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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.

MKA Kira vs Fujin1 - Is Super Smash Bros. A Fighting Game?

Source: http://mortalkombat.wikia.com/wiki/Mortal_Kombat:_Armageddon/Gallery

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.

Ryu and Little Mac Smash

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.

Source: http://streetfighter.com/media/

Source: http://streetfighter.com/media/

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.

Mortal Kombat X Fight

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!


Bryan Heraghty

Staff Writer

Avid shooter and platformer fan. Coffee is the only power up I need. In the spare time I have I will listen to more podcasts than has scientifically been deemed healthy. Hit me up on Twitter if you ever want to chat with me about games, tech, or whatever.



  • I see it like this:

    Sakurai says it’s not a fighting game because labeling it as a fighting game limits its creative range.

    Fans say it’s a fighting game.

    Therefore, one of its creative ranges is to be a fighting game.

    Therefore, it is [also] a fighting game.

    If other fans call it a “party game,” then another of its creative ranges is to clearly be a party game.

    Therefore, it is [also] a party game.

    If it is within the scope of the game mechanics for the game to behave in such a way, it is a(n) *insert genre here* game.

    Blam.

  • Thiefofhearts

    Smash is a unique game clearly intended for a party aspect, and while it can be molded into something that more resembles a fighting game, like a tofu burger compared to a fine burger, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing. You can play better games for that experience and I feel a good deal of the reason why people push for the game is the simple fact of the Nintendo characters. If it was anything else, no large gaming group would go to all this trouble of heavily modifying the rules to fit this ideal. I’m also willing to bet if Nintendo decided to make an actual fighting game based on its properties, that Smash would get promptly tossed in the gutter by the FGC and not kept around for its own quirky play style. After all, we don’t see much in the way of Power Stone 1/2 events.

    So yes, you can play Smash as a traditional fighting game substitute, much the same as you could play a demolition derby variant of Mario Kart where it was about knocking the opponents off track than scoring laps, but neither should be considered the accepted and standard competitive method of playing these games.

  • Casey

    The answer is NO!

    Smash bros. is a party game which people constantly twist, manipulate, alter, and outright modify to transform it into a fighting game. The fact that tournament organizers have to turn off/disallow most of the content in the game (stages, characters, items) should be a clue that it is NOT a fighting game.

    Now please keep in mind, I’m not saying people should not play it at tournaments, nor am I diminishing their skill or dedication to the game. I’m just saying, they’re not playing a fighting game.

    TL;DR: I can use a spoon to scoop ice cream, but it doesn’t make it an ice cream scoop.

  • Cred

    “fighting” game is an outdated label and this clearly proves it
    no one would argue that mario kart and forza aren’t racing games, both clearly are, but one is a kart racing game and an arcade racing game too while the other one is a simulation racing game

    smash is a game with fighting but it cannot be put under the same label as 99% of the other games about fighting because it does not follow the same conventions all those other games do

    games like smash and others inspired by it require their own unique label, and all the other fighting games require a more accurate label as well, and both would exist within the larger umbrella of “fighting” game like so many other genres work

  • bdp

    At its core no it isn’t but with the various rules they’ve introduced in the competitive scene it can be one.

  • Thiefofhearts

    I’d be inclined to agree with you, but the issue is not strictly with the game itself as it’s perfectly fine and a different kind of fighting game, like how Mario Kart and Forza are both racers. Instead, it’s the strange relationship it shares with the fighting game community that desperately try hard to fit Smash’s square peg in the serious fighting game definition’s cylinder hole, and only working because they turn off almost everything that makes Smash Smash. There is no other game with a professional tournament circuit that actually cuts out most of the game it’s supposed to be about.

    The real question shouldn’t be “Is Smash a fighting game?”, but “Why is the FGC so damn obsessed with turning Smash into Tekken?”

  • Haze

    competitive rulesets are a thing in most games
    we don’t see starcraft or counter tournaments using every map available or dota tournaments using the same rulesets as casual matches, different rulesets change how a game gets played and the competitive scenes always favor those that promote fairness, skill and competition but the genre remains the same

    I guess smash without items loses the “party” aspect for the time being but the game itself doesn’t change genre, the players are the ones that omit one aspect for their own matches

    but the rest of what makes smash unique still remains even without items, mobility, inputs, the overall flow of matches and its king of the hill format are what makes it most unique, not the items

    smash doesn’t become street fighter with items off any more than street fighter would become smash with items if it had them

    the most unique things about smash are the king of the hill format in which to win you make sure the opponent cannot make it back to the stage, the way percent can lead to death but is not an actual equivalent of health and how it makes some combos work at some percents only, the moblity the game offers to all the characters and the simplicity of its commands which are all a matter of a single input stick + button and combos are not built into the game instead they’re discovered

    for reference check a similar game rivals of aether that’s being developed by smash modders, it uses very similar mechanics, it shares all of those fundamentals but it was built from the ground up to be competitive with a balanced rooster and mechanics that promote skilled play, and it was not built with items as a staple of the game yet it would still fit in the same genre as smash because the gameplay is very similar on all the fundamental levels

  • Breezer

    I came here for the flood of autistic manbabies debating about a children’s party game. Was not disappointed.

