s “response to how hardcore-exclusive the fighting game genre had become over the years.” In spite of this, Super Smash Bros. Melee sported a tight, very fast combat system that wound up making the game quite hardcore and competitive at high levels. Fans began organizing frequent tournaments and competitions, demonstrating enormous hardcore support of the series.
The developers regretted the tight game-play so much that they took what appear to be specific measures to ward off competitive players in the sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The dreaded ‘random tripping’ mechanic did a good job of running off many serious players, but not all of them. To this day, Brawl still receives a generous outpouring of core community support. Even the very real chance of being knocked from the stage and defeated because your character randomly, suddenly and inexplicably tripped and fell wasn’t enough to scare some players.
Mix that with huge, trap-filled stages and dozens of items that could change the tide of battle at any time, and it’s not hard to see why many technical, core fighting fans don’t respect the series. Yet, the series still possesses one of the most dedicated fan bases in the genre.
At this point, it’s clear that the wishes of the SB developers and the wishes of the hardcore SB players never truly lined up. You could almost say that fans would play Smash Bros. skillfully and at high levels no matter what Nintendo does to stop them. I anticipate that for the next Smash Bros. title, Nintendo may finally decide to stop fighting the hardcore player. Enter Namco – a name instantly recognizable to any fighting game fan. They’re responsible for Tekken, which is arguably the most popular fighting series in existence, as well as SoulCalibur, which isn’t exactly a ‘smalltime’ fighting franchise either.
The hardcore fighting audience is one that Namco knows well.
There is only one conclusion that we can draw from Nintendo’s decision to outsource development to a developer like Namco. For the first time in the history of the series, a Smash Bros. game may be developed with the competitive player in mind. Nintendo may release the next SB as a deep, technical, balanced fighting game that’s actually intended to be frequented by hardcore, serious players and on big fighting game tournament circuits.
Since the Smash Back Room or Unity Ruleset Committee is now defunct, it would be beneficial if the game was able to get on the roster for the EVO Championship Series like Namco’s own SoulCalibur V. That could attract more serious players who were put off by things like the random tripping in Brawl, and really bring the SB community and the rest of the fighting game community together. With Namco’s experience in the genre, it could certainly be done. Furthermore, we should at least expect to see some very interesting third-party characters. Tales series, anyone?
So, what happens if Nintendo really does collaborate with Namco Bandai to make the next Smash Bros. a serious fighting game? There’s no way to tell just yet. If the new Smash Bros. game really does aim at the competitive crowd, the devs should tread very carefully. I mean, in a way, not being deeply competitive is an undeniable part of the series’ charm, right? That there’s no execution barrier and that everyone from your grandma to your baby sister can grab a controller and compete, right?
And it goes without saying that the space for technical, tournament fighters is getting kind of cramped. What with Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, Skullgirls, King of Fighters XIII, and a billion other fighters already out, plus Persona 4: Arena, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and more on the way, the hardcore audience will already be very busy. Surely it will sell a gazillion copies like all SB games, but whether it’ll make it to Japan’s Super Battle Opera is another story entirely. Either way, it’s too early to tell.
All we can say for certain at this point is that the next Smash Bros. game will at least be interesting.