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.

Playing Tekken and Preventing Tekken: Thoughts on Kazuya Matchups in Smash Ultimate

Kazuya Mishima has been released as Smash Ultimate DLC, and the general consensus (whether you like his inclusion or not) is that Kazuya plays like he was pulled straight from Tekken. But more than just the superficial replication of his moves and the characteristic look of Tekken combos, what I’m coming to understand is that even the fighting game series’s simultaneous rock-paper-scissors scenarios (a hallmark of 3D fighters) is approximated through the Smash engine. Along with the fact that his moveset successfully makes him a vicious defensive monster, this makes it so that in order to fight Kazuya, you have to ask the following: How good is your character “playing” and “preventing” Tekken?”

In the Kazuya gameplay introduction video by Sakurai (above), he explains that Tekken is a game of spacing involving “highs,” “mids,” and “lows.” Spacing (maai in Japanese) is about trying to move into your favorable range while avoiding your opponent’s. High attacks are generally quick but can be both blocked high and avoided entirely by crouching. Mid attacks are often powerful combo starters but are on the slower side—they can be blocked high but not low. Low attacks must be blocked low but can be avoided by jumping.

In the context of Smash Ultimate, spacing is present but the platformer style of gameplay makes it inherently different. As for the high/mid/low system, it simply doesn’t exist. A shield is a shield, and you don’t block “high” or “low.” However, when you look at Kazuya’s attacks, the corresponding mix of hitboxes, intangibility, and armor frames (on top of Kazuya’s passive armor against weak attacks) result in attacks that ostensibly can be blocked or prevented in ways that vaguely resemble Tekken. How you angle your shield, whether you can crouch or hop over certain attacks, and other factors come into consideration when you have to fight Kazuya up close.

This is why I’ve begun to think of a character’s “comfort level” when fighting Kazuya. It’s less a matter of how good or bad their matchup is against him and more about how much fighting him can feel awkward because of his particular traits. Specifically, it’s about gauging both the ability to scrap with him if necessary and  to avoid that situation as much as possible. I’m not a Kazuya or Tekken expert by any means, but here are some examples of what I think in regards to certain characters’ “Tekken” and “anti-Tekken” capacities:

Kazuya is inevitably a 10/10 when it comes to playing Tekken, but a -1/10 when it comes to preventing Tekken. The former is obvious, while the latter has to do with the fact that he has some tools to keep the fight out of Tekken range, but they’re limited in use and he doesn’t really want to stay away anyway.

Kirby can go toe-to-toe with Kazuya surprisingly well given his solid up-close frame data and his crouch, which allows him to actually duck under Electric Wind God Fist. In terms of playing Tekken, he does okay—probably a 6/10. At the same time, Kirby is fairly slow and stubby-limbed, so Kirby is kind of forced to confront Kazuya directly—which means he’s probably a 2/10 at preventing Tekken.

Mewtwo has mobility and tricky attacks (like Shadow Ball and Disable) to keep Kazuya at bay, as well as a vicious edgeguarding game, meaning its ability to prevent Tekken is quite high—like a 7/10 or 8/10. But once Kazuya is in, Mewtwo’s relatively lackluster up-close frame data, along with his huge body means Mewtwo can become a giant punching bag if it gets complacent: 5/10 at best (and probably worse).

The other FGC characters—Ryu, Ken, and Terry—do not come from 3D fighting games, but their auto-turnaround and their ability to play footsies up-close means that they have special properties that make fighting Kazuya a profoundly different experience compared to if other characters take him on. I would probably give all of them high values for playing Tekken (at least 8/10) while not playing it varies between each of those characters’ due to their unique strengths and weaknesses.

So where do you think your Smash character falls on the Kazuya scales? If you have thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.

Kazuya Mishima in Smash Ultimate: I Sensed This Coming

I’ve been going a little hog wild with the Smash Bros. DLC posts lately, devoting entries to Goro, Kerrigan, and Nightmare just in the past couple weeks. But one thing I’ve felt for a while is that Smash was lacking a representative for 3D fighting games. It’s why I tried to come up with a moveset for Akira Yuki from Virtua Fighter before he was revealed as an Assist Trophy in Ultimate. Now, we have our answer: Kazuya Mishima from Tekken.

