Simplicity that Works: Multiversus Alpha Review

Thanks to an old friend, I managed to get into the Multiversus alpha. As a long-time fan of Smash Bros. and someone with a general interest in platform fighters, this new Warner Bros. crossover had me reasonably intrigued by its level of polish and its emphasis on 2v2 battle. While a lack of free time meant that I could only play briefly, I came away from the game with a positive impression, albeit somewhat tempered by its free-to-play (i.e. inevitably loot-based) model.

Gameplay-wise, two things stick out to me. First, is that it feels like the developers put a lot of thought as to how each character’s gameplay would reflect their identity. Second, the simplicity of the controls make Multiversus quite accessible and might even be a boon to its team focus.

The signature character flourishes are indeed all there, but it’s even baked into the mechanics. Of course Bugs Bunny would dig holes and generate objects out of thin air to complement his slapstick nature. Of course Velma from Scooby-Doo would act as range-focused support, and also gather clues like Phoenix Wright in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Arya Stark has her sword, but also a “pie-making” mechanic that occurs when she KOs someone—which implies that she turned them into pie. The game successfully celebrates its crossover nature visually and through its controls.

The only exceptions might be Shaggy and Reindog. The former leans completely into the Ultra Instinct Shaggy meme and winds up being like a mix between Goku, Captain Falcon. The latter is an original character (in the same crossover-universe vein as Ruby Heart and Cybaster), and thus has no basis.

In terms of the controls, Multiversus does not have shields or grabs. It also does not rely on analog movement. Unlike Smash Bros., there are no distinctions between walking vs. running, or tilts vs. smash attacks. Simple as controls are in Smash, I’ve seen this granularity be a sticking point for less experienced players, and I think this move helps accessibility. The leniency of aerial movement also makes me think of a more refined and varied Brawlhalla: another free-to-play platform fighter that, unlike Multviersus, suffers a bit from feeling samey across its cast.

While there’s an argument to be made that this might oversimplify things in the competitive realm, I think this won’t be the case. In fact, the pared-down controls actually feel more conducive towards the chaotic environment of a 2v2 match. They give both players and spectators potentially less to concentrate on so they can pay attention to the match as a whole.

I can easily see the competitive scenes for Smash Bros. and Multiversus coexisting, if only because they have different emphases. Smashers overwhelmingly prefer singles over doubles, while the developers of Multiversus specifically designed it for 2v2. To wit, some of the biggest proponents of the game are those who have great love for doubles Smash, and I hope they end up having a game that can reward that passion. 

Semi-Brief Thoughts on the Slingshot in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The last time I wrote about Smash Bros., it was to give my thoughts on the concept of character complexity. Since then, the developers have declared Smash Bros. Ultimate balance changes are more or less done, so outside of discoveries from the community itself, there likely wouldn’t be anything new to discuss. But that’s exactly where new tech has arisen, namely in the form of what has been coined the “slingshot.” 

Building off of a few seemingly disparate techniques found earlier in the game’s competitive life, the slingshot was introduced to players at large thanks to Smash Bros. tournament organizer GIMR, who also runs the biggest Smash stream around, VGBootcamp. I’ve put his video above, as he explains it better than I can, but to sum it up: The slingshot is a technique that purposely uses the cumbersome buffer system in Ultimate to allow characters to juke while facing the opponent.

Even in this early stage, there are many reasons I feel that the slingshot is a net positive for me personally and Smashers in general. I’ll admit that prior to this announcement, I hadn’t really touched the game in months. But now, I find myself grinding the inputs trying to see what I can learn, and it’s exciting. Also, as GIMR begins to show in the video, it has immediate benefits for both of my mains, Mewtwo and Mega Man. 

I predict that slingshot will benefit Mewtwo immensely. While it’ll make the character more vulnerable to shield pressure, Mewtwo never dealt with it well anyway, so nothing much will change on that end. On the flip side, being able to mitigate that pernicious tail hurtbox that has plagued Mewtwo throughout Ultimate through quick turnarounds is itself a major boon. But Mewtwo also sports specific physics that seems ideal for slingshots and the way it instantly boosts characters to max air speed: a combination of low initial air speed but also the third highest max air speed in the game. It doesn’t help when Mewtwo is being juggled, but on the ground, I think it’ll be a fundamental change to the character.

