Smash Bros is not a fighting game. There, I said it.
When someone says Smash Bros is not a fighting game, they often mean it doesn’t belong with traditional fighters or that the Smash community doesn’t belong in the fighting game community (FGC). Depending on who you talk to, opinions on these two points can vary quite a bit.
However, there are some very important people on our side of the argument whose views should not be taken lightly. Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Smash Bros franchise and Based Katsuhiro Harada, series director of the Tekken franchise both have said that Smash Bros is not a fighting game. For those not in the loop, Harada’s stance on this is especially interesting because Sakurai hired him (and his team) to develop Smash Bros Wii U & 3DS (Smash 4). Harada is a living legend in the FGC, known for not taking shit from anyone and standing up for his ideals. There have been numerous times where both of these figureheads in the Japanese gaming industry have referred to Smash as anything but a fighting game.
“Fundamentally, my goal with Smash has been to create an “enjoyable party game”. If you want to enjoy thrilling tactical gameplay, you might be better suited for other 2D fighting games.” Sakurai, Famitsu Column 480 (2015)
What is a fighting game anyway?
Fighterpedia did a great, although very flawed analysis of the “Is Smash Bros a fighting game?” debate, but they did bring up some good points. What makes a game belong to the fighting game genre exactly? The short answer is that there isn’t a definition of a fighting game that works absolutely. The long answer is that game mechanics in fighting games toy around with staples of the genre and that’s what makes them interesting in the first place. For every definition someone could possibly give for a fighting game, there are plenty of games that are clearly in the genre that become excluded.
As Sakurai himself put it: “I think the idea of the fighting game genre can be somewhat limiting. People have defined in their own minds what constitutes a fighting game, and that can be such a specific set of characteristics that when other people are viewing a game from the outside and they learn it’s a fighting game, they may predetermine it’s not for them simply because of what they expect from it as a fighting game.
When planning the development of a new game, I always take a lot of care to discuss the concept and try to define it as best I can. For example, I like to think of Smash as a four-player battle royal action game. You’ll notice that’s a lot longer than saying it’s a fighting game, because ‘fighting game’ is a completely different label. You can talk about a fighting game or an action game or a racing game, but as soon as you define your game specifically in those terms, you start limiting your creative range because you’re thinking of the limitations of that genre. Perhaps the best thing we can do now is start with a concept rather than a genre. If we can do that, perhaps we can grow the whole idea a little bit.”
What’s hazy about Sakurai’s stance is if he thinks Smash Bros as an esport plays like a fighting game. It does. We’re not going to deny that. It’s a very technical, execution-heavy game where the best of the best dominate everyone else. It does great as an esport with its broad appeal to casual viewers and players. Unfortunately, this means that the Smash community has very little people who are actually training to take on pro players, resulting in a very stagnant meta with very similar top 8 placements at major tournaments.
Sometimes Sakurai alludes to Smash as being a fighting game, but it’s clear that he doesn’t support its competitive scene. The game isn’t made for them, it’s made for the masses. In Famitsu Column 502 (2016), he states this explicitly: “I want to avoid a design where stronger players utterly dominate weaker ones. We should make it so that new players can have fun as well. I’ve touched upon this idea in previous columns. If you want to enjoy the strategy or competitiveness in playing against another person, then maybe normal fighting games are more suited for you. Virtua Fighter 2 had flashy, showy attacks, but it doesn’t appear at overseas tournaments, I wonder if that’s because of a cultural difference?”
Harada has a stance on Smash Bros rivaled only by r/Kappa: Smash Bros is a party game. He doesn’t consider it to be a deep, technical game or a fighting game to begin with. In 2015, I tweeted an excerpt of an article where Harada talks about his fighting game crossover wet dream. It would be meant for hardcore gamers only, “This wouldn’t be a party game like Smash Bros”. He actually replied and it opened up an odd discussion between him and Alliance’s Armada.
— Chris Tweten 爱乐猫 (@ctwtn) January 22, 2015
Why isn’t Smash Bros a fighting game?
Items and Stage Hazards
Classic staples of the Smash Bros franchise that add randomness to gameplay. Fighting games typically have minimized the amount of RNG, while Smash’s default settings are a blatant defiance to this trend. In tournament settings, items are disabled and stages with hazards are banned from play (along with other stages that are favorable in certain matchups), so the amount of RNG is also minimized. The distinction here is that this is done through agreed upon fan-made rules rather than an in-game default option. If you get 2 scrubs to play Guilty Gear, it will always play like a fighting game even if they’re fucking around or don’t know what they’re doing because…well, it’s a fucking fighting game. You can’t say the same about Smash Bros. You need to use an extremely specific set of rules before it even begins to play like a fighter.
