Monday, January 19, 2015

Thoughts on Smash Tour

Smash Tour is the primary exclusive mode in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. It's the counterpart to Melee's Adventure Mode, Brawl's Subspace Emissary, and most certainly ... for 3DS' Smash Run, but it doesn't quite fill the same gameplay niche as any of those. Instead it operates as a sort of Mario Party equivalent, allowing players to run around three fairly small, fantasy-inspired boards while collecting characters, competing in various Smashes, and sabotaging each other's victory. Ultimately this culminates in a final battle where the fighters you've been collecting thoughout the round serve as your stocks (lives). Victory goes to whoever can complete this final Smash with the highest score. Sounds pretty cool right?

Too bad its held back by a plethora of bizarre creative decisions. Most people will cite the randomness of the mode as its biggest downfall, but that's actually only a small part of the problem. Smash Tour comes across doughey cinnamon bun with no icing: half-baked. That's really disheartening for something which is supposed to be the main draw of the game. Smash Tour and Event Matches really are the only things keeping SSBfWU from being a full-priced HD upscale of SSBf3DS. More attention should have been given to it on that basis alone. The sad thing is how easily Smash Tour could have been made great.

Right off the bat you have the maps, which don't represent any specific game world. Kind of a huge step back for a franchise built to celebrate Nintendo's IPs. I get that every iteration of the franchise has had some unique content, and that's fine. These generic Smash Bros. maps are cool as being just that. Would It really have hurt to include a few more boards, though? Even if we only got... let's say nine so they could be presented at twelve (that is, the number of characters in the original Super Smash Bros.). A Super Mario Bros. board, a Legend of Zelda board, Kirby and Pokemon, why not an F-Zero board? That would be neat.

The developers wouldn't even have needed to do that to make Smash Tour a worthwhile mode. All they had to do was look at the kinds of options they already have in the other modes and maybe look at what made the early Mario Party titles fun and successful. First off is the clarity. In Mario Party the spaces are large, larger than the characters walking on them. This helps players to identify at a glance what each space will do to them or to the board. Blue spaces will give them money, red spaces will take their money, green spaces will trigger an "event". In Smash Tour the spaces do things, they have symbols... but those symbols are far too small to discern. Players are expected to study the board while traveling, while all sorts of nonsense is happening around them. This is really difficult to do, even moreso because the spaces are constantly changing the effect they'll have on players and some spaces have a random effect on player's stats that can be either good or bad at the whim of the game. Something here needs to be changed. Either the spaces need to consistently perform the same function or they need to be easier to identify. How would I have done it? Well...

In Smash Tour the primary objective is to collect power-ups which will enhance your stats in battle. There are six categories each with their own identifying symbol and color: a green boot for speed, a yellow wing for jumping ability, an orange boxing glove for attack strength, a red comic book explosion for special attacks, a purple hammer for "arms" which (I think) enhances the weapons you use, and a blue shield for defense. These icons all float on the spaces of the board, making everything look really busy and cluttered. It probably would have been a better idea to just make the space's color reflect the stat it would enhance. Step on a red space? Get better special attack. This would have really cleaned up the board and made the play area much easier to take in. Character icons and trophies (which serve as items) could still float on their spaces as those are actual collectibles, but there's no reason for all these stat boosts to be hanging around.

The biggest pain in the neck when it comes to Smash Tour also happens to be one of the most fun aspects under the right conditions: enemy encounters. Nabbit, Ridley, Banzai Bill—all of these and more will sometimes walk onto the map. They each serve a different function and it can be fun adjusting your tactics to their appearance. The problem is, their appearance is completely random. Sometimes players can find themselves inundated with chance encounters, other times they'll go weeks without seeing that damn Metroid. This is a problem, and one the Mario Party franchise managed to avoid in its very first outing. All that had to be done was to include a color representing, instead of stats, an "event". Stepping on spaces of this color (let's use black) would trigger Metal Face somewhere on the map, would cause Kamek to change the checkpoint locations, etc. The specific event triggered could be random, but allowing players to know when one will be triggered and allowing them to actively have a go at this trigger would have made the game (and its associated Challenges...) a much more bearable experience.

Last, but not least, in this poorly planned playmode: the lack of customization and the extreme monotany of the mini-games included. I suppose these are two separate issues, but I feel like they tie into each other pretty well. Tackling customization first, Smash Tour should be subject to the same customization options available to the standard Smash mode. Players should be allowed to designate what items can appear in Smash matches, the frequency with which they appear, the stages which the game is allowed to randomly thrust players into, and the duration of each mini-game. As it stands now, mini-games have a very short time limit, which really hinders the experience. Smash Tour also features enough unique gameplay to have its own list of customizable functions. For starters, players should be permitted longer runs. Currently the maximum number of turns any single game can be played for is twenty-five. There is no reason this should not be able to go up through infinity (I can see drawing a limit at nine-hundred ninety-nine) with the players able to (in infinity games only) launch the final Smash at any point they choose. Players should also be able to designate what kind of mini-games can appear throughout the round, and what rules the final bout should follow. Should it be point-based as it currently is? Should it be all about collecting the most characters and see who's the last-man-standing in a stock match? Well, that should be up to the player.

Mini-games, as I've been calling them (although there's only three actual "games"), are triggered when one or more players bump into each other during a turn. This is fine. Awesome even. It's a really cool mechanic, and it works as a way to differentiate itself from the end-of-turn mini-game formula common of the genre. However, the mini-games offered are severely limited. Really, there's only three types: a Home-Run Contest where players compete to bat poor Sandbag the farthest, a single round of Target Blast where players compete for the highest score, and a handful of Special Smash battles that pretty much dominate the mini-game selection. The concept of using Special Smashes for mini-games is great, it's excellent... There's more they could have done with it (everyone is metal, everyone invisible, etc.), but the selection that exists now is generally fine. However, there should have been more non-Smash mini-games, particularly in a game which is full of that stuff already. Some of the Event Matches could have been adapted into great mini-games. Seeing which player can survive the longest while preventing a swarm of Mr. Game & Watches from boarding the Great Fox, competing to complete 10-Man Smash in the shortest time, battling hordes of minions (the likes of which were already programmed for Smash Run) for the highest score, Smash Run itself would have been an exceptional mini-game. On that note, it would have been a cool excuse to bring back the more creative levels of Super Smash Bros. Melee's Adventure Mode as footraces of some sort. There was that Mushroom Kingdom level, and the maze in the Temple of Time, that one level where you have to outrun the F-Zero racers? Those would have all made great mini-games for Smash Tour and would have been an excellent way to prevent the game from being flooded with pretty typical Smash matches. I mean, this is a distinct mode for a reason. It should feel like one. While I'm thinking about bringing back past elements, why not the boss battles? Even the Stage Bosses from SSB4 itself. Bring back the Petey Piranha battle from Brawl. Just... who can kill the boss first? That would have been awesome!

That's probably the best way to sum up my thoughts about Smash Tour. It could have been awesome.

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