Mega Man is different in that he has extremely high air acceleration and a strong (though not Mewtwo-level) max air speed. Although I think he potentially won’t benefit quite as much, the slingshot looks like it’ll still be a great asset. The tech will add an extra trick to his already strong and wiggly neutral, and I can see every move of his being useful with this new trick.

My only worry is that in a game where out-of-shield options are already bad, things might get a whole lot worse. But with the added layers I predict the slingshot will open, it’s going to make for a more dynamic experience.

Reflecting on Character Complexity in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Things have come a long way with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, especially with the plethora of DLC characters providing some very unique play styles. However, this also makes me think back to the first couple years of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where I used to see the game get criticized for lacking depth pretty regularly. The argument commonly went (and to some extent still goes) that the characters are too simplistically designed, thus making many of them too similar in feel and results in less interesting gameplay. While I never shared this opinion and feel that it doesn’t track with my experience, I think it gets at one of the core challenges facing any fighting game: how do you get a diverse range of players to feel like their character choice is special enough for them to keep playing? Personally, I think Ultimate succeeds in this regard, but I think those who feel otherwise are used to games that more heavily reward them and their attitudes towards improvement.

One of my favorite characters to use is Mewtwo, and it’s because I have a fondness for the character, as opposed to viewing it from a purely competitive perspective. Even so, I’ve been trying to get better at the technical aspects of Mewtwo, and I have been overwhelmed not only by how much there is to learn, but how to incorporate them all naturally into my gameplay. Whenever I’ve seen criticisms like the ones above, I’ve thought to myself, how could anyone pick up Mewtwo and claim that you can learn everything about them in a relatively short time? How could anyone claim that Mewtwo’s play style is somehow too reminiscent of other characters?

The answer is that they’re not talking about Mewtwo at all, because Mewtwo isn’t considered a great character, generally speaking. On tier lists even after all the buffs they’ve received, you’ll often see Mewtwo placed somewhere from low to mid tier, with the occasional high-tier spot with the caveat that it would only apply if Mewtwo is mastered to the fullest extent. When choosing Mewtwo from an “I want to win” perspective, the question is simply: Is it worthwhile to learn an extremely complex and difficult character if all that effort fails to net you a top-tier character? 

Adam “Keits” Heart, who worked on Killer Instinct (2013), doesn’t think so—or rather, he doesn’t believe most players who gravitate towards complex characters would be satisfied with such a deal. In the interview above, he talks about how Iron Galaxy Studios purposely strengthened or weakened characters for the overall health of the game. A character with a much higher learning curve (Aria) was made to be relatively strong to reward the players who put in the time and effort.  Another character designed to frustrate (Aganos) was made weaker in order to avoid having players quit the game after going up against him, but with the knowledge that the character would appeal to someone. According to Keits, what’s important is not balance in the traditional sense of having an equal likelihood of winning, but rather the degree to which different characters allow different personalities to shine through. In other words, diversity in competitive play happens when characters are special enough for people to want to devote themselves.

The potential problem with Ultimate, then, was that its top echelon of characters somehow wasn’t giving certain types of players the characters or gameplay they want, and this is why certain characters have sometimes been perceived as being “shallow” in design. Lucina, for example, is a fairly straightforward character, and the absolute standard for the swordsman archetype. She can do a lot, but none of it is especially fancy. She rewards good fundamentals, but players don’t necessarily want to just hone the basics; they want to win in an exciting fashion. It’s also why defensive characters like Sonic and Pac-Man who have verifiable tournament success don’t exactly attract swathes of players eager to use them. They’re complex, but not in the “proper,” i.e. “exciting” way—unless wielded by specific players (see KEN and Tea). That excitement factor is also what creates an exception of sorts to the “complex characters are only good if they’re top-tiers” rule because whether or not the complexities or quirks result in highly transformative gameplay alters how one perceives a character.

Ultimate is often compared to its prequels, and while players of Melee and Brawl consider the differences between the two to be night and day, one thing they have in common is how often veterans of both will praise the “advanced techniques” of each game. In Melee, these are mainly in the form of universal gameplay quirks like wavedashing, dash dancing, and wavelanding, which help make the gameplay fast, frenetic, and smooth. In Brawl, it’s the character-specific advanced techniques that players love. Lucas is considered to be competitively compromised because Marth can kill him from 0% off of a single chain grab due to a strange exploit. Having a weakness this severe should theoretically scare off everyone from using him, but Lucas has extremely loyal players because the character is jam-packed with unique things only he can do, like “Zap Jump.”

