Update September 9th, 2019: This editorial was written and published before the announcement of the Sans Mii Fighter costume. The article has remained unaltered from it’s original form, but is now out of date.
The world is all too familiar with the Super Smash Bros. (Smash) series. While Smash got its humble beginnings as a small game where Nintendo’s all-stars battled, it has quickly become the defacto video game hall of fame game. Smash now has the ability to grow your game and its popularity by simply having an Assist Trophy or stage based on your game. While the original 3rd party character to join the battle was Metal Gear Solid’s Snake, Smash has since opened up its doors to more recent and prevalent characters such as the titular Bayonetta, and Persona 5’s Joker. There are dozens of characters requested by Smash’s large community, including quite a few indies. Today I’m going to be tackling “Will an indie character get into Smash”. Are there stipulations added on for being indie? What indies seem the likeliest? I’ll take a good look, while giving my picks for some characters I think are great candidates for a spot on the roster. Will an indie settle it in Smash?
Let’s begin with how Smash has included indies in the past. In Super Smash Bros. for both the Wii U and 3DS, Commander Video from the Bit.Trip franchise was included as a trophy. Trophies in Smash were little more than a 3D model and character description, but they still should be noted. The Commander, and leading indie of the Wii, has the notable distinction of being the first indie represented in Smash. So what’s special about Commander Video? Bit.Trip is one of the first indies to have made it to a Nintendo console on their own. The Bit.Trip franchise was a leading force on WiiWare, and was even the first officially dubbed “Nindie”. Commander Video has certainly accomplished a lot to earn that trophy.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate increased the number of indies represented and the ways in they were represented significantly. Shovel Knight was a name many had requested to join in the Fighters Ballot of Smash for both the Wii U and 3DS, and in Ultimate he is an Assist Trophy. For those unfamiliar with Smash, an Assist Trophy is an extra character you call onto the field to fight alongside you. Fans of Smash Ultimate usually dislike Assist Trophies because it has created a precedent that states if a character is an Assist Trophy, they aren’t going to be a playable fighter. Many 3rd party companies have Assist Trophies, such as Alucard from Castlevania and Knuckles of the Sonic series. Shovel Knight has the distinction of one of the first 3rd party series represented by an Assist Trophy, and the first indie to be represented by one. Shovel Knight didn’t join Smash alone, as Plague Knight, King Knight, and Spectre Knight were all spirits to fight and gain as well. Spirits are sort of a replacement to trophies, but they give your character a stat-boost.
Shantae and Risky Boots from the Shantae series are also spirits in Ultimate. Shantae herself was a name that some fans were begging to join the battle in Ultimate’s reveal cycle, so the spirit was a bit concerning to some. The community speculates that characters who are spirits are similar to those who are Assist Trophies in that believe that’s a confirmation that the characters won’t be playable even as DLC fighters. For the rest of this article, I shall work under the assumption that this is the case. Now might also be the time to point out Commander Video’s lacking appearance from Ultimate as a whole, could he be a DLC fighter?
Now I want to look at the precedent set by the current DLC fighters revealed as of writing this. Piranha Plant and Joker set a specific tone fans have conflicting opinions of. In my opinion, Joker is a promotional character done best. Persona was a niche but beloved franchise that had a few fans overlapping with the Smash community owned by a company close to Nintendo. Joker helps all parties, especially if the rumors of Persona 5 heading to Switch are true. If we assume that Ultimate’s DLC will be of a similar vein as the DLC for Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS/Wii U then it looks like we’re going to get a few promotional characters and a couple fan picks. Does that look good for indie characters? Surprisingly, yes.
The Smash community likes to place a number of negative connotations with the word “indie” and creates phrases like “indie rep”. To quote Indie Gamer Chick, someone held in high regard by both indie developers and the AAA scene alike, “Indie’s are the entrepreneurs of gaming”. They do not have access to the exact power and money as AAA developers do, but they can be just as skilled at making games. With the Switch, Nintendo has opened a lot of doors to these developers. They’ve offered an arm and a leg in order to accommodate them and push them forward. Current indie developers are the future AAA’s, so we shouldn’t discourage great people.
Nintendo has announced a partnership with indie developer Brace Yourself Games to develop “Cadence of Hyrule”. A sequel to Crypt of the Necrodancer and will also be a full on Zelda game. It is incredibly obvious using interviews and word of press, why and how this game exists. Nintendo took a business risk on a small company and it looks like it paid off. Now whether we will get more games like Cadence of Hyrule is yet to be seen. However, Nintendo is open to letting indies use their IPs and, of course, many indies would love to work with Nintendo.
