OPINION: Smash – the Items, the Stages, the Random

Recently, thanks to the good graces of Smashboards on Facebook, I came upon a Super Smash Bros. for WiiU stage discussion thread. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, in competitive Smash certain stages are banned from competitive play, making stage lists an element when it comes to tournaments.

Generally, legal stages are “flat/plat” (flat or flat with platforms only) stages, such as Battlefield or Final Destination, and this causes a rift between more liberal and conservative (in terms of stages and even items) competitive players. The thread I was reading was basically an amalgamation of these two kinds of players arguing with each other about what stages should be legal (and some even saying items should be included).

I thought I’d chime in with my own opinion.

I don’t like stages with hazards (and when I mean hazards, I mean the F-Zero racers in Mute City/Port Town Aero Dive, the lava on Brinstar, the cannon and bombs on Halberd, the bullet bill on Peach’s Castle (in Super Smash Bros. Melee) and random stage changes (Pictochat, Brinstar Depths, WarioWare, to name a few). To me, I think these introduce a certain amount of randomness that not even the best players can avoid at times, and it leads to unfair advantages at no cost to the player given the advantage.

Some people will argue that these new elements introduce a new layer of depth to the competitive game. A player should not only know his character and match-ups, but also the hazards and timers for each stage (while random, many stages have a “timer” that tells the stage when to spawn a hazard or change the stage). The same case can be made for items.

The other argument for a more liberal stage list and items are that “there’s an equal chance that it will happen to everybody”.

I could have agreed with these two statements…but I also play Pokemon competitively.

Pokemon is a game that, no matter what, randomness is an inherent part of the game. In Smash, you have the option of turning off items and stages. You do not have that option in Pokemon. In Pokemon, there is no choice to learn risk management and randomizer mitigation – you have to to be a successful player. The best players in Pokemon are consistent because of this. Yet, yet, there is always that time that something goes horribly wrong. “Hax” is a term thrown around in Pokemon, namely because of the randomness in the game. While consistent, some of the best players will lose games because of an unlucky critical hit, freeze, extra turn of sleep, full paralysis, miss, flinch, or confusion hit. All of these (except for critical hit) result in a wasted turn.

Despite all the training one can do, when it comes down to it that one critical hit or full paralysis can be completely game-changing, yet it stays at 25% chance for paralysis no matter what. There’s always a 10% chance Ice Beam will freeze, but sometimes it freezes two turns in a row, sometimes it never freezes. Sometimes a pokemon will hit itself 4 times in a row in confusion. It’s an equal 50% chance for every pokemon that is confused, but it’s still random. Sometimes, despite all efforts to mitigate risk and “hax”, it still happens, and you end up losing because of it, despite being the better player.

This is something that competitive Pokemon players have come to terms with, but in a game where you have the ability to test who is better with raw skill only by turning off random elements, I don’t see why you wouldn’t. Pokemon, while popular, can be scoffed at because of its inherent randomness. No one wants to lose a game they should have won because their opponent got the critical hit they needed to win the game (in fact, I lost a game of Pokemon I played this morning because of a critical hit). You’re playing the odds sometimes, and that takes no thought – all you’re thinking at that point is, “If I get a critical hit this turn, I’ll win.” Notice the ‘if’, there. You have no control over whether or not you get a critical hit the next turn. There’s no depth there. There’s a ton of depth in trying to mitigate odds and maximizing your risk/reward safely (which Pokemon has and is what makes it satisfying to play for me), but you can’t ‘mitigate’ odds in Smash. There’s no move that prevents the lava from rising or to make Pictochat have the spikes come and not the trampolines. All you can do is hope that that capsule you just grabbed is an explosive. Hopefully that Pokeball you just got isn’t Goldeen.

There’s something to be said about how Pokemon can deal with risk, despite the inherent randomness involved in playing it competitively. You can make plays to protect yourself from “hax”. There are moves in the game that stop status effects (Safeguard and Taunt, namely). You can’t do that in Smash, but what you can do in Smash is turn off items and stages that have random effects. Turning off items and hazardous stages is the Safegaurd in competitive Smash. It doesn’t matter that there’s an equal chance you’ll both get an item or hit by the stage hazards. There’s a 20% chance for every pokemon that’s frozen to thaw out but some thaw out the next turn, some never thaw out the rest of the match, and some thaw out the turn they’re frozen.

There’s clearly no skill involved in a pokemon being frozen. There’s no depth there. So, I ask you, where’s the depth in that % chance that your capsule’s an explosive one or that once the timer activates, Pictochat spawns the man’s head that blows wind instead of the piranha plant?

I love items in Smash. I love crazy stages that screw people over. I enjoy playing on them them. I do NOT enjoy playing on them when I want to prove that I’m better than someone else. I want to know that I won because I made the better plays; not because a bomb dropped on you while attacking my shield, and not because the Pictochat spikes appeared right as you were jumping to avoid an attack I made.

Just Sayin’.


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