How Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Decisions Support Both Casual and Competitive Players

E3 2018’s come and gone, leaving in our wake the juiciest details about the new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. The goal is clear: to make this the most complete Smash game ever, most evident in the fact that every playable character across the franchise’s almost 20-year history is back, along with newcomers Daisy and Ridley. I have a million thoughts about the new game, in no small part due to the sheer amount of information coming our way. Not only were there 25 minutes devoted to Ultimate in the Nintendo Direct, and plenty of Nintendo Treehouse play sessions at E3, but there are also official introductory video clips for every characters, filled with tidbits if you look carefully.

My major takeaway from following all of this news is that Ultimate is embracing the idea that a game can truly be capable of excelling in both competitive and casual environments, instead of having one compromise the other. Many decisions made for the current build benefit players of all stripes.

New Dodge Decay Mechanic

One brand-new change in Ultimate is that rolls and dodges get less effective if you overuse them. While I personally believe that their power in Smash Bros. for Wii U is quite manageable for the most part, there is an environment where rolls are the bane of everyone’s existence: wi-fi play. Thanks to the inherent lag in online play combined with the fact that players had no control over who they connected to, rolling became much, much more powerful. For Glory mode became infamous early on for being filled with players who roll over and over, relying heavily on the inconsistency of variable online connections.

But while highly skilled players, especially the pros, have mastered punishing bad rolls, it’s not as if they fail to benefit from having dodge maneuvers being limited by decay. Playing at the higher levels means having a thorough mastery of all aspects of the game, and now rolls and dodges have an added wrinkle to them that encourages players to use their other fundamental tools, like walking and running. Moreover, these evasive techniques are now a resource to be managed. Do you use more rolls now to guarantee getting out of a sticky situation if it makes you more vulnerable later?

Tournament players now have another skill they can improve, and newer players online can avoid frustration dealing with lag. It’s win-win.

The Hybrid Air Dodge is Gentle Yet Harsh

In the history of Smash Bros., there have been two different types of air dodges. The first is the directional air dodge, originally from Super Smash Bros. Melee, which allows players to become invincible for a brief period and move a short distance more in any direction they choose. The penalty is that you become unable to do anything but plummet down afterwards, leaving you vulnerable. The second type is the unlimited air dodge from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which lets players use repeated air dodges but prevents them being able to do a quick juke like the Melee directional air dodge does.

Air dodging in Ultimate is a hybrid version between Melee and Brawl. Players can choose to shift their direction during an air dodge or fall naturally, but there’s a period during which follow-up actions are impossible. It doesn’t put you in a helpless state as it would in Melee, but only one air dodge is possible before landing.

The air dodge in Brawl was changed in the first place likely so that it would be easier to use and understand for newer players—especially Nintendo Wii owners who were playing video games for the first time. It even introduced the concept of dodging in the air and counterattacking, something that wasn’t possible in Melee. Certain characters, namely Mewtwo in Smash for Wii U, even excelled at this strategy. However, fans who love Melee competitively often dislike this air dodge because it means juggles and combos were easier to escape. In their eyes, being able to air dodge repeatedly took away from one of them franchise’s best features.

Ultimate‘s air dodges leave a player vulnerable but not overly so. Using it eats up an option and makes one more susceptible to getting juggled, but the player can still attack out of it. Reports say the stationary air dodge allows faster recovery, which means the Mewtwos of the world can still do their thing. Directional air dodging vs. stationary air dodging also provides an added layer of decision-making, and gives characters like Yoshi and Little Mac who traditionally have suffered from limited recovery options to do a bit more.

Simpler, Freer Movement Benefits All Levels

One of the other new features of Ultimate is the ability to do pretty much anything immediately out of an initial dash. Past games restricted your options, but now everything from smash attacks to tilts to specials and more can happen out of a dash.

The probable reason this was previously not possible was because it made dashing into more of a commitment, and players ideally worked around it. In practice, newer players tend to just charge headfirst into things and then complain when their predicable option gets called out.

Melee is something of an exception to the rule of restrictive dashes because of the existence of wavedashing, an advanced technique that allows characters to slide while standing still, granting greater access to their arsenals while advancing or retreating. The lack of wavedashing in other games is a huge sticking point for many Melee fans, and is part of why they prefer those other games less. However, the execution of a wavedash requires a good amount of timing and dexterity. While most Melee players will claim it’s simple and easy, for many people it’s not, and failing to learn it actually significantly impacts your ability to succeed in that game.

