It's funny what you forget. With Smash Bros Ultimate, the tagline was 'Everyone is here!' More fighters, more stages, more music than ever before! How could you possibly not be satisfied?
Well... I'm kind of not. As great and content rich as Ultimate is, it's still missing something. An item is missing. And it kills me that it's my favourite item in all of Smash. I'm talking about the beautiful glass cannon that is the Cracker Launcher.
There it is in the header image. Quite unassumng, eh? Well check out what it can do.
Admittedly not my best rally with the thing.
Why is the Cracker Launcher my favourite item? Simple. It’s distills the essence of Smash bros into the perfect weapon. It strikes a balance between skill and chaos that no item has matched. When one shows up on the field, everything else stops.
You either get it or get launched.
I love playing with items in Smash Bros. I have them on about 40% of the time in some form. I still love taking part in serious-pants, competitive play (Final Destination, no items, 3-stock affairs) but I am also partial to the less predictable, more chaotic way of playing Smash. A more party-like style. Four players, all items on; Smash Balls; Master Balls; Assist Trophies; the lot. It's the purest way to have fun in Smash. I like both.
I mean, what a perfect spread of weapons.
I think that the measure of a good item is how it affects the field of play the moment it appears. In this moment no one has picked it up, but everyone knows it is there. A simple weapon, like Mr Saturn, may be ignored by those furthest away from it- they’ll never get to it before someone else does and even then it’s not going to tip the scales of battle too much in their favour.
This is Mr Saturn. I don't know who, what or why. He's a weak weapon but can create deadly openings in the right hands.
Contrast this with the Smash Ball. When that appears it dramatically changes the dynamics of the battle. People actively ignore their opponents for the chance to break it and attain the power held within. Their Final Smash attack! Items that have this effect on the game are some of my favourites. They're the great equalisers of the game; unpredictable and devastating. It can make a weaker player feel like they're having an impact on the game, and we stronger players… well, we don't really need it anyway, do we.
All jokes aside, this shot is one in a million.
And yet the Smash Ball doesn't really get into my top 10 items list.
Don't get me wrong, it is a great item. It's a God-tier weapon that only one player can wield, hence its effect on the game. But power alone does not make a great item. Catching someone with a Final Smash is a lot of fun, but all that power comes with no cost. It doesn't take any real skill to pull off- no discipline to master. A Smash ball at the wrong time can diminish all the drama that played out before it appears, especially if a match is concluded because of one.
Win or lose, you're robbed of the climax. The victory is hollow because the means of winning was reduced from being better than your opponent to just pressing B at the right time. When this happens between me and my friends, we have a gentlemen’s agreement to leave the Smash Ball alone and just get on with facing each other and earn that win.
…most of the time.
So why doesit feel better when you win a round with the Cracker launcher? The weapon is still insanely powerful; it has the ability to wipe out a player’s stock even from 0%. It’s because, to kill someone with the Cracker launcher, you still need to earn it.
You need skill.
Not much skill, but some skill. And that’s only with regards to the person wielding it. The Cracker launcher is awesome because,if you're the one being attacked by it, you still have defensive options. A skilled player can avoid being hit by it by dodging, jumping and rolling. Even better, if they are able to close the distance and attack the handler, they'll automatically drop it, meaning it's up for grabs again and you can possibly turn the tables.
The Cracker launcher is a glass cannon. Whilst you hold it you possess incredible power, but you are also more vulnerable. It has a perfect balance of risk and reward; of power and skill. It needs to be used effectively for it to unlock its truly devastating potential and even then victory is not assured.
And that’s why, when it drops onto the battlefield, everything else stops. You want that power. You can't let anyone else have that power. If you get it the round is still not won. The Cracker Launcher has created more clutch moments than I can even remember, and every time no one has felt cheated.
Lucas you cheeky bastard.
Further Thoughts on Smash Bros. Items.
I feel like the backlash that Nintendo received after Brawl’s release is something that has tainted the item selection of future Smash Bros. games. Sm4sh, in particular, felt like a game built to address a lot of the complaints that were levied upon Brawl. A lot of the alterations they made were great: having the alpha forms of stages was a wonderful touch, meaning you can play any level and have a pure, focused, competitive game.
But the items were a lot less exciting. A lot of them felt like they were all janked up with power but also requiring no skill to use (the Gust Bellows and Ore Club come to mind.) Master Balls became as common as Pokeballs and as strong as Smash attacks. A lot of them run into the same issue that the Smash Ball has. However when the only item with that kind of power is the Smash Ball, it doesn’t hurt the game overall because the moments it creates still feel unique and add flavour to a battle, especially if you have four or more players in a game. But when every item has the potential to clear the screen, they outstay their welcome much more quickly. They become tiring.
I mean, why on Earth would anyone play this level otherwise?
I think that this idea of balancing item strength with skill is something that Nintendo could work on in the next iteration of Smash. I truly feel that items can be as much a rewarding and skilful aspect of the experience as the main game. Not every item needs to be perfectly balanced- I think it’s just wonderful when my opponent gets caught in a Smart Bomb and racks up 50% damage in five seconds. But many of the items in Smash Bros nowadays make it far too easy to just delete stocks from your opponents.
I like to think of the idea of weapons having tiers, and then finetuning the selection of items and the items themelves to fit those tiers. Maybe just have one or two God-tier weapons, then five or six Top tier, a large range of mediocre items and so on.
Anyway, for you mileage, here is what i consider to be the items that hit that sweet spot between potential damage and skill needed to wield effectively.
You can obviously mix and match as you wish. This is your game, not mine.
Finally, with regards to Smash Ultimate, I feel like Sakurai and the team behind the game should be commended for their efforts to please both the competitive and casual Smash crowds. It’s a credit to the team that they were able to cram both styles of play into the game and satisfy almost everyone.
But I just feel like it’s a shame that the way they went about doing this was to distance the two styles of play. Competitive Smash in Ultimate looks and plays the same as it ever did, but party Smash (4 players, 10 stocks, items on) feels too much like a slot machine. The items that drop seem to have too much of an impact on the game as the majority of them are quite powerful and too plentiful. You just pick things up and throw them and hope that the screen-filling effect kills one or more opponents.
In the next Smash, I hope Sakurai and the team try to bring the competitive and casual styles of play closer together rather than further apart. This way, they would be forced to look at what weapons truly aid the overall Smash experience and create some new weapons that would be as fun and rewarding to use as the Cracker Launcher was in Brawl.
No look at these cool pictures of Smash I've taken over the years.
BTW, why the hell is Bronsly not in Ultimate!?
(Side note: I love Smash Balls. I’ve dumped on them a lot but I think they’re great and would even prefer to see some wackier Final Smashes. The Final Smashes in Ultimate are far too homogenised. Bring back Kirby’s cooking pot; Luigi’s time distortion; Wario Man; DK’s bongs; Falco’s Landmaster and Pikachu’s Elctro-ball!)
Why is Brawl seen as the black-sheep of the family? I'll never know.
This is the blog that I never want to end. Please your Smash pics in the comments. Let's get a train going! Choo choo!