After claiming the second highest viewership at EVO, sandwiched between Super Street Fighter 4 Ultra and Mortal Kombat X in views, readers could be forgiven for being unaware of the debate surrounding Smash Bros. classification at EVO. Arguments for and against Super Smash Bros. being labeled as a “fighting game” have been around for a while, and to answer this question, if it can be answered, fighting game fans must ask themselves a deceptively simple question: what is a fighting game?
What a silly question! A fighting game is a game that has fighting in it right? Just like a shooter is a game with shooting, a racer is a game with racing, and a JRPG is a game with androgynous teenagers on a mission to murder an all-powerful space god. The opposition to Smash being labeled a fighting game will be quick to point out, and rightfully so, that fighting games are about more than just fighting, as a good majority of video games involve fighting on some level. Video games typically employ opposition to the player, so the players feel rewarded in overcoming that opposition. This challenge is typically presented in the form of fighting.
So what defines a fighting game? If we go by Wikipedia’s definition:
Fighting game is a video game genre in which the player controls an on-screen character and engages in close combat with an opponent. These characters tend to be of equal power and fight matches consisting of several rounds, which take place in an arena. Players must master techniques such as blocking, counter-attacking, and chaining together sequences of attacks known as “combos“.
This is a definition Smash easily fits into. Really the genre can be quite loose with what is considered a fighting game and sometimes boils down to if it feels like a fighting game. Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon are incredibly different games. At these two games’ source, one focuses more on a 2D martial arts perspective with a relatively small pool of eight characters, while MK:A incorporates weapons and a massive choice of 60 characters.
So what is the source of Smash? Well, its creator, Masahiro Sakurai, is a good start. If we go by the creators word alone, then we could wrap up this article right here and say, with certainty, Super Smash Bros. is not a fighting game. In an interview with EventHubs.com, Sakurai said he believed Smash was a “four-person battle royal action game” rather than a fighting game, and if we tried to label it a fighting game it may limit its creative range.”
I like to think of Smash as a four-player battle royal action game. You’ll notice that’s a lot longer than saying it’s a fighting game, because ‘fighting game’ is a completely different label. You can talk about a fighting game or an action game or a racing game, but as soon as you define your game specifically in those terms, you start limiting your creative range because you’re thinking of the limitations of that genre.
– Sakurai speaking with EventHubs
One aspect of fighting games I’ve seen repeatedly is the requirement that it must be a one-on-one combat focused game and adding more changes the fundamentals of the game into “something else.” A fair definition to be sure, much like adding a massive onslaught of enemies changes a shooter into a shoot-em’ up. But this definition feels more like a limitation than a classification. What matters to a fighting game is balance, not keeping the number of fighters at two. Keeping the fighters at only two helps keep the game balanced, rather than balance inherently meaning only two competitors at a time.
Even still, as we’ve seen in the competitive Smash scene, Smash is more than capable at producing engaging and nail-bitingly close battles with two characters. What might hurt Smash‘s chances of being labeled a fighting game is that these battles, while engaging and crowd drawing, do not adequately represent Super Smash Bros. As a man who almost exclusively plays “fight me 1v1 no items, final destination scrublord,” I can say this fashion of playing Smash is not the intended experience Smash provides. Smash is about a group of friends gathering around a TV, every one screaming and cheering as characters fly, float, jump, and soar. Characters grab items, throw Pokeballs, unleash Final Smashes, and die via stage hazards. I find limiting Smash from being a fighting game because it isn’t similar enough to other fighting games frankly dumb, and the kind of thinking that only holds the community back from enjoying new and exciting experiences. All the same, the intended way to play Smash is, plainly, not a fighting game.
But does this mean we should relinquish Smash from being able to be called a fighting game? Can a game not be two different things, especially if there are two vastly different ways to play? Smash pulls in more viewers than Mortal Kombat X or Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom at one of the biggest fighting game tournaments there is! To simply dismiss it from further evaluation would be ignoring it can pull a crowd of devoted fighting fans and dominate a fighting tournaments views.
The intended way to play Smash is not a fighting game, but stopping there would leave out the endless strategies Smash allows, the combat mechanics that are only relevant to the fighting game set up of one-on-one brawling, and the asymmetric play typical in a fighting game.
Smash also lacks a health bar—a staple of the fighting game genre. Instead the “battle royal action game” uses a percentage build up, and players are defeated by being knocked off the screen rather than taking too much damage. The result, as far as I’m concerned, is just a different road that leads to the same destination: the nail-biting feeling wondering who is going to lose.
Traditional fighting games achieve this by showing you exactly how close someone is to dying. Players and spectators can see perfectly clear how much or how little wiggle room a fighter has left. As their health bar diminishes, players must change their strategies and tactics to ensure as little health loss as possible, and the risk/reward trade off seems more high stakes than before.
Smash achieves this same feeling by the polar opposite route. Instead of knowing how close a player is to death, players and spectators can only make educated guesses as to how close someone’s death is, and player defeat can come out of nowhere in an uproar. Victory and defeat are equally feasible, and the risk/reward trade off rises in stakes as the percentage counter grows. The tension comes not from knowing how close the end is, but from either party being ended at any moment given the right strategy and a little luck.
Another point of contention for Smash’s fighting persona is the requirement for death: being knocked off screen. Whereas in most fighting games, the match is won only by overcoming your opponent. Meanwhile, a player who’s been winning most of the match can be killed in one wrong move, or one right move by their opponent, like a successful spike, a high powered attack, or an off stage take down (Ganondorf is such a beast.) Are these type of moves representative to the high skill and technical knowledge of the fighting game genre? Absolutely not, but in my mind neither are cinematic super moves that reward players for taking damage by giving them super powered attacks that require objectively less skill to pull off than an off-stage spike in Smash. I’m not saying super moves should be taken out of fighting games, but if they are allowed in I see no reason to argue that Smash’s off-screen deaths are suddenly diminishing the skill needed to succeed in a fighting game.
So can Smash be a fighting game? Well the answer sounds like a cop out, but really, do you want it to be? At the end of the day being graced with the title of fighting game won’t change the massive audience for Smash or any other game. Undeniably a certain level of respect comes with being recognized as a fighting game, but tournaments have been held, bets have been placed, and names have been made on this game all without “officially” being called a fighting game. The true spirit of the fighting game community is as pure and noble as the Olympics of ancient Greece. People coming together to cheer and contend in the pastime of competition. Friendships and rivalries blossom in the heat of mans’ natural tenacity to compete and succeed. And there, in that definition, is what a fighting game should be based on. In that definition, I feel Super Smash Bros. is, and has been, a fighting game.
Do you believe Smash can be (or is) considered a fighting game? Do you think it even matters? Do you think there is a way to outline what is and isn’t a fighting game? Let us know in the comments below!