  • Thiefofhearts

    Your comparison of Star Craft/Counterstrike maps, or even if you went to traditional fighting game stages, is not equivalent.

    None of those games feature “dynamic” areas like Smash where you have to contend with the stage trap hazards as you do with the other players. In counter strike or Starcraft, It’s just simple layouts and you have to make sure that tourney level maps offer no side specific bonuses (like easy to defend camping holes or extra resources) if you happen to have the fortune of starting in one zone or another. Removing the locations that provide hazards to ALL players (and equally a possible tactical advantage considering the game is all about positioning, movement and chasing across platforms) removes a good portion of what makes the game unique, outside of items and reduces it to a poor shadow of what it was designed as.

    I’ve never made the claim that turning these things off suddenly turns it into Street Fighter. That’s absurd and both of us can agree on that. My point was of “validation”, that those who are in charge of game tournaments make every push to strip out anything with a toggle in Smash that makes it Smash in a desperate attempt to fit in as much as possible with “what a competitive game should be”, and considering that Smash closely resembles a 2d 1 on 1 fighting game, that’s what they try to mold it to, even if that goal will never be completely 100% achievable. If there was a switch to turn on a health bar, shut off floaty jumps, and remove ring outs, I see no sign or evidence that tournaments would not use those toggles as well.

    This Aether game you speak of sounds very interesting, and I’d like to think that a similar game, made to fit this idea, will be successful. But time will tell if people as a whole will seek out a competitive game specifically designed for this format, or strictly play this format just to get a trophy from having Pikachu beat up Mario.

  • Hogtree Octovish

    My question is not “what makes it fighting game?”, but what doesn’t?
    Because all i can see is:
    Random items (which you a can turn off in multiplayer).
    Stages with non-controllable elements (which most of the time aren’t that big of a problem).
    The fact it’s aimed at a younger audience (as if that means anything).
    And a focus on ring-outs instead of health bars.
    None of those automatically exclude it from the fighting genre in my opinion.
    They just make it non-traditional.
    And today I learned battle royales don’t count as fights (and the main single-player mode (barring the WiiU version) still focuses more on one-on-one beat-the-shit-out-of-each-other fights than not).

    I’m kind of curious on what makes it a “party game”, though.
    Outside of “easy-to-learn” accessibly and just the fact that it’s a fun multiplayer game (which on the latter point, most multiplayer games could classify depending on opinion) and an (optional) element of randomness, I don’t really see it.
    Although, I guess the elitists have to classify it as something, if it ain’t a fighting game.

  • Haze

    stages are banned whenever they bring too much RNG to the table, if they lend themselves to certain behaviours (like camping) or if they are not balanced for all characters
    not to make it more like street fighter type games
    for example halbert, delphino, whispy woods and pokemon stadiums stages are often legal despite stage hazards because those were not a problem in the areas mentioned above
    there’s no attempt to make the game fit that fighting game mold, it’s all about making it a more fair experience that rewards skill and promotes good sportsmanship same as the way other games make their own rulesets

  • DynastyStar

    You mean like how DOA bans some costumes? So you’re saying DOA isn’t a fighting game because tournaments ban some content?

  • Casey

    No dude, c’mon now. That’s such a disingenuous argument that I almost didn’t reply.

    Costumes have no effect on gameplay. The only reason they’re banned is because some people get into a tizzy when they see half, or in DOA’s case, nearly naked girls.

    Items and stages have a real and significant effect on gameplay. Now, I normally wouldn’t consider disabling some features as a valid reason to disqualify the term “fighting game,” but it’s quite different when you look at the huge width and breadth of what is disabled.

    ALL items are banned in evo. Out of 28 stages, only 9 are allowed. ALL omega stages are banned. ALL equipment is banned.

    Oddly enough, evo only bans three characters. Lucas, Ryu, and Roy… however, other tournaments sometimes go further than that, culling nearly 25% of the cast.

    So in summation, disabling content does not necessarily disqualify it for fighting game status… disabling SO MUCH content, especially gameplay-centric content, does.

  • DukeMagus

    Check Shoryuken.com and Eventhubs.com Both are fighting game focused sites and both covers Smash bros extensively.