While it’s true that RNG existed in very old fighting games like Street Fighter 2, this has been met with negative criticism by many critics and fans. A great example of RNG existing in what is quite clearly a fighting game is Platinum the Trinity‘s Drive move in BlazBlue, Magical Symphony, which randomly spawns one of her items. Peach’s Vegetable move in the Smash series parallels operates on the same concept. However, Platinum’s items are exclusively for her to use and have been re-balanced over time. When playing against Peach, there’s a low chance she can use items that are banned from tournament play. Peach’s Vegetable has been “balanced” by making the odds of pulling a banned item quite low, but this still means there’s a chance she can turn a match around with nothing but good RNG. Welp.
Ah, combos. One of the many feel-good moments of playing a fighting game. Everyone is familiar with how satisfying it is to hit up training mode practicing the same combo for hours until you’re tournament ready. Or maybe you’re an online warrior and you just go at it until you’re comfortable enough to try it out in a ranked match. When a layman thinks of fighting games, this is often the first thing to come to mind. It’s not exclusive to fighting games though; combos can be found in most genres of games.
In 2D fighters, a combo is defined as “a string of attacks that cannot be blocked if the first hit connects”. Basically, guaranteed damage if your first attack hits. This is a loose definition though, so let’s get more specific and more technical. Let’s get some basic fighting game terminology out of the way so you can understand what a combo actually is.
- Hit Stun: This refers to the amount of time of frames it takes you to recover after being hit by a certain attack.
- Frame Advantage: A move which allows the player to recover before his opponent leaves either Hit Stun on hit or block stun on block is considered to have frame advantage in those areas.
There are 3 phases to an attack: Startup Frames, Active Frames and Recovery Frames. Fairly straight forward. If an attack hits, you can combo into another if the 1st attack’s Recovery Frames + the 2nd attack’s Startup Frames are smaller than the total Hit Stun.
In Smash Bros, the term combo is used so loosely that they have another term, True Combo specifically for what the FGC would consider just a combo. What this means is that most “combos” you see in Smash aren’t actually combos at all and can be escaped even if the first attack hits. There are very few True Combos in Smash and they are typically off of throws, only True Combos at low %s or are only 2-3 hits long.
Smash Bros has a lot of unique movement options and high APM (Actions Per Minute). Many of the common movement options aren’t particularly new, though. Wavedashing has been around since the early 90s for example. Think wavedashing is difficult? Nah. There are fighting games you’ve probably never even played that gain more in their meta from similar movement options than Melee. Being execution heavy doesn’t necessarily mean a game is deep, it just means it has a higher barrier of entry.
Shrek Super Slam is a great example of depth in movement options. Crumpet dashing adds layers to the decision making process in ways that Melee’s wavedashing can’t match. I’ll let you be the judge, check it out. Red Riding Hood has strategies that come from her mobility and crumpet dashing plays a huge role in this. She’s actually banned from tournaments.
For a more serious example, look at how difficult plink dashing is in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. Half of EVO 2015’s top 8 players had issues consistently plink dashing, despite being a crucial part of high level movement. I can’t think of a single Advanced Technique in Smash that’s on par with this. For further depth, plink dashes can be option selected with a throw as well, beefing up the total # of inputs. fchamp and Chris Schmidt did a great plink dashing tutorial, making it look way easier than it really is.
When thinking about execution in Smash Bros, one video always comes to mind: How fast is Melee? In this video, someone displays inputs lined up with a Fox player’s strings (not a combo) showing off the high APM of Smash. Is this relevant in a discussion of genre? Not really. Many games are very technical, but don’t fall into the fighting genre. What I find interesting about execution in Smash is that it still requires quite a bit of focus and thinking when playing defense. You can’t really say that about traditional fighting games, but that comes with game design. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Frantically trying to block setups in Marvel vs Capcom is a frightening, exciting experience.
How fast is Marvel tho? These aren’t even Doom’s fancy combos, just his standard ROM.
Even if one side had completely proven their argument true, saying Smash Bros is not a fighting game is more a statement that Smash Bros does not belong in the FGC. After the famous Smash documentary, Melee had its revival and the community literally bought its way into EVO. MrWizard can’t turn down that McRib money, don’t be too shocked. FGC tournament organizers are more than happy to pander to the Smash community because it brings more publicity for them and more revenue. It’s just smart business. But does the FGC need Smash Bros (and vice versa)? Absolutely not. The Smash community has had its own grassroots movement and their independent tournaments get in just as much, if not more, viewers and revenue than a regular FGC event.
However, there’s an odd sense of entitlement from the Smash community. They’ve booed other games during top 8 because of schedule delays. They’ve demanded VIP rooms at events so pro players don’t get bothered by their adoring fans. They’ve demanded special treatment from tournament organizers. If there’s one thing I really respect about the FGC, it’s that they don’t really take shit from anyone. The community self-polices itself fairly efficiently, calling out just about anyone on their bullshit – even if they’re a valued, contributing member of the community. Meritocracy at its finest. Players who perform well and have a great attitude are praised, while people that beg for money, call others by slurs on stream or act like babies are shunned. Unfortunately, the Smash community’s top players are very entitled and often lash out at even the smallest of complaints. There’s no denying that the FGC figureheads have more finesse overall.