The Power of Guest Characters
By Justin Matusiak
Super Smash Bros Ultimate has been out for about 4 weeks now and boy does it live up to its title as ‘Ultimate’. Currently, the game is all anyone is talking about or playing right now, especially with the very exciting reveal of the new DLC character, Waluigi Persona 5’s Joker! (if you haven’t seen the trailer yet you definitely should)
Trailers like this are just the beauty of Smash Bros as a series. The game and its developers are always finding new ways to surprise us. We all thought the sky was the limit when characters like Bayonetta and Cloud were added to Smash 4’s roster but its clear now that Nintendo plans to take all they learned from the platform Smash 4 provided and create an even more crazy experience. Joker is just the first of four planned DLC fighters (excluding Piranha Plant who will be added in February for those who purchased the game early) so to start at Joker means that Nintendo has even greater targets in sight in the coming days.
Guest characters are obviously not a new phenomena, but they have seen a boost in popularity recently, especially within fighting games. Injustice 2 from just last year had the DLC pack where you could play as, oh I dunno, the freaking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!? How crazy is that!
Hype aside, what was once a rarity is now becoming so common place, that some players are seeing the trend as a bad thing. That the integrity of the games are being questioned when so many vastly different characters are added into a game about dudes punching dudes. There are valid points on either side of the equation so let’s get into both the pros and cons of these new challengers.
The first and most obvious pro is marketability. Like many players, my first big experience with guest characters involved a little game known as Soul Calibur II. The game had an interesting format where it launched across the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube but each version of the game contained one unique guest character in their roster. Playstation 2 received Tekken’s Heihachi, Xbox received Image Comic’s Spawn and Gamecube received one of Nintendo’s most cherished characters, Link from the Legend of Zelda series. You can probably already see where this is going. Not only did the game promote sales of the game itself, but for sales of additional consoles to be able to play as these iconic legendary heroes. I myself remember only having a Playstation 2 at the time and cursing my younger mind for not asking for a GameCube for Christmas and I’m sure many other people had a similar experience (whether or not they went out and bought the console and game is another topic). What’s more, with the promise of getting to play as someone like Link, people who may have never picked up a Soul Calibur game picked up that title just to see what the elf boy could do and because of this Soul Calibur 2 was a massive commercial success.
It’s no secret that fighting games are a genre that just can’t keep up with today’s market of sandbox exploration, first-person shooters and things of the like that other developers can shell out pretty quickly–and a big part of this has to do simply with attention-span. The aforementioned first-person shooter game immediately puts you as a hero with most of the tools you need to succeed at your fingertips and can be executed with single button inputs. Conversely, Fighting games drop you in a menu with a bunch of characters and a bunch of buttons that do not do anything on their own. Fighting Games are inherently unattractive to today’s gamer because its not something you can immediately pick up and be good at. Often times you have to sit in training for hours just to try and figure something out and even after that time, if you only have one combo or trick figured out, you’ll end up going against people that know more than you, or AI that can predict your one-trick style before too long and lose pretty badly. But with a guest character, players are given incentive and motivation to go into training, see the familiar animations of their favorite characters and try to link those animations together in a way that keeps their favorite character from losing.
The con for this comes as a byproduct of its own marketability. While it does bring in new people and new sales, it also brings in well…new people. Maybe people that normally do not play fighting games, or those that don’t have the patience to sit down and learn said game. The reason fighting games live on despite the market constraints they are faced with is the community that is built around each game. Whether its Youtube videos, forum posts, discord links or just bits of advice after a live match, fighting game players by and large love the game they are playing and are usually excited to share that passion with others. The exchange of fists that occurs when two top level players duke it out is the stuff of legends and it is these players dreams to elevate everyone to some version of that level for a more enjoyable experience overall. Thusly, when these newcomers are added to a game and they bring in people that don’t exactly have that same mind-set things can get toxic quick.
An obvious example of this was the write in winner for the Smash Wii U character ballot: Bayonetta.
This is one of many combos Bayonetta could do that would evaporate your chances of winning any sort of game. Of course her combo-centric style of game play was central to her theme and her initial reception was highly celebrated but as time went on and people figured out the character and outrage ensued. Accusations of zero skill players winning tournaments began to crop up around the internet and there were even cases where the character would be outright banned from competitive play. It divided the community because some people just wanted to play the character because they liked the character, and others did so because they knew it would win tournaments, doubly so when money was on the line.
But even this controversy was eventually resolved even before Smash Ultimate came out. Nerfs from the developers definitely helped but players also realized that while trapped within a Bayonetta combo they still had limited control over their characters, a feature known as Directional Influence (D.I.). By repeatedly tilting the control stick in a direction away from Bayonetta, players would find themselves sliding out of her combos just before they could land the killing blow. It didn’t always work, but when the technique was discovered things returned to relative normality.
So with all this said, guest characters should always be welcome in fighting games. They benefit new people trying to get into these sorts of games which the genre always needs, and helps veterans experience these titles in new ways. Even if for example, Leatherface in Mortal Kombat X seems vastly different to anything Liu Kang can do that doesn’t make either character inherently wrong, its actually quite the opposite. The new character provides a new challenge for people playing Liu Kang to adapt to the new style of game-play being presented then how they would approach a Scorpion player for the hundredth time. Going back to Smash Bros, breaking the mold is exactly the modus operandi of the game. New experiences with new characters and new ways for certain setups to occur. Think about all the parallel worlds that are built off of just one match of Smash bros (if you believe in that sort of thing). He could’ve jumped there, or she could’ve shielded instead of rolled; these hundreds of combinations are why people love fighting games, especially when one of these combinations becomes a highlight. Like that one clip of Daigo and Justin Wong that I will always find an excuse to post:
Just beautiful. That is what fighting games are all about.