Why We Would Rather Smash than Brawlout
Last week I finally decided that it was time for me to finally do what I had been holding out on for the entirety of the first semester of my sophomore year at Centre. I bought a switch. The main thing that had held me back from buying the console was the fact that a port of smash 4 hadn’t been released for the console. The thing that convinced me to finally make my decision was an indie game called Brawlout. The game had been released for switch, and though virtually a clone to smash bros, something about the game didn’t live up to the iconic coach fighter. Although game mechanics could have been a factor to the game not living up to smash bros, it is because its lack of meaningful and familiar characters that is its real weakness.
In any videogame the player must embodies the character that they play. For fighting games in particular, these different characters have to stand out from the other characters. On the surface, they do this through stats, dialogue, appearance, and gameplay. For Smash Bros, this is really all you need, as we can rely on pre existing characterization and storylines from all the character’s own unique games. Brawlout, on the other hand, lacked this same ability to grip to previously made material for most of their characters. The two successful characters being guest characters from other indie games (Hyperlight drifter and Juan from Guacamelee). Most of the cast though visually good looking lacked anything special in terms of lore. The campaign given to the player, though showing little dialogue here and there, doesn’t explain any of the characters back story. The online description of the characters though giving them some back story, doesn’t spend more than a couple paragraphs doing so. The fact that the player has the chore to go online and off of the game to find out why they should care about any of the fighters, is a serious downfall of the game.
Fighter games aren’t alone in the need to properly characterize the characters in their game. Halo combat evolved created an entirely new universe in a single game, by making supporting characters that players could care about. Cortana and Sgt. Johnson acted in specific ways, and their personality and backstories directly influenced their behavior. Mortal Kombat famously created the rivalry between Sub-Zero and Scorpion that made the player able to identify with both characters regardless of who they were beating up. Good characterization is essential for the playability of a game.
This isn’t to say however that we cannot borrow from preexisting ideas. Very famously, the Wolfenstein games borrow from a pretty popular characterization of the Nazis. The Civilization games borrow from a particularly western view of history as a linear progression. By using concepts that people are familiar with a developer can attract an audience. They can also use these preconceived ideas and spin them on their head like the creation of the characters of Wario and Waluigi, or when a game like Octodad has you attempt to do mundane western fatherly tasks as an Octopus in disguise.