While I never made any formal blog posts about it, I did entertain the notion in my Min Min analysis. I also made a couple of tweets last year arguing in favor of Kazuya:

Over time, what I’ve wanted to see out of Smash more than even my dream character picks (NiGHTS is the only one remaining, really) is to have it reflect a greater breadth of gaming: genres like the beat ‘em up and the RTS, and even influential consoles like the Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64. This includes 3D fighters. While 2D and 3D fighting games look similar from a distance, they’re actually two very different gameplay experiences. I’m glad for the inclusion of Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter and Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury, but I found it odd that one side of the fighting game genre was so lopsided in Smash

I know very little about Tekken other than having a general sense of how the game plays at a casual level, as well as familiarity with most of the characters through pop culture osmosis. From what I’ve seen of people’s initial reactions, Kazuya in Smash comes across as somehow having been transplanted straight from his source games into this new environment. We don’t have any detailed gameplay explanations to reference (the Kazuya showcase will air on the 28th of June), but if it was challenging enough to convert Tekken characters into 2D for Street Fighter x Tekken, I wonder how Sakurai and his team have made Kazuya work. It feels harder to translate Tekken moves to Smash compared to Street Fighter or Fatal Fury/King of Fighters.

Speaking of adapting fighting game characters to Smash, I realized a huge distinction between them and most of the roster: A lot of characters come from singleplayer games where the goal is for them to be relatively simple to use, and Smash movesets are designed relative to that. Not so with Kazuya and pals. In fact, Kazuya and the other Mishimas are generally considered among the hardest characters to master in Tekken. I think it’s why they can be so polarizing when in this crossover context.

Incidentally, the Kazuya trailer begins with Kazuya tossing Ganondorf off a cliff. Kazuya has a move called the Demon God Fist, or Majinken. Ganondorf’s neutral special, Warlock Punch, is actually also called Majinken in Japanese, albeit with a slight kanji difference. In other words, it was a battle of Demon Fists, and Kazuya won.

Welcome to Kazuya, and remember: the most important thing to come out of this is that the Banjo & Kazuya Mishima gag is real now.

Nightmare (Soulcalibur) for Super Smash Bros.

A Truly Flagship Video Game Villain

Villain characters have been a great addition to the Super Smash Bros. franchise, starting with Bowser in Melee and more recently with the inclusion of Ridley, King K. Rool, and Sephiroth in Ultimate. In anticipation of E3 and the official Nintendo Direct scheduled for June 15, I’ve been making blog posts about possible antagonist characters I think would fit well. But as cool as Goro and Kerrigan would be, what occurred to me is that neither is necessarily the unquestioned face of the video games they represent. Mortal Kombat is Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Kerrigan can make a better case, but she’s not necessarily the first character people think of.

However, there is a particular case I think could fit my self-imposed criteria of being a bad guy while also being a game franchise’s most iconic mascot character: Nightmare from Soulcalibur. Not only does he wield Soul Edge, the demonic weapon that is the primary catalyst for the game’s story, he’s also literally in the logo of the Soulcalibur development team, Project Soul.

Another Swordsman, But…

One potential strike against Nightmare is Ultimate is a game that sometimes gets criticized for featuring too many swords. But Nightmare has so much going for him aesthetically, as well as in terms of possible gameplay mechanics and features that he could successfully fill a space that’s only partially covered by the likes of Ike and maybe Ganondorf: a true superheavy swordsman.

Nightmare’s Soul Edge is like a combination of Ike’s Ragnell and Cloud’s Buster Sword, only bigger. It’s this massive hunk of evil energy in the form of a two-handed blade, and it looks menacing in a way that even Sephiroth’s Masamune can’t quite compare. The menacing march of a character clad in armor who’s not as slow as one might expect could also add a quality of intimidation ideal for heavies. You know his dash attack would be that hilarious dropkick.

Potential Gameplay

Moveset-wise, it’s harder to establish what’s a “special move” vs. a “normal move” compared to 2D fighting game characters, but I think Nightmare could bring a lot of Soulcalibur mechanics to Smash. While the Soul Charge boost could be nice, Nightmare in Soulcalibur VI has a unique mechanic called “Terror Charge.” A mode that enhances his attacks in different ways, Terror Change can be activated either independently like a powerup on command, or it can be triggered by having the opponent hit Nightmare during specific armored moves. 

