Any longtime Smash bettor will tell you that Smash 4 had a strange competitive run. Of course, any new Smash game will immediately garner a competitive community.
It didn’t take long before it started showing up on online betting sites alongside its older brother Melee. The game, which was released for Nintendo’s least-selling console, was praised at first for its consistent action and combo game.
Little did the players know that those two factors would lead to the game’s downfall.
Unlike in previous games, Smash Bros. 4 would have new characters added to the game after release through downloadable content. These characters would be a mix of returning fighters and brand-new characters, all with their own unique traits and attacks. Once again, players were excited for what was to come.
If you’re a Smash bettor, you know what happened next. Smash Ultimate is currently facing the same dilemma.
Nintendo has announced that there will be five DLC characters that are all unique and new to the Smash franchise. The first one, Joker from Persona 5, was released just a few days ago and has been warmly received by the community. However, this could be the beginning of the end for Smash Ultimate.
Super Smash Bros. 4: Follies
If you aren’t a Smash fan, here’s a quick synopsis of what went down: the first few fighters released were either returning characters or based on other mainstay fighters. Lucas, Mewtwo, and Roy were all appreciated, and diehard fans immediately picked them up.
The crazy stuff started happening with the release of Ryu, the icon from Street Fighter. He came with a unique playstyle that reflected his 2D fighter roots but wasn’t considered particularly powerful or exploitive. What his release showed was that Nintendo wasn’t afraid to get weird.
And indeed, they did get weird. In December of 2015, Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 became available for purchase. Many fans immediately questioned his inclusion, considering that Final Fantasy is stereotyped as a Sony series, not Nintendo.
Cloud was defined by his Limit Break ability, a passive gauge that charged with combat and his down-special move. Smash 4 at this point was a shell of its former self, with defensive and slow play dominating the top level. Cloud’s mechanics specifically countered that kind of campy play.
Making this worse was his moveset. His hitboxes were massive, comboed into themselves, and came out fast. He immediately shot to the top tier and was picked up by several pro players due to his ease of use. Almost every serious Smash 4 player had a Cloud secondary because he was so good and so easy to play. He was even considered the best character for a while.
Some Smash 4 players were concerned by a DLC character becoming such a tournament mainstay, but Cloud had counterplay options. It’s unfortunate that fans at home would have to pay extra to play top-tier characters, but that concern was largely brushed aside by the community.
Then Bayonetta happened.
Meta Knight 2.0
The seventh and final DLC character for Smash 4 was Bayonetta, from her titular series made by Platinum Games. It was an oddball choice, but the second game in the series was released for the Wii U, so it wasn’t as far-fetched as Cloud.
The character’s whole shtick revolved around her combo game. She had multiple ways of extending her airtime and massive aerial hitboxes. Her supposed weakness was that the individual moves didn’t have a ton of knockback, making it hard for her to kill.
What Nintendo didn’t realize is that aerial mobility canceled that problem out completely.
The combo was somewhat difficult to learn, but the rewards were worth it. Using a chain of aerials, Bayonetta could carry every single character off the top of the stage from 0%.
Almost every Smash 4 player looking to make it big switched over to her. There was no reason to play any other character.
Bayonetta was so completely broken that Nintendo had to issue an emergency balance patch that nerfed her and only her. Even after that, her insanely consistent combo game kept her as the best character in the game. She completely ruined the spectator experience, and many fans simply gave up after watching a hundred mirror matches.
Needless to say, the game fell out of sportsbooks pretty quickly.
The game still developed, but a large amount of the player base also left the game’s competitive scene.
Bayonetta became extremely polarizing because of her combo game; every player had to have an incredibly specific game plan for dealing with her because there was no way they could avoid a Bayonetta main in the bracket.
Even if they were prepared, they could still get scooped up and carried off the top.
For a long time, Meta Knight from Brawl was considered the boogeyman of the Smash series. The character was completely overpowered in almost every possible way, and comparisons to him were not made lightly.
Bayonetta might not be as infallible as Brawl’s tyrant, but her position as the undisputed best character in the game drew apt comparisons.
The difference is that Brawl still has a ton of nostalgia factor and is still played competitively today.
Point me to a Smash 4 tournament.
Why Fighting Games Have DLC Problems
Downloadable content is a fairly common practice nowadays.
DLC lets developers both extend their game’s life cycle and squeeze more profit without having to make an entirely new game. The practice has existed for a long time in various genres, from single-player RPGs to multiplayer first-person shooters.
For fighting games, the practice has always been a little different.
Unlike single-player games, fighting games are meticulously balanced. Each character has to be tuned precisely to facilitate fair play, and even small exploits can completely turn the game on its head.
At the same time, some characters in fighting games are simply better than others. This is an accepted part of fighting games, and developers know that no game can be completely balanced.
DLC fighters, however, pose a threat to a game’s competitive scene. Developers have an ulterior motive when it comes to designing extra paid characters. They have to encourage people to buy them, and no one wants to spend extra money on a character that isn’t any good. As a result, DLC characters tend to be on the upper end of the tier list.
Many popular fighting games, like Tekken and Street Fighter, have DLC characters that don’t threaten the meta too much. The developers are conscious of the problem with fighting game DLC and try to work around it.
Many of those games’ DLC characters have unique but fair playstyles or are popular characters from previous games.
Nintendo hasn’t exactly encouraged their players to take the game seriously. They don’t care that much about balance compared to other game developers, and that’s what led to Smash 4 falling off most betting sites.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate could very well follow suit if another DLC fiasco happens.
Please Prove Me Wrong
With all that being said, Nintendo has proven that they care more about balance with Smash Ultimate.
Many of the game’s mechanics are different from Smash 4’s, and Cloud and Bayonetta’s spots on the tier list are much more reasonable.
Many professional players have commented that Joker seems quite balanced (aside from a potential infinite combo discovered by Leffen, but we’ll have to see how that plays out first before passing judgment).
I hope Nintendo proves me wrong in the future, but until then, every DLC announcement will make me cringe just a little.
Nintendo Has a Bad Track Record for DLC
Smash fans are pumped for the newest DLC character in Smash Bros. Ultimate, but their excitement could come back to bite them.