Sick sick why am I sick

Seriously, why the hell am I sick? I don’t get sick. I felt fine yesterday.

My buddy Brickroad is currently Let’s Playing The Subspace Emissary, Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s one-player story mode. While I’m enjoying the videos, I can’t watch them without thinking about what a massive disappointment it was for me. Here you’ve got a company that practically invented the 2-D platformer and the freeform Metroidvania. And in their massive crossover game, the best they could come up with was an unremarkable Kirby game-slash-beat-em-up?

I mean, seriously here. You’ve got a huge cast of characters from a huge number of series which themselves have huge casts and long histories. So you decide to run them through a bunch of generic pseudorealistic areas (plains, forest, ruins, factory, desert…) and make them fight a bunch of new, generic enemies? You had the entire bestiary from Mario, Kirby, Zelda, Metroid, and beyond to draw from. Why not use them?

There are two basic ways to run a crossover — you pick up characters from one setting and drop them in another, and let them sort it out. Or, you can invent some kind of neutral setting which is internally consistent, drop the characters into it, and swirl them around, creating a new setting that draws from all its component elements. The basic fighting game which is the core of Smash Bros. takes the first tack — all the characters, all the stages, and most of the items and NPCs are drawn from the participating series. The one-player modes in Smash 64 and Melee did this as well, even though it didn’t make all that much sense in the latter game. Subspace Emissary, on the other hand, tries the other strategy — rather than having Mario show up in Hyrule or Kirby invade Brinstar, it creates this generic fantasy land and has all the characters run around in it. Because the areas can’t feel too much like they “belong” to any one series, they feel bland and lifeless instead. All our favorite characters are there, but we don’t care about them saving the world, because the world isn’t worth caring about.

The enemies are similar — the main bad guy, Tabuu, is explicitly from beyond the Smash Bros. realm, and so are his minions. Rather than creating a “heroes vs. villains” setup, you’ve got a “Nintendo characters vs. foreign invaders” one instead. (Tabuu recruits most of the Nintendo villains — Bowser, Ganondorf, Wario, and Ridley — to help him, but they all end up either defecting or dying.) This would be fine if the invaders were cool, but they’re not. They’ve got bizarre designs, but they’re not distinctive or familiar and thus tend to run together after a while. You hit them, they fly off screen, that’s the end of your interaction with them. There’s nothing a Primid can do that a Waddle Dee or a Stalchild or a Space Pirate couldn’t do better.

How about instead of Tabuu wanting to taking over Generic Smashbroslandia, he instead exists in a gap between the various Nintendo universes? He starts drawing the worlds together to conquer them, and the Smashers start coming into contact with each other, resulting in your usual array of “let’s you and him fight” moments that any superhero fan will be familiar with. Meanwhile, Tabuu recruits the Nintendo villains to help him conquer the world — but he lets them carry the action, rather than upstaging them with his own minions. How about Ness and Luigi fighting through a Fire Emblem castle while beating back Darknuts, Magikoopas, and Sir Kibble? Wouldn’t that be much cooler than Marth fighting through Random Castle fighting Random Subspace enemies?

And while we’re at it, why not improve the level design? SSE is very much “run right, stopping every so often to kill things”. Smash Bros. is one of the very few fighting games whose engine is versatile enough to adapt to platforming — why not take advantage of that? Would a few tough jumps or interesting level gimmicks have been out of the question?

Really, my big problem with SSE wasn’t that it was bad, so much that it was boring. Unforgivably so, given the material they could have drawn from. There was so much potential for a great game there, but they squandered it. I understand that the one-player game is not the focus of Smash Bros., but they spent all that time on the lovingly-rendered cutscenes and hired a Final Fantasy ex-pat to write the script. Shouldn’t the game itself have lived up to that effort?

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