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Have you ever woken up one morning and thought to yourself, “Wow! I’ve been a fan of this ongoing franchise for the majority of my life! Spectacular!” Yeah. That was me not too long ago. I can’t say I hate the feeling.
So, Smash 4, huh? You know, it’s funny; if I remember right, the original Smash was pretty much a low-budget, throw-it-out-there title with little in the way of expectations. Fast-forward to the present, and not only is it THE most high-profile release for the Wii U, but it’s also the one game that could convince people to even buy Wii Us. Even though The Wonderful 101 has long since made a strong case for the console, but whatever. I’m not salty at all.
I don’t know why I would be. Smash Bros. 4, y’all!
It’s safe to say that Nintendo’s got a lot riding on the game, and thankfully, they couldn’t have bet on a better title. If the reaction and love for the 3DS version is anything to go by, we’re looking at a fourth batch of lightning in a bottle.
But I think it goes further than that. In fact, I’d say that Smash 4 is one of this generation’s most important releases yet -- if not one of gaming’s most important releases, period.
Why? Well, here’s a hint. And by “hint” I mean “blatant answer”:
For those who don’t know (and why wouldn’t you, unless you actively avoid good things?), Kamen Rider Wizard tells the tale of Haruto, a man fighting to protect the people from the Phantoms -- magical monsters out to wreak havoc and spread despair. I mean that quite literally; see, the Phantoms are born when a Gate -- a normal human who awakens to magic potential -- reach their lowest emotional points. The human dies, and in his/her place emerges a Phantom (even though said Phantom can assume that human form at will…and yes, they DO exploit the hell out of that ability).
The trick is that if a Gate doesn’t fall prey to despair, they become a wizard. As such, it’s up to Haruto -- as “the ring-bearing wizard” -- to preserve, and in a lot of cases restore, the hope of people in need of a helping hand. And so begin his donut-eating, monster-kicking, henshin-filled adventures with his partner Koyomi and the allies he meets along the way -- a mayonnaise-loving archaeologist well among them -- as he pledges himself to others as, ultimately, “the final hope”.
It’s that kind of show. But if nothing else there’s a reason why he’s got a hand for a belt buckle. Why it sings? Not so much.
What I find baffling -- and a little distressing -- is that for one reason or another, a lot of people absolutely HATE Wizard. And unless I secretly have terrible taste, I don’t see the reason for the hate. Like, people realize that the story is pretty much one giant allegory for suicide prevention, right? So you can’t exactly say it’s not complex. Given that the Phantoms are pretty much trolls and miscreants that thrive on finding out your personal information and using it to harass you, I’d say there’s something eerily relevant about the theming there, especially nowadays.
Haruto’s development isn’t so much about him becoming a better person, but about him losing control of the situation he once had a handle on -- and the desperation that guides his actions from then on. He may start out as a Cool Guy, but it’s hard to be cool when you start getting your shit kicked in on a regular basis and your little lady friend is constantly minutes away from death. And on the action front? This is a character that does his best God Hand impression and kicks a Phantom into the sun. Also, not to spoil anything, but one of the baddies is literally a serial killer -- as in, a serial killer who arguably killed less people after he turned into a monster.
I guess I see a little bit of Wizard in Nintendo. Right now, it seems like the Big N’s got a thankless job right now, and takes plenty of heat just for being around. In all fairness, some of that heat is understandable. Nintendo’s in a bad spot, but some of that comes from their missteps, assumptions, and inflexibility. There are things that they can do, and should have done long before this point (get more third party support, revive established franchises, and FOR GOD’s SAKE, PROMOTE YOUR WARES!). They’re not exactly the innocent victims here. Much like Wizard, it’s far from perfect -- but to its credit, at least the Big N doesn’t have a second Rider who’s only there as a jobber.
That all said, if there’s any company -- and console, by extension -- I’d stay loyal to in this eighth generation, it’s Nintendo. It feels like they’ve got gamers’ interests at heart. Or to be more precise, it feels like they’re one of the only ones out to make genuine, quality games -- a far cry from others trying to sell us on “experiences” that are memorable for all the wrong reasons. This past E3 proved that for all its missteps, Nintendo hasn’t quite lost its handle on what (and who) matters most. I’d sooner count on that than promises -- and delusions -- of grandeur.
