Hey, I'm RisanF. I've written a Smash Bros. essay I wanted to get some traction, so I tried registering, only to discover I had actually registered over 10 years ago. This is a piece discussing Adventure Mode in the Smash Bros series, so I wasn't sure which board to post it on, since it covers Melee, Brawl, Sm4sh, and Switch. You can move this essay to another board if you need to, but I just wanted to come here try and make a few points, since rumors for Smash Switch are abound.
(also, this thing is long, so you might want to grab a drink or something)
In Defense of "Adventure Mode": A Smash Bros. Essay
If there's one thing that's controversial among the various Smash Bros. communities, it's the Adventure Mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The defining feature of Brawl, "Subspace Emissary" has been derided as shallow, extraneous, and just not suited for the fighting/party game Smash Bros. purports to be. Yet in recent years, Adventure Mode in general has become a hot topic for the Smash Bros. message boards, due to the conspicuous lack of one in the 3DS and Wii U versions. I'm here to cut to the meat of the Adventure Modes in the Smash series, to make my best argument in favor of them, and to discuss the possibility of Adventure Mode in future incarnations of Smash.
This essay is biased in favor of Adventure Mode, but will not be pure apologia. I'll discuss weaknesses to the Adventure Modes when I find them. However, I hope my arguments will illuminate how indispensable such a mode can be for the Smash series. If you come into this essay agreeing with me, or are hostile to "Subspace Emissary" in general, I hope you'll stick around and see if anything here helps put things into perspective.
First of all, why have an Adventure Mode in Smash Bros. anyway? After all, Smash is a fighting game, right? Suitable only for tests of skill between devoted pro-gamers and fans of Capcom/SNK fighters. Well, not exactly. It's well known that Smash director Masahiro Sakurai considered the Smash series a wacky party game first, and a fighting game second. Hardcore Smash fans balk at this, and defend Smash's fighting credentials, citing the more technically-oriented Smash Bros. Melee as Exhibit A. Although many arguments there are valid, I want to concentrate on a side-effect of Sakurai's construction of his party fighter, in that it's become something of a jack-of-all-trades. It's not just a fighting game; it's a hybrid of many different types of games.
For one thing, it's partially a brawler. Smash Bros. combatants are designed to handle multiple enemies at once, with sweeping attacks, crouch moves that strike in two directions at once, and various specials designed to get you out of a tight spot. If you're not playing it as a strictly one-on-one fighter, you're likely in a battle with several opponents, with all the mayhem that follows. And in the Multi-Man modes, Smash Bros. becomes the pinnacle of mindless brawlers featuring the wanton disposal of easily defeated cannon-fodder that keeps on coming.
It's also something of a platformer as well. Key mechanics in Smash revolve around your height in relation to other fighters, your wide variety of aerial attacks, and your various ways of scrambling back to the main platform after getting launched. As the series has aged, Smash Bros. has added to its platforming element, with tether mechanics, gliding abilities, and even Metroid-style wall-jumping. And from the onset. Super Smash Bros. featured Break the Targets and Board the Platforms, modes designed specifically to test your platforming skills.
All this leads up to Super Smash Bros. Melee. While many consider this to be the most pure Smash in terms of being an intricate, skill-based fighter, this is also the game that introduced Adventure Mode, a short series of side-scrolling levels that use the brawler and platforming mechanics of Smash to facilitate a combat platformer game in the vein of Sakurai's Kirby titles. Players could take platforming veterans like Mario and Donkey Kong back into their native environment, along with characters like Fox and Ness that belong to different genres, giving each of them the freedom to move about and clobber Goombas and Koopas at their leisure.
True, Adventure Mode was a bit threadbare. Aside from the first Mushroom Kingdom stage and the Zelda stage, the stages were altogether lacking aspects expected of traditional platformers, with some stages resembling regular Smash scenarios from Super Smash Bros. 64's Classic Mode. Nevertheless, the Adventure Mode in Melee set the foundation for additional excursions in this direction. Along with Multi Man Melee, and the interesting platforming layouts for Melee's version of Break the Targets, Smash Bros. was branching out, becoming less of a dedicated fighter and more of an interesting hybrid fighter/brawler/platformer.
Enter "Subspace Emissary."