The two things Terror Charge might most closely resemble are 1) Incineroar’s Revenge (a counter that absorbs a plow to power up the next attack) and 2) Lucario in Project M, who could power up its aura during combos. Rather than being a comeback mechanic or even a snowball mechanic, Terror Charge would be a strategic tool that is fully controlled by the player and can apply to a variety of situations. Other folks more intimately familiar with how Nightmare plays can give a more in-depth moveset idea:

Who Else?

Nightmare isn’t the only villain who’s also the key figure in a game series—fellow Namco character Heihachi Mishima from Tekken could also make the case. Are there any other truly flagship villains out there?

Goro (Mortal Kombat) for Super Smash Bros.

In discussions of Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters, the question is often “what character do you want?” rather than “what kind of character do you want?” But pro Ultimate player Tweek has professed on his podcast his desire to see a genuine heavy-style character to be one of the last two DLC characters—someone who embodies, in his words,  the “heavy lifestyle.”

It is true that we haven’t seen any Bowser-esque characters among any Smash DLC since even Smash 4, and so I started to think about who would fit well while still bringing something to the table in terms of significance and/or interesting gameplay. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that Goro from Mortal Kombat would be a great idea for a heavy DLC character. While 2D fighting games have their fair share of representatives now (between Ryu, Ken, and Terry Bogard), I think Goro gives us a new villain character (though arguably more of a tweener like Mewtwo) who represents another long-standing series with cultural influence.

I haven’t played any Mortal Kombat games for the past…twenty years…so I’m not terribly familiar with how Goro’s play style has changed or evolved as the games themselves have gone through multiple directions. But the image of Goro is ever-present as a big, nasty, four-armed bruiser who can grab you with two hands and pummel you with the other two. He can shoot fireballs, leap high into the air and land with a stomp (perfect for a Smash-style recovery move), and just has an imposing aura that would bring a lot of personality. I feel like I can easily picture Goro’s gameplay in my mind, and it looks cool: you think you can escape him, but his surprising speed and even his powerful projectile would make it feel like you only run for so long.

In terms of appearance, I think it’d be awesome if Goro’s original stop-motion, clay-model aesthetic could be maintained for his entry into Smash. It would make him visually pop in a way no other character does. That said, I’d understand if they went for something more current-looking, as that’s the direction Mortal Kombat has gone in general. With eight costumes per character, both could be possible, but I still wonder which would be the default. My preference would be old-school.

There’s also the question of Mortal Kombat’s signature selling point: blood-and-guts gore. That simply would not pass muster in Smash, but I think Goro could still make it through intact. He can come across as hyper-violent and nasty, but I think that could be conveyed without needing to portray actual viscera flying and bone-breaking attacks. Fatalities would still be a must, but they’d be more exaggerated and extreme than brutal. 

I have no close attachment to Goro as a character, but I just think he would successfully capture the “heavy character” feel in a way few others could, while also fitting well into Smash Bros. gameplay. And i mean, don’t you want someone to say “EXCELLENT” every time he uppercuts his opponents?

The “Essence vs. Fill” Priorities Tier List in Smash Bros. Ultimate and Beyond

Tier lists are a staple part of discussions in any competitive gaming community. No matter the approach or philosophy, they’re an attempt to make sense of a game’s elements, and a well thought out tier list can be an opportunity for fruitful discussion. A few months back, I watched a video by Super Smash Bros. Melee player/commentator Toph, in which he goes over a Melee “tier” list by another player named Ginger. Much like how it blew Toph’s mind, I found it really fascinating myself. 

Ginger ranks the characters not by how strong they are, how likely they are to win a tournament, overall matchup spread, or any of the standard conceptions of tier lists. Instead, it’s about where characters fall on a spectrum between what he calls “essence” and “fill.” The video mostly explains what those terms mean, but they’re not obvious upfront. Actually, they’re pretty obtuse, but I’m sticking with them so as not to further introduce new vocabulary. 

Basically, “essence” means characters who mainly play by aiming towards certain central win conditions or moves, whereas “fill” means sort of “throw the kitchen sink at ’em” characters who try to use smoke and mirrors to win the day. In the context of Melee, Ice Climbers are considered a “pure essence” character because chain grabs (be they infinite or otherwise) are so fundamental to their play. Falco is considered “all fill” at the highest levels of play because he really has to rely on his entire kit to win, but at lower level is considered an “essence” character because his fundamental tools (his power short hop laser and his down b being a combo starter) are so difficult for less skilled and experienced players to deal with. Other terms used to describe this difference used in this video (as well as a follow-up) are essence = meat and potatoes, and filler = smoke and mirrors.