By having these “dash cancels” (or whatever they’ll be called) come out of a more natural tendency to run ahead, it potentially makes less experienced players feel like they have more control. At the same time, it also fulfills at least some of the functions of wavedashing while being a more simplified command. Just dash, pause briefly, and attack.

Buffs Across the Board

Balance for a test version is of course not finalized, but from all reports so far it’s clear thay they’ve aimed for competitive improvements to nearly every character. Zelda suffered from being unable to act out of her Din’s Fire and Farore’s Wind special moves in past games, but now they no longer hold her back. Ryu always faces his opponents 1v1 (just like in Street Fighter) and can now back dash to improve his footsies. Little Mac can use both of his recovery moves, allowing him a little more leeway getting back on stage. Ganondorf’s attacks are surprisingly quick. The only exceptions seem to be Fox, Cloud, and Bayonetta, who are more limited in what they can do. Notably, Bayonetta’s infamous combo game and Witch Time ability have been made less effective, and Cloud’s Limit, which granted him improved specs as well as access to souped up specials, now only lasts 15 seconds instead of being potentially infinite.

Characters are getting quality-of-life changes and things specifically targeting their crippling flaws in previous games while also making them easier to use. There’s a clear desire to bring everyone up. However, what’s also important is that it shows on some level an acknowledgement of the skill found among stronger Smash players. Likely the reason Zelda’s Din’s Fire caused a helpless state when performed in the air was a fear that using it offstage, especially against weaker players, would be too powerful. No more—now, the game acknowledges that it might be really strong in those scenarios, but so what? “You can handle it,” says Ultimate.

A Game Already Loved

Despite being a mere test build, praise for the gameplay has thus far been near-universal—something that didn’t happen with Smash Bros. for Wii U when it was revealed in 2014. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate appears to be on track to giving almost all players what they want, and it’s thanks to mechanics that seem to reward skill without making the learning process daunting for less strong players. Unless something goes terribly wrong between now and the December 7 release date, it might become the most successful Smash game ever, both financially and competitively.

For more details, as well as some of the sources I used to get info for this post, check out the following.

Abadango’s thoughts on the new Smash (Japanese)

Full Breakdown of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Mechanics

VGBootcamp VODs

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Report: Retro Doujin Event Game Legend 28

On a recent trip to Japan, I attended a doujin event dedicated to retro games. It was an opportunity on my part to not only attend my first ever Japanese event dedicated solely to video games, but to see just what “retro” meant for a Japanese audience.

Held in the city of Kawaguchi, “Game Legend 28” saw a fairly packed attendance. I’m awful at estimating crowd sizes, but I’d say there was close to 200 people in attendance. The vendors there offered a diverse range of goods, even more than events I’d attended in the past, and it was primarily due to the subject matter. While the standard comics and essays were there in droves, one could also find CDs of video game music covered by amateur bands, entire archives of instruction manuals, people’s personally developed games, and even super-miniaturized (and playable!) versions of arcade and console titles. The last item seemed to be a trend, as more than one table offered them.

When it comes to trends one might not see at a US convention, I noticed that there was a great amount of love given to the PC-Engine (released in the US as the Turbo Grafx 16), and that certain popular Japanese meme characters such as Spelunker still held strong. I also met a woman who wore a Segata Sanshiro t-shirt and sold a photo journal of her time attending a Sonic fan event in Korea. Another dedicated herself to F-Zero, showing not only doujinshi but tiny F-Zero machine replicas as well.

It’s common to presume that doujinshi means “porn,” but I actually saw very few tables dedicated to 18+ material. Even then, one was selling a comic featuring a popular heroine from Tokimeki Memorial. In other words, even the smut was frequently retro.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Game Legend 28, and even bought a few things, including a Sega Smash Bros. parody doujinshi starring Alex Kidd. But the event also inadvertently curried favor with me when a small live brass band played a song from one of my favorite video game soundtracks ever. Following performances of the boss theme from R-Type and the ending theme to Chrono Trigger, they went straight into “Back to the Fire,” the Hydra stage music from Thunder Force III.

At that point, Game Legend 28 could do no wrong in my mind.

