Why Nintendo Thinks You’re Trying Too Hard, Part 2
The Wii was released for the holiday season of 2006 to a huge amount of hype. Stores everywhere were sold out for months. It was easily the most sought after Christmas present of the season. Parents had finally found a doorway to into the interactive media that their children had fallen so in love with. Nintendo by all accounts counted the Wii as an unprecedented success taking over living rooms across the work, however a game that had been released nearly half a decade earlier was also reaching a new pinnacle but on a totally different stage.
Super Smash Brothers Melee, the extremely popular follow-up to Masahiro Sakurai’s party brawler, was starting to catch huge amounts of steam as a competitive title. In 2005 MLG announced they would have a huge tournament series for Melee across USA with a huge prize pool. Until then competitive Melee was a grassroots movement, tournaments hosted by players themselves in houses and community centers, playing for the pot of entry fee’s, and organized on their own website known as the smashboards. An endorsement by such a huge entity like MLG was an amazing step in the right direction, unfortunately Nintendo and Sakurai didn’t agree. In secret they were working on a weapon to strike at the heart of the Melee tournament scene.
Development for the third installment of the Super Smash Bros series began late in 2005, and Sakurai, having seen what could be done after a couple years of disassembling, was more determined than ever to make a game that everyone could play at an equal level no matter what. Brawl released to nearly as much hype as the Wii. Both competitive and casual gamer alike was excited to finally get their hands on the future of the series, but differences were very apparent. All of the ways to make your character move unnaturally fast were removed, defensive options were strengthened, and the ability to combo your opponent before they could do anything was very nearly removed. Sakurai’s own understanding of his own game was altered by competitive players. Moves which he initially thought would not be good, because they didn’t hit your opponent far away & therefore could not kill him, were actually great for creating combos and racking up damage. Some of the best characters in Melee only have one or two ways to truly kill your opponent but many options for combating them at low percents. So instead of the game being extremely aggressive like Melee was, Brawl was slow and passive. Exciting play was not only difficult it was nearly impossible. It created a divide in the competitive Smash community between those who wanted to move onto Brawl and those who refused.
Before this article simply becomes a history lesson on Melee I will tell one more story. In 2013, after a resurgence of competitive Melee in the previous years, Evolution Championship Series or Evo announced they were looking to add an 8th game to the lineup for the year. After a huge Facebook poll was too tight to call Evo held a donation drive with whatever game raising the most money for charity earning the final slot for the tournament. After an incredibly tight race with the Skullgirls community Melee raised nearly 95,000$ and locked in their place at the pinnacle of fighting game tournaments. That is until Nintendo caught wind of what was going on. Nearly a decade later, and with a fourth title in the franchise on the way, Nintendo decided to finally officially denounce Melee as its least loved child. The legal team at Nintendo of America tried to quash the both the streaming of Melee and, it would be later revealed, stop the tournament entirely. After a resounding backlash from the community Nintendo changed their minds and allowed Evo to host and stream the largest Melee tournament ever seen and Melee at Evo has been going strong since.
Evo 2013 was a bit of a wake up call for Nintendo. They realized that by being so casual gamer friendly they were inadvertently alienating the hardcore gamer that the industry was founded on. They had the casual market sewn up tight between the Wii, WiiU and the DS. Now if they could simply draw back some of the consumers that they had lost to Sony and Microsoft they would be in a position of strength that they hadn’t in a long time. Admittedly they are trying. They hosted some of the best Smash Bros. players in the world at a tournament for Sm4sh before it came out. Splatoon is another example of a game that looks to be both terribly fun casually and viable competitively. I will admit that they are trying, I’m just not sure I’m ready to totally forgive them just yet.