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The Future of Smash is Paid For: But is that a Good Thing?

The Future of Smash

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest entry in the Smash Bros. series, is almost ready to celebrate its one year anniversary in December. Featuring over 100 stages, 850+ music tracks, and every single playable character from previous games in addition to 11 brand new fighters, SSBU already has enough variety to keep players engaged well into the foreseeable future.

However, instead of resting on their laurels, Nintendo has initiated the Fighter Pass, a season pass-style downloadable content. For a set price of $24.99, players can receive five more playable characters that are released every two or three months apart from each other.

Additionally, each fighter comes with a bundle of music tracks and a stage that pays homage to their home game.

Players may also opt out of buying the entire pass and simply pick and choose the fighters that interest them, paying around $6.00 per character.

Now, it may seem ridiculous for a game with more than 70 playable characters to toss more at you, but it works. Since Nintendo doesn’t initially announce who the next fighter is, gamers have a chance to make predictions and fantasize about their favorite character making it in (still waiting for Master Chief and Hollow Knight).

Frankly, the build-up to a new smash character announcement is just downright exciting, injecting a fresh dose of hype that rejuvenates player engagement.

Despite the overarching success of the fighter pass, however, I have noticed a worrisome trend that makes me fear for the long-term health of the game. This may come across to some of you as me being salty, but I’m going to say it anyway: the DLC characters are overpowered/gimmicky, and Nintendo’s lackluster patches are doing nothing to remedy the situation.

And, since Nintendo is asking for players to pay for these fighters, it wouldn’t be logical for them as a developer to release “bad” characters lest they feel the wrath of gamers who feel cheated out of money. This has led to an influx of DLC characters pervading the competitive scene, in most cases beating out non-DLC fighters due to their simply better kits.

The Joker Steals the Show

Let’s start with Joker, the first character to be released for the Fighter Pass. He’s a fast, agile fighter hailing from Persona 5 that excels in quick combos and has one of the only moves capable of dealing damage over time. To put it bluntly, he’s a better version of Sheik.

This alone would not make Joker an overpowered character, though; it’s the gimmick he has brought over from his home game that takes him from a high-mid tier character to a top tier character.

Joker has a gauge, the “Rebellion Gauge”, over his health percentage that charges up as he takes damage from his opponent (by using his down B special, Rebel Guard, the amount charged greatly increases during the move’s duration).

Once this gauge fills up, Joker is able to summon Arsene, his jacked spirit friend. Arsene empowers Joker, giving him access to stronger variations of some of his moves.

Instead of being a puny dark will-o’-the-wisp, Joker’s side B transforms into a Charizard’s Blast Burn that not only applies damage over time but also knocks you up into the air. His recovery move goes from a grappling hook to a Pit-Esque aerial launch which has greatly increased range.

His down B, which was completely harmless pre-Arsene, is now a counter/reflect with an absurd hitbox that hits like a truck. To top it all off, Joker’s smash attacks, aerials, and tilts feature Arsene, smacking you around harder and with a greater reach (seriously, Joker/Arsene back air and forward smash can rot).

Thankfully, Arsene does not last the entire match. As Arsene remains in play, the Rebellion Gauge slowly drains, and each time Joker gets hit, the gauge drops some more. Once the gauge empties completely, Arsene will vanish into thin air, at which point Joker’s moves will go back to normal.

In order to get Arsene again, Joker will have to charge up his Rebellion Gauge. On paper, this sounds like the perfect way to balance Joker and his steroidal goon.

Unfortunately, this mechanic plays out a little differently in-game. In the hands of a capable player, Rebel Guard can be used to charge Arsene extremely quickly, to the point of being unfair. Whereas Joker would have to take a string of hits normally to summon Arsene, two well-timed Rebel Guards against smash attacks has Arsene out and ready to party. And once Arsene is out, the Rebellion Gauge does not drain nearly fast enough (unless the Joker is bad and gets hit repeatedly).

By combining this fairly frequent summoning with strong staying power, Joker is a menace to play against. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that MKLeo, arguably the best smash ultimate player in the world at the moment, uses Joker as his main character. To make matters worse, since Joker’s release, there has been only a single change made to him, one that wasn’t really either a nerf or a buff.

As such, Joker has continued to remain a high tier character despite possessing one of the strongest mechanics in the game.

The Hero – Draws Near!

The next character to be released on the pass was Hero, and I will preface this by saying that he’s really not overpowered (although his neutral B is by far the best charged projectile in the game). If anything, Hero probably falls somewhere between mid and high tier.

However, my qualms with him again come down to the gimmicks he brings to smash from his home game, Dragon Quest, which makes him feel completely unbalanced.