“Flukes”: Competitive Rigor vs. Sustainability in Esports

The question of whether or not to stratify different groups of competitors occurs in any competitive setting, but it tends to be ground zero for debate in gaming even more than in traditional sports or fields such as Chess. For this reason, a recent tweet by veteran League of Legends and Overwatch commentator MonteCristo lamenting the lack of “pros-only” tournaments for fighting games garnered a significant backlash.

There’s one core reason for the negative response to MonteCristo: those who consider themselves part of the fighting game community tend to consider the ability for “gods” and “mortals” to meet in open competition—and for god slayers to emerge at any moment—as one of the strengths of fighting games. In particular, people latched onto the use of the word “flukes” as evidence of the esports works being afraid of “true competition.” If esports could be compared to tennis, then to the FGC a world of invitationals (and nothing else) would be akin to the pre-open era of tennis—when pros and amateurs were not allowed to compete against each other at major tournaments.

However, having followed esports for over ten years now, I’ve noticed that this seeming incongruity in values stems from a difference in what aspects of competitive gaming are prioritized. Is it about competition and camaraderie, or competition and sustainability? While the two are not wholly incompatible, the esports side has long expressed a desire for recognition, expansion into the mainstream, and eventually a reverence similar (but not necessarily identical) to traditional sports. With respect to this, figures in esports have emphasized the importance of “narratives,” and seeing how big a deal they are is very telling as to how esports tends to try and achieve sustainability.

In 2010, StarCraft II ushered in a new era in esports, and tournament circuits such as GOM Starcraft League in Korea and the US-based Major League Gaming were established to give players a chance at competition. While there were many differences in their formats—GSL participants played only a handful of matches per day over the course of weeks and months, while MLG pitted hundreds of players against each over a single weekend—both came to the table early on with a certain goal in mind: to create stars.

GSL created a distinction between the cream of the crop (Code S) and the almost-greats (Code A), where players from the latter could earn the right to be promoted to the former. However, in the first few incarnations of the GSL, it was purposely made difficult for players to fall out of Code S. Essentially, the players who performed the worst in Code S had to compete against the best of Code A in a potential changing of the guard. The number of players who dropped down to these “Up and Down Matches” was restricted, and the Code S players could still end up defeating the hopefuls from Code A and send them back down. The reason? To make sure that recognizable faces remained on camera so they could establish fanbases, and by extension garner a sense of celebrity—to be people that fans and players could remember and look up to.

This was also the reasoning behind MLG‘s seeding system for its multi-tournament season, which saw players who did well at earlier tournaments get byes into much, much later stages of later league tournaments. Going on a tear in your first tournament could pay off down the line. If a player earned a top-32 spot in one tournament, they could keep getting place into a high spot for the next, and then play just well enough to not tank out, it meant a stable spot for increased visibility.

Eventually, both GSL and MLG revised their formats to encourage less ossification of brackets and more chances for rising stars to make a name, but that still doesn’t erase the fact that their initial versions tried to create a delineation between the “Pros” and the “Joes.” Central to all of this was the idea that “good narratives draw viewers in.” What better way to encourage a good narrative than to have a consistent cast of “characters” for the audience to know and root for?

Examples of the benefits that heroes and heroic narratives provide to competition are numerous, but one that stands out in particular is the story of basketball legend Larry Bird. At the time, basketball was seen in the US as largely a “black sport,” and thus had a relatively small white audience. Larry Bird helped to change that, as could be seen from one nickname of his: the Great White Hope. Was this racist? Yes, to a degree. Did it also help pull basketball into the mainstream? Yes it did.

(Is there a comparison to be made between this example and the fact that esports vs. FGC exists along something of a similar divide in terms of racial demographics? Also yes, but that discussion will be for another time.)

Narratives do not have to be manufactured whole-cloth. Seeing an underdog defeat a champion, or watching a winner cement his place with an undefeated streak happens just from competition existing. However, in a world where visual presentation can often be confusing to those unfamiliar, presenting these bouts as being between humans with wants and desires and emotions (especially simple ones like anger) can bridge that gap. So it’s no wonder why esports organizations frequently try to control it through player perception, delineations between pros and amateurs, and so on. But one question that arises is, does setting things up so conveniently end up compromising the integrity of competition? The answer is that it can, but it largely depends on severity.