That still doesn’t make Lucas a top-tier. At best, he’s considered a mid-tier. In principle, this shouldn’t be all that far from Mewtwo’s situation in Ultimate, but there’s one major difference: it gives something more concrete for players to feel like they’re taking the character so far beyond the perceptions of a Day 1 Lucas that it almost feels like a different character. In a similar vein, Luigi in Melee is not considered a top-tier, but any Luigi player will tell you that one of the reasons they use him is because he has the longest wavedash in the game. He goes from having some of the worst mobility in the game to some of the best, and it fundamentally changes how the character functions.

Mewtwo can do a lot of interesting advanced things, like abruptly change directions in the middle of charging Shadow Ball (“wavebouncing”), or cancel Shadow Ball upon landing and immediately transition into other actions, but they’re still basically the same character, with the same essential stats, strengths, and weaknesses as a Day 1 Mewtwo. The advanced techniques in Ultimate, whether they’re character-specific or universal, still stay within the boundaries of the game’s perceivable possibilities. The amount of reward I get for mastering Mewtwo’s wavebounce would be maybe a 5-10% improvement to the character overall. A Luigi wavedash, in turn, is like a 50-75% boost. It’s not even close.

Ultimate is successful at capturing a huge variety of players, and what we’ve seen are mainly specific types of players who aren’t being catered to. I think what frustrates those players of Ultimate who wish they could do more is that, in contrast to Melee with its game-altering discoveries or Brawl with its character-specific techniques, playing Ultimate is at its core about working within limitations that have very clear strengths and weaknesses. Incineroar cannot magically improve his poor ground speed the way a Melee Luigi can. You can do any move out of an initial dash, but moving in that fashion leaves you vulnerable, and the only way to mitigate it is to choose not to dash. You can have a character with millions of little intricacies and lots of undiscovered potential, but it’s likely not going to instantly turn any matchups around. Players are working within the intended system as opposed to circumventing it, and Smash as a franchise is full of veteran players who came from games that allowed them to be transformative on some level, or at least rewarded them mightily should they put effort into improving. Ultimate in competitive play is still a contest of skill, cleverness, and physical dexterity, but perhaps more satisfying for those who don’t mind moving feet instead of miles.

Who Dares Interrupt My Corona-tion?!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2021

A low-angle view of the planet-sized Transformer, Unicron.

The end-of-the-year holidays are rolling around, and I feel like I’m in a strange place mentally and emotionally. I think it’s tied to the assumption that this year’s Christmas would be a far cry from the feelings of hesitation and dread that came with COVID-19 and hot off of the 2020 US elections, and how history might potentially be repeating itself. Virtually everyone I know is vaccinated, including many kids, but reports of the new Omicron variant make me wonder if I need to temper my expectations. And inevitably, it just makes me think of a certain planet-sized Transformer.

(Speaking of which, I got the new blu-ray recently. I don’t know for sure when I’ll re-watch the movie, but it never fails to disappoint.)

On a lighter note, I haven’t been looking at as much anime and manga lately, but there’s a very good reason for that: Super Robot Wars 30. It’s supposed to be over 100 hours, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I am enjoying the hell out of getting to use Gaogaigo and the J-Decker squad, though.

I also attended Anime NYC 2021, but due to my blog schedule, my coverage of it will be in December. Look forward to a review of Pompo the Cinephile!

I wish for safe and soul-comforting holidays for everyone, and I’d like to thank my patrons for the month:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from November:

Real Character: Love Live! Superstar!!

My review of what turned out to be the best Love Live! anime—emphasis on anime.

The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

My long overdue general review of thia fantastic volleyball manga.

Imagine Fourteen Balls on the Edge of a Cliff: Ogiue Maniax 14th Anniversary

An anniversary post turned into a reflection on the site Something Awful in light of its founder’s death.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 46 is more serious than silly, and it provides a window into Jin’s inner turmoil.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter involves sharing his thoughts on erotic manga artists.

Apartment 507

Six giant robot anime came out in Fall 2021. Here are my basic impressions of all of them.