A large issue with the development of Smash and the characters it brings is the country it originates in. Most requested indies hail from English speaking territories, where as Nintendo, Sora LTD, and Bandai Namco are Japanese companies. This makes it much harder to negotiate with companies outside of Japan about joining Smash, let alone companies that are very small or even singular owners of an IP. There is currently no precedent for a Western 3rd party to join Smash, but that is not to imply it is impossible. Bethesda has come out saying they’ve “Talked with [Nintendo]” about content in Super Smash Bros., and of course western indies are already represented by other means. I just think this is something to take into account.
So what do we know about an indie getting into Smash? They would get in on their own merits, they would probably be Japanese, and they would probably be owned by a larger indie company. If you were to ask me, I have quite a few ideas for the likely indies. I think there’s even a good chance we could see an American indie fighting Smash sometime soon, but that’s not what I’m here to write about.
So where are some places that Nintendo could pick from? What places are higher for consideration than others might be? To decide this, I looked at what region companies are from, and the impact their game or series has had on the industry. There are a surprising amount of indies that have a true shot at Smash, I think they should be discovered.
I immediately thought of Inti Creates, a Japanese studio with ties to Nintendo and many in the AAA scene. They developed Mega Man 9, and 10! The most recent large hit Inti has produced for themselves is Gunvolt. Heavily inspider by Mega Man Zero, Gunvolt captured the hearts of the gamers who played it. Gunvolt is niche, and that could certainly be an issue. Inti Creates themselves have their hands in Blaster Master.
Blaster Master is owned by SunSoft, a company that went relatively off the grid for a few years. Blaster Master originally released on the NES, and has consistently had games ever since. The original is on NES online, so it’s clear Nintendo and SunSoft are talking a bit. Inti has developed the two most recent games in the series. Blaster Master Zero, and Zero 2. The main character of Blaster Master is Jason Frudnick, and I personally think he has one of the best shots of any indie.
When most people think Smash an indies, they think of Quote from Cave Story. Quote was Japanese developed, and set off the boom of modern indies. Without Cave Story, you’d never have a Gunvolt, or a Shovel Knight. Cave Story out of any indie has has the most impact on the industry. Much like Jason, I think he has a decent shot. I also think his shot is also over-stated among indies. He doesn’t seem like the most likely.
The current indie closest to Nintendo without a doubt is Brace Yourself Games. They’re developing Cadence of Hyrule of course! So is it possible Cadence is joining Smash to advertise it? It is very much possible! Something about that idea doesn’t sit right with me. I think it’s very much possible Nintendo was thinking of Cadence when choosing Smash DLC. I’m just not sure if they would go for it.
Undertale needs as little introduction as Smash does. Yet fans would probably be interested to know that it is incredbly popular in Japan. Undertale has concerts held in Japan, and merchandise sold in physical stores. It may be quickly fading from the lime-light here, but Undertale is more alive than ever in Japan. I think a character from Undertale is undeniably, the most likely indies, and potentially one of the most likely characters period. The question is, which one?
Would they choose Frisk, the protagonist with “no emotions”, that is “nameless”, or Sans, the popular character, and super-boss. People give Frisk and their emotion too little credit. Underale is a game about emotion, and even in the fight with Sans, you’re consistently reminded of it. Frisk feels sad when they hurts creatures, and when they’ve killed all but a few, they “Feels [their] sins crawling on [their] back”. Sans has emotion shown through gameplay and writing. Frisk is subtle, but it is there. Sakurai is a known fan of Undertale.
The debate of Sans and Frisk can go on for hours, but Frisk has more to work with. “Frisk in Smash” isn’t a joke of sorts, but it’s not a far off reality either. That’s not to put Sans down entirely, or even at all. I think their both equal in chance, but Frisk has the edge for being the protagonist. Perhaps one day we’ll see Frisk or Sans in the battle. Nobody can be sure.
I think it’s time the Smash community abandons terms like “indie rep” as they’re arbitrary and don’t matter within the current gaming climate. If an indie joins, it’s great, but if one doesn’t, oh well. The Smash community is of full of toxicity for multiple reasons, I think destroying terms like these is the first step to removing a lot of that. So is it possible for an indie to join Super Smash Bros? Definitely, anything is possible and right now it seems as if the time is getting closer and closer for an indie to join the roster. Would I bet on Undertale’s Sans or Azure Striker Gunvolt’s Gunvolt making the cut? Almost certainly not, as much as I’d like to gaster-blast Sonic in the back like a crappy reboot villain, or destroy Bayonetta with a tank, nobody knows who will join Smash. When will an indie settle it in Smash? It’s only a matter of time.