Take professional wrestling, which has been predetermined for many decades precisely because the promoters understood that most audience members cared more when the wrestlers had charisma. Famously, when a bland 1940s wrestler named George Wagner dyed his hair blond and became the arrogant and effete “Gorgeous George,” his antagonistic demeanor drew audiences in droves to see him in the hopes that they’d get to witness George getting destroyed. Pro wrestling isn’t a true athletic competition precisely because it becomes easier to control the narrative and get viewers invested.

But even in a legitimate sport like mixed martial arts, the desire for narrative can influence decisions. While the results of matches aren’t fixed, the media and advertising machine surrounding MMA are there to try and produce the best narratives they can, either by using what’s there or cooking up some controversy. That’s because they know that narratives make people care. Athletes will be brought out to drum up a sense of animosity between the two. Is it real? Is it fake? Does it matter if it sells tickets? A guy like Conor McGregor, who’s naturally antagonistic but also an amazing fighter, puts butts in seats. People are eager to see him be on either the giving or receiving end of an ass-kicking.

At the same time, leaving things to chance can be scary for those who have substantial amounts of money riding on the success of their investment. Conor McGregor is in some ways the ideal, but he also has a tendency to get himself in trouble and make the UFC look bad in the process. One can even compare those blunders to the number of players caught blurting out racial slurs onstream. Just because someone’s a winner doesn’t mean they’re a good spokesperson, especially if they have no media training and are just kids plucked out of online lobbies and given an environment to train in. When there are so many variables at play where something can go wrong—quality of the game itself, image of competitive gaming to the outside world, the perception of “nerds”—it’s understandable (though not immune to criticism) why teams, tournaments, and organizations would want to control what they can.

The divide between FGC and esports, or the perception of it, has largely to do with community vs. respectability. The former looks inwards, and believes that having a solid core, a group of passionate players who can weather any storm together through a love of competition, is paramount. The latter looks outwards, and aims to establish itself as a permanent fixture in the world, something that cannot die because it has the size and backing to keep it going forever. The two are not irreconcilable, but finding a balance (if a balance is desired at all) requires parties that can trust each other to not abandon the other side’s principles.

Smash Bros, Splatoon, and Casual vs. Competitive Online Communities

Super Smash Bros. creator Sakurai Masahiro has long frustrated the game series’ competitive community. A developer whose motivation is to bring in players daunted by the hardcore reputation that precedes fighting games, Sakurai is not against competition inherently, but places priority in ease of access and play for Smash Bros.

A common response from the competitive community is that Nintendo should fully embrace the competitive aspect of the series and push it to the forefront. The argument, generally, is that the competitive fans are more loyal, and it won’t affect the overall reputation of the games. Casual players will still approach it without tournament play, remaining blissfully ignorant. I think this is naive, or maybe even bullheaded.

It is true that any game that can act as a test of skill will inevitably lead to players who are better than others. And yes, Smash has proven itself to be viable for tournament play, despite what detractors say. The issue, however, is how having the series touted as a hardcore, competitive game influences the overall image of it, especially in an age when information proliferates so rapidly.

I love competitive Smash. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I still follow tournaments and keep up with discussion. When I go on the Smash subreddit, I find loads of valuable information on top players, tier list debates, upcoming tournaments, and more. More scarce, however, are posts about the casual side of the games: item shenanigans, stories of playing free-for-alls with friends, etc. While the subreddit is not devoid of less competition-oriented content, it does feel as if those posts get pushed down. I wouldn’t be surprised if more casually minded fans are afraid to post there.

In contrast, while Nintendo’s unorthodox shooter Splatoon has an active and robust competitive element to it, the Splatoon board on Reddit only has about 10% of posts devoted to tournaments and high-level play. While I sometimes wish there was more in-depth discussion of weapons and maps, it also means the outward reputation of Splatoon fandom is more light-hearted and focused on contributions like fanart, lore speculation, and general love of all things squiddy.

Neither subreddit’s approach is inherently better, but it’s clear to me that a game’s presentation and how its fans interpret that presentation into their own hobbyist displays has an affect on a game’s image. People who go to r/smashbros will think that fans mainly care about 1-on-1 competition, while those who visit r/splatoon will come away with the idea that its fans are less obsessed with wins and losses.

