Everything We Know About Super Smash Bros Wii U / 3DS
Let’s try and understand what’s going on with the next Super Smash Bros game(s) after connecting all the pieces of the puzzle and looking at the big picture. I gathered all the interviews, tweets, and any media I could get my hands on, lay it all out in front of me, and tried to get a sense of what the next Smash Bros game will be like. Equally important, I discarded all rumors from vague sources and other nonsense, so everything here comes straight from the mouth of Masahiro Sakurai and my own common sense. I would be quoting a source for every single line if I did it in the text so instead I listed all the sources at the bottom. This might have been a bad idea because already a lot of people have asked me if this article is mostly speculation. It’s not. It’s 95% rewriting what Sakurai or Iwata have explicitly said in a more organized fashion, and 5% speculation which I will explicitly make you aware of when I speculate.
I think that in order to get a mental image of Super Smash Bros Wii U/3DS we have to first get a better understanding of the creative force behind it, Masahiro Sakurai. He’s been the visionary behind the franchise since its inception and the final form will be chiseled according to his artistic nuances. So, let’s take a quick look at where this man is holding in his professional and creative career.
Masahiro Sakurai Acquires His Creative Freedom
Of course, Sakurai got his start early on when he created Kirby at age 19 and was given the director’s seat for Kirby’s Dream Land. Fast forward to 2003 and Sakurai no longer wished to be tied down to sequels (I think he was mostly tired of Kirby. Plus he had made Super Smash Bros for the N64 in 1999 and Super Smash Bros Melee for the Gamecube in 2001.) He retired from HAL Laboratory and started up his own company Sora Ltd. Here’s where things become murky and I’ll try and piece together what went on from little loose ends I’ve found. The internet is full of misinterpreted information when it comes to Sora Ltd. It seems Sora Ltd. isn’t a real development studio. It’s more of an official company that allows Sakurai to be freelanced out to other companies and choose which studios and games he wants to work on. Forming this company did not mean he had left Nintendo’s side and end his relationship with them, just that the earlier paradigm of their relationship would be different, and would afford Sakurai a lot more control over which projects he’d work on.
In essence, Nintendo now understood that they would have to build a team around Sakurai for each new project he agreed to work on rather than caging him in at HAL. He also had the freedom to take a break from Nintendo and work on his own side projects. The first of these was Meteos for the DS. Sakurai wanted to do something new and different in the puzzle genre so he worked with Lumines-creators Q Entertainment to develop Meteos, which was published exclusively by Nintendo for the DS. It was released in 2005.
Iwata Builds a Team Around Sakurai for Brawl
Next, Sakurai went to E3 to scope out the industry, meet a variety of important people, and take job offers. He was a bit surprised when Iwata walked on stage at the press conference and announced that he’d like to make a new Smash Bros game on the Wii. Oops. Iwata had conveniently forgot to mention this crucial bit of information to HAL Laboratory (who co-owns the trademark) and Sakurai. Iwata, who has a very close relationship with Sakurai (having been his coworker and boss at HAL), invited Sakurai to his E3 hotel room where he told him his plans for Super Smash Bros Brawl. Sakurai agreed to take it on and in return Iwata agreed to a very strange proposition to make it work to Sakurai’s liking. Basically, Iwata would gather “loose” staff from different companies, borrowing their services, and form a one-time team for the project. When the game was done, they would disband and be on their way, leaving Sakurai free to once-again choose what he wanted to work on. Iwata mentioned in an Iwata Asks that he wouldn’t have done such a crazy thing for anyone other than Sakurai because he trusts in his genius. So, they borrowed staff from Game Arts (Grandia), Monolith Soft, Paon, and HAL. All in all, they brought together 100 full-time staff members to realize Sakurai’s vision.
Project Sora, a Short-Lived Idea
Three years later, in 2008, Super Smash Bros released, leaving Sakurai to go on his merry way. However, Iwata still wanted to engage the services of his friend, Sakurai. So, in February 2009, Nintendo announced that they kept some of the recruits from the Brawl team, hired some new members, and with a total staff of 30 people they formed a new Nintendo subsidiary called Project Sora. Can you figure out what the meaning of the name is? Yeah, it was meant to be another one-time, ad-hoc studio to work on a Project with Sora Ltd. – Sakurai’s company for his freelance work. Since Project Sora was a real company for a time, Sakurai was at its head. Nintendo seemed to hope this would keep Sakurai somewhat locked in and sitting in place where they wanted him. Too bad it didn’t exactly work that way. True, they worked together from 2009-2012, when Project Sora released Kid Icarus Uprising on the 3DS in March. But three months later the company had been dissolved and was no longer. Sora Ltd., though, still exists. It still deals with the business side of Sakurai’s freelance cooperation. I assume Sakurai wasn’t so happy with Project Sora. Whereas the Brawl team had experienced staff from Monolith Soft, Paon, and Game Arts, Project Sora was formed by the staff who didn’t return to their original companies for whatever reason and new, unproven staff.