In a stunning surprise for Smash fans, the big feature of 2008's Super Smash Bros Brawl was not new stages or new characters (although there were plenty of both), but a robust expansion of Melee's Adventure Mode. Yes, Smash Bros. had gone full action-platformer with SSE, featuring full stages with forests and fields, an onslaught of enemy armies, bosses ranging from Ridley to original foes, and a variety of trophies and collectibles exclusive to that mode. Moreover, it featured a full, cinematic story with all your favorite Nintendo characters (plus Sonic and Snake) thrown into the real world, teaming up to take down a foe bigger than all of them. It was the Smash Bros. game I always wanted, and offered me many hours of enjoyment.
Before I continue, I need to disclose something about me personally: I am not primarily a fighting game fan. I am not skilled at pulling off combos and special moves, I don't really care about proving my skill to the fighting game community, and I get easily bored when confined to a small arena fighting a singular opponent. No, I prefer large environments to traverse, beating on hoards of minions, and opportunities to show off my characters cool moves. "Subspace Emissary" features all this, and lets you experience it with the main lineup of Nintendo characters, many featuring new moves to make them more combat-ready.
Because of my position, this probably leads to a disconnect of sorts, as the Smash Bros. community at large was not as receptive to "Subspace Emissary" as I would have hoped. These were gamers who loved Smash for its competitive fighting, and Adventure Mode was not on their list for Most-Requested-Smash-Features. And hey, what was with this mindless, shallow beat-em-up anyway, with its clunky platforming and bland backgrounds? Why do I have to play it to unlock all the characters? Why didn't they spend all that effort into making a better competitive fighter? And why isn't Ridley a playable character?
"Subspace Emissary" is not perfect. Platformers and brawlers rarely are, actually, and all have problems unique to those genres. However, I don't believe that SSE is the tumor on Smash that some of its detractors label it as. I'm going to tackle some of the more common arguments against "Subspace Emissary", one by one, and offer my own perspective and counterarguments.
Here we go!
1. It's Repetitive
It may come as a strange thing to say to those that hate brawlers, but a certain degree of repetition is fine, even necessary for any sort of brawler, or really videogames in general. Fans of the much derided-Dynasty Warriors series love those games for the visceral, mindless appeal of being a one-man army against the hoards of evil (or hoards of good guys, as the case may be). It's a kind of high that's achieved when the gameplay really gets into the proper flow of hacking and slashing. In fact, I would say that a game can even falter if it's not repetitive enough.
One of my complaints with the recent entries in the Kirby series is that it mixes up its gameplay way too much. One minute, you're grooving along leaving a swash of destruction with your Copy abilities, then you're suddenly at a swimming segment and can't use them, or you're solving some sort of puzzle, or tilting a gyro-controller to operate some contraption, or using a Super Ability or Hyper Nova. All these detract from the core concept of Kirby; using your ability of choice to kick some adorable ass. The same kind of problem is present in the Playstation 2 title "Jak 3", which kept you driving a bunch vehicles instead of using your collection of awesome firearms.
"Subspace Emissary" follows the same design blueprint as Kirby Super Star, with its ladders, barrel cannons, mine cart rides, and emphasis on combat. However, "Subspace" sticks closely to the combat aspect, and I think it's all the better for it. There a few gizmos here and there, like keys, breakable blocks. switch-flipping, mazes, and such. But just like in Super Star, the actual fun doesn't come from the gizmos lying about, but from the firepower at your disposal.
"Subspace Emissary" offers the opportunity to bring Kid Icarus frontman Pit back into the fray, not only with laser light arrows, but a pair of short swords as well. You can once again play as Mario, but with the option of giving him a lightsaber to slash up Goombas and Koopas. With the addition of the special Sticker feature that grants additional abilities and items, "Subspace Emissary" is like throwing all your action figures into a pile and going nuts with them. To conclude, it's fine for an Adventure Mode to throw in a little variety now and again, but really, you shouldn't stray from the central conceits of action platformers: the action and platforming.
2. It's Bland
A common criticism of "Subspace Emissary" is its level design and enemy assortment. The stages are mostly simply-designed fields and forests, and the enemies are primarily a bunch of nobodies with no connection to any existing Nintendo franchise, save for the odd Mushroom Kingdom baddie here and there. I can see the merit to these complaints, but I don't think these are quite deal-breakers. True, they could've added a bit more variety to the stages, like maybe some urban areas or recognizable Nintendo locales, but they still serve their purpose in facilitating platformer action-combat. When you think about it, most of the intricate designs for Brawl were probably saved for the arenas in the main game, so the programmers had to cut corners somewhere, considering how long some SSE stages are. They could have also benefited from a more cheerful color palette (Brawl adheres to the "Twilight Princess" school of low-saturation), but I think there's enough variety in the forests, caves, castles, and factories to hold up a decent action-platformer, especially with all the rest that SSE has going for it.