Both series see success in casual and competitive domains, but Smash is a case of the competitive reputation encroaching on the chance of casual community interaction a bit more. I believe this is what has long concerned Sakurai, and if he could achieve the casual/competitive balance of Splatoon, then he would.

Understanding the Frustration of Smash 4 Bayonetta While Still Being Anti-Ban

Since her first appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Bayonetta has been a controversial character, with a style designed to frustrate opponents and combos that frequently snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. A combination of factors—recent tournament success, audience backlash, and the difficulty mid to low level players have dealing with her potentially driving away new blood—have once again brought up the question of whether Bayonetta should be banned.

Personally, I think the answer is “no,” simply because none of the reasons I’ve read are solid enough or objectively quantifiable enough on their own to form a solid foundation for a ban argument. Collectively, they combine together into a murky sense of “she kills people’s desire to play the game,” as opposed to the more concrete reasoning of other banned characters in fighting games of years past. Bayonetta might be able to combo someone to death when they’re at 0% damage after a few reads, but it’s not like Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Akuma, whose could not be dizzied and had an air fireball that none could properly defend against.

Even as I disagree with those calling for a ban, however, I still find myself sympathizing with their arguments because their dissatisfaction is real. In particular, I find the idea that Bayonetta is discouraging new talent from sticking with the game to be fascinating because it’s specifically about how Bayonetta affects not the strongest players, but the ones underneath that upper echelon.

One common argument made against banning Bayonetta involves comparing her to another top character from a previous Smash Bros. game: Fox McCloud in Super Smash Bros. Melee. If you look at the amount of representation Bayonetta has among the top 50 Smash 4 players, it pales in comparison to the number of Melee Fox users. “But,” the pro-ban side will say, “Fighting Fox at mid-level is fun because you can exploit his weaknesses and combo him. You can’t do the same to Bayonetta.”

So you have a situation where, while Bayonetta is not as dominant as Fox at the highest skill tiers, this doesn’t matter to a large chunk of players for whom that might never matter. Mid-level players fight mid-level Foxes and can take advantage of their opponents’ mid-level flaws. In contrast, taking on mid-level Bayonettas requires both a combination of very solid fundamentals (in particular to not overextend and to force the Bayonetta to act first), and specialized knowledge (how to properly fall out of her combos to avoid the next hits, and the decision-making necessary to hide one’s countermeasures against those combos) In a way, if the reason you play competitively is to land satisfying combos, the study and practice needed to fight Bayonetta might feel as interesting as doing taxes or studying trigonometry.

I think all of this would be an easier pill to swallow if the reward for learning how to fight Bayonetta is a consistent plan on how to exploit her weaknesses and shut her down. Little Mac garnered complaints early on because he was difficult to fight for newer players. Lucario, like Bayonetta, is argued to go against the “rules” of fighting games by becoming more powerful as it takes more damage. Sonic the Hedgehog’s evasive style can easily wear down people’s patience. In all of these cases, better players have shown the way as to how to fight them properly and satisfyingly. With Bayonetta, even though she’s the least dominant #1 character in Smash history, she can still aggravate even the best players in the world.

Here’s an analogy that I think conveys the conflicted feeling of knowing that some of the strongest competitors in the world can still succumb to Bayonetta’s shenanigans. Imagine two people have each discovered treasure maps. They require learning an ancient language, trudging through deadly jungles, and a general toll on body and mind. For the first person, the reward is a treasure chest full of gold and riches. All that hard work yielded a mighty reward. For the second person, however, they find a contract that lands them a 9-to-5 job that pays decently well but still requires them to keep pushing ahead, and there’s not even a guarantee the job will last. It’s a “reward” in a certain sense, but that amount of effort might not seem worth it. The latter situation is how I imagine mid level Smashers feel when they look to the top for inspiration, and see many of their heroes still falter against Bayonetta. Learning all of those tricks and tips only results in relatively less stress.

Tactics and characters that can crush weaker players might not necessarily work on stronger ones. Bayonetta is in a similar situation, but the degree to which she threatens the motivation of those non-top players is still worth noting. One possible solution is to simply restrict her usage at smaller, local tournaments. However, this runs the risk of harming an important subsection of players: those who are not yet good enough to compete at the highest level, but might become strong enough. If you have a smaller scene that bans Bayonetta but have bigger settings that allow her to remain, then you’ve basically harmed those transitional players because they have to fight Bayonetta now while lacking experience against her. A blanket ban technically fixes this as well, but just as lower level players might find it unfair to have the expectations of skill and talent from the top tell them what can and can’t be done, basing a ban on how those lower level players feel can be even more stifling to the top. There’s no easy answer.