    Also, Smash Bros is on EVO, the biggest fighting game event in the world.

    So… by association, fighting game!

  • DynastyStar

    okay, and where do you draw the line of how much content is allowed to be cut out before it stops being a fighting game? Anything that effects gameplay? Well goodbye Mortal Kombat, you’re not a fighting game because your DLC characters are banned.

  • Casey

    Personally, I would say when 50% or more of the default content is removed/modified/disabled for professional play, it’s not in the intended genre.

    Case in point: DOTA.
    Dota was made from an rts, but no one is going to call it an rts. It’s missing so much from warcraft 3 that it simply isn’t the same game. It, in fact, spawned the MOBA genre.

    Again, I’m not saying smash is a lesser game for not being a fighting game, nor am I saying it shouldn’t be played professionally, but lets call a spade a spade. Smash isn’t a fighting game… and that’s okay.

  • David Fitzsimmons

    I am sorry but it IS a fighting game, wether you want to call it a Party Fighting game or whatever, it is a fighting game. Sorry Sakurai, I understand your whole veiwpoint of wwanting your precious unique gem to get any labels that ‘limit’ it, the law of precedence takes place here.

    If Powerstone is considered a Fighting game despite how different it is from your typical Fighter, then Super Smash too will fall into the fighting genre.

  • Were I disagree here is this implys that balance is a must for a game to be a fighting game, or that it has to be designed with competition in mind.

    Smash Bro’s was never intended for competative play, and as a result much of the content was considered more on the basis of how fun it would be then how balanced it would be.

    To make it competitive, you have to remove a lot of those elements, but I don’t think bad competitive balance means it can’t be included in a genre.

  • DynastyStar

    I never said that its a lesser game for “not being a fighting game”. I just have trouble, as was pointed out in this article, dismissing the fact that it was the second most watched game at an event dedicated to fighting games which is pretty valid when identifying whether its a fighting game or not.

    Saying that Super Smash Bros. is not a fighting game to me is like saying that Victor Vran is not an Action RPG(or whatever genre you box Diablo, Torchlight, Path of Exile, etc. into).

  • Toom Nyusernae

    It has qualities that make it a fighting game. It even shares qualities that exist in other fighting games. Take for instance the use of stocks. Killer Instinct and Darkstalkers 3 come to mind. It uses a block button. So does Star Gladiator and the Soul Edge series. It has a jump button. So does Ehrgeiz and Tobal no. 1 although I must admit that trait really makes me question its fighting gaminess. In fact it makes me think of beat’em ups a lot more because of its 2D nature.

    Execution is reversed. I mean, traditional fighting games use difficult inputs before becoming second nature whereas Smash utilizes simple inputs but becomes difficult to master in terms of movement and space due to the speed.

    I do believe many fans can tolerate it labeled as a fighting game but have difficulty pegging down why it is so unwelcome (myself included). I have a theory and it goes something like this:

    90’s had a lot of fighting games alongside platformers and beat’em ups of those days. Platformer characters never exuded traits recognizable in fighting games and their characters. There were sooooo many fighting games that the first step in trying out a new fighting game was to check out the roster before checking out the gameplay mechanics. Do I need to name a lot of MK ripoffs as well as SF clones?

    Fighting games are steeped in history. Successful fighting games build on their predecessors. MK 1 – MKX, SF – SFV, Soul Edge – Soul Calibur, Tekken – Tekken 7 etc. These games are developed from the ground up into something unique each time. The characters belong and reflect the game in a fluid manner. Characters received their own stages and themes, endings, and storylines. Very individual. Fighting game enthusiasts followed their fighting games, which were sorely lacking on Nintendo consoles. I’m looking at N64 – Wii. And then Smash showed up. A big mashup of Nintendo characters. fighting games had moved away from.

    A big issue in liking a game is when no characters interest you. If you’ve grown away from Nintendo what reason do you have to become interested in their game at all? Especially when the new approach seems so foreign? Smash felt lazy in its inception because of its roster.

    There’s no denying Smash is a good game with execution requirements that make traditional fighting game enthusiasts feel challenged. However, to call it a fighting game means it has my respect and it hasn’t earned it in terms of its art direction or history.

    The last bit of food for thought I would suggest is what you’re left with if you looked at the characters without their fighting game mechanics. Smash characters just don’t feel as if they belong in the genre.

  • Toom Nyusernae

    I’d say it’s seen as a party game because of the theme and intent of the game. Since it’s not clearly defined and intended to be a fighting game taken seriously it loses points there I think. The characters don’t help it seem less party centric either but that’s just my opinion. I have an easier time treating Pokken as a fighting game because Pokémon fight whereas characters like Mario, Wii-Fit trainer and others seem like they’re forced to become something they’re not.