Casualties of War – Smash’s Casual VS. Competitive Scenes

Super Smash Bros. Melee was one of the first fighting games I’ve ever played. Sure, I’ve seen gameplay footage of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat before, but as an 8-year-old Nintendo maniac, seeing some of my favorite gaming heroes like Mario, Link, and Captain Falcon beating the tar out of each other made me lose my mind. This is the game forever sealed within my heart, complete with a mental file in my brain; my memories of Melee can stack up to the Eiffel Tower. As such, I’m not going to bore you readers with my retrospective on Melee, but rather go in detail a question that has been floating around the Smash community for quite some time: casual or competitive play?

It’s no secret now that the brains behind the Smash Bros. franchise, Masahiro Sakurai, originally did not intend for a community of highly skilled players to come along and have Melee appear in professional e-sport venues like EVO or Apex. What he set out to do was merely design a game where everybody could have fun beat the living stuffing out of their friends and family through the world of Nintendo. And yet, here we are. 13 years later, Melee is still revered by fighting game enthusiasts, and tournaments are held across the world. Online communities like Smashboards were formed to pit fighters from different countries against the elite. A universal ruleset has been established to honor the growing hardcore nature. It would be nonsense to say that Smash’s competitive scene is not a big deal, or that it’s only a phase.

Not quite Final Destination…

Some rules within the competitive realm are familiar to both groups: 1-vs-1, no items, 3-4 stock, and a time limit of usually 8 minutes. Further restrictions include not using certain stages as some of them possess very meddlesome hazards (like the Brawl Mario Bros. stage, where a throw of a Shellcreeper at an opponent can cause an instant KO even at low percentage) and restrictions to using certain characters (like Meta Knight for his crazy combos). Whenever I pop in my Melee disc or play Project M via SD card, I do tend to use the former 4 rules. What I am not keen on is the fact of limiting characters and stages. The point of Smash Bros. is to challenge yourself through the use of surroundings, and to avoid the hazards while still focusing on your opponent. Granted, I tend to lean toward the more “stable” stages that have no hazards (like Battlefield or Smashville) to little annoyances (like Delfino Plaza or Luigi’s Mansion), but if someone wants to have a shell fight in Mario Bros., I will gladly accept the challenge. The competitive scene seems to be quite fixed over allowing stages that fit the “Final Destination” criteria: a solid, long platform in the middle, with the possible addition of 2-3 platforms hanging overhead for extra aerial fighting. What’s wrong with having some distraction along the way? Why can’t there be moving platforms or cars coming at you? Why can’t the stage be scrolling or lava coming up from below? It may be exciting to see pros going at each other on Final Destination with their awesome techniques and combo styles, but is that really the point of Smash Bros.? To be a “serious” fighting game if it really wasn’t meant to be in the first place?

In exchange of liking the free use of characters and stages (yes, even New Pork City), I have a strict stance on playing without items. Now you might be asking: “Well, if you like playing with all stages, why not items?” This is where my beef with casual play comes into, well, play. I firmly believe that Smash is best played without the use of assistance. To me, stages are part of the environment, and therefore is a hazard to everybody. However, when you grab a Poke Ball or a Starman, you’re in full control in that moment. You are choosing to get help, rather than the stage randomly doing your dirty work. Items that can cause instant KOs, like the Gold Hammer, Dragoon, and Smash Ball, make Smash lose that fighting aspect. If you play a game that’s dedicated to fighting, shouldn’t some skill be involved? Granted, when you have three other players around, getting Dragoon pieces or activating the Smash Ball can be tough, but the fight shouldn’t be focused on getting the items. It should be focused on total carnage and destruction of your opponent with your own arsenal. Speaking on having more than two people in a match, I have met many instances where certain stages are home to meddlesome campers. I tend to not rage over this fact, but big stages like Melee‘s Temple can be annoying with 3 people running to different corners for their lives. A little thing that can easily be avoided by me just playing with a friend, but something that irks me when playing at a party. You might think bringing up this point is kind of ridiculous, but this is the guy who also loves Soul Calibur because of the fact only two people can fight in a match, as with most fighting games.

A fighting game, not a racing game people!

The major reason why Melee continues to be one of my favorite games of all time is the gameplay. It is perfect. The fast motions of each character’s punches and slashes with sneaky dodges and subperb aerial combat, what is not to like? Melee tends to be the competitive scene’s game of choice, and there have been countless debates whether Melee or Brawl is the better game. Smashboards has had countless wars over the two installments, so much so that the Smash community has suffered a schism. The whole argument is ridiculous because Melee and Brawl simply provide different combat styles. Brawl is more slow and focuses on an equal balance of offense and defense, while Melee is quick and fighters get a chance to lay down more combos to easily settle things.

Why this huge argument then? I think Melee is by far the better game, but that’s only because I like fast gameplay and offensive fighting. I don’t mind playing Brawl if I want to switch my styles every now and then. Players should stick to whatever game is most comfortable to their play style. They should not be judged by the allegiance they have toward Melee or Brawl, or be labeled a “scrub”. Find a balance that’s perfect for you! If you’re hardcore, be like the pros and go for that Melee 1-vs-1 match with no items. If you want something more casual, turn items on to max. Go to the Special Melee mode and make yourself giant with superspicy curry! Smash is all about customizing how YOU want to fight, and what makes it the blacksheep of the fighting game genre. You don’t have debates in the Street Fighter community that deals with items or stages. Smashers should be proud that Nintendo has made a franchise that has the freedom of gameplay choice. It’s really quite beautiful if you think about it, makes me want to cry manly tears of joy….but enough talk, have at you!

Casual and competitive gameplay styles are planned to be balanced in Smash 4 for a “hybrid” to appeal to both new and experienced players.

In conclusion, my fellow readers, I want to hear what you think! Do you enjoy playing competitively, casually, or do you find a balance in between? Do you like the fast-paced action in Melee or the slowed down physics in Brawl (heck, do you like 64’s gameplay?) How do you think Smash 4‘s style will handle for you? Comment below!

(PS: I also forgot to mention that I despise when Smash players get technical with characters such as hit frames and percentage values per attack. I just punch with Mario’s fist and I feel relaxed when my opponent gets send flying. No need for stats, I enjoy myself with the imagination of the character’s power…and the pure bloodsport. Isn’t that what that famous commercial for Smash 64 (in which Mario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, and Pikachu duke it out in a field of flowers) told us?)

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