A Strong Foundation: How the Japanese Smash 4 Tournament Format Helps the Community

Introduction: Japan, Land of Hidden Bosses

If there’s anything that the Japanese Smash 4 competitive scene is known for, it’s a high average skill level across its player base, as well as a great amount of character diversity. Many of the world’s greatest character specialists come from Japan—Ranai and his Villager, Kameme and his Megaman, Shuton and his Olimar, and a whole slew of powerful Duck Hunts. A lack of monetary prizes is frequently cited in online discussions as a reason why so many Japanese character specialists exist, but I think that’s just a starting point and not a sufficient explanation by itself.

On occasion, fans will point to the extremely volatile rankings at Japanese tournaments as proof of Japan being a haven for character specialists, while others will counter that the average format of Japanese tournaments (Best of 1 round robin pools, followed by Best of 3 double elimination often even into grand finals) is inherently inconsistent. However, while this inconsistency might be a strike against the tournaments themselves providing reliable results, I think the format Japan uses is actually a key factor in helping its player base grow and improve compared to the common formats elsewhere (double elimination throughout, starting Best of 5s much earlier in the bracket), especially when it comes to creating those intimidatingly strong character loyalists.

The Mother of Invention

One of the reasons Japanese tournament matches tend to be so much shorter than their North American and European counterparts is time constraints. Often times, these events last only one day at venues that cannot allow them to stay later. They’re working with what they have. Yet if you look at how they use that limited time, it’s clear that the format is designed to give all players the most amount of playtime possible. Best of 1 round robin means that, even if you don’t make it out of pools, you potentially get to face a far greater number of opponents than the two you would encounter in a double elimination bracket. Everyone, even the worst players, get to gain real experience against more characters and more play styles.

Fostering Young Lions

Top players in Japan seem to prefer the “Western” style more because it favors them—as the best, their skill gets better rewarded the longer the sets are. While not going in that direction works against the best of the best, it’s also clear that the Japanese tournaments are meant to be as hospitable to newbies as possible. In addition to the round robin format initially, there’s also something called the “B-class tournament,” which is a separate bracket for all of the players who didn’t make it out of pools. In other tournament formats, less skilled players are usually given a chance to improve by dedicating a section for non-tournament “friendlies.” The B-class bracket is an opportunity to continue to play in a tournament-style setting.

When Japanese Smash 4 tournaments first began, there was even a question of whether or not to restrict the stage selection to Omega stages—flat levels without any platforms—only because it was the only stage type available on Nintendo’s default online competitive format, For Glory. While the Japanese scene ultimately went away from this idea, it shows a desire to cater to newcomers. Combined with extremely reliable high-speed internet that makes Japanese online play better than other parts of the world, this means Japanese tournaments are a good environment for those who are considering transitioning from online play to offline events.

Best of 1: “Random?”

Another aspect to consider is that the Best of 1 format itself might help advance player improvement. Although Best of 1 matches are not preferred for showing who can win consistently, it does foster certain skills that longer formats do not, as once pointed out by fighting game commentators UltraChen. A player can’t wait until the second set to try and figure out their opponent; they need to do it now. Super Battle Opera, once Japan’s most prestigious fighting game tournament, used a Best of 1 format, and its players adapted to it. While a Best of 5 match shows who can adapt the best over a longer period, Best of 1 forces players to learn how to adapt extremely quickly, which in turn teaches them how to “gamble” better when the chips are down. This might be why Japan is somehow known for both more reserved play and riskier (but not necessarily aggressive) styles as well.

What’s more, the inconsistency of Best of 1 pools might actually help in giving more players experience as well. If the very best players advance every single time, this means that the lesser players do not get to feel what it’s like to move up the bracket and face increasingly tougher opponents. With the “randomness” of Japanese tournaments, many more players get to feel what it’s like to be in a Top 16 or Top 8 against the country’s best.

