Final Smash

What’s so interesting to me about the newly revealed Smash Bros. game is the title: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. First of all? I’m glad Nintendo has gone back to an exclamatory subtitle. Melee, Brawl, and Ultimate are a just lot more fun to say than the clinical Smash for Wii U & 3DS.

Consider, if you will, the definition of the word “ultimate”. In the modern vernacular we tend to use the word “ultimate” interchangeably with “best.” This is not incorrect. Language, after all, is alive, ever-evolving. If a society of people recognize a word to carry a meaning it did not initially carry when it was adopted into the lexicon, than guess what? The word now has that new meaning. Language is not a science, irrefutable and factual. It is an art, a sculpture being ever remolded by humankind.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is fitting. Even before having played it, this IS, perhaps, the definitive & best game in the Smash Bros. franchise. Every character who has ever appeared in a Smash game is in Ultimate, something Nintendo trollfully revealed halfway through a character reel that was supposed to introduce a few of the returning characters and ended up introducing over 60.

The initial definition of “ultimate,” however, is not “best” or “definitive.” The initial definition of “ultimate,” is “final.”

It’s a silly assertion. Smash is one of Nintendo’s marquee franchises; why on Earth would it stop? Still, it can’t help but seem they’re rolling out every fighter to ever participate in the Smash Bros. tournament to allow them a final bow of sorts. Consider, also, the nature of modern video games and how early Ultimate is being released into the Switch’s life cycle. Nintendo has said they anticipate supporting the Switch for up to a decade, and here we are welcoming Smash Bros. in Year 2 of that life cycle.

Smash is different from a Zelda or Mario game. It’s what I call a never-ender: a game whose appeal lies not in the completion of a set of goals, but simply in the act of playing. Look at Melee; it’s still played competitively. Look at Skyrim; it’s 7 years old and people are still pouring hours into it. If Switch lasts a decade, Nintendo will have to start answering questions around Year 4 or 5 about where the next 3D Zelda is. Not so with Smash. Why on Earth would any developer with a clue sequelize a game like Smash onto the same platform upon which an earlier version already exists? The core Smash Bros. experience has remained the same since Melee, which polished the franchise guidelines established by Smash 64. This is a game that can, in the modern age of digital gaming, be upgraded and tweaked and freshened with patches and added content for the entirety of the Switch’s lifespan.

This also brings to mind the silly Internet debate over whether Smash for Switch was going to be a new game or “just a port” of Smash for Wii U. First off? I don’t care. I would have been happy with Super Smash Bros. Melee DX. But port, sequel… what’s the difference with a game like Smash? The game has been fundamentally the same in every iteration. That’s what people want. Imagine if Nintendo introduced a “new” Smash with a new rule-set for matches? People would lose their goddamn minds and immediately demand the return of “classic” Smash.

As it turns out, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a new game while somehow being a port at the same time, a port of the whole damn franchise. Also, we can assume Nintendo plans to remain in business beyond the Switch. To think Ultimate is going to be the actual last Smash Bros. game is silly. The “ultimate” in the title, the “final,” may therefore refer to something more human. Masahiro Sakurai has been the director of every Smash Bros. game to date, from Smash 64 to Ultimate. He has grown a ridiculous idea into one of gaming’s Crown Jewels, a massive celebration of the medium’s most important developer. I don’t pretend to follow the behind-the-scenes aspects of the video game business closely, but the buzzing that Sakurai-san is tired of the franchise has been around since Smash for Wii U/3DS was in development. It’s one of the reasons Smash for Switch was such a surprise to everyone when it was teased in a recent Nintendo Direct: it was widely assumed Sakurai-san either needed a longer break from developing a Smash game, or that Nintendo needed more time to convince him to come back for one more go.That Ultimate seems to borrow heavily from Smash for Wii U could be no accident: Sakurai-san, perhaps, saw the opportunity to expand an excellent game that was not widely played (remember, Wii U was an el bomb-o), leading to this hybrid port/new game that is Ultimate.

So perhaps this “Final” Smash is not the franchise’s final iteration. Perhaps, instead, this is Sakurai-san’s final go-around with Smash, his magnum opus that takes the best of the four prior Smash games and mixes them into a stew alongside a bunch of tasty new element. Maybe, perhaps, the grand bow being taken by every fighter to ever participate in the Super Smash Bros. series of games is not a curtain call for the franchise, but for its guiding visionary. Perhaps this is the ultimate curtain call for Masahiro Sakurai himself. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into this and in this case “ultimate” really does just mean “best.” Anyway, I main Luigi, hashtag-green-missile-for-life.

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