Nintendo vs. Smash Bros. Tournaments

Oh Nintendo. As people following this blog can easily see, we have more than a little fondness for the output resulting from the playing card and igo board maker’s lucrative side venture into video games. Everyone wants to make them like Nintendo, but no one else actually does, or seems to be able to, or can even pin down what that would mean.

Super Smash Bros. Melee, the game potentially most harmed by Nintendo’s policies (image from MobyGames)

Maybe it’s because, despite being one of the biggest companies in the world, it still feels like a small company, in some ways? Or that they don’t seem as beholden to the bleeding knife of capitalism as other companies are? (This is illusory, of course.) Maybe it’s their adherence to Japanese corporate traditions, or the influence of Shigeru Miyamoto, or their toymaker’s vibe?

But there is a dark side to them as well: they can be incredibly controlling regarding their IPs. Years ago they reached out to a fan

They have what they would call a staunch anti-piracy stance, which you’d expect of most software companies sure, but what that ends up meaning, due to the fact that 99% of their software is made for closed systems like consoles and mobile (we haven’t forgotten about the Animal Crossing PC clock!), they have absolutely no modding support.

This has resulted in a zero-tolerance policy regarding infractions concerning the competitive Smash Bros. scene. Project M is a popular fan-made hack of Super Smash Bros. Melee that it feels like even mentioning will cause Nintendo to affix a red letter to your organization.

aMSa, the Yoshi-main Melee player who was the focus of AsumSaus’ excellent documentary (image from AsumSaus’ video)

Kotaku has reported that there is currently another round of fan backlash over Nintendo’s guidelines over the use of Smash Bros. games in community tournaments. There is good reason: the rules read like they were written by people ignorant of the extent of competitive Smash play.

Nintendo is also demanding tournament prices not rise above $5,000, and is disallowing sponsorships. While it’s true that Nintendo is justifiably a bit cautious about the edginess surrounding esports tournaments, which resulted in sexual misconduct allegations back in 2020, there is definitely a middle ground between preventing situations like that and hamstringing a burgeoning esport, and Nintendo should pursue it, or risk destroying this entire scene.

As I said, I am not a lawyer. Someone who is, is Moonie, who used his incredibly ZeFrank-sounding voice to made a Youtube video breaking down Nintendo’s new guidelines. He doesn’t seem as worried about them as others (the thumbnail to his video is a giant DON’T PANIC). Here is his 18-minute dive into the guidelines, but a major point is that they primarily affect unaffiliated community tournaments, which as a class are distinct from majors, which would have an explicit agreement with Nintendo that would make the limitations in these guidelines not apply. In order words, while some of the furor is justified (other companies like Capcom aren’t as limiting of community events), a lot of it is the result of failed Nintendo messaging. Nintendo does have a lot of trouble communicating things like this that won’t get everyone’s roar up.

But even with that proviso, it’s still not great? Nintendo is still claiming that fan modifications are entirely forbidden, even among community tournaments.

What do I think? Nintendo could fix all of this by changing their EULA by explicitly recognizing and allowing for fan work, but in a way that asserts the primacy of their IP. Again, IANAL, but if they put their own lawyers to work to try to forge a system whereby fans could continue to build off of their work, they might be able to do it in such a way that they don’t risk damaging their properties. Other companies have done it, notably Sega, who blessed fangame creators in a way that generated their megahit Sonic Mania. What is causing Nintendo’s overreaction here, in my onion*, is their institutional distaste for even acknowledging that people are hacking their systems and modifying their games in the first place.

* typo made on purpose

I must acknowledge, there would be a whole flowchart of knock-on effects if Nintendo were to acknowledge and accept fan modifications, and probably not all of them would be to Nintendo’s benefit. Particularly, just to modify their software requires breaking their system security, which doesn’t necessarily imply piracy but does mean opening up the system sandbox and maybe revealing system secrets like keys. Sega doesn’t make consoles any more, so it’s not an issue they have to worry about now.

But what is obvious is that they’ve frequently attacked a vibrant community, and making a lot of enemies out of players. There has to be a good solution to this.

Super Smash Bros. Fans Freak Out About New Nintendo Rules (Kotaku)

A Lawyer Analyzes Nintendo’s Tournament Guidelines (Moon Channel on Youtube, 18 minutes)

AsumSaus Relates the Story of aMSa, Player of Yoshi

Yep, we link a lot of videos. Sadly a lot of gaming stuff now takes the form of videos. Text is my preference, but it’s where the content is right now.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve linked to AsumSaus, whose beat is the competitive Smash Melee scene. There’s lots of Youpotatoes out there, but AsumSaus appeals to me greatly. His videos aren’t edited into a confusing mess, they don’t sound like morning zoo radio hosts on crack, there aren’t lots of swishy objects moving around. It’s surprising how many Youtubers spend so much effort making their videos unwatchable, but AsumSaus isn’t one of them. They’re accessible, entertaining, interesting, and sane. All around, great.