Speaking personally, Nintendo’s becoming one of my heroes of the game industry -- to the point where I’m about ready to shout “Nintendo, hallelujah!”
I don’t think I’m THAT far off the mark, my biases aside. Just look at Smash 4. Just -- just look at it, will you? Sure, there’s an argument to be made that it’s just another Smash game, i.e. the Big N banking on another established name to turn a profit. And that’s true, in a lot of ways. On the other hand, it’s not as if we get a Smash game every year, or even every two years. Unless the rumors of “Smash Bros. 6” amount to anything, chances are high that we’ll have to sate ourselves with this new release for a good half-decade.
But even setting that aside -- and setting aside the fact that this praise is coming from someone who JUST proposed that games can be more than shallow entertainment -- I can’t help but feel like in this day and age, Smash 4 is something special. It should go without saying at this point, but I have to appreciate the abject refusal to abandon a decent color palette. Moreover, plenty of the screenshots on the main site haven’t just highlighted the updated graphics; they’ve highlighted what can be done with them. Time, and time, and time again Sakurai and company have offered up pictures of those faces, and their reaction to oft-insane goings-on.
I’m sincerely hoping that in the full game, you can take pictures just as delightful -- if only so my brother can have something to stock on the console besides pictures of Captain Falcon. (You’re better off not asking.)
But really, though? Smash 4 is like a digital ambassador of goodwill, offering up plenty to gamers of all kinds. Let us count the many ways.
1) The triumphant return of Mega Man to gaming. (FIGHTING TO SAVE THE WORLD!)
2) The good humor shown by the devs in virtually every trailer, highlighting the fun instead of trying to be “epic”. Well, barring the Reggie/Iwata fight.
3) The sheer amount of content right out of the box -- up to and including a cast that numbers roughly fifty strong. Those are some MAHVEL numbers right there.
4) Almost as if trying to take a dump all over Ubisoft, there are nine playable female characters -- eleven if you count the alternate versions of Villager and Robin (again, taking that steaming dump), and twelve if you assume that Jigglypuff is female. Thirteen, if you refuse to accept Marth.
5) A marriage of simple gameplay and complex nuances to please every audience without catering to or dumbing down for any of them -- accented, of course, by a slew of customizable options.
6) A genuine celebration of gaming’s history, bringing in faces old and new to honor our beloved medium -- so that even if it IS a product out for your money, it’s a product full of meaning. That shouldn’t be anything worth getting excited about, but in this day and age, it is.
7) The ability to generate excitement by its own merits (through improvements, additions, and tweaks to the formula) through a steady drip of unfiltered information, instead of cheap hype-mongering and resignation. No “You will buy this because it’s the next big thing” or “You will buy this because you will buy this” here.
8) Seriously, DID YOU LOOK AT IT? THE COLORS!
A lot of people here on Destructoid have been claiming “dibs” on certain characters, and I respect that. Speaking from experience, I refuse to touch anyone my brother mains, plays, or has played because “they have his stink on them”. Beyond that, there’s the principle; when you choose a main in a fighting game, or even someone you’re willing to add to your stable of fighters, you’re making a commitment. You’re forming a bond between you and your avatar -- someone who, however temporarily, harbors your soul.
The thing worth remembering, though, is that in a lot of cases you can’t choose someone exactly to your tastes -- that is, you can find someone who suits you in Street Fighter, but you can’t create your own world warrior (yet). You have to adapt to preset characters. Because of that, you end up seeing things their way. In their eyes. In ways you never would have thought of before. It goes beyond just being a boxer or a wrestler; whether you know it or not, you’re considering every last one of their nuances. You take away something from them, even beyond their strongest combos.
It’s the same with pretty much every character in Smash -- but for me, it’s with Palutena most of all. It’s one thing to be able to play as a female character -- and make no mistake, I’m thankful this new game has effectively quadrupled its representation -- but it takes more than just adding in ladies.
It’s about the quality of those ladies, as it is with any character. What gives them that spark? What kind of characters are they, in a fight and out of it? What can you take away from a character from a world so separate from yours? Games are capable of showing that, even without a dense narrative built into their code. And while I’ve seen plenty of titles fail to offer up anything, I’m pretty confident that Smash 4 will offer up everything I could need and more.
