For Melee, Forever (Ryan Rotella)

Game sequels are usually the inverse of movie sequels. Game sequels are generally better than their predecessor (with exceptions, of course) because game developers, at that point, usually have better and newer technology, better funding if the previous game was a success, and better familiarity with which mechanics work in a game and which don’t (thanks, consumer feedback). Moreover, players find it much more palatable that mechanics be familiar (especially if the first game was good) with refined controls, better graphics, and some slight tweaks/new gameplay elements. The focus on a game sequel is usually not eyeing surprise or newness like a movie sequel’s story and narrative structure (which can rarely be found to be reliable to the first movie but still fresh in its own right). In fact, gamers can prize familiarity more so than any other audience. This is most apparent in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, where Super Smash Bros. Melee reigns as the undisputed favorite of many Smash players.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was initially released in North America on Dec. 3, 2001, making it one of the first games for the Nintendo Gamecube. A good number of players and online commenters, such as professional Melee player William “Leffen” Hjelle, say that what drew them to Melee as children was “being able to play the well-known Nintendo characters in a game that’s a ton of fun to pick up” (Zacny). However, what has made Melee a popular 15 year phenomenon and retained the interest of these now grown-up players are the “well designed intricate mechanics were, and how much further you could push the limits of the game” (Zacny). In fact, a vibrant professional community has gathered around Melee because of these intricate mechanics in the game (and without the support of Nintendo) (Minotti). These mechanics include wave dashing (players can move horizontally while still able to perform moves), L-cancelling (stops momentum and helps characters take less damage), and chain grabs (multiple grabs performed in a row). These more advanced mechanics were the results of programming oversight on glitches in the game, which the Smash community has now taken to be another metagame for superior players. These more advanced mechanics along with game’s faster speed than other installments (which have been purposely made slower in later installments to include more casual players) make Melee the best candidate as a casual game turned hardcore. Advanced, rich gameplay mechanics with a shot of nostalgia has made Super Smash Bros. Melee the choice of many Smash players.

Some, like Kotaku’s Ben Bertoli, argue that the newest Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (or Super Smash Bros. 4) should dethrone Melee as the top Smash game (Bertoli). In terms of graphics, character roster, and overall accessibility (I have no idea where my GameCube or my Wii is anymore), I would agree. Smash 4 delivers a refined yet familiar experience to a game series that many (including myself) love and will continue to love for a good while. But, that almost doesn’t matter so much when comparing it to Melee. Melee will always hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts, and that’s an impressive feat in itself. Not many 15 year-old games can still hold weight in terms of fun (and not frustration) in light of game with much better technology and programming. The fact that people love Melee so much that it’s still relevant and preferred in competitive tournaments really cements how truly special and well-crafted (intentionally or otherwise) a game it is. Like a good old movie, Super Smash Bros. can be enjoyed as a not bad remake in Smash 4 or as a nostalgia-aged artifact in Melee

Works Cited:

Bertoli, Ben. “Why Super Smash Bros. Wii U Deserves to Dethrone Melee.” Kotaku, 9 Apr 2015, http://kotaku.com/why-super-smash-bros-wii-u-deserves-to-dethrone-melee-1696512607. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

Minotti, Mike. “How Super Smash Bros. Melee’s esports community keeps the fighter relevant 15 years after release.” VentureBeat, 16 Mar 2016, http://venturebeat.com/2016/03/16/how-super-smash-bros-melees-esports-community-keeps-the-fighter-relevant-15-years-after-release/. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

Zacny, Rob. “Leffen on Why We Still Play Super Smash Bros. Melee.” Red Bull: eSports, 30 Aug 2016, http://www.redbull.com/us/en/esports/stories/1331815023939/leffen-why-we-play-smash-bros-melee-cultivation. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

A Hardcore Casual (Ryan Rotella)

In my last game log, I analyzed how the designers of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U reward longtime, dedicated gamers by packing their game full of intertextual references to so many different kinds of games for the 50+ characters in Smash. Super Smash Bros. seemed designed to be intertextual, bringing many characters (Nintendo and non-Nintendo) under a fighting competition. In this light, Super Smash Bros. sounds like a typical fighting game for dedicated, “hardcore” gamers. The fact that there is a community of professional (paid) and extremely dedicated Smash players seems to support Super Smash Bros’s hardcore-ness (a topic for another game log). However, Super Smash Bros. doesn’t fit neatly into the binary of casual v. hardcore games. In fact, the game is extremely popular, as the Wii U iteration 4.9 million copies so in its lifespan (and the 3DS version of the game sold 8.23 million copies as well) (Nintendo Sales). Super Smash Bros. caters to all kinds of people and balances between casual and hardcore gaming effectively.