Conclusion

The Japanese format is geared towards expanding the Smash 4 tournament scene by being an inviting space for players of all stripes. Best of 1 pools and B-class side tournaments not only allow all competitors both strong and weak to experience a variety of players and characters, it allows character loyalists and champions (two groups which do have crossover!) to level up at a higher rate. Shorter matches also foster a certain type of adaptation, and the inherent volatility potentially gives many more players to get accustomed to playing at later stages of a tournament. Whatever the ultimate goal of a given player, the Japanese tournament format provides the foundation for a strong player base.

Dominatrix Gameplay: The S&M Fighting Style of Smash 4 Bayonetta

Bayonetta is generally considered the best character in Smash 4. While her strengths are many, her key trait is the ability to instantly turn the tables on her opponent’s assault and transform a disadvantageous situation into a chance for victory. As with many #1 characters in games, there have even been calls to ban her from competitive play, more than any other character in the game. But I don’t believe the outcry is simply because she’s “too good.” Rather, it’s about why she’s good. Her character strategies are akin to those of a dominatrix, and her denial of pleasure in Smash 4 is what frustrates many to the point of crying foul.

Heroic stories are often built on giving antagonists their just desserts. Whenever Stone Cold Steve Austin managed to corner Vince McMahon, fans cheered as Austin drowned his evil boss in beer. When Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star confronts Jagi, the satisfaction of having Kenshiro beat Jagi to death for all his injustice is a moment meant to scratch that revenge itch. The villain, by virtue of being a villain, must pay.

Looking at fighting games, it’s possible to label the top tier characters as the villains in the story of competition. They’re the fastest, the strongest, and the most dominant. So what happens when the “hero,” i.e. whoever’s fighting the top tier, finally catches up to this scoundrel? Well, it depends.

Take Fox, from Super Smash Bros. Melee. Widely considered the strongest character in that game by a margin wider than Bayonetta’s grip over Smash 4. But while Fox is basically a master of all trades, he’s also a glass cannon who, if hit, can be combo’d hard by many of the best and worst characters in the game. Stringing a series of attacks together and watching Fox’s damage percentage rapidly rise is satisfying. So is spiking him offstage and seeing him plummet like a rock to his doom. Making Fox pay goes a long way in providing pleasure to the player or viewer opposing him.

This results in a kind of “combo catharsis.” Even if the opponent loses to Fox, seeing a Marth or a Mewtwo chain grab him for a couple of stocks can still make it seem like the dastardly space animal was on the ropes, if only for a few moments. The villain barely got away! Even in loss, it’s possible to feel powerful—a quality that I believe is important in attracting and keeping players.

Bayonetta, in contrast, is intentionally designed to deny easy combos and follow-ups on her. Multiple jumps and ways to recover mean edgeguarding her is difficult. Afterburner Kick acts as an escape button for those trying to juggle her. Witch Twist deflects and draws in the opponent into a potentially high-damage or even fatal string of attacks. Witch Time actively punishes overly aggressive and predictable players. While it’s possible to land multiple blows on her, each hit requires about as much work as the last. Bayonetta stymies combo catharsis, making the release that comes with it incredibly difficult to achieve. Even in gameplay, she’s truly a dominatrix.

A unifying point between Bayonetta and Fox is another character notorious for denying combo catharsis: Melee Jigglypuff. A proverbial flyweight who makes up for its lack of diverse tools by stonewalling opponents through strong aerial attacks and deft aerial movement, Jigglypuff is so light that the opponent can usually only land one or two hits before it goes flying out of reach. And yet, when it comes to Fox’s reputation vs. Jigglypuff’s, the latter receives more scorn from players and spectators despite the fact that the former excels at nearly everything and boasts a much larger player base at the lowest and highest levels of competition. Catch Fox, and you can pound him for an extended period. Catch Jigglypuff or Bayonetta, and you might get just a single lick before you have to start all over again.

In spite all of the above innuendo, this is only an analogy, and I don’t think anyone actually derives sexual pleasure from playing Smash Bros.—though I could see it being just as satisfying. But at the same time, it’s clear that Bayonetta is, by design, hard to combo, and that one of the most popular and enduring elements of Smash Bros. and fighting games in general is the combos (or chains or strings). I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Bayonetta in essence works from an almost BDSM-like playbook. This doesn’t necessarily mean Smash 4 players are masochists, but those who still choose to fight Bayonetta are at least those who can manage to hold back their desire to just let loose.