The other point levied at Brawl, that concerning the bland Subspace Army, is a bit different. They could definitely have used some more traditional enemies for SSE cannon fodder, especially since the Mario baddies did make an appearance. Yes, the Subspace Army are lacking a bit in personality, with the subdued color scheme contributing to their dour and soulless look. The choice of these enemies seems to pertain mainly to the "Evil Invaders" plot for the cutscenes, but maybe you don't care so much about plot in an action game?
Even so, the Subspace Army isn't a total washout. They may be a little dull, but there's certainly a wide variety of them, each with their own unique characteristics. The Primids make for a great common foot-soldier to beat up on, with sword, gun, boomerang, and giant variations. And really, that's what the Subspace Army is all about; a band of grunts to test your awesome moves on.
3: It's Cheap and Clunky
Sometimes it is. Certain groups of enemies and traps can get the drop on you, and send you bouncing all over the place before you have a chance to reorient yourself. Depending on which character you choose, platforming can be easy or hard, and Smash controls are generally not as free-flowing as something like Mario. And you won't see me defending the Giant Fake Diddy Kong fought in The Swamp.
However, all platformers have their cheap moments, and it doesn't necessarily make them irredeemable. Ninja Gaiden is full of one-hit insta-deaths when you're knocked off a cliff by a materializing falcon. Mega Man has its disappearing platforms and precarious perches, along with enemy placement where you're almost forced to take a hit. Even Kirby's Adventure is not immune to the concept of clunky level design and poor enemy placement (and good luck chasing an Ability Star when you've been burned, shocked, or frozen!)
The thing is, I don't see how too many people can complain when the very same things happen in a standard bout of Smash. The whole concept of the game revolves around you being flung against your will to disappear off the sides of the stage. To say nothing of Cruel Melee and some of the harder Event Matches, which can be as hard as Giant Diddy. If people can dedicate time and energy to becoming master smash competitors, I think they can handle a few cheap enemies and traps.
4. It Detracts from the Competitive Part of Smash
This one is a bit disingenuous, in my mind. The idea that development for SSE took away from development for regular Smash seems weak to me when you consider that Brawl still features a wealth of characters, stages, and items, even without the Adventure Mode. The infamous tripping mechanic and floaty physics are often cited as reasons for Brawl's inferiority to Melee, but these have really nothing to do with the existence of an Adventure Mode. Granted, attaching unlockables to SSE could be an impediment to those who only enjoy normal Smash, but most everything can also be unlocked via the main game. Smash thrives on its variety of gameplay modes, and I don't think SSE is in competition with regular Smash.
I could go all day addressing every argument levied against this Adventure Mode, but you get the idea: I think "Subspace Emissary" more than pulls its weight. It's a interesting, fitting addition to the world of Smash, and offers great value for beat-em-up fans. Moreover, it adds what even a regular fighting game needs: a dedicated, robust single-player-mode for solitary gamers who are also into Smash. Indeed, you'll hear no complaints from me if SSE makes a return for future installments.
Which leads us to Super Smash Bros.for the 3DS and Wii U.
One of the first things we heard from Sakurai about the two versions of Smash 4 was that it would NOT feature a traditional Adventure Mode like "Subspace Emissary." Citing the fact that SSE cutscenes were leaked online as a reason to hold back, Sakurai instead experimented with new gameplay modes and a bevy of supplementary extras, like Amiibo compatibility, power-up badges, custom special moves, and content exclusive to either the 3DS or Wii U versions. But Adventure Mode shouldn't be missed, right? After all, Sakurai is now concentrating on servicing the competitive Smash players with tighter mechanics and meta-play. Who cares about SSE?
More than you might think.
As of the time of this writing, Adventure Mode has become a more popular concept to discuss on the internet Smash forums. It turns out that competitive smash players either aren't as dominate in the fandom as they appear, or they enjoy a good Adventure Mode as well, since many players are decrying the lack of a dedicated one-player-mode. They claim that Wii U Smash has no meaningful single-player content, and that they lose some interest in the game as a result. Truly, you never know what you've got until you've lost it.
