Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pokéball vs. Assist Trophy

I'm sure you all know that I've been really into Super Smash Bros. lately, and it's gotten me thinking about the way things are represented within the franchise. Specifically, I've been thinking about how Pokémon relate to the other characters. In the first two games in the franchise, the Pokéball was the only item which could summon other characters into the battle. These characters (Pokémon, obviously) would appear for a short time, perform a special attack, and then vanish. Despite their relatively short term on the stage, a Pokémon's appearance could mean the difference between failure and victory.

The Pokéball item saw a spiritual successor in the form of the Assist Trophy, which appeared, so far exclusively, in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While the Pokéball item could only summon Pokémon, the Assist Trophy item could summon any kind of character from any Nintendo universe. The item gave cameos to all kinds of characters, from the Legendary Starfy, to Samurai Goroh, to Sonic's dark doppelganger, Shadow the Hedgehog. These characters performed similarly to the Pokémon which came before them; they were largely indestructible and the majority of them performed a signature attack which could totally change the tides of battle.

The Assist Trophy was an awesome idea, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves with the franchise come the release of the 3DS and Wii U additions in the next year or two. However, something happened when the item came about. Its predecessor, the Pokéball, kind of became overshadowed. I don't mean to say that fans only acknowledged one item over the other (although there  was a cultural [in the Smash Culture] shift towards giving priority  to the Assist Trophy), but that the Pokéball and its Pokémon seemed to be downplayed by Nintendo themselves.

Of course, Brawl downplayed a lot of other elements as well. Just stay with me, here.

Not only did the Pokémon seem to be downplayed, but the act of calling them forth from a completely separate item seemed to create this divide between the Pokémon and the rest of the Nintendo characters.  It was as if Nintendo was saying that Pokémon aren't really a part of the big Nintendo family, that Pokémon don't have the significance of the other characters. It got me wondering about a few things. I mean, the Assist Trophy item exists because the characters in the Super Smash Bros. franchise are trophies (dolls in the first game) which can be animated by rubbing the trophy base, kind of like a genie's lamp.

The Pokémon are also trophies in this universe. We know this because you can collect their trophies, and boy, there are a lot of them. So wouldn't it make sense that Pokémon could also be called forth from an Assist Trophy? Now, I know that Pokémon Trainer is shown sending his Pokémon in and out of Pokéballs, and even shown capturing two of them, and that both Pikachu and Jigglypuff emerge from Pokéballs at the beginning of each round. So obviously while every character is a trophy, the Pokémon trophies can be captured and manipulated in the same ways as their organic counterparts.

I also know that, thematically, the Pokéball is a cool idea. It represents the Pokémon franchise in a lot of ways, and has become one of the most prominent items in the Smash Bros. franchise. Yet I can't help but feel the divide created by the Pokéball and the Assist Trophy is just too apparent. I'd like to feel that the Pokémon are treated as equal members of the Nintendo family, and not like a bunch of generic animals designated to fill in some background roles.

Now I know a lot of this has to do with my own weird way of viewing the games. After all, Gulpin's role in Brawl has become a bit of an internet meme and the Pokéball item contains a whopping thirty characters representative of the franchise while the most represented franchise as an Assist Trophy would be the Super Mario series with only three representative summons (four if you count the associated spin-off franchise, WarioWare). Despite this, I still can't help but feel that by not becoming Assist Trophies, the Pokémon aren't regarded among Nintendo's superstars. And that makes me sad.

There is one other little thing, though, the separates the Pokéball and the Assist Trophy, although it's really minor. The Assist Trophy immediately shatters upon being grabbed while the Pokéball can be held and thrown. This makes the Pokéball a weapon in its own right and allows for strategic timing to release its power. While this is a valid distinction between the two, it really isn't beyond the realm of possibility, or even simple programming, for Nintendo to give the Assist Trophy the same item properties as the Pokéball. I'd like to see this happen. Maybe they could even sub-divide the Pokémon assists by having the actual Assist Trophy be the Pokéball, which pops out of the shattered Assist Trophy and then lands, summoning one of the random Pokémon from its roster. Just something to think about, I guess.

What do you guys think? Do you think the Assist Trophy has overshadowed the Pokéball, or do I have it backwards? Are the Pokémon considered lesser to the other Nintendo superstars, or is my perception just a little bit weird? Would you prefer them to merge the Assist Trophy and Pokéball items or keep them separate?

What do you think?