Guest characters in Smash Bros. aren’t created equal

Alright, so the title of this article might immediately bump up the sodium levels of Smash Bros.  Veterans but, hear me out. I 100 percent believe that Sakurai and his team are truly the best at treating third-party or non-mainline fighters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with respect. The minuscule details Sakurai always manages to nail with each of the guest characters are just the proof in the pudding that proves his dedication. I mean, it was our Game of the Year!

Stuff like Mega Man’s changing forms, Ryu and Ken using the same watercolor effect on focus attacks as SF4, even microscopic details like the butterfly C4 from MGS3 Snake can sometimes drop. But, these are purely visual and don’t represent the games these characters came from in a mechanical way.

Visual representation is where everything about the look of the character is faithful, from their animations their overall aesthetic. Mechanical, on the other hand, is where the attacks that the character performs are also representative of their games, like with Cloud’s Limit Break or Bayonetta’s Witch Time.  A perfect example that meets in the middle would be Inkling’s “inking” mechanic that works about as close to how it does in Splatoon as it possibly could.

It isn’t just about visuals, though

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Brothers Guest Characters Bayonetta Cloud Mega Man Sonic Ryu Pac Man

Most of the guest characters in Smash Bros. are well-represented visually but are lacking in the mechanical creativity department. Sakurai loves all those visual flairs, but the move sets he creates aren’t always stellar. Not that they’re in any way bad, I mean I’m just some nerd.

I don’t know the absurd amount of work that goes into making a moveset. But I can help but feel it could be done more creatively so that each guest character could feel truly unique. Have Bayonetta using all the weapons she unlocks in her games, Let Cloud use more material or summon party members, give Ryu an EX Meter. They’re all so close to perfection.

The peak of perfect representation, Mega Man

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Brothers Guest Characters Bayonetta Cloud Mega Man Sonic Ryu Pac Man

Let’s take Mega Man, for example, probably the peak of all the guest fighters in terms of respectful treatment of the character and franchise. The Mega Man games are all about fighting Robot Masters so you can use their abilities. It’s in every game and it is also what makes Mega Man such a timeless character. He changes every single game.

Now, the team behind Ultimate could have easily given the Blue Bomber normal punches and kicks for standard attacks and kept his Mega Buster, Rush abilities, and slide kick for his specials.

But instead, they thought up a way for Mega Man to play completely different from anyone else on the roster. And, they even made each and every one of his Smashes and Specials a different Robot Master ability. This sort of creativity is what I expected for all the guest characters in Smash, but it always ends up feeling inconsistent.

Now, at the bottom of the barrel, Sonic

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Brothers Guest Characters Bayonetta Cloud Mega Man Sonic Ryu Pac Man

Now, in contrast, let’s switch over to Sonic, who isn’t looking too great nowadays. Sure, he’s well represented visually, with his own music, stage, and assist trophies in the form of Knuckles and Shadow. And honestly? His animations and Final Smash are pretty spot-on as well. His up special is the classic springboard, and he even has his homing attack!

So what is the issue? Well, three out of four of his specials equate to similar spin-dash moves. I know people will say that spinning and going fast are what make Sonic, well, Sonic. But, that is a cop-out answer. And let’s not forget that his neutral air, up, and down smash are spin attacks as well.

So many concepts underutilized

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Brothers Guest Characters Bayonetta Cloud Mega Man Sonic Ryu Pac Man

Honestly, I’m not even a big Sonic fan. But I know they could do better. Remember, in the earlier games, when there were mechanics like different types of shields? The magnet shield which sucked rings in, or the fire shield which let you charge through enemies and more? Sonic Mania even innovated and added more.

Or, how about the lightspeed dash? What about utilizing other Sonic characters as moves the way Peach does with Toad? Amy could easily pop out, slam the hammer down, and disappear as a hypothetical side special. I’m simply saying that it’s apparent Sakurai put more creative mojo into some characters. And I mean I get it, there are 74 of them. But when some feel so much more, well, honored than others, it becomes a bit jarring.

They’re not even, and that’s okay

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Brothers Guest Characters Bayonetta Cloud Mega Man Sonic Ryu Pac Man

So what’s my point? Did I just want to complain about Smash Bros.? Well, people, in general, tend to be wary when criticizing the franchise. You know, since it’s so huge. But, the game is just so widely inconsistent in the way it treats its guest characters. And I just find it odd that there hasn’t been more pushback about it.

There is no “standard” for Sakurai when developing a character. I mean just look at Isabelle in comparison to Richter Belmont, both are arguably Echo Fighters, but Isabelle gets her own unique moves and simply uses Villager as a foundation, while Richter is a Simon reskin.

What dictates whether an Echo Fighter is defined as a re-skin or a mostly unique character? And sure this process is part of what makes the game so unique. But, just think. In any other fighting game, people would go bonkers over such inconsistency. Can you imagine, if in Dragon Ball FighterZ, Android 17 and 18 played almost the same, but all the different Gokus played radically differently? Fans would riot.

Smash Bros. is amazing, but not perfect

All this to say that Smash Bros. isn’t perfect, and while I can’t stop playing it myself, I can recognize that some of the third-party inclusions genuinely got the short end of the development stick. How do you feel about the third-party characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? Comment below, let us know!

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Jacob Buchalter
Writer, Illustrator, Graphic Designer, and "geek culture" aficionado. Jake B is an avid art lover based in San Francisco, California who has been hooked on video games and animation since he was just a wee lad.  As one of those so-called "creative types" Jake obsesses over art in any medium, whether it's video games, cartoons, or anime. Ask him about any artist, they're probably already in his bookmarks. Gaming is one of his biggest passions, and an industry he takes seriously.