Playing as Peach in the other games opened my eyes to some new possibilities, no question. And while I don’t intend to drop her in the new game, I’m eager to see things from Palutena’s perspective. I haven’t played as a goddess since Okami, so I want to see -- and feel -- what it’s like to have that potential at my fingertips.
Even if there’s no dedicated story mode, I’d wager that I don’t need one. Her animations, move set, and general appearance can tell me plenty. I know enough about her from Kid Icarus (and even her announcement trailer) to think, “Yeah, this is a cool character.” She’s got style, airs, and elegance -- and even some sass -- that you don’t see all that often. Damned if I’m going to miss out on it now. And thus, I call the greatest of dibs…at least I would if someone hadn’t beaten me to the punch. So I’ll act on my contingency plan and call auxiliary dibs on Peach.
Neither of them have a shot at being mai waifu, though. My heart’s already taken.
A lot of people these days are sour over the state of games and the industry at large -- and I’m one of them. I know what games can be, but too often these days it feels like they’re refusing to even try to reach that potential because they -- and the minds behind them -- act as if they’ve got no more merit than the average bag of chips. But even before it hits store shelves, Smash 4 has proven that games can be more. They can offer more. You can have that simplicity, but you can offer up what matters most of all: a bond that goes beyond the limits of a simple disc.
It’s a game primed and ready to dispel all the cynicism and negativity swirling around us gamers -- the proof that there are games in the present and future worth believing in. It’s a willing bringer of hope, maybe even more than simple fun. And if that doesn’t make it a hero, then I don’t know what does.
And that’ll do it for now. So let’s end on a high note, shall we?
I can’t listen to that song without thinking of Christmas. Probably because Haruto saved Christmas for a bunch of orphans in one episode. It was the second greatest thing he did in the series, besides imagining himself in his Rider suit playing the piano while wearing a bow tie and top hat.
In summation, Kamen Rider -- much like Smash Bros. -- is too damn stronk. Because who else will push a secret Rider propagandist agenda, if not me?
Alternate post title: DURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRp.
All right, let’s be real here. I’m pretty sure that by this point, I’ve made no shortage of my opinions known. Some of them are easy to agree with, I hope. Others, not so much. But that’s to be expected. People are allowed to disagree with me, because they’re coming from different places. Different perspectives, experiences, and whatnot. That’s part of the reason why I do these posts -- because those differences in opinion mean something to me.
So I’ll do it once more. Let’s gab about video games for a second.
Obviously, they mean something to me. If you’re reading this, then chances are high that they mean something to you. And they mean something to a lot of other people, across no shortage of generations -- console or otherwise. It’s a young medium, sure, but it’s left its mark on peoples and cultures across the world. That ain’t bad for something that isn’t even as old as some grandparents.
The definition of a game has come into question plenty of times before, recently as well as years ago. There have been questions about whether or not it qualifies as art, whether or not it’s harmful to players, and even if it has hidden benefits (like making us better doctors, for one). There are a lot of unknowns, and even more opinions on the medium. That’s the way it should be, at least for now. Questions beget answers -- and with them, strides to try and conform to those answers.
Still, there’s one subject that’s been on my mind recently. I’m the kind of guy who can (and often does) see things as they should be, and not always as they are. That’s problematic at times, but the tradeoff is that I have ideas as well as ideals. And that extends to something as seemingly-unimportant as video games. I know what they have been in the past, and because of that, I know what they can be. And that’s what I want them to be, from here on.
Each generation should be better than the last. I hope we can agree on that, at least.
There’s a current of thought among some gamers that suggests that “games are here just for fun”. And in some ways, I agree with that. It’s a section of the entertainment industry, so that’s only natural. And besides, it’s not all that different from any other medium. We watch movies for fun. We read books for fun. Even something as simple as looking at a pretty picture can be fun. So if there are any outsiders looking in reading this, I’ll be the first to confirm that pressing buttons and spinning sticks is a lot more exciting than you’d expect.