Closing

The world is ever unpredictable, and I hope we do what we can as people to watch out and care for one another. Get vaccinated if you can, look out for your fellow humans, and understand that no one is free until we’re all free.

Mewtwo Smash Ultimate Tech: Shifted Teleport

After messing around recently in Training Mode in Smash Ultimate, I made an interesting and useful discovery regarding Mewtwo: a simple move I’ve begun to call the “Shifted Teleport.” 

How to Do It

In Ultimate, if you dash or run at a ledge or platform edge but let go a little before you actually hit it, you’ll stop at the ledge instead of running off the platform. As your character halts their forward movement, they’ll usually go through a small stopping animation, like a skid or similar. 

In the case of Mewtwo, it’ll either start to lean their body up out of a dash, or do a little spinning animation out of a run. During this animation, if Mewtwo performs a Teleport, the game will not consider Mewtwo to be starting the teleport from the ground. Rather, because of how Mewtwo’s body is shifted forward a bit, it’ll be as if Mewtwo is Teleporting from the air, and this influences how Mewtwo exits the Teleport as well.

In the video above, you can see the difference between simply Teleporting when teetering at the ledge (Mewtwo comes out of the Teleport grounded vs. using a Shifted Teleport (Mewtwo is considered slightly above the ground and therefore gets the extra bit of a distance).

The Second Piece of the Puzzle: Teleport Shortening

The extended Teleport is a practical utilization of the Shifted Teleport, but there’s more. First, let’s look at another technique available to Teleport characters called “Teleport Shortening” or “Short Warping,” as demonstrated on Youtube by a user named Kaiser:

Essentially, if you pick the direction of your Teleport using the c-stick instead of the control stick, you exit the Teleport at a slightly shorter distance, no matter which direction you pick. The timing is a little strict, but far from impossible to pull off. As demonstrated in the video guide, this can help with things like ledge canceling, i.e. using Teleports to slip off ledges as an advanced movement technique. 

Here’s a video I uploaded showing how Shortened Teleports can help out Mewtwo on Kalos:

Notice how Mewtwo was falling off and dying, but with Shortened Teleports, things turn out differently. Also note that the angle to do these was straight down on the c-stick, 270 degrees. No need for fancy obscure angles or anything, which is a huge boon for players like me who aren’t good at being so consistently precise on the stick.

Shifting + Shortening = Even More Possibilities

Now, what happens when you combine Shifted Teleports with Shortened Teleports? Here’s one result—an easy ledge-trump method from on stage:

If you tried this from a standing position and a normal Teleport, you’d simply stay on the ground. If you do the shifted Teleport but non-shortened, you fall to your doom. It’s only by combining the two that this is possible.

Going back to ledge cancels, Mewtwo has a much more difficult time pulling them off than Palutena, and often risks self-destructing when trying. Part of this is that Mewtwo’s Teleport is much more unforgiving in terms of the precision of angles required to successfully ledge cancel. For someone like me who’s bad at consistently hitting those angles, it can feel too daunting to even attempt. But in the video below, all you have to do is hit the c-stick straight down during a Shifted + Shortened Teleport, and you get this reliable ledge cancel down-air on Battlefield (also works on Small Battlefield). 

Advantages of Shifting your Teleport

Shifted Teleports take a bit of time to set up due to the necessity of dashing and stopping, but I think it comes with a lot of benefits even before you factor in all the tech possible. 

  1. It allows for easy spacing of these techniques, because all you need to remember is “dash at ledge” instead of “stand at this exact spot, or else.” 
  2. Prior to the Teleport, you’re still considered grounded, so there’s less of a risk compared to being in the air or off-stage. 
  3. You’re facing forwards (as opposed to backwards), which can be helpful depending on the situation. 
  4. If done from a platform, you can safely threaten the ledge from a farther position. 
  5. You can always choose not to do the Shifted Teleport and do any number of other options: shield, jump away, etc. It’s fairly non-committal.

More Research Needed

I’ve only tested Shifted Teleports a little bit, so I think there’s a lot more to discover. For one thing, this isn’t exclusive to Mewtwo, and I’ve found that the shift you get from dashing at ledges affects at least Sheik and Pikachu. There are also other stages to practice on.