Sakurai Borrows All the Talent at Namco Bandai for the next Smash Bros
Sakurai wanted to work with proven teams who could realize his vision fully. This leads us to the next Smash Bros game. Iwata announced the Wii U/3DS Smash Bros game extremely premature at the E3 2011 press conference. The development wouldn’t even start in earnest until April 2012. So, why did he do it? Was it just to troll Sakurai again? Nope. Sakurai said that it was in order to find a team for the next Smash Bros game. See, Sakurai didn’t want to work with a young, new team. He wanted to work with a proven studio again. They started discussing possibilities at that E3 and as it turns out, the winners were Namco Bandai, who were known for their fighting know-how with both Tekken and Soul Calibur. But Sakurai wasn’t happy with just borrowing the “fighting game” staff members at Namco Bandai. He wanted even more talent on board. Apparently Namco Bandai is treating him like a king, letting him sift through the company and collect an all-star pool of talent. (All the better for us.) Who exactly does he have on board? He’s borrowed the man behind the Tales RPGs, Yoshito Higuchi. He’s walked off with the producer of the Ridge Racer series, Kenya Kobayashi. He’s holding captive Tetsuya Akatsuka, producer and director of the Mobile Suit Gundam series. He’s borrowing both the art and sound directors of the Soul Calibur series. And he usurped ALL of the main development staff of the Tekken series. Not to mention, he’s consulting with the daddy of Tekken, Katsuhiro Harada, for his expertise in the genre.
So, what’s Sakurai himself doing? He’s the game designer! This is his baby. Iwata said of Sakurai that he’s unique in that he has a vision of the games he makes from the very beginning and even in the details of the final product, he can say that that was in his original vision. He knows what he wants and he’s going to make use of this Namco Bandai talent pool to fully manifest his vision… which is apparently something that Sakurai felt Project Sora was incapable of doing.
So, if Sakurai has the vision and the final say, are all these talented members of Namco Bandai only doing the heavy-lifting (programming, technology, art/sound production)? Do they have any say in the matter? Yes, apparently they do. True, Sakurai will always have the final word on everything. But, he wants to consult and use the expertise of his partners. There’s one area in particular that was mentioned by Sakurai: balance. Sakurai originally set out to break the fighting genre from its shackles. He wanted to make a game that was looser, allowed more freedom, was more frantic and chaotic, and was also more random. Other fighting games had much more of a structure to them. This vision is what makes Smash Bros so much fun. But, it turns out that fighting fans have taken Smash Bros seriously and have turned it into a tournament game. Because of this, the characters must really be balanced. It’s not all fun and games and there does have to be some structure within the chaos. This is what Sakurai wants Namco Bandai for over other companies. He wants them to help him make this a game that can equally be a fun party game among college roommates or a serious tournament-ready fighter, with detailed online stats and leaderboards. Namco Bandai will help bring out the best in Sakurai’s eccentric genius. They will organize his innovations, allowing them to be streamlined and balanced. This could be the best thing yet for Sakurai.
Let’s move on from the man and the team and instead focus on the gameplay and characters.
Smash Bros Wii U/3DS – An Evolution for the Series
So, what’s the new game going to be all about? Will it just be more characters, more levels, more modes, more collectables, and better graphics? Sakurai, clearly stated many times this won’t be the case. He doesn’t want to be competing with himself in previous games. He feels the game has reached a dead end in terms of “more”. This time he wants it to be “new”. New ideas, new features- something of an evolution. But he’s clear in that he doesn’t want gimmicks. Which is why he doesn’t want to make the game revolve around the Wii U GamePad. And this is why he didn’t make Brawl all about the motion controls. Although, he did say that they will utilize the GamePad to allow more control schemes. Expect the amount of control scheme options to be mind-boggling this time around. You’ll probably be able to use any type of controller you have that connects to your Wii U. Even your 3DS. Which brings us to the core evolution of the Smash Bros series: the two versions of the game, for 3DS and Wii U, and their connectivity.
This might confuse you at first. One one hand Sakurai says no gimmicks. And in the next line we read that the game is all about two versions and connectivity. This isn’t Pokemon, right? Don’t worry. This is really a new way of thinking about fighing games, so let’s take this slow.
