Smash Clones Just Can’t Keep Up
It’s October of 2021. Masahiro Sakurai reveals the final DLC character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – Sora. The Internet goes wild – and I mean wild. They’re screaming and crying at the same time.
Sakurai leans back in his chair, proud – and probably exhausted – at what he’s accomplished. You’d think he retire at this point, or at least take a six-month break. But no, he almost immediately starts making his own YouTube channel “as he reflects on his work in the games industry and offers insightful and easy-to-understand advice about game development.” At the time of writing this, his channel is only nine months old and he’s racked up over half-a-million subscribers.
Some people think Sakurai is going to direct another Smash game. That’s truly sad thinking – how can you possibly top off a game with some 80+ characters?
So new games come into the fray. There’s tons of them – some of which were made prior to the development of Smash Ultimate – but I just wanted to go over some of the more popular ones: Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl and MultiVersus. Can they match the same expectations of Smash?
- NASB was a hot mess when it launched, and its numbers quickly fell down
- MultiVersus was met with much better reception, but it still has its quirks
- alternative platform fighters are great to have, but they’ve got a long way to go
The Embarassing Death of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl⌗
This was a game I was looking forward to very much. But it kind of fell flat on its face as soon as it was released.
To put it simply: the game was rushed way too quickly. I reviewed the game over on Boiling Steam a few days after it came out. Don’t get me wrong; the mechanics aren’t that bad. The wavedashing isn’t as good as in Melee, but at least it’s in there, and it’s somewhat easier to pull off. The ability to use strong attacks in the air in addition to regular aerials added a little more variety to the combat.
But there were a lot of things that the developers tried to do differently than Smash, and a lot of those changes were met with lukewarm reception. For instance, nobody’s grabs are different than the other. They all have this grab where, the opponent is held up in the air, and you can walk in any direction you want. You can jump and throw them in the air. While it might sound like an interesting concept on paper, it’s poorly executed. Grabs would have been one way to make each character show their unique personality. But no, it’s all this rinse and repeat Donkey Kong-style throwing, and as a result, makes the characters more or less bland.
Consider the fact there were only 20 characters at launch, and a $50 price tag on top of it. That’s nothing compared to the 70+ character roster Smash Ultimate had, with a lot more stages, music, and even a story mode as well, for just $10 more. Depending on how you look at it, it may have also been disappointing to know all these characters are unlocked right from the get-go. You don’t have to put forth the effort to unlock any of them. Maybe you like that idea, but I really enjoyed the “A New Challenger is Approaching!” screen from all of the Smash games, then having to defeat that character in order to unlock them. That was a nice, satisfying touch that NASB doesn’t offer.
You’re fine without voiceovers, right? Sure you are. So just launch the game without any of the characters’ grunts as they make their next move. Just these random sound effects as the characters hit each other, along with the somewhat annoying announcer that just doesn’t have the same “oompth” as Smash’s announcer. Mods made it possible to add voices in, and NASB eventually did get an official update that adds voiceovers, but it would have made it a much better experience to have those voiceovers out of the gate. I understand there was apparently some legal hassle getting the voice actors in, but I would have been willing to wait six months or however long it took to get that in without it. And those extra six months would have afforded the developers a lot more time to flesh the game out the way they intended it, with more characters, grabs that are actually unique to each character, and probably some better mechanics.
Another example is the fact there are certain moves that just don’t exist. Characters don’t have a side tilt attack. They also don’t have a side special, a back air attack, or a forward air attack. This is too much of a “nerf” for my tastes, as far as attacking variety goes. Characters just dash; they don’t even walk. So you might as well just ditch your control stick in favor of your GameCube controller’s D-pad. The lack of being able to control whether your character crawls, walks, or runs is a bit of a let down. Strong attacks can’t even be charged.
What if you have more than one Nigel Thornberry on screen? You couldn’t even distinguish the two. Not even a darker or lighter shade is thrown on one. All of the characters shipped with just their default costume and nothing more. An update later on provided an alternate outfit, but most of them did nothing more than just add a hat. Not even a different color palette. Again, mods helped alleviate this issue, but it shouldn’t be up to the modders to fix this.
The arcade mode is a joke. It’s meant to play in a similar vein to Smash’s Classic mode. You play against a CPU, move on to the next stage, which is just a different character and a different stage. Some generic character lines show up before the battle starts; the lines aren’t specific to who you’re fighting against. No special circumstances apply. No bosses. Then unlock some profile icons specific to the character you used. I think it would have been fine if they just ditched the arcade mode entirely.
The netcode? Supposedly it’s using rollback, but it’s not the best. The Switch version didn’t even use rollback for doubles, for whatever reason.
There’s plenty of other issues I could go on about, including the mediocre soundtrack. But, putting that aside for a minute, look at the result it caused. According to Steam Charts, only four people are playing the game right now. In October 2021, the game had nearly 1.5k players on average, with a peak of 9,120. That number quickly fell down just a month later, with an average of 137 players. And that number just kept going down with just about every month that followed.
It’s sad, really. If you put aside all of the flaws, gameplay-wise the game wasn’t that bad. There were supposedly plans for crossplay, due sometime in the first quarter of 2022, but that never happened. It would have been nice to have; it probably would have kept the game alive just a little bit longer.
