Indie Investigation - An Analysis of the Chances of Indie Reps

Jul 28, 2018
Somewhere Safe
Time to really throw myself to the sharks. (and gosh I hope this is the right place to put a topic like this, the newcomer speculation board looks to be single-character specific)

One of the most contentious topics commonly discussed in Smash speculation is the possibility of an indie character making the cut and joining the ranks of Nintendo’s greatest and some of the most iconic third-party characters in gaming history. Some of the biggest arguments against these characters include their lack of history with Nintendo (or in general), their popularity, and their relevancy. In this discussion, I hope to provide a thorough, unbiased overview of the impact of some of the most commonly-discussed indie characters and see who’s most deserving* of the coveted indie slot** (in my opinion).

*None of these characters are legitimately ‘deserving’- we’re speaking strictly in comparison with each other, very few first party characters can even be argued to ‘deserve a spot’ at this point.

**There is no ‘indie slot’- it’s most likely none of these characters will make it, and the extremely slim possibility exists we could get multiple, or even somehow all of them.

Shantae’s roots go all the way back to 2002 on the Gameboy Color. Every title in the series has launched on Nintendo and remained exclusive for at least half a year before reaching other platforms. Although WayForward meme’d themselves pretty hard with the “See you in Smash” comment, it’s at least justified- unlike the other characters here, Shantae has gotten the opportunity to show up in a core Nintendo game, appearing in a DLC minigame for WarioWare D.I.Y. With 16 years, 4 games, and an actual appearance within a Nintendo title, Shantae definitely has the history to back up her inclusion, and the most of any of these indies.

As far as her popularity is concerned, I’ve recalled requests for Shantae since before Smash 4 was even announced. The kickstarter for Half-Genie Hero raked in over $900,000, definitely not a meager amount of money and proof that a sizeable crowd has a strong desire to play Shantae games and see more of her in the future. Where Shantae begins to fall flat is at the same point most of the indies do- an origin in the West. Working with a Western developer may prove to be difficult for Sakurai to want to put Shantae in the game, if he even considers her for a spot in the first place. However, the Japanese made it clear they have interest in her, requesting for the games to be localized, along with multiple figurines from the series made and region-unique art and goods included with the game. Still a niche character, but one that has quite a following nonetheless.

Oh man, the big guy, Mr. Indie himself. Shovel Knight struck gold, dropping as a critically and fan-acclaimed retro title in the vein of Mega Man with a splash of Duck Tales. The title released on 3DS, Wii U, and PC, and later down the line being ported onto the Switch. Over half of Shovel Knight’s total sales come from the trio of Nintendo consoles he is available on, and the guy has even received his own series of amiibo- currently the only non-Nintendo franchise to have such a commodity. Shovel Knight is practically an indie magnet, with Yacht Club practically throwing him at any indie title that will take him. Since his own game Shovel Knight has shown up as a cameo or playable character in 13 other games, but as his own game continues through DLC, he is ironically pushed more and more into the background, with ultimately ¾ of his game no longer being about him once the King Knight DLC drops. A big barrier for entry for Shovel Knight is his western origin- though the game was well received in Japan, it undershot sales expectations, and the infamous ‘What’s a Shovel Knight’ line weighs heavy over the general idea of Japan’s perception of Shovel Knight. And like Shantae, Shovel Knight faces the difficulty of Sakurai having to work directly with a Western developer.

And here’s the part where I say something controversial and lose everyone. While Shovel Knight is definitely a good game and he has earned his popularity as a great title, his Smash clout is severely blown out of proportion. I personally believe that the only reason Shovel Knight is talked about for Smash as much as he is comes from the miracle circumstances of his release date being so close to Smash Ballot announcement, having him fresh in everybody’s mind when people were given the chance to vote anybody they want into Smash, and there’s this fantastic throwback title that came out not too long ago. The problem with this is that he was a flavor-of-the-month pick that ended up with this lingering idea of ‘He was pushed super-hard at the time, therefore he’s the most deserving!’ I’ve got nothing against diehard Shovel Knight fans, kudos to them, but I believe that had Shovel Knight not come out at such a specific moment in time, he would be treated in the same regard as Super Meat Boy, Cuphead, or any other high-grade indie title- a really fantastic game that stands on its own, and nobody honestly thinks has any chance of making the leap to Smash. For that reason in particular, I don’t believe Shovel Knight has really earned a spot quite yet- time will tell once the DLC has ended, but until then he was just a really good game at the right time in my eyes.

Cave Story has reached a ripe 14 years old, and has enjoyed being on Nintendo for about 8 years since it’s release on Wii and DS, and subsequent port to every system Nintendo has created since then, including a graphical overhaul with every generation it reaches. With this in mind, the game definitely has a strong amount of history to back it up. Similarly to Shovel Knight, Quote also has had the opportunity to show up in a variety of indie titles, and the two are even showing up together in the upcoming Blade Strangers fighter. In addition, the game receives praise on both sides of the pond, and unlike the rest of the indies discussed here, actually has a Japanese developer. While the rights are a little muddled due to the acquisition by Nicalis, a western developer, Quote’s Japanese origins give him a notable leg up in the realm of worldwide popularity.