I’ll be uploading all future Mewtwo clips (including all of the above) into a Youtube playlist, so it should be easy to keep track. In addition all the Shifted Teleport stuff, I even have a couple other things:

Happy labbing!

Away with Ads: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2021

Readers may have noticed something different this month: Ogiue Maniax is now ad-free! And right in time for this blog’s anniversary!

I felt that the ads were getting more and more intrusive on the blog if you don’t use any sort of ad block, so I’ve been wanting to do something for a while now.

I’ve also had my Patreon going for more than a few years now, and I wanted the money to go more directly to giving my readers a better experience when reading my posts. I’m thankful to my patrons for allowing me to talk about the new anime season or giant robots or whatever, with special gratitude to the following this month:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from October:

The Anime THEY Don’t Want You to Know About: Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch

I reviewed a lesser known but quite peculiar mecha anime from the 1980s.

The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

My long overdue general review of thia fantastic volleyball manga.

Sora in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Gameplay Thoughts

My personal take on the style and potential of the final DLC character.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 45 might just be my favorite chapter to date. Things are coming to a head between Akira and Jin!

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter has been buzzing with preparation for both his collected-volume releases in September. In a rare treat, he’s actually been retweeting fans who are supporting both Spotted Flower and Hashikko Ensemble, which is how I got retweeted by the man himself!

Apartment 507

A look at the farewell episode for Jigen Daisuke’s retiring veteran voice actor in Lupin III.

Closing

The two things that have my attention as of late are the final Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novel and Super Robot Wars 30, which features that very same story. I’m in a constant internal struggle as to which I prioritize. Do I spoil the novel or the game?

This month is also Anime NYC, and I’ll likely end up going. It’s smaller than New York Comic Con, so I predict it’ll be safer, but it’ll still be important to exercise best COVID-19 prevention practices. Remember, vaccinations will be required!

Sora in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Gameplay Thoughts

Sora was the most desired character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. When you have a character with so wide an appeal, it behooves the creators to make him accessible to the fans eager to use him. In this respect, I think Sakurai and his team have succeeded in spades, but I’ve also been watching the pros try their hands at Sora, and I’ve noticed that the character seems to have a very high ceiling for what is possible. From this, I find that Sora is built very firmly on a classic concept of game design: easy to learn, but difficult to master.

Surprisingly, that combination isn’t all that common among characters in Smash—all the more odd because it’s a franchise built around that very idea. Often, characters who are simple to pick up don’t get absurdly tricky at higher levels, and the characters who are difficult to get the hang of remain complicated even at higher levels of play. Sora, in contrast, has a relatively simple and easy-to-understand game plan, but the room for optimization looks endless. 

Sora’s enormously generous air mobility and the ease by which he can get his Kingdom Hearts–esque combos started (neutral air, forward air, and down tilt are all strong tools) means that neutral isn’t overly complicated. At the same time, the ability to delay or interrupt hits means that players will likely get better and better at maximizing damage. His special moves also allow players to do a lot right off the bat, but their intricacies are deep. The very fact that his neutral special, Magic, switches between three very different attacks every time you hit the B button makes it so that players have to subtly change strategies every time they use the move.

One thing that’s very unusual about Sora is his movement. Overall, he’s below average in nearly every mobility category, but a combination of an enormous second jump reminiscent of Ness and Mewtwo—as well as a level of floatiness that’s strange even compared to other generally similar characters—means that Sora ironically can feel more strange to those with lots of Smash experience. As a Mewtwo user myself, one would think that Sora would feel right at home, but even I found the character’s physics to be bizarre at first blush. On a technical level, this is owing to a combination of very low fall speed and extremely low gravity, a stat that determines how quickly a character hits their top vertical speed in the air. The result is a character who just ends up spending a lot of time in the air. His high-altitude juggling and deep offstage edgeguarding are, as expected, both incredibly powerful.

At the same time, Sora doesn’t look like a slouch on the ground either. What I find is that, due to the contrast between his mediocre-yet-funky mobility and the relative safety of his disjointed Keyblade attacks, Sora is neither especially good nor especially bad at getting in on his opponents. Against those who like to fight up close, Sora should have no trouble making it happen. In fact, more often I could see the fight coming to him. And against characters who like to play more of a bait-and-punish style, Sora can contend decently well. It’s the strong zoners, the ones who excel at running away and have either one or more long-range tool, who can give Sora trouble. From a Mewtwo perspective, I can see my character doing well because of a combination of Shadow Ball and just across-the-board superior mobility that allows Mewtwo to both play keepaway and chase Sora down in the air, which is supposed to be Sora’s specialty. 

