Sakurai on Smash Bros. Ultimate – development, Spirits, new fighters, online and eSports, future
A Record-Breaking Collaboration! (Thanks to the Spirits)
Spirits mode in and of itself is a breakthrough, but it includes a huge number of characters and an expansive map in “World of Light…” Isn’t it all too big!?
Sakurai: What’s that supposed to mean? (laughs)
How’d you manage to choose all of the series that the Spirits would come from? And the characters?
Sakurai: Basically, the first thing I did was ask the team that worked on Spirits mode for some candidates. We narrowed it down while taking into consideration things like the number of series.
I was pretty surprised, the game is loaded with Spirits where when I saw them, I said to myself “Huh, this is in the game!”
Sakurai: Well, after all, every character we included will make somebody happy; players really do have a lot of love for all kinds of characters. Given that love, I felt like we couldn’t just haphazardly throw in characters. Up until now, we had just been turning characters into fighters or assist trophies. This game really allowed us to collaborate with a variety of other titles, though, and I feel like that alone is worth a lot, don’t you?
Were there ever times where you pointed out a character and said something like “if we’re going to include this series, we can’t not include this character”?
Sakurai: There were times where that happened, sure.
I don’t think there’s anybody who knows that much about that many series…
Sakurai: Well, the Spirits team did a lot of research into each work we borrowed from, and it’s because of that diligence that we were able to pull this off. That being said, I did have to prepare for the Nintendo Live presentation, and that involved making sure I could explain every single Spirit.
How did you go about choosing the Spirits that can be enhanced?
Sakurai: Characters that appear all throughout their respective series and characters that have different appearances based on the title were easy choices. After that, we included bosses’ second forms as well as characters with completely different roles in their own series. Characters like that were relatively clear choices.
Even now, I’m sure there are plenty of readers who are struggling with some of the stronger Spirits. Do you have any advice on how to better approach those battles?
Sakurai: It’s important that your level should sufficiently match your opponent’s – your immediate goal should be to level up your Spirits as you fight, not trying to do it in one giant leap.
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As for the new fighters – which during the presentation at this year’s E3 you said wouldn’t be “too many” – there are quite a few. (laughs)
Sakurai: I said that, huh? (laughs) Well if you only include original fighters (that is, excluding Echo Fighters) there really aren’t that many.
No, no way!
Sakurai: Everybody relentlessly expects us to release dozens of fighters, though. Of course, I really do think that we did our best. The moment you start talking about everybody being included in the game, the value of each individual character decreases. For example, if you have 60 characters and add just one more to the roster, it doesn’t carry the same weight as if there were fewer. Showing off the whole “everyone is here” concept was such a big nuisance because of that. So, if there’s another game, some of what we’ve made will disappear. (laughs)
Can you tell us anything about the concepts behind the new fighters?
Sakurai: I’ll start with Inkling; the ink mechanic gave us a fair bit of trouble on the technical side of things. Every character and every stage had to be able to be covered in ink, so in a sense, Inkling really did have a ripple effect on everything else. That’s why the character was so difficult to deal with in particular. Of course, we also had to consider what would happen as a result of Inkling splattering everything with ink. I had to think pretty hard about how the player could refill their ink tank and how that would impact the rest of the fight – specifications like that. From the planning stage, I had a feeling that Inkling would be pretty strong as a “support” character in team battles.
By using ink, the player can raise the team’s damage dealt as a whole; that’s the case in Splatoon as well.
Sakurai: When it comes to Ridley the driving concept was – simply put – making a villain. For instance, think about Bowser or King K. Rool: despite being villains, the two take on a more comical role. Ridley, on the other hand, was just designed to be an evil, scary guy. That being said, his introduction movie, his general features, and his specials were all designed with a serious image in mind.
His presence as a fighter is noticeably different from the rest of Smash Bros. for sure.
Sakurai: As for Simon and Richter, we reproduced them as close as we could to how they appear in Castlevania – their long reach (due to their whip) defines them as fighters. Their tilts are closer to the NES Castlevania, while their smash attacks reach even further. If you include their specials, though, their range is enormous. A big feature of Simon and Richter as fighters is that they “hit from far away but won’t hit if you don’t aim well.”
Choosing characters from Castlevania came as a big surprise. Was there any reason behind it?
Sakurai: It was popular in player polls even after all of Smash 4’s content. I needed to add new content, but my options were dwindling…
When it comes to series that are known all across the globe, your options are pretty limited.