But if you’ll let me speak personally (as if you have a choice), I think there’s something important to keep in mind. Yes, games are here to entertain us; the question that follows is HOW do they entertain us? In the past, games could largely only accomplish that through its mechanics -- gameplay, and the difficulty that followed, and the layouts of levels, and so on. But once you get a taste of what they can do, it’s hard to go back to just a black-and-white picture of the medium.
So I’ll be frank. I think video games are for more than just “having fun”. Sure, they can do that, and quite well -- oh my God the wait for Smash Bros. 4 is unbearable -- but they can offer more. Think of it this way: why is reading a book fun? All you’re doing is sitting down and flipping through pages, right? It’s more like work than anything else to get through it. But what’s important is the content. The ideas. There’s stuff in there designed to engage you, and get you thinking in a way that a good piece of art should. As you’d expect.
Now, am I saying that every video game needs a compelling story to be good? No. It certainly wouldn’t hurt (and WOULD help matters, in a lot of cases), but it’s not a requirement. You don’t think about turning the pages of a book; you think about the content, and get engaged in it as you process its particulars. It’s the same thing with games. You don’t think about doing DPs or powerslides; you engage with the game because your input directly determines the output. If the mechanics are working as they should, then they can make a case for a game in the absence of some riveting tale.
That in mind, video games are trying -- however desperately -- to be more than just a chance to get high scores and top honors. (Well, some of them, at least.) The Tomb Raider reboot could have just dumped Lara Croft in the wilderness without a story to go by, but it did its best to give a reason to care about its leading heroine -- a narrative from start to finish. Given what’s come out before and after it, I’d say that games are trying to be more. Developers recognize that they can do more than just make arenas and stages.
But that’s the keyword. They can.
The medium’s taken some real strides, but it needs to take more. It needs to get out of this rut -- this perception that games are just murder simulators and power fantasies and whatnot. As others have argued, it can do that by taking on bigger themes. Bigger ideas. It can work those elements into the story and gameplay alike, with a decent level of subtlety or as overtly as reason will allow. If a game can, then it just becomes that much more engaging, and thus higher-quality. If it can’t, then it offers fleeting, surface-level thrills at best -- and sometimes not even that.
So on top of being an incredible racing game, Mario Kart 8 -- continuing the theoretical groundwork laid by Mario 3D World -- is arguably a story about the continuing industrialization of the Mushroom Kingdom, given a shot in the arm by Rosalina’s descent and subsequent offering of new technology; alternatively, it’s a metacommentary about the evolution of Nintendo and its struggle to evolve in (and even keep up with) an increasingly-mercantile industry.
And Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze can be enjoyed as either a top-notch platformer, or as the harrowing tale of a leader forced to bear the sins of his ancestors as he leads his family home, or as a means to take basic gameplay conventions and make statements on karmic retribution and rebirth. Xenoblade Chronicles might as well be renamed The Arms Race That Heads to its Not-Quite Logical Conclusion.
Those in-depth readings -- or reaching -- aren’t necessary to enjoy the games. But they do enhance them. And they -- the gameplay, above all else -- enhance us in kind. As it should.
So basically, I’d say that video games are for three different things, each one on different levels of thought. The first and shallowest is that they’re here to entertain us -- to give a chance to be someone else, and do something incredible. Fair enough. But after that, they’re here to engage us -- to draw us in with their myriad factors, and make us hang on every pixel. And last, they’re here to enrich us. Once we process the information, we come to our own conclusions, and walk away with something gained each time we set the pad down. That’s my theory, at least. And unreasonable as it may be, I hope that’s what games do from here on out.
But that’s just my opinion. And in the end, this is about you. So feel free to weigh in. Offer me some perspective -- and offer it for yourself in kind. Just give the best answer you can to the question at hand: what are video games for? What do you expect from them each time you sit down and play? Are they the best they can be right now? If so, why? If not, then why not? What should they do from here on out? What do you want most of all?
You know what’s next, right? Get those fingers nice and limber. Ready? Set…comment!
And that’s my cue to get out of here. I need to try and come up with some cockamamie theories about Pac-Man.
Oh GOD I NEED SOME WII U SMASH IN MY BODY RIGHT NOW. Palutena confirmed for sick goddess combos. (By which I mean my usual stable of sneaky survivalist tactics.)