Most of AsumSaus’ videos are around 10 minutes long, but this time we have a long-form video, at 54 minutes it’s almost movie-length, but it’s worth it. It’s the story of aMSa, a Japanese player of Super Smash Bros Melee. It turns out Japan is not a great scene for competitive Smash Melee, the best players are widely considered to be in the US and Europe. Not only that, but for much of his career professional Melee was only a side-gig for him, he held down a demanding day job in his home country, and had to travel to tournament events when he could.

But none of those things are the most surprising thing about aMSa. The most surprising thing is that aMSa plays Yoshi. He’s the only top-tier Melee player who does.

When he began, Yoshi was considered F-Tier. To explain to those not familiar with competitive fighting game terminology, the community around games tends to sort the characters into “tiers,” each containing characters considered to be of roughly equivalent strength. Usually these are rated alphabetically, with “S” given an honorary place at the top of the list, according to gaming custom. So, S-tier characters are the best, A-tier characters are second best, and so on down. Usually the worst at F-tier, or even a little lower. Sometimes, if one character really rules, they might be rated SS-tier, or even potentially SSS-tier.

In 2010, the tier list for Smash Melee characters was considered to be this:

At the top of the heap are Fox, whose positive Melee attributes have been a meme for many years now, Falco (who plays very similarly to Fox), Jigglypuff (the best floater in Melee, and who also has Pound for extra saves and Rest for instant kills), and Sheik, who is almost as fast as Fox. In Melee, Sheik could turn into Zelda with a move. No one does this though, because Zelda is way down in Tier F. Tier F characters are widely considered to suck. But, another character in tier F is Yoshi.

Why is Yoshi rated so badly? The obvious reasons (well, obvious to people familiar with Smash Bros) are: Yoshi doesn’t have an up+B save move (it throws an egg instead of serving as a third jump); and, Yoshi’s shield is unusual, encasing them in an egg instead of providing the usual bubble-shield, and Yoshi can’t jump immediately out of it. Yoshi has positive aspects too, but those two are pretty huge.

More recent tier lists for Melee all rate Yoshi much more highly. But it’s not because a lot of players have achieved a good rate of success with Yoshi. It’s entirely because of aMSa. One player, out of hundreds, is the reason Yoshi was rated at B+ tier in 2021, and that’s aMSa.

I don’t want to give away the ending of AsumSaus’ video. aMSa doesn’t win every match, in fact they lose a great many, because in tournaments they play against the very best in the world. But they do experience a lot of success, and beyond that, they seem to be genuinely a good person. aMSa is almost always smiling after a match, win or lose, because they’re having a great time. They’re always gracious to their opponent. It’s easy to get on their side. Crowds love them too.

Here, then, is the journey of aMSa, and their red Yoshi. A top-level professional Smash Melee player, with the least likely character. And be sure to stick around for the very end, as AsumSaus picked the best-possible ending music for the video.

aMSa: The Only Yoshi (who could do it) (Youtube, 54 minutes)

AsumSaus’s Smash Melee Info Videos: Is Melee Good?

If there’s two constants here at SSB, it’s that we post a lot of Nintendo content, and a lot of Youtube video stuff.

Nintendo, because they’re the most interesting of the major console manufacturers, and one of the most consistently great developers around today. I still think that Atari’s coin-op division, later split off as Atari Games, was more ingenious in their classic era, because they made such a wide variety of games and rarely did sequels, but Nintendo would definitely be second place, and has the advantage of still being alive as a company. (Atari Games has been gone for 18 years now, and that number isn’t getting lower. That makes me really sad.)

One of Nintendo’s biggest series is, of course, Super Smash Bros. It wasn’t always so. Smash on Nintendo 64, the first in the series, was a great little game, and the first time that they crossed over between basically all their properties, but it wasn’t until Melee, the second game, that it really became huge, despite being on the relatively low-selling Gamecube hardware.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was the game that really established the pattern for the rest of the Smash series: offer a ton of content, give everyone unprecedented amounts of fanservice, and offer a super fast-paced game with an eye towards the esports scene.

On that last point they succeeded: Melee is a very popular esports game. I don’t know if it’s more popular than Ultimate, the current Smash game released for Switch, although I don’t follow that scene generally so I really have no idea. All of the Smash games have some esports interest, but Melee’s the most popular previous title, I think.

Melee had a 13 month development time, fairly short, and resulted in a fair number of bugs, and that’s where AsumSaus’s videos are most interesting. Few games have had their internals splunked as deeply as Melee’s has, and they dredge up the most interesting facts from all that data.

I’ll just present one of their videos this time out, from three years ago, but I leave the door open to spotlighting others in the future. They’re just that interesting. So, here’s their 37-minute video asking, in considerable depth: outside the specific and highly particular subset of Super Smash Bros Melee that is tournament-level competitive play, taken as a whole: is the game actually good? He obviously enjoys that one tiny bit of it a great deal, but, what about all the rest? Watch the video to find out.

Is Melee A Good Game (AsumSaus on Youtube, 37 minutes)