Smash Bros Wii U and 3DS – Two Completely Different Games
Sakurai said that the first time he saw the 3DS he realized he must make the next Smash Bros as a handheld experience too. Why? Sakurai explained that he’s always wanted to make Smash Bros into a more personal experience, one in which you can level up, gain new skills, and customize your character. But, this would take away from the quick, instant-play feeling of the Smash Bros series. But, with two versions of the game this dream of his can be done properly. Think of the Wii U version of Smash Bros as the public/online/HD-glitz/party game. And think of the 3DS version as a more personal experience. From all the research I’ve been doing, I have come to the conclusion that the 3DS version will be a single-player and co-op game (he said he wants skilled players to be able to assist less skilled players.) It will be a full-fledged fighting/adventure mode that lets you complete levels, beat bosses, and will feature some sort of storyline. The Subspace Emissary mode in Brawl was a very weak, diluted form of this concept and we know from the Kirby series and Kid Icarus: Uprising that Sakurai has the chops to traverse the single-player game territory as good as anyone can. On the 3DS you will be able to learn new skills, gain experience, earn rewards, and customize your character. Your character will be a product of your own blood and sweat, all your hard work. You will then be able to take that character and bring it to the Wii U version to square off in the public arena. Here you will be able to go online, duke it out with friends, check out your stats on the global learboards, and gather the family around the couch for some fun multiplayer battles.
No more single-player campaign for the console version. What was originally known as the single player modes and the multiplayer modes in previous games will each get their very own game for two different systems this time around. Single-player game – 3DS. Multiplayer game – Wii U.
[Edit: There's been some confusion as to how much of this 3DS/Wii U discussion is speculation and how much is coming from a real source. So to be perfectly transparent, these are a few telling paragraphs from an Iwata Asks:
“Specifically, Sakurai feels that a portable system makes the game a more “individual” experience in that, compared to a console, it’s easier to make players attached to the data that they’ve built up and collected. The fact that you’re carrying the hardware with you makes for a more personal experience.
The difficulty here is that the current Smash Bros. games haven’t relied on rewards, collecting money or raising your character’s level. There’s no element of gaining experience to make your character stronger, Iwata noted.
Adding the notion of experience would pose a dillema, explained Sakurai, as there are some players who would get into such a game, while others would not like it. Iwata added that placing a focus on experience would also make the game lose its instant play quality.
[So to rectify that] what Sakurai hopes to do is have the 3DS version of Smash Bros. allow players to build up their character through battle and rewards, then take their custom character to the Wii U version to face off against everyone. He feels it could be nice if they can make the “personal” portable space and the stadium-like “public” console space mesh together.
Iwata summed up the basic idea nicely: players would spend time on the 3DS version, building up their character and collecting stuff, then show off their skills on the Wii U version.”
My speculation is that this will be done on the 3DS through a more fleshed-out Subspace Emissary-like mode, that has regular battles interspersed with platforming/fighting areas that makes it a bit more suitable to a single-player experience. Part of this speculation comes from reading through Sakurai’s thoughts on how he developed the Subspace Emissary for Brawl, which made think he really would have to liked to expand on that if he had the time and focus.]
The Core Fighting Game Won’t Stray Far
This change will be the biggest revolution to the format of the game. But, what about the core fighting mechanics? Sakurai said that there was a lot of room for improvement even in Brawl. He will be making these improvements and fixing anything that he thought was “broken”. He also said that he will be making other changes so the fighting will be fresh and feel different from earlier games. Plus, Namco Bandai will be giving their input to make the game feel even tighter and more evenly balanced. You can trust it to be superbly “solid” and well-rounded as the gameplay nucleus that the rest of the game revolves around. However, on a whole, don’t expect the core fighting system to be bombastically different than anything you’ve seen before. This will still be Smash Bros, albeit with nuanced and subtle contrasts to previous games in the series. Sakurai even went out of his way to say that the game won’t suddenly become a game with complicated moves or utilize a 3D fighting space. Smash Bros will not mutate into “Super-Soul-Tekken-Smash-Calibur Bros.”
Cameos from Tekken, Tales, Capcom and More?
But that doesn’t mean we won’t see any characters from those games. In fact, if I were a betting man I’d wager you’ll see at least one Tekken cameo. The producer of Tales also asked his fans to beg Sakurai to include a Tales character. So, you may see Marth and Ike joined by Lloyd Irving. (The character has to be one that appeared on a Nintendo system.)