I predict Sora is going to get better and better over the course of Ultimate competitive play, but he won’t necessarily be able to ignore his weaknesses the same way other characters can. He might always have at least a few bad matchups where he has trouble getting his game plan started, but against most of the cast, Sora shouldn’t have much trouble playing Kingdom Hearts in Smash. And he’ll always be that accessible character who eases people into Smash but provides ample room for players to grow, and for the experts to flex their skills.

Sakura Wars, Super Robot Wars 30, and the DLC Hype Train

Sakura Wars is in Super Robot Wars 30. That means, for the second time in history, a Sega giant robot video game series is debuting in Super Robot Wars as a newcomer—16 years after Virtual On broke new ground in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3. I find this to be an important moment in SRW history, and not only because Sakura Wars has been long anticipated by fans. The other big factor is that Sakura Wars is the first new series to come in as DLC, and the concept of continued hype via shocking entries reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite game franchises: Super Smash Bros.

Super Robot Wars as a whole predates Super Smash Bros. by almost a decade, but they’re built from a similar concept in terms of promotion: Show all the varying franchises that are in each game, and have players freak out over the fact that what was thought to be impossible is, in fact, real. Even on Youtube, Super Robot Wars 30 has been getting the reaction videos common to Smash, albeit on a smaller scale. But SRW has long done it in one giant cannon fire, releasing one massive preview video, as opposed to the drip-drop approach that Smash has utilized since the Brawl website days. While there are only two batches of DLC for Super Robot Wars 30, I like the idea that there are still surprises on the table after we thought things were done. I don’t necessarily feel this way about DLC in general, and the difference is that SRW and Smash alike are generally already filled to the gills with content.

It’s also funny to think about how the series that go into SRW are collectively older than what shows up in Smash. The oldest mecha manga dates all the way back to the 1960s (namely Tetsujin 28), while the Duck Hunt light shooter game (before video games even really existed) came out in 1968. While Nintendo and video games in general are bigger business these days, one could argue that the resources that make up Super Robot Wars are bigger and more legacy-defining in their own way.

Super Robot Wars 30 comes out in a couple of weeks, and I already have my Ultimate Edition pre-order. Unlike previous games, this one is officially available in English in an easy-to-obtain way via Steam, which is where I’ve purchased it. I’ll be eager to try out the Sakura Wars units, and everything else the game has to offer. Most importantly, we’re gonna get some sweet-ass Sakura Wars music.

It might be about time for me to work on another Gattai Girls post too…

Crossover x Crossover: Sora in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I truly didn’t think it was possible. 

Knowing Disney and knowing Square-Enix, the amount of hurdles it must have taken for Smash Bros. director Sakurai Masahiro to bring Sora into the greatest and most celebrated gathering of video game icons is a feat beyond Herculean. But this is a tale as old as Smash itself: every time I think there’s a ceiling, Sakurai manages to bust right through if given enough time. Whether it’s “This character wouldn’t work as a fighter!” or “That company would never let their baby go anywhere!” the only limit left is “They have to actually be actively video game–related (sorry, Goku).

I’m pretty neutral when it comes to Kingdom Hearts, having only experienced the game passively through others—notably watching one friend fight Sephiroth over and over because he enjoyed the boss encounter that much. However, even if I don’t have a strong affinity for Sora myself, I can feel the love from all the fans, the creators, and the Smash developers. Everything about the way Sora moves in the Smash Ultimate footage we’ve seen screams care and attention to detail, whether it’s the swift swings of his Keyblade to mimic the play style of the source games or the unique buoyancy of his jumps, it’s as if the team wants you to genuinely feel like you’re controlling Sora in an exciting, new setting. 

I just know the way I felt seeing Mega Man’s helmet warp onto his head for the Smash 4 trailer over eight years ago is the same as how many felt yesterday seeing that Mickey keychain dangling. Though, as much as I love Mega Man music, having Sora’s trailer feature an instrumental version of Utada Hikaru’s “Hikari”/”Simple and Clean” hits differently. It’s a shame that they couldn’t get it into Smash Ultimate itself.

