December 4, 2012 by GEL
Nintendo games are incredibly simplistic on the surface. Take, for example, Smash Bros. It’s a fun game that sells incredibly well and seems mindlessly simplistic. It has no real inputs and two attack buttons. Direction + button = attack. How hard is that to copy, right? This is exactly where Super Smash Bros. clones get themselves into trouble.
For starters, you have the difference between a “tilt” attack and a “smash” attack. One button results in seven moves on the ground. Then, you have blocking, evading, and air dodging. Then there are the throws. How many specials do your characters have? What are your items and stages like? First glance is rubbed vigorously from the eyes, and things quickly become more complicated.
What most Smash Bros clones forget is to refrain from becoming a carbon copy of the game. Have your own control scheme and try exceeding Smash’s greatness. Games like Full Metal Alchemist: Battle Carnival and Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale use more buttons than Smash and incorporate legitimate combo mechanics into their games. This helps immensely when time comes for them to stand on their own two feet.
A good example of something falling flat on its face is DreamMix TV World Fighters. DreamMix is a bizarre Japanese-only cross-over game that has gained infamy for its unusual cast. The cast consists of Simon Belmont, Optimus Prime, Master Higgins (Adventure Island), Bomberman, Solid Snake, the Cy Girls, Megatron, Yugo (Bloody Roar), Manji Maru (Far East of Eden), that kid from Beyblade, and Licca-chan (Japanese Barbie), among others. It could easily win an award for the strangest, most diverse cast of characters ever assembled in a cross-over fighter. Unfortunately, it was also awful. It seemed to play like Smash Bros., but the game was nearly devoid of items, the stages were bland, and characters had barely any moves! Bomberman and Solid Snake each had only one special (plant bomb/detonate bomb), and no one had a full Smash Bros.-sized move set.
There is more to a Smash game than just the fighting mechanics. There is a great deal of content, a large quantity of quality characters, and a variety of stages in the game. This is a large part of what sunk TMNT: Smash-Up, which was otherwise an utterly fantastic Smash clone. When it came to game play, I actually prefer Smash-up over Super Smash Bros. Brawl. But it had so few characters, and so little single player content, it became another embarrassing Smash clone.
Another one of the most often overlooked Smash elements is the sheer amount of options in the game itself. Smash lets you choose between multiple match types, team configurations, and modes. You can adjust what items you do and don’t want to show up, what stages you want to avoid in a random pick, and more! Smash Bros. may well be the single most customizable console game I have ever seen and has the capability of bending to the gamer’s whim. Amazingly this is the one thing practically every Smash clone forgets! DreamMix TV World Fighters was Coin Match-only, FMA Battle Carnival and many others are only HP matches, meanwhile PlayStation All-Stars practically begs for an HP mode! The biggest thing I remember about how Capcom’s Onimusha-themed Smash game worked was that it was really stupid.
Competing with Smash Bros. often fails before it even begins. In the majority of these instances, people go in with the mindset of Smash being a simple cash-in that they can copy with minimal effort and a meager budget. Anyone that even glances at Smash can see that it is one of Nintendo’s biggest money makers. They dump a lot of time, effort, and cash into its production. To properly compete with Smash, one would have to regard their effort as a AAA-grade production. That just won’t happen because of one monumental reason.
The most important aspect of a Smash game is its characters. It is this reason why it would be hard to sell a Smash clone with a cast of completely original characters, though it would be nice if someone tried. Still, very few companies have the kind of beloved icons that Nintendo does. SEGA is a decent choice. Namco could try as well. Capcom would be good too, but they already have their own non-Smash cross-over fighters. I think the only company with the kind of brand recognition to really compete against Nintendo is Disney.
This became even clearer when I remembered that Disney now owns both Marvel and Star Wars. A roster of Aladdin, Ariel, and Beast could be pretty amazing on its own, but throw Darth Vader and Wolverine in there? You would have a license to print money. In fact, one has to wonder just how overpowering such brand recognition could be. With a Disney caliber roster, they could probably crap on a disc and it would sell. Thankfully, they’ve been trying to move towards having a respectable video game presence (thought they still have plenty of cheap cash-ins). Whether they put effort into a game like that or not, how much would it really impact sales to produce a competent Smash clone when many would purchase it solely for the novelty value?
These things are often overlooked when making a Smash clone because, on the surface, Smash is just so simple! We learned here that it obviously has much more depth than most development teams are willing or able to reach. When it comes down to it, what really matters is the attitude of the development team, and the amount of available time and resources.
Nintendo is a tough act to follow. A lot of us like to make fun of them for making the same games over and over again, while demanding a new Star Fox game in the very same breath. Nintendo has a knack for coming up with an awesome formula and beating it to death. This isn’t because Nintendo is unstoppable but because people often overlook the little nuances that make a Nintendo product like Smash Bros. gold.