In his book A Casual Revolution, Jesper Juul outlines five components that make up his definition of a casual game: a positively-charged fiction, accessible usability, interruptibility, a tiered difficulty and lenient punishment, juiciness, which is “excessive positive feedback for every successful action the player performs” (Juul 50). Does Smash fit in this casual framework? Not really, but there are some casual components that Smash is built on. First, most Smash characters—save Solid Snake, Samus Aran, Ganondorf, and a few others—come from positive game worlds like the Mushroom Kingdom, Kirby’s Dreamworld, or Pikmin, even if these positive fictions mask a lot of cartoon violence. Second, Smash is very much a game of controlled short bursts of playing with the multiplayer mode being designed as a series of short matches that can have time limits. Turning off Smash only means leaving a single match that can easily be re-created later (unless you’re in single player mode, which, again, is a series of matches that are easily reproducible). There’s no story or large time investment Smash requires up front (unless you’re playing the Subspace Emissary in Super Smash Bros. Brawl). The units of play are quick morsels of action, not a full course RPG meal. Third, Smash has a tiered difficulty system in terms of its overall controls, where players can learn more and more advanced moves (wave-dashing and such) if they wish, or keep spamming down+B with Pikachu. However, these controls aren’t necessarily “easy to learn, hard to master” (Juul 41). With a GameCube controller, there are about 7 buttons along with the move stick that controls a player’s actions, as well as directional variants for each button; for a Wii remote held horizontally, there are 3 (4, if you like taunting) and a directional pad, which simplifies the control schemes a bit. However, Smash’s controls aren’t easy to pick up and play right away. In order for someone to learn Smash, it takes a lot of lectures from other players and playing the game over and over again. Then, after someone learns the basics, competitive mastery (wave dashing, timing tilts, etc.) is lightyears away. I do mean that in terms of time commitment and physical impossibility (for me, at least). The game further contradicts casual standards by not rewarding players for every single action (juiciness). Smash doesn’t hold the player’s hand nor reward every action. So, Smash scores a 2.5 (somewhat positive fiction, interruptibility, tiered difficulty) out of 5 on Juul’s Casual scale. 

Smash is an interesting example of how blurry the distinction between casual and hardcore games really is. Smash appeals to many and doesn’t exclude based on its cartoonish atmosphere; however, Smash can offer dedicated gamers an arena of competitive mastery and genuine challenge. In this way, Smash toes the line between casual and hardcore to large financial and critical success. 

Works Cited:

Juul, Jesper. “Ch.2: What is Casual?” A Casual Revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010. Web PDF. 

“Top Selling Software Sales Units.” Nintendo: IR Information. Nintendo, 30 June 2016. Web. Date accessed: 3 Oct 2016. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/software/3ds.html

A New Challenger Approaches! (Intertextuality) – Ryan Rotella

Intertextuality, an oft used literary term, finds its digital home in a game series that most people don’t associate with literature: Super Smash Bros. This game is one of the most well known fighting games in existence. A large reason for Smash’s popularity (aside from being contagiously fun) is due to the unity of so many different video game characters from so many different kinds of games on one simple game. Super Smash Bros. has a history of having famous and lesser known Nintendo characters included. The first iteration (Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64) had 12 playable characters (four of them having to be unlocked during the game), having famous flagship characters such as Mario and Pikachu to characters such as Ness from the quirky SNES RPG, Earthbound (source: http://www.ssbwiki.com/Super_Smash_Bros.) In this latest version for the Wii U, the game has 58 playable characters (7 who are only available as downloadable content) with a variety of non-Nintendo characters like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Solid Snake. A majority of these characters have stages (where the game is played) that reference other characters and imagery from that world’s series. The sheer range of the players available (and games referenced) emphasizes how Smash functions as a space unlike any other, where characters from very different universes can interact with each other and worlds of different games can communicate with each other. 

Bowser (Super Mario Bros.), Link (Legend of Zelda), Village (Animal Crossing), Fox (Star Fox), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Pikachu (Pokemon), Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong), Kirby (Kirby’s Dreamworld) on a stage in homage to Super Mario Galaxy

Now, the main point of intertextual communication in this game is twofold and both folds are not what is thought of as “literary.” First, the large roster of characters and video game worlds represented reward experienced video games with allusions and references to all these other games. This gives the dedicated gamer a chance to show off all his video game knowledge in front of his friends (thanks, Nintendo). Second, all these characters participate in the age-old question: who would win in a fight? This question has been discussed in most other mediums with any character tied to power or violence: for books, who would the gods favor in a one-on-one match up: Achilles or Aeneas; for comic books, Superman and [insert any comic book character]. The list could go on indefinitely.

Primitive version of Super Smash Bros. on a Grecian urn

With video games being such a diverse and sprawling horde of action-oriented games and genres, the question of who the most powerful/best/awesome character acquires a special weight. It has this weight to it because in a game like Smash, players can answer it for themselves in a way that ultimately rewards one player’s skill and opinion. Unlike the function of intertextuality in literature which uses another text’s ideas as auxiliary support or contrast with a text’s ideas, intertextuality is a main foundation of Super Smash Bros. In a way, this representation celebrates all the different kind of characters and games the gaming world has to offer. All sorts of games unite under one fun fighting game to see which characters the players (AKA the audience) can relate to, despise, laugh at, or love. Also to see who can strike the best pose (hint: it’s King Dedede).

(Soft jazz plays)
(Soft jazz plays)