It’s also worth noting that just because a character is more “essence” or more “fill” doesn’t mean they’re only good at one or the other. Fox can do well in both (which is probably why he’s arguably the best character there), but he’s simply even better at “fill” stuff. It also doesn’t say which characters are stronger overall, with top and bottom tiers being strewn throughout each category.

With that in mind, I made a quick chart for how I think characters fall in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, roughly in order within tiers. Due to fundamental differences in the games, I think there’s a higher percentage of “essence” characters in Ultimate than Melee, but I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the experience to speak for most characters. These are built on my perceptions playing against them here and there, as well as watching many tournaments.

Framing characters along this spectrum has helped me think about why certain characters might appeal to certain types of players regardless of competitive viability. A player who finds more satisfaction out of forcing their opponents to play around a specifically potent and efficient attacks of an essence-based character may not enjoy the constant mix-ups and obfuscations that fill-based characters thrive on. Different match-ups might become more frustrating for some people than others because it might require switching from fill to essence-based play or vice versa. In a way, it could potentially be less of a tier list and more of a psychology test.

The spectrum vs. fill contrast can also help explain how characters may have changed in the transition between games. For example, I consider Mewtwo to be a “mostly fill” character in Ultimate because while it has certain kill confirms and reliable go-to attacks (Shadow Ball), Mewtwo generally has to focus on trying to slowly build up its wins using the full range of its tools. However, I think Smash 4 Mewtwo is more of a “mostly essence” character because its down tilt could combo more easily (thus making it the de facto tool in neutral), the nair into footstool into disable could net KOs so easily, and its powerful air dodge made reversing situations fairly simple.

This way of thinking about characters and players can extend beyond Smash into other competitive games, and even beyond gaming into other areas. For example, I find it to be a great way to categorize different professional wrestlers in terms of their in-ring styles. Who is more “essence” than Hulk Hogan, who famously won most of his matches with a combo of Hulk Up into Big Boot into Leg Drop? On the flipside, AJ Styles is the definition of “fill” because while he has no one devastating move that all but guarantees victory, his character is portrayed as someone who has developed a variety of finishers that can be adapted to virtually any situation.

You can also apply it to the differences between visual artists. A “pure essence” artist would be one who can fully imagine the finished product and then work towards that image, while an “all fill” artist would be one who doesn’t have it fully formed in their mind’s eye but slowly builds up towards something. It doesn’t say anything about skill, talent, or hard work—it’s a difference in how one perceives and interacts with the world on a creative level.

So whether it’s Smash or something else entirely, I think the essence vs. fill spectrum is a useful thought exercise. It’s something I might come back to in the future.

How Incineroar in Smash Bros. Embodies Japanese Pro Wrestling

Incineroar is one of my favorite characters to play in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s the first truly traditional grappler character in the franchise, and his entire moveset directly reflects the Pokémon’s pro wrestling background. However, what I think is really fascinating about Incineroar’s implementation in Smash is that the character draws most directly from an old-school Japanese professional wrestling aesthetic and history.

To start off, a major part of Incineroar’s Japan-inspired wrestling design is a part of its identity as a Pokémon. It clearly takes a lot of influence from the beloved fictional wrestling character turned actual flesh-and-blood wrestler Tiger Mask—both are cat-themed athletes who are ostensibly heels but have a soft spot for children. But if you take a look at the relative strength of Incineroar’s attacks, you’ll find that it’s based on Japan’s cultural understanding of pro wrestling.

Incineroar’s forward smash is an Enzuigiri, and it has immense damage and KO potential. To a viewer mainly familiar with American promotions, the Enzuigiri is mostly used as a transitional move to something stronger or a counter to an opponent’s offense. However, the technique has a greater legacy in Japan, where it is the finisher of Antonio Inoki, one of the three most famous Japanese wrestlers of all time. Inoki is a legend as both a champion and the founder of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and was even used as the model for the character Fighter Hayabusa in the NES game Pro Wrestling, where the Enzuigiri is known as the “Back Brain Kick.”

