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.
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