Alright, get your ‘Sans is already in the game’ jokes out now. Good? Good. Undertale released in late 2015 to absolutely massive acclaim. The game made waves unlike any other title discussed here, and its influence is still felt quite strongly to this day. Its weakest link by far is that’s the youngest entry on this list, just shy of 3 years old now. With ‘history and impact’ being a key trait, this already hampers the likelihood of a character entering the fray. Now, you’ve likely noticed I haven’t named a character yet- and that’s precisely one of the biggest issues.

By far the biggest character to receive support for Smash in the game is Sans, everybody’s favorite talking skeleton. Regardless of the memes and ‘cringe’ surrounding the character, the Undertale fandom does genuinely push for the character, and to a lesser extent, his brother Papyrus. The problem with this is that Sakurai prioritizes player characters entering the fray, and the player character Frisk is dwarfed in popularity by every NPC in the game.

However, on the flipside, despite a western origin, Japan is ABSOLUTELY GAGA over Undertale. Similarly to how much US players want Mother 3, Japan practically begged to get Undertale localized, only they actually got what they wanted. The game is an absolute hit over there as well, but the problem again goes back to the game’s age- coming out in late 2015 is practically a death sentence when we know the project plan was written up around the same time, giving the game essentially zero time to enter Sakurai’s thought process for serious consideration, or hit the massive peak of popularity it experienced, especially in Japan. All of the popularity is in the game’s favor, but too many other factors are pushing against it.

Alright, now hear me out on this one- the Bit.Trip series has been around since 2009, and has always shown up on Nintendo consoles, with Commander Video appearing in each title in some form, and has worldwide success. Second, the series has already proven to be the forerunner for indies in Nintendo’s (or just Sakurai’s) own eyes, as Commander Video showed up as the very first, and only indie Trophy in Smash 4. That kind of recognition is immense, and with the recently released Runner 3, the series shows no sign of stopping. Commander Video gets very little vocal support from what I see, but these factors combined give him a definite edge over most of the other selections.

Each of these indies has a defining strength to their chances- Shantae has the greatest history, with 16 years and 4 games, while Quote is the only one of Japanese origin. Meanwhile, Shovel Knight is seen as an absolute treasure of the western indie scene, Undertale has received the most worldwide coverage and fame, and Commander Video has received direct recognition from Smash itself.

If I had to put it in order, I’d say Shantae and Commander Video have the highest chances among these 5 (though for different reasons), followed closely by Quote, then a bit further by Shovel Knight, then by quite a wide gap, an Undertale character comes in a distant fifth. Even with the amount of information presented, this is all my interpretation, the facts may weigh differently to your view of these character’s chances. I did not go into this with this order in mind, I would honestly be cool with any of these 5 making it in, and didn’t expect to find Commander Video as likely as I ended up finding him, I haven't even ever played a Bit.Trip game or Cave Story.

As much as I’d love to include him in the running, my indie character of choice, the Nameless Knight from Hollow Knight, is just too new and lacking any miraculous circumstances to help push him for entry to this game. His inclusion would be thrilling to me, but I must recognize that it’s just not happening for now. If there are any other high-profile indie characters with good chances that you believe I missed, please notify me and I can dig into them. Thank you for reading through all of this if you have, and any feedback or discussion would be greatly appreciated. Crucify me if you must.

Tough crowd.


Smash Champion
Jul 7, 2006
Seattle, WA
Fair topic, and I pretty much agree.
Another thing to consider is that Nintendo might actually push for their own eShop characters like Mallo or Dillon as viable characters before looking at independent devs.
I think this topic may do better in Character Discussion then General though.
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Smash Rookie
Feb 26, 2019
I mean, the first game was successful enough to get a sequel, not to mention all the guest appearances he's made in the likes of Runbow & Blade Strangers, but who knows? :ohwell:

And if I were to suggest another potential indie rep, how about Filia from Skullgirls? It would interesting to feature a character originating from a fast-paced Marvel vs. Capcom style fighting game title.
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Smash Ace
Oct 1, 2016
What do you think of Gunvolt from Azure Striker Gunvolt? Do you think he'll be interesting enough as a potential indie rep?
he would be an interesting one, but I don't think he has near the amount of recognition to actually make it.


Smash Rookie
Feb 11, 2017
Traverse City, Michigan
i know he's owned by microsoft now, but would steve from minecraft count as an "indie rep"? i mean, minecraft was started by an indie company until it took the whole freakin world by storm and got bought out by one of the largest companies in the entire world... that's kinda the epitome of indie success. i mean if getting acquired by microsoft disqualifies him from "indie" status that makes sense, but what do you think?
Jul 1, 2018
i know he's owned by microsoft now, but would steve from minecraft count as an "indie rep"? i mean, minecraft was started by an indie company until it took the whole freakin world by storm and got bought out by one of the largest companies in the entire world... that's kinda the epitome of indie success. i mean if getting acquired by microsoft disqualifies him from "indie" status that makes sense, but what do you think?
About today the same thing....

There is so much going for Steve at the moment that he might be our Indie rep. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it with all the leaks, Sakurai’s columns, and the Nintendo-Microsoft deals.