If you look at what Incineroar can do off a grab, you’ll find a similar phenomenon. Of the character’s four basic throws, the deadliest one is the German Suplex. Again, you have a move that, outside of Japan, is seen as kind of generic; maybe at most, people might associate it with Kurt Angle or Brock Lesnar. But the German Suplex is also the defining hold of Karl Gotch, the man known as the “god of wrestling” in Japan. Gotch had an enormous influence on the Japanese pro wrestling style, and even today whenever a wrestler pulls off a German Suplex in Japan, it’s seen as a big deal that can potentially end a match right then and there.

Another powerful throw Incineroar uses is the Argentine Backbreaker. While this move is seen in the US as more impactful than the Enzuigiri or German Suplex thanks to wrestlers like Lex Luger and the man who originally popularized it, Antonino Rocca, its footprint is even more prevalent in Japan. Not only did Rocca wrestle in Japan later in his career and is possibly the namesake of Antonio Inoki, but the Argentine Backbreaker also gained notoriety in the pages of the manga Kinnikuman. There, the character Robin Mask (a wrestler dressed like an English knight) uses it as a finishing move, calling it the Tower Bridge. Moreover, it’s clear that at least Sakurai Masahiro (the director of the Smash Bros. franchise) knows Kinnikuman: he posted to Twitter an image of Smash characters mimicking the Muscle Docking technique from the series:

Moving on, Incineroar’s best attack is arguably its side special, the Alolan Whip. While the name itself is a parody of the Irish Whip, the more important part is the follow-up: a vicious Lariat. 

One of the most famous American wrestlers to ever entertain fans in Japan is Stan Hansen, whose Western Lariat became downright iconic everywhere he fought. On the Japanese Wikipedia page for “Lariat,” the history section literally begins with a mention of Hansen, and in current times, the Japanese wrestler Okada Kazuchika is famed for his “Rainmaker” Lariat. Incidentally, Incineroar also has another related move taken from the Pokémon games—Darkest Lariat—but that’s closer to Zangief from Street Fighter II’s Double Lariat.

Generally speaking, I find that pro wrestling has a lot more of a longstanding influence on Japanese pop culture than it does American pop culture, despite the fact that pro wrestling as we know it has its origins in the United States. Even today, manga and anime wholly unrelated to wrestling or hand-to-hand combat (like Laid-Back Camp) will throw in a few references, as if to assume a common understanding among readers. So while having a wrestling cat for a Pokémon is not altogether that unusual regardless of culture, I find the execution of such a concept in Smash Bros. Ultimate to be very reflective of that enduring legacy. The fact that Incineroar so embodies the values of Japanese pro wrestling makes it all the more fun to play, win or lose.

Aesthetic and Gameplay Thoughts on Pyra and Mythra in Smash Ultimate

The newest DLC characters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are Pyra and Mythra (also known as Homura and Hikari in Japanese) from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I’ve never played any Xenoblade games (or, for that matter, any games beginning with the prefix “Xeno”), so my impressions of these two characters are purely from an aesthetic and Smash gameplay standpoint.

Aesthetics

In terms of visual designs, Pyra and Mythra are probably the most “anime” of all characters thus far in the Smash Bros. franchise. Now, I fully understand that anime as a style is extremely diverse and that saying something is “anime” doesn’t reveal much on its own. Here, however, what I specifically mean is that their aesthetic is the kind that appeals to otaku primarily in the same vein that something like BlazBlue does—and at the possible expense of appealing to a wider and unfamiliar audience. 

Speaking personally as someone who devotes numerous hours per week to anime and manga, I don’t mind their look, but I fully understand why others would turn their noses at these two. There’s no mystery that these designs are pretty thirsty, and that they traffic heavily in anime tropes. If you listen to the Japanese in the video “Mr. Sakurai Presents Pyra/Mythra,” the Smash Bros. series director summarizes their respective demeanors as dere and tsun—what the official subtitles translate as “sweet” and “headstrong.” 

Ultimate also gives the ability to listen to the characters’ voices in Japanese and English, and the differences in performance have convinced me that there’s an aspect of many Japanese characters that gets lost between characters. Namely, when performing special attacks, I think the differences in Pyra’s and Mythra’s personalities aren’t as prominent in English as they are in Japanese. There’s a certain lack of aggressiveness I sense in Pyra even in her more passionate lines in Japanese that isn’t quite there in English.