Why does the lack of an Adventure Mode sting so hard for Smash fans? Well, let's look at what Super Smash Brothers for the 3DS and Wii U does offer. A mode exclusive to the 3DS version is Smash Run, and it's the closest thing the Smash 4 games have to an Adventure Mode. Combatants are dumped into a maze for five minutes, batting Nintendo baddies to build up stats for a one minute final brawl, with abilities, trophies, and other swag doled out during gameplay. Already, this shows promise; the lack of recognizable enemies was a detriment to "Subspace Emissary", and it's good fun to take on anything from Octoroks, to Stalfos, to Dig Dug's Pooka monster. Sadly, you're restricted to just a five-minute-run, so the fun tends to end just when you're getting into it. You're also restricted to just one maze, so the scope of Smash Run definitely feels smaller when compared to SSE. Still, it's an interesting little mode, and the idea of quickly powering up your fighter in hopes of dominating the final match remains inspired. I'd put it on par with Super Smash Bros. Melee's Adventure Mode.
The Wii U version is a different story. The crown jewel of Wii U Smash is Smash Tour, a board game where players roll the dice and collect power-up stats, getting into Smash matches along the way. I'm not going to mince words: Smash Tour is truly horrible. All the players roll the dice at the exact same time, making the game very hectic very quickly. Text and icons are small on both the screen and the Wii U gamepad, and new information is flashed at you before you have a chance to digest them. The fighters available to you at any given point are almost completely random, and you are often stuck with using some weak character that you're not good with. The name of the game here is "random chaos", but like with the tripping mechanic, people don't like a lack of control in their games. Sakurai states that this mode was based on his initial concept for the Super Smash Bros. series. Proof positive that some ideas are best left on the cutting room floor.
What else to talk about with Smash 4? Well, there's 8-Player Smash, exclusive to the Wii U, and a good addition. There's Target Blast, a take on Break the Targets without the platforming component, and not such a good addition. There's a whole slew of clone and semi clone-characters, who have been savaged on the message forums for being a waste of programming. Sakurai bites back at this criticism, wondering why fans bother complaining about content strictly meant as extras.
I have a theory on why people are complaining about extras: it's because there's a lack of real meat to these two games. It's all sizzle and no steak, with tons of DLC, Mii Costumes, Event matches, and Masterpiece demos, but no single-player content to hold it all together. No matter what they say, Adventure Mode had become an integral part of the Smash Bros. series, and its absence is clearly missed. Taking away such a core component hit about as hard as the slip-shod battle mode featured in Mario Kart 8, which is rumored to be redone for the Nintendo Switch version of Mario Kart 8.
Finally, let's discuss the Nintendo Switch further.
If rumors are to be believed, there will be a port of Smash 4 for Nintendo's new portable/console hybrid system, to help give it a boost after the relative failure of the Wii U. Speculation is abound about what sort of new content should be included in this version, whether it be Inklings, Daisy, Bandanna Dee, or more Fire Emblem swordsmen (joke!) And it needs new content, make no mistake about that. There's practically no reason to buy another version of Smash 4 without new content, when many customers already have either the 3DS and Wii versions.
I submit to you this proposal: give Smash Switch an Adventure Mode. Really, it's the most obvious choice. All the rest of the content in Smash 4, including graphics, characters, and extras, is fine, but it needs that dedicated single-player-mode it's missing. It could be either a straight-up port of "Subspace Emissary" (Giant Fake Diddy Kong and all), or something all new filled with familiar Nintendo foes, but this will be the linchpin to justify a new Smash purchase.
Think of the possibilities! With Mega Man as a playable character, the Adventure Mode could be a stand-in for the new Mega Man game fans have been waiting for. Speaking of shooting games, someone like Bayonetta could have a field day filling up an assortment of enemies with white-hot lead. The pre-existing Badge system of Smash 4 could work well as an alternative to the Sticker system of Brawl, so very little would have to be changed in order to accommodate an Adventure Mode.
I say all this, not just to argue, but as a hopeful fan. I can guarantee, if Smash Switch has an Adventure Mode that can match "Subspace Emissary", the Nintendo Switch will be a day-one purchase for me. It's worth every penny to be able to play as Little Mac, Ryu, and Cloud Strife in a proper action platformer. Right now, these characters are only available for Adventure Mode through hacks and exploits of the original SSE, but if Nintendo and Sakurai pull through, the future of Adventure Mode in Super Smash Bros. could be very bright indeed.
And would someone please add Ridley to Smash? Let's take that big dragon into Adventure Mode!