While using his down B, Hero is able to pull up a menu featuring a list of spells, randomized each time (this is to prevent players from strategically cycling the menu until they get the list they want). The hero can then choose a spell from the list and cast it using MP he has stored up, which regenerates over time and as he deals damage.

These spells can vary from elemental sword attacks to teleportation to insta-kills. Yes, insta-kills. Whack, a close range move, and thwack, a projectile, each has a chance to instantly KO the opposing fighter, with the chance increasing as Hero sustains more and more damage.

If that wasn’t enough, Hero also has the passive ability to critically strike with his smash attacks, again rising in probability as he gets injured.

Due to this ability, getting hit with a normal forward smash goes from an inconvenience to a potential one-way ticket to the blast zone. With this litany of rng moves, fighting against a Hero can be infuriating.

I have played a match against a Hero where I got hit by a thwack and insta-died, only to spawn in and get hit by a crit immediately after my spawn invincibility wore off.

To say that there should be no randomness in smash would be ridiculous (it is a party game, after all), but there definitely should not be such an excess stuffed into one character.

I realize that these are mechanics from Hero’s home game, and Nintendo is simply trying to make him as true to it as possible, but it just…doesn’t work.

Banjo-Kazooie came out next

Releasing in September of this year. All in all, I’ve got no gripes with the bear and the bird dream team. I feel that Nintendo did a really good job of making them feel fun and powerful to play without breaking the tier charts or introducing some garbage gimmick.

Even Wondering, their side B move (and arguably their most annoying move), is fairly easy to punish if misused and it only has five uses per stock. They are an ideal example of what a DLC character should be.

Terry Bogard

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

At long last, we arrive at Terry Bogard, the latest addition (November 6) to the smash roster. This man has single-handedly broken what a DLC character –nay, what any character – should be able to do. As he originates from the Fatal Fury fighting game series, his move set is similar to that of Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter.

However, whereas Ken and Ryu players must be able to perform light/heavy tilt attacks (trust me, these are a pain to pull off), Terry players need only worry about command inputs.

This is the act of moving the control stick in different directions to empower normal moves and to unlock specialty moves. Not only are these command inputs some of the most basic inputs that a fighting game can have (mostly just quarter circles and a single Z move), the input recognition itself is forgiving, allowing even slightly botched inputs to be accepted.

I wouldn’t mind this so much were his damage and knockback kept to a reasonable degree, but they’re not even close to being fair. A single jab combo into a Power Dunk, his forward side B move, does around 40% damage and can kill at very early percent if used off-stage. And, since it is such an easy combo to pull off and so difficult to punish, players will spam it with little to no drawbacks.

The same goes for all of his directional B moves, but Power Dunk is by far the worst perpetrator.

To make matters worse, once Terry goes over 100%, he unlocks two additional special moves that can only be used during this near-death state: Power Geyser and Buster Wolf. While it is true that these moves have slightly more challenging command inputs, the effects of these moves greatly outweigh the difficulty of accomplishing them.

I was able to take a stock off of a Captain Falcon at 0% (who is a fairly heavy character, mind you) with nothing more than two Power Geysers and a Buster Wolf. No character should be able to use three moves and 0 to death an opponent (I’m looking at you, Ganondorf).

Honestly, I don’t know what Nintendo was thinking when they released Terry. I don’t know how extensive the playtesting is for new characters, but someone was on something while Terry was in the works. He has been out now for a little over a week and already players are winning local tournaments with him…this should be a red flag to Nintendo.

I understand that DLC characters can’t be garbage; it would make no business sense for Nintendo to ask players to buy a fighter that’s worse than half of the current roster.

At the same time, it is equally as nonsensical to release a character so powerful that they completely upset the current meta. Nintendo then has two solutions left to them: release the fighters in a balanced state (i.e. Banjo-Kazooie) or adjust the fighters in a timely manner through patches.

I am not calling for characters like Terry to get nerfed so hard that they become unplayable due to how bad they are, but I do think corrective actions need to be taken in order to maintain the power levels of DLC fighters. I imagine there were quite a few players who bought Joker and Terry simply because they saw how strong they were.

If Nintendo continues this pattern of releasing stronger and more broken characters, there will come a point where the only fighters anyone plays are the ones that you had to pay for, essentially making smash ultimate Pay2Win. Those would be dark times indeed.


Matthew Savona, enjoy writing, gaming, and gardening. Be sure to drop by his YouTube channel and subscribe!
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4 years ago

Great job Matt!! A fun read!

Gary Savona
Gary Savona
4 years ago

I really enjoyed the honest insightful review. Great read, keep them coming Matt!

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