See, Smash Ultimate, despite it coming out late 2018, and having the final DLC released in the same day NASB came out, it still retains relevance in the Smash community today. People still play it despite the fact it hasn’t gotten an update since December 2021. They can still find someone to play online with, still be able to find a doubles match without any issue. That’s because it’s a game that wasn’t rushed, and it has aged well. If you even do manage to find someone online to play with in NASB today, well, prepare to get your tuckus whooped, as it seems only the veterans are lingering around.
There have been rumors of a sequel. If it actually does happen, I’d like to see the following improvements:
- above everything else, please don’t rush it. Take as much time as needed
- have more characters, and make the user put forth the effort to unlock some of them
- add in the missing movesets: the side tilt, F-air, B-air, make grabs unique to each character, add walking in addition to dashing
- make the “arcade mode” much more fleshed out, with bosses, unique character stats, etc.
- have voiceovers baked in right from the get-go
- each character should have at least four different costumes to choose from, and more than just adding a hat on top
- better netcode
- crossplay would be nice, but isn’t strictly necessary
MultiVersus Goes Bye-Bye⌗
Ah, MultiVersus is nice. To me, it’s a far superior game than NASB. I think it resolved a lot of the issues the former had. Crossplay is available right from the get-go. Voiceovers are in. An interesting character roster from the likes of Batman, Harley Quinn, Bugs Bunny, Finn, what have you. It’s free-to-play. Netcode that doesn’t actually suck. It even works on Steam Deck with the EAC that it uses. That in of itself was kind of a shocker to me. And the game doesn’t scream “rushed” to me.
I’ve invested a little over eight hours into it, and, well, I found the gameplay kind of addicting. It’s really fun to play. You should give it a shot if you haven’t. The mechanics feel very smooth, the character voice lines can be pretty hilarious, the announcer doesn’t sound annoying. And keep in mind the game is just in beta phase.
And yet, MultiVersus doesn’t come without it’s flaws. Of course, with it being free-to-play, the developers have to make money off of you somehow. So they add a battle pass, which doesn’t even add in-game currency – gleamium. The nerf to players levelling up also caused frustration. Characters getting buffed or nerfed usually leads to mixed reception, though the only thing I can comment about that is “you can’t please everyone.”
There’s also a lot of grinding involved. When you first start off, you only have access to a small handful of characters. You can unlock more, provided that you have enough of the in-game currency, but boy, be prepared to invest some heavy time winning matches in order to get enough. Either that, or you’re going to have to put a hole in your real-life wallet if you want to unlock them faster.
To add to this, the character roster gets randomized with each new season. So, Shaggy may be playable one season, then you’ll have to unlock him the next, forcing you to play a different character in the meantime.
To top it off, just a few days ago, Player Next Games made an announcement. The game will be shut down for at least six months, starting June 25th:
Open Beta will close on June 25 as we prepare for full launch in early 2024. MultiVersus will be back better than ever with new content, features, modes & more when we return.
The purpose of this, according to game director Tony Huynh, is to “have a clearer view of what we need to focus on, specifically the content cadence of new characters, maps, and modes, to give you more ways to enjoy the game, along with updated netcode and more matchmaking improvements.”
So the game will go offline beginning June 25th. You’ll still have access to the training mode and whatnot, but online multiplayer won’t be available. Any in-game purchases you made will carry over into the “full launch.”
Whether you see that as a good thing or not is up to you. I personally think it’s a good decision, given that the playerbase, much like NASB, has been declining since the open beta launch in July 2022. It went from an average of nearly 67k players, with a peak of 153k, to just 507 on average in the last 30 days, with a peak of 1,013. Still far better numbers than NASB ever had, yet the decline indicates that people are either getting tired of the grinding, they didn’t like a certain character getting nerfed, or maybe they just decided to move on.
I’m hoping the “full launch” early next year will remove the battle pass, make the game less grind-y, maybe even make it a paid game so some of these obstacles can be removed. Huynh did mention there will be a “reworking of the progression system based on your feedback,” so, maybe it won’t take as much effort to level up. We’ll just have to wait and see I guess.
Sakurai Knows Best⌗
There’s a few other platform fighters I could mention. Fraymakers is an example of a more recent fighting game. That game in of itself has a whole host of flaws, but you can just read my review so I don’t have to re-hash them here.
The point I’m making, I guess, is I think some developers have underestimated Sakurai’s strength when it comes to making games. To meet his quality of standards would probably require working overtime, getting three hours of sleep at the office, right under your desk, and having a team of some 300-odd people working right alongside you, making sure the graphics look alright, the animations are superb, and overall just a fun game to play. And having a budget of at least one million dollars. Of course, no one other than Nintendo could assemble a team that size or have that sort of budget. Heck, even though Melee had a rushed 13-month development cycle, to this day it remains a, well, smash hit.
I understand the term “Smash clone” is a little on the extreme side. None of these platform fighters that are coming out are trying to be an exact 1:1 copy of Smash. They each try to offer a little of their own “spice” or “flair” to make it more unique. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But in the 18 months or so since Smash Ultimate has ended development – and what is more than likely the last Smash game – I’ve seen these platform fighters crop up, and if they’re trying to meet or exceed the expectations of Smash fans, well, they’ve got a lot coming for them. More than they can probably handle.
That being said, I certainly welcome these new platform fighters. To have one available on a platform outside of Nintendo’s hardware in of itself is a big plus in my book. Some of them are really fun. But, as I said, I’ve yet to see one become the de-facto alternative to Melee or Smash Ultimate. Will it ever happen? Maybe. I’d like to keep my hopes up. Maybe when MultiVersus goes into “full launch” next year, that will be the closest thing.