Ridley Changes the Game for Smash Characters
All prediction lists need to be updated
Nintendo’s deep dive into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at this year’s E3 ended with the reveal of Ridley, Samus’ archnemesis and a long-time favorite of hopeful fans. Just before Ridley’s reveal trailer, however, Masahiro Sakurai, the game’s lead developer, clarified that there wouldn’t be as many newcomers as in previous instalments thanks to the developer’s primary goal of bringing back all characters previously featured in any Smash game. All of this information came as a surprise and the status quo of Smash Bros. predictions is now upset.
In the run-up to each Smash Bros. title, fans write up long wishlists, debate the merits and probabilities of each potential new character, and speculate on what will make this game different from the last. I even submitted my thoughts to the discussion. Because of Ultimate’s unique design goals and reveal, however, that all needs to be rewritten. Here’s why.
1. There is now a premium on character inclusions
Fewer characters means that there will be fewer chances to wow the audience. Based on a pattern that has been consistent since Super Smash Bros. Melee in 2001, it was natural to expect one of the newest Pokémon, at least one new Fire Emblem character, a character that hasn’t been seen since Nintendo’s retro years, and a character that is completely and absolutely unpredictable like Mr. Game & Watch or Wii Fit Trainer. If each of those categories got a newcomer in Ultimate, that could be almost every newcomer they had time to make.
Both Inkling and Ridley, the two newcomers we know of so far, are unquestionably Nintendo icons. Inkling represents Splatoon, Nintendo’s biggest new IP in a very long time, and Ridley has been the next logical addition from the Metroid franchise ever since Melee’s intro cinematic included a scene of him fighting Samus. Something on the level of Corrin, a Smash Wii U DLC character designed to advertise the latest Fire Emblem game, would not fly when space is so limited. Instead, each character addition in Ultimate has to hit a standard, set by Inkling and Ridley.
2. Ridley signals a shift in the types of characters that will be showing up
In previous E3 Smash reveals, the special character reveal has been a partnership with a third-party company. The original reveal of Brawl had Snake from Metal Gear Solid, the reveal of Smash 4 had Mega Man, the follow-up E3 for Smash For had Pac-Man, and the E3 after Smash 4’s launch announced Ryu from Street Fighter as a DLC character. All of these characters are very exciting additions to the cast, but they say a bit more about what the developers are actually able to do than what these characters mean to Nintendo fans. Ridley, on the other hand, is representative of a new form of communication between the fans and Sakurai.
Ridley’s inclusion in the series had been so desired for so long that it turned into something of a joke. “He’s too big!” became a meme on Smash Bros. fan forums and the debate over whether a character as large as Ridley could be appropriately scaled down for a fighting game raged on for over a decade and a half. Even Sakurai himself weighed in after the release of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. In an interview with IGN, Sakurai said “I definitely know that Ridley’s a much-anticipated name for fans, but if we made Ridley as a fighter, it wouldn’t be Ridley any longer. It’d have to be shrunk down, or its wings reduced in size, or be unable to fly around freely.”
Well, he’s obviously changed his mind. While Ridley is shrunk down a bit, he’s still one of the largest characters in the game and he attacks with a fury befitting the monster he is. The focus on Inkling and Ridley instead of a third-party character might be a flag that Sakurai is focusing more closely on getting the few remaining Nintendo all-stars in the game before picking up more recently popular things or characters from other companies. This isn’t to say there won’t be any new third-party fighters, there almost definitely will be. Probably a few, in fact. In this context, however, they will likely be characters who are more in line with classic Nintendo intellectual property and have a more solid association with the Smash Bros. fanbase.
3. “Ultimate” might mean something
Sakurai has not been shy about how much the development of each Smash game has taken a toll on him. Between finally making a physics engine that might appeal to the old-school Melee fans, including every character in Smash Bros. history, and naming the game “Ultimate,” it’s very likely that this title might be the last game in the series that Sakurai himself oversees. Perhaps he didn’t want the absence of highly desired characters like Ridley to be a dark mark on his time with the franchise. Everything we’ve seen so far about this game seems like it’s positioning itself for Sakurai to be in a satisfied enough state to walk away afterward.
With that in mind, characters entering the fight this time around might have to have a certain amount of timelessness to them. In my predictions list from before E3, I considered Rex and Pyra from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to be likely. Now, I feel that they are out of the question. A representative from one of the Xenoblade games is not something that would feel particularly important to have included five or ten years down the line.
Here is my new, updated list of characters I expect to join Super Smash Bros. Ultimate:
- Inkling. This character is now confirmed.
- Ridley. This character is now confirmed.
- Simon Belmont. According to Vergeben, a notable leaker, Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series will be included as a playable character. Castlevania was a very important retro-era third-party series for Nintendo and has a massive following of its own. I believe Simon is very likely.
- King K. Rool. Donkey Kong’s mortal enemy is right behind Ridley in fan requests. He hasn’t shown up in an actual Donkey Kong game in a while, but that’s something that would have mattered more in the 3DS and Wii U days. According to a few approximations of how the Smash Ballot had resulted, K. Rool might have hit near the top of the list. It’s time for K. Rool to return.
- Rayman. Ubisoft is one of Nintendo’s greatest allies nowadays and Rayman is a fan favorite. Based on Rayman’s presence in Smash for Wii U as a trophy, it’s likely that Ubisoft tried to push a bit harder this time around and, like K. Rool, the Smash Ballot may have encouraged Sakurai and team to reconsider.
- Spring Man. Sakurai stated in his Famitsu column that the first proposal for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was completed in December of 2015. This might be bad news for fans of Nintendo’s latest new intellectual property, ARMS, which launched in June of 2017. However, I predict that, when Sakurai found out about the existence of a new character-driven fighting-based Nintendo franchise, he would change his plans mid-development to include Spring Man, the star of ARMS. His stretchy arms and unique movements would lend themselves to a fighting game like Smash Bros. perfectly and it would be such a notable absence if he were omitted. If this is Sakurai’s last Smash Bros., he’ll want to make sure he doesn’t skip Spring Man.
- Banjo-Kazooie. Yet another character that presumably did well on the Smash Ballot, Banjo and Kazooie were at one point viewed as some of Nintendo’s most prominent classic characters. They were sold to a competing console maker, which was a problem in the past, but now Microsoft and Nintendo seem to be getting along quite well. Banjo is a very important franchise to many Nintendo fans and having the distinction of being the first game bring the bear and bird together with Nintendo characters since Diddy Kong Racing in 1997 would be quite the exciting announcement.
- Excitebiker. Despite all of this, Sakurai still loves his surprise characters, and this one would double as a retro representative. I have no reason to suspect this character specifically, but I do think there will be at least one of these kinds of characters on the list and the Excitebiker is iconic and widely recognizable. It could also potentially be the Balloon Fighter, but his main gimmick is already taken by the Villager from Animal Crossing and the Excitebiker’s bike might be more useful in a fighting game moveset than the Balloon Fighter’s balloons.
In addition to these wholly unique newcomers, there will likely be a number of new Echo Fighters, including the recently announced Daisy. These are a bit harder to predict because it seems like the Echo Fighters will mainly consist of whatever the team has time to make. However, I do feel fairly confident about this list of newcomers (except possibly the Excitebiker) based on the reveal of Ridley and everything else we know about the game.
How do you feel about this list? Am I missing someone and, if so, would they jive well with Inkling and Ridley? Let me know.