Gameplay

Much like Zelda and Sheik prior to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii, Pyra and Mythra are two characters in one, with players being able to swap between the two of them as a special move. The basic breakdown (as explained by series director Sakurai) is that Pyra has power and Mythra has speed, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how fast Mythra is. 

Just moving around with Mythra reminds me of my earliest days playing Super Smash Bros. Melee and trying out Fox McCloud. Throughout the Smash Bros. franchise, Fox is known for being extremely nimble on the ground, and also dropping like a rock when falling. It’s not uncommon for new players unfamiliar with Fox to just fall off accidentally and die. Mythra sports a similar combination along with a somewhat limited ability to get back to the stage that makes self-destructs likely, and in a game like Ultimate where recoveries are generally strong, it’s quite a glaring weakness. 

That being said, Mythra by herself easily feels like one of the best characters in the game because that level of agility never goes out of style in Smash. She’s fast on the ground, fast in the air, and she has attacks that either start up quickly or cover a lot of space instantly. Her side special, Photon Edge, reminds me a bit of Sonic’s game plan in general. If you’re caught slacking from even half a stage away, Mythra can punish even an empty hop—the drawback being that some of her more damaging attacks like Photon Edge are easy to punish themselves.

In contrast, Pyra is markedly slower in every way and her recovery is even worse, but her reach and kill power easily outdo Mythra’s. Traditionally, Smash has favored speed over strength, and that’s still likely the case here, but Pyra’s ability to net KOs is actually kind of frightening. Many of her attacks are actually relatively fast for how early they can take stocks, and her superior reach compared to Mythra means that you can mess up an opponent’s spacing and neutral by switching between the two characters. Playing against Pyra, there were many occasions where I assumed I was at a safe distance, only to get forward smashed and lose the game. So while Pyra is likely the weaker of the two, her upsides complement Mythra quite well and actually appear to shore up each others’ flaws, unlike how Sheik is far and away a better character in Melee and Brawl to the point that Zelda only ever comes out in extremely niche situations.

Given the inherently advantageous properties of Mythra combined with having Pyra as a wild card, I feel like the chances of this character being top tier are very high. There’s just so much they have that classically works well in Smash that it’s hard to imagine them having any weaknesses that could truly limit them.

Overall

I don’t know Pyra and Mythra, but I think they’re welcome additions to Smash Bros. Their characters don’t bring any wild or unorthodox new mechanics to the table, but they ooze personality in everything they do. While I’m expecting the two of them to be very popular competitively, and I suspect that there might be a backlash against them coming,I think it’s a good idea to enjoy the ride for now, whether you’re a fan of them already or you’re just discovering them for the first time.

Sun Guts: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2021

Here we are: roughly a year since coronavirus basically forced the world to change course. I seriously could not have imagined all that has happened since, and it feels like ten years have passed in the span of one. I’m losing my grip on time a bit, but this makes me wonder if doing these monthly blog updates actually helps in some way. I can see the days and weeks go by.

In happier news, the Blocker Corps IV Machine Blaster crowdfund to digitally archive the series was successful! I talked about it in a post to drum up support, and it actually didn’t make it until literally the 11th hour by crossing the finish line with only 11 minutes left in the all-or-nothing campaign. It’s not going to be on anyone’s list of best anime ever, but knowing I helped to keep an anime alive makes me feel good.

After all, I know what it’s like to have the support of others. Thank you to March’s Patreon sponsors:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from February:

God Mars and the Legacy of BL Fan Shipping

A look at the giant robot anime that is foundational to the fujoshi fandom in Japan. Gundam Wing before Gundam Wing, you might say.

That’s Ruff, Buddy—Nichijou: My Ordinary Life

My long overdue review of one of the funniest manga ever.

Otakon Needs Our Help

My favorite anime convention might not survive another year due to the Coronavirus. Consider supporting them!

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 37 has the most intense musical performance yet.

Closing

The 2021 New York International Children’s Film Festival starts this Friday! Unlike previous years, it’s a virtual festival this time around, and the $40 two-week all-acesss pass is an incredibly good deal. If you live in the US, it might be worth checking out.

Also, how about that Pyra and Mythra in Smash Bros. Ultimate, huh? I’m thinking about writing something in regards to fanservice in character designs, hopefully providing a nuanced perspective.

Stay safe, get vaccinated. I wish you good health.