There’s a correct way to play Smash Bros; 4 players, timed match, 2:30, items on, stage hazards on, random stage select. Any other way is wrong. This setup not only creates the most volatile and chaotic matches, but also the ones most likely to see the best players thrive. As anyone who has made it past the third grade of school knows, life is unfair. So why should your video game be any different? Smash Brothers teaches you how to cope with unfairness, how to handle chaos and how to seize opportunities to get ahead in life. Playing stock matches, without items creates not only a saccharine gaming experience, but also a generation of gutless imbeciles. Disagree? Well keep reading to find out why you’re wrong.
The very essence of Smash Bros is its chaos. This reflects life, where events completely outside of your control can profoundly influence the outcomes of your life. Many so-called competitive players in smash try to change the base rules of play to remove random chance. They turn items off, they play on “balanced” stages without hazards, and limit the scope of play to remove as many elements of luck they can. Cowards! Fools! You can’t learn anything about life from this approach! They didn’t include all this random chance, all this fun, in the game just for you to take it out! Smash Bros is about combining as much as possible from Nintendo’s vast array of worlds and jumbling it altogether in a glorious celebration of video games and chaos. If you start disabling things and taking stuff out, you disgrace the game and the countless artists who helped create it. These wimps would suck all variety, deodorant and fun out of life if they could, all in the name “competitive balance”. The competition in life, like in Smash Bros, comes with learning how to handle a dynamic, random, and at times unfair, world. In timed matches with items on the best players will still win most of the time, but like in life, sometimes they’ll lose. And that’s another lesson Smash Bros teaches us, how to handle loss.
Stock vs time
I’ll get to why items are important, but first let me deal with stock matches. Stock matches are bullshit. Stock matches reward players who cowardly flee from the fray and merely try to survive. There is no reward for smashing other opponents so all the incentive to winning is built around running away. Sometimes you’ll have a match where everyone understands this tactic and hardly any smashing takes place at all. It’s a joke. Imagine if society was setup like this, that doing the least led to the biggest reward, we’d still be living in caves scared of the lions that might eat us, should we venture too far. Timed matches encourage you to get out there and kill that Incineroar.
Critics of timed matches (idiots) claim that it unduly rewards players for making the final touch on an opponent, sometimes even one launched by another player or by mistake. They also complain that it encourages “seagulling” where players swoop in to target prey who’ve already sustained damage and are ready for smashing. Well guess what, that’s life. Life is full of people who were given credit for the work of others or benefiting from fortunate accidents. And Smash Bros trains you to handle those situations, to put yourself in the path of opportunity and ride your luck. Fortune favours the bold. And in Smash, like in life, if someone tries to swoop in and smash someone that you’ve been putting all the groundwork in with, lowering their defence and plying them with drinks, you just gotta give them a stiff elbow to the nose and smash them yourself.
The best part of time matches are the dying seconds. Suddenly people realise they’ve got one last chance for an epic come back and caution goes right out the window. Desperate lunges at smash balls, swords are thrown, meteor attempts are made and Jigglypuff will use rest in that last second. Risk goes up and the rewards are there for the taking. Some will even got for a sneaky assist trophy KO, which now rewards you with an extra point. That doesn’t get you anything in stock matches, they designed this game around time.
Worse than playing stock battle, is playing without items.
Playing without items reduces the total possibilities of a battle. It reduces the field of viable characters. And it reduces the already established key component of Smash Bros, randomness. Playing Smash Bros without items isn’t playing Smash Bros at all.
Just for a start, some characters are designed around use of items as their unique strength. You think Pichu, with its self destructive tendencies, was designed around 1v1 stock play? Shit no. Pichu’s lighting speed and smaller than usual hitbox make it a boss of items, a play style designed for scampering around the field, grabbing items before the slow, lumbering characters and typical item play by just being so small. Similarly, Mewtwo’s floating aerial work and unconventional psychic control of items adds a depth to the character that no-items losers will never know or understand. And then there’s Isabelle and Villager with item management. Denying items denies these characters the chance to use their full skillset and ultimately denies them inclusion in the smash. Reducing the diversity of characters reduces the game as a whole and by extension weakens the mind of the player who opts out of items.
Item drops make you think. When an item appears you brain has to recognise it, understand its abilities and then your brain will make a risk assessment if it’s worth trying to obtain that item over any other items in play or your current situation with your opponents. Similarly when your opponents are armed with a variety of items, you have to consider all the different possibilities they could unload on you. These are considerations the soft, floppy brained no items player never encounters and it makes them worse as a person. Their brain will never have to make the split second decision over attacking an assist trophy or racing for a warp star and they will be more stupid because of it. Leaving your brain this undeveloped is potentially fatal in the real world where you’ll be unable to recognise the potential danger of a train about to derail or the opportunity of finding a chocolate cake in a tree.
Detractors might whinge that items are overpowered and can turn the tide of a whole battle in a moment. That’s the point you weak clown! Items can give someone punished with bad luck earlier in the match the chance for a comeback. And they allow truly talented players the chance to demonstrate that they can overcome any adversity. If you’re defending a lead and another player just pinched a mega hammer this is your opportunity to show how good your evasive game is and to coax your opponent into exposing their their weak underbelly. If you want to succeed in Smash, or succeed in life, you need to develop the resilience to overcome any obstacle or any item your opponent may have.
The final smash
“Hurr but Roland” I hear you say. “Roland, if playing stock matches without items is wrong, why do they let us do it then?” I’ll tell you why, because Smash Bros lets you be wrong. Smash Bros, like life, lets you make mistakes. And playing stock matches without items on is a mistake. They also let you play stamina battles but no one is defending those. True smashers overcome bad luck and random chance by mastering all aspects of the game and learning to adapt to changing circumstances and recognise opportunity to smash. They change the way they play, not the rules. Only by playing Smash Brothers with items on, in timed battles will you develop the skills needed to succeed in life as me, a 30 something unemployed blogger. Life is full of misfortune but also opportunity. Random acts can change the whole outcome of a battle, just like real life. Smash Brothers reminds us that it’s not a matter of time, it’s a matter of timing, you can’t just outlast your opponents, you have to take your opportunities to smash them when you can. Like life, those who smash the most and smash the hardest win.