Sakurai also mentioned that he would like to include one Capcom character. There are a couple hundred candidates from the Capcom stable of characters so I don’t know who it might be. Although, if they stick to something predictable it will be either Mega Man or Ryu.
Reviving Old Nintendo Franchises
But don’t imagine this game will be innundated with third-party characters. Sakurai said he doesn’t want that to become its own focus. He will choose very narrowly. Even when it comes to Nintendo characters he doesn’t want to go larger than what he’s done before. The focus will be on furthering the quality of the game, not the quantity. This doesn’t mean every Nintendo character will be a returning one. On the contrary, Sakurai said he feels he’s been given one of the best opportunities in this role because even if Nintendo won’t go back and revive an old character or franchise, he can include old characters and give them a new lease on life. In fact, this was a major factor in how a new Kid Icarus game came to be made. After Pit had such a positive reception in the Smash Bros series, Nintendo felt it was worthwhile to let Pit star in a new game of his own again. The same happened with Fire Emblem. After Roy and Marth from Super Smash Bros Melee became more familiar with American gamers in 2001, Nintendo thought it would be worthwhile to localize the Fire Emblem series for the first time in the West, as “Fire Emblem” was released on GBA in 2003. You can thank Sakurai for that. And Sakurai knows the power he wields, which is why he’s looking carefully through Nintendo’s past to figure out which sleeping franchise he can give a boost to next.
It’s not just Sakurai who knows this. The Tales director also mentioned how he desperately wants his characters in the game so Tales might increase its familiarity in the West. And it works both ways. Sakurai will choose wisely which third-party characters he includes because he opens up his game to another existing fanbase.
I mentioned earlier that I discarded any rumors about leaked characters. The reason why is because Sakurai mentioned a few times how he hadn’t even started choosing characters until more recently, once the core gameplay system was done. Those leaked characters lists, besides for looking very unprofessional, also ran an entire list of characters as if the whole list was decided upon already. Sakurai’s mentioned recently that he wants to remain very quiet until the game is finished because he wants to do the final launch really well. He wants the wait to be worth it and the final characters reveal to be exciting. There’s no way a list from early 2012 is anywhere near the truth.
So, When Does it Release?
This brings us to our last point of interest: the timetable of development and release. When is the game going to come out? 2013? 2014? 2015? This is what we know so far. The original Super Smash Bros came out near the end of the N64 lifespan in January 1999. The Gamecube was released in November of 2001 and Super Smash Bros Melee debuted within the launch window, in December 2001. That means it was in development for a little under two years. Work on Super Smash Bros Brawl began halfway through 2005. It ended in January 2008. That’s about two and a half years. So let’s assume a new Smash Bros game takes around 2 years, give or take a few months, to complete. Iwata announced the latest Super Smash Bros half-way through 2011. Development didn’t really begin until March 2012 but we can assume there had been plenty of discussion of the direction and the intial planning stages. Sakurai said that characters don’t get decided upon early on until the core gameplay system is complete. So, when was that? Luckily, he shared that with us. On August 7th, Sakurai revealed that the “gameplay system” was complete. That means that intial design decisions and the project document had been drawn up over a year, 2011-2012. The core gameplay system was developed over six months in 2012. So, what’s left? A lot. The core fighting system will power two separate games on both Wii U and 3DS. There are characters to create, with their full skillsets and moves. The levels have to be created. The game must be balanced. There are a Sakurai-amount of collectables to be designed and littered across the game. And the man is a perfectionist. He won’t let it release until there’s nothing left to do other than hire Capcom, Konami, and maybe even Sony to join Namco and redesign the game from scratch.
So, with a year and a half of the development process done in August and we’re now approaching February, you can say we’re closing in on the two-year mark. So, how does the rest play out? It can go one of two ways. Either, the game is worked on for another half a year and then comes out for the holiday season 2013. Or Sakurai says he wants more time (like he did when he pushed the Brawl release out of holiday 2007 and into January 2008) and development goes on until an opportune moment in 2014.
Ok, Menashe, give the people a prediction. Fine, fine, you’ve got me cornered. Here’s me saying: Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS to release Holiday Season, this year, 2013. Nintendo won’t let Sakurai delay release because they’ll be needing Smash Bros to counter the holiday season hype for the upcoming systems from Xbox/Sony/Valve and anyone else who might join the competition. You heard it here first. Expect at least a trailer of the game at E3 if not a playable demo. And remember to come back and mock me if I’m wrong.
[Edit: By the way, I was wrong. Although Smash Bros was probably the star of E3 for Nintendo, it won't be coming out in 2013. Expect it in 2014.]
Here are the sources I used for research in preparing this article: