Sakurai on Super Smash Bros. Melee, tournaments and genre shortcomings
Wading into the competitive arena when it was voted to join EVO 2013’s line-up after a charity drive, even creator Masahiro Sakurai has been taken back by Super Smash Bros. Melee’s popularity.
In very frank comments made when speaking with EDGE, Sakurai denounced the GameCube classic’s balance issues, “very tiring” controls and lack of accessibility.
He touches on the shortcomings of the fighting genre, while discussing the need to develop with inexperienced gamers in mind rather than purely those already prepared to pour hours into the finished product.
“I think the popularity of Melee rested fundamentally on the game’s speed,” Sakurai opened with in his discussion. “The dazzling exchange of skills was the game’s most exhilarating aspect and the rough edges in terms of the game’s balance went mostly unnoticed. Even though the dynamic range of the characters was limited, the game somehow made its mark.”
He continued, “Melee’s controls were, however, quite complicated and very tiring if the player really got into it in a serious way. This made the game less accessible for novice players and it basically ended up becoming a Smash Bros. game for hardcore fighting fans. I personally regret that, because I originally intended the Smash Bros. series to be for players who couldn’t handle such highly skilled games.
“If tournament popularity was the most important consideration, then I think we would create a Smash Bros. game that included a multitude of fast moves with complicated controls. However, I believe this is actually the greatest shortcoming of fighting games at present, and that is the reason why I don’t do it.
“Games aimed at casual users, such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit, reinvigorated the market and their success lay behind Wii’s popularity, [so] we had to make sure that Brawl would also be fun for first-time players. We also had to make sure that everyone could use the controls, such as holding the Wii Remote sideways. As a result of these considerations, overall Brawl is a rather tame game; this had its advantages, but it also took away some of the excitement.
“While there’s a lot of enthusiasm for tournaments on the one hand, there are also users who just give up on these sorts of games because they can’t handle the complexity and speed. While other fighting games continue to work on honing this tournament aspect, I think that we need to move in a direction in which there is more of a focus on inexperienced gamers. Companies that release products that target a very vocal, visible group of gamers tend to receive good reactions and they may feel good about it, but I think that we have to pay special attention to the less vocal, not so visible group of players, or else games will just fade away.
“There are so many other games out there which are geared to tournaments. It is important for us, however, to maintain the game’s status as a kind of ‘rough’ party game in which anyone can play without feeling too much pressure over winning or losing. We therefore want to keep a nice balance in which a wide variety of events can occur in the game, some of them quite outrageous. With this, Smash Bros. isn’t just a fighting game, it is an opponent-based action game.
“The most important thing is that the games have breadth and depth, since we would like them to be popular with both novices and hardcore gamers. We think that people who aren’t so good at turning the tables and coming back form behind can still get enjoyment out of the [new] game, even if they turn off items and Smash Balls.
“Although the pace of the game had to be lowered compared to Melee in order to achieve this balance, we have managed to keep the dynamism because we didn’t have to gear towards novice players like we did with Brawl. In fact, we recreated all characters almost from scratch. Also, I feel on a personal level that this game is more interesting than the three previous games in the series.”