Sakurai: And with Castlevania, the protagonist is constantly changing. (laughs) If I had to guess, Alucard is probably more well-known among those that know the franchise.
A fan might be happier with a member of the Belmont clan.
Sakurai: On the other hand, though, the Belmonts don’t have much to do with the later entries. (laughs)
When it comes to the game itself, playing as a fighter that uses a whip feels fresh.
Sakurai: Their specials are pretty simple, too. While we were making all of these elaborate and complex specials, we just had them specialize in throwing.
You’ve also included King K. Rool from Donkey Kong Country.
Sakurai: King K. Rool is a heavy fighter with projectiles and a counter, there aren’t any other fighters with those kinds of attributes all in one package. As another unique aspect, his stomach armor-based moves grant him super armor. Taking too much damage will cause it to crack and leave him dazed, though.
I’d like to try and check it out! I’ll try it out after we’re done here. (laughs) Next, let’s talk some about Isabelle.
Sakurai: Isabelle may feel similar to Villager, but she’s a separate character; I designed her with that in mind. She isn’t an echo fighter – echo fighters’ general build must be similar to the character they’re echoing, so with that in mind, Isabelle and Villager are pretty different. I wanted her to still feel like an Animal Crossing character, though, so her movement and things like “Pocket” are similar. I added the fishing rod among other elements as gimmicks that compensate for things that would make her feel like Villager. Other than that, she’s just cute. (laughs)
Her reveal was received really well the world over! (laughs)
Sakurai: Isabelle’s fine when she’s just standing around, but I put extra effort into making her cuter while she’s moving around.
And last but not least we have Incineroar.
Sakurai: Incineroar as a fighter – and this goes without saying – is based on pro wrestling. Even though there are already characters that fight similarly to pro wrestlers, there hasn’t been an explicitly pro wrestler character. I made the character with obvious cues in mind: throwing your opponent into the ring’s ropes, for example. Moves like “Revenge” really exemplify this; the counterattack Incineroar performs when he’s hit is pretty showy, and there’s a strong appeal to that. I hadn’t actually decided on including Incineroar during the planning stage, you know. Pokémon Sun and Moon were coming out, so I left a frame open and decided on having him in the game afterwards.
And then we have Piranha Plant as a launch bonus, which I don’t think anybody could’ve expected!
Sakurai: There were probably people that thought to themselves: “What!? Piranha Plant? It’s not even a main character!” It’s a small step away from… How should I put it…? It wouldn’t be interesting if there weren’t any characters that aren’t mainstream. I feel like having a line-up solely made up of heroes would be a bit lacking. The same thing applies to characters like Mr. Game & Watch, ROB, and Duck Hunt… Piranha Plant offers up something that only Piranha Plant can bring to the game. I think everybody will have a lot of fun with it after it’s released.
Will it be a fairly technical character?
Sakurai: Well, at the very least it isn’t your run-of-the-mill fighter. (laughs)
Remembering “The Subspace Emissary”
In your Weekly Famitsu column you went into some detail about how Spirits mode and “World of Light” came to be, but could you please tell us about that opening movie? The fact that you’d deal such popular characters a crushing defeat…
Sakurai: It’s the inciting incident; it actually came from an idea I had due to Brawl’s “Subspace Emissary.” There’s a moment towards the end of the game where you lose all of your characters – it’s something similar to that. Originally, I had felt like from the beginning there’d be some kind of utter defeat, and the actual content would come from a more meaningful journey to get everyone back. “World of Light” was born out of that change.
Little details from the opening cutscene like Marth saying “we’ll each need to take down about ten” have recently become talking points within the community.
Sakurai: From their dialogue to their movement, everything about the characters is indicative of their personality in some way. Marth is the commander of an army, so he was making an assessment about the enemy’s strength. Meanwhile, Zelda saying “stow your fear, it’s now or never” suggests that they’ve been fighting for a while, and that they’ve reached the final battle. She’s talking about how even if it seems pointless, they have to fight.
And Captain Falcon tried to get away by jumping into the Blue Falcon. (laughs)
Sakurai: If you think about it, though, in terms of whether or not F-ZERO Machines can normally drive on the ground… That probably isn’t the case. The F-ZERO Machines use a G-Diffuser System, and the anti-gravity beams coming from the track’s guard rails propel them forward.
Interesting, so even if he had gotten into the Blue Falcon there was the possibility that he couldn’t have escaped!
Sakurai: Although, I guess he must’ve driven it to where the final battle was taking place… Even in the Brawl demo, you can see him driving around on the ground like it’s nothing. (laughs)