In his final presentation, Sakurai draws attention to the fact that it’s Kingdom Hearts I Sora, and I think there’s a real significance to that. Back in the Smash 4 days, there was concern among fans that if Pac-Man were to actually get into Smash, it would be his modernized Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures iteration as opposed to his retro design. After all, it’s the new thing, and they would want to synergize with the current stuff, right? But Pac-Man came in as classic 1980s Pac-Man, and I’d like to think it’s because Sakurai understands where the love for the character lies. While Sora’s older selves in the sequels wouldn’t be nearly as divisive as Ghostly Adventures Pac-Man, it feels as if the Kingdom hearts I Sora embodies fans’ youth and nostalgia in a way his later designs would. 

What a ride, and what a way to send off Smash Ultimate. Even if he wasn’t my dream pick, Sora feels all too appropriate as the bookend to a nearly four-year journey that’s seen the world go through the unimaginable as once-farfetched roster choices kept getting in one after the other. And while speculation doesn’t come with actual stakes and anticipation anymore, I’ll still keep thinking of ideas for new characters because there’s still plenty of video game history to tap into. Fans find in Smash Bros. comfort and a spirit of genuine love for video games in an increasingly cynical world. Thank you, Sakurai.

PS: I’m looking forward to that next balance patch, though. (Mewtwo buffs prayer circle.)

Smash Ultimate and the Shmup Life of Jigglypuff

I like watching Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments, but it’s only over the past year that I’ve started watching individual streamers more—chalk it up to a pandemic. During this time, one player I’ve been enjoying is Super Smash Bros. Melee “god” Hungrybox try his hand at Ultimate as a Jigglypuff main. But while a part of the fun is in seeing a top Melee player use a heavily toned down version of his signature character to become a low-tier hero, I’d felt that there was also something inherently compelling about Jigglypuff itself. Then, realization hit me last year as I watched the Touhou game Shoot the Bullet during Summer Games Done Quick 2020: Jigglypuff in Ultimate is a lot like a ship in a shoot ‘em up boss fight.

Shmups are a genre where your character is besieged every level by an endless procession of enemy ships and projectiles, generally culminating against a boss character of some kind. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that your playable unit will typically die in one hit, so the ability to evade and barely make it out of harm’s way is key to success—especially if you’re playing for some kind of record or achievement. 

Jigglypuff in Ultimate is in a similar position. It excels in moving back and forth through the air thanks to a high air speed, multiple jumps, and a slow fall speed. Being the second lightest in the game means it can’t withstand many attacks, but its small size means being able to dodge things other characters can’t. The character also has short reach on its attacks, thus any opponent with projectiles or a long weapon like a sword presents a daunting wall that Jigglypuff must surmount through effective weaving. Like the heroine Aya in Shoot the Bullet, there is a clear edge that Jigglypuff’s foes have in the fight, in that their ability to threaten and cover space is something Jigglypuff cannot match.

This is somewhat different in Melee due to the strength of Jigglypuff’s back-air. In that environment, it’s a deceptively far-reaching attack that makes Jigglypuff the “wall” that players must deal with instead of the other way around. Jigglypuff’s ability to throw out repeated beefy back-airs while juking is even referred to as the “wall of pain.” Jigglypuff in Ultimate not only has less range, but the character automatically turns around after throwing a back-air out, preventing the ability to string multiple back-airs together. 

Instead, Jigglypuff must bob and dance, hoping to be in the right place at the right time to nickel and dime the opponent without overextending. While it has an ace in the hole in the form of Rest, it’s hard to hit and requires a lot of planning and game sense (and maybe even a bit of luck). Every mistake is a costly one, and the frail nature of the character means defeat is often snatched from the jaws of victory. 

Does this make for a particularly strong character? Probably not. But it sure makes for a tense and exciting viewing experience, and it’s why I keep watching Hungrybox, as well as other Puff mains like Bassmage. Also, when I think about it, this would also make a great template for a Touhou character…

PS: If I ever had the chance to rebalance Jigglypuff to be stronger, I’d give Jigglypuff a kill throw because being such an air-focused character means shielding is especially effective against it. Due to its floatiness, slow ground speed, and lack of range, Jigglypuff also has a harder time landing grabs—so I think it’d still be fair.