Sakurai on Smash Bros. Ultimate – his health, choosing bosses and Spirits, new stages, much more
Since there are many bosses that show up in “Smash Ultimate”, we would like to ask where you start when imagining how to implement bosses. Do you start with the idea of recreating the fight from the original game?
Sakurai: Not necessarily. I’d say it’s more like, “How would the original game’s boss fight go if we interpreted it for modern times?” We create the boss fights while holding that state of mind in high regard. We definitely do make things in accordance with the original, but since “Smash Bros.” is a game on a 2D plane, if we just try to reproduce the original boss as is, it could just become an inferior representation instead. For example, we decided it was a good idea to have a large, 3D field displayed in the fight with Rathalos.
That makes sense.
Sakurai: To put it clearly, the more of the screen this colossal dragon takes up as he stares you down from afar and roars, the more frightening he is. And when you simplify that into just a profile view, it lacks a certain edge. So, we raised the positioning of his head and changed the way he opens his wings a little and whatnot. Then that gave him a more striking and aggressive pose compared to how he normally looks from the side. We knew that if we reproduced him as is, it wasn’t going to be impactful for the player. So we took that as our main starting point, we set our standards high and that’s how we work out imagining these bosses.
So you always consider that this is going to be a 2D game.
Sakurai: However, there weren’t that many 3D games in the originals. For bosses like Galleom or Marx where the game they were in was 2D, we can’t use exaggerations supposing we’ll see them from the side, so there’s a lot of difficult aspects to consider.
Marx, who’s from “Kirby Super Star”, always struck us as a versatile boss, but in “Smash Ultimate” his attacks have even more flair to them!
Sakurai: …You know, Marx used to be even scarier. I told my staff to make him more like a “horror monster”.
Why did you decide to depict that aspect of him again?
Sakurai: Because he has this personality where he deceives people with a cheerful smile, he acts very bizarre and there’s just something supernatural about him. We want each boss to have a kind of theme in order to keep a good balance.
In some ways, he’s even more terrifying than Count Dracula! (laughs)
Sakurai: I’d say so! Speaking of Dracula, there’s a scene in the original game where you decapitate him, but we couldn’t include any dismemberment in “Smash”.
Ah, because of the rating.
Sakurai: That’s why in “Smash Ultimate” you can’t cut off Rathalos’ tail, either. However, we did make it as if you had destroyed his tail, though.
Our impression is that the Assist Trophies are even stronger in “Smash Ultimate” than in previous entries.
Sakurai: I wouldn’t necessarily say that we deliberately made them stronger. However, we did make them more versatile.
And you’ve definitely paid attention to all the little details, right down to the expressions they make when they’re defeated. Like with Bomberman, when he gets hit by a bomb he freaks out.
Sakurai: Logically speaking, he tries to avoid the bombs he sets down but sometimes he can’t help but get hit by an explosion or two. (laughs) Even though the assist trophies have their own special techniques, making them defeatable is a remarkable quality that we wanted to go with.
And how easy it is to defeat your opponent is also a factor.
Sakurai: That’s why oversimplifying it and just saying we made them stronger doesn’t do them justice; we made them more lifelike. And you absolutely have to pay attention when they’re on screen, too. The opportunity for Assist Trophies to appear is also rather frequent.
There are situations in Spirits mode where not only do you have to think about how you defeat your opponent, but also how you fight off the Assist Trophy, too. How do you choose the Assist Trophies that appear in these battles?
Sakurai: We try to bridge the gap between series in a way. To some degree, we certainly include a few from a series that is somehow connected to another title. And if there is a fighter in the game, even if they’re from a series that only has one entry, we try to adopt using that character whenever possible. In this way, even for characters who cannot appear in the game as fighters themselves, we adjust things from the standpoint of wanting to cover all the bases that we possibly can.
You’ve included new stages from games like “Splatoon”, “Castlevania”, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and more.
Sakurai: Yes, with the new entries in the “Mario” and “Zelda” series on Switch, it was a no-brainer to include those.
But it was quite surprising that you chose “Great Plateau Tower” as the stage to represent “Breath of the Wild”.
Sakurai: It’s hard to choose a stage that doesn’t have some elevated ground.
So you need differences in elevation?
Sakurai: That’s right. We actually had a lot of trouble figuring out which stage would represent “Splatoon” because that game’s levels have a lot of flat ground. That’s why we went with “Moray Towers”: the three dimensional slopes in that stage left a really strong impression on us. We went with it because even considering “Smash Bros.” up til now, we haven’t had any ground like that before.
I see. I didn’t know that’s how you determine stages to include.
Sakurai: That’s why we always have a hard time with the “Fire Emblem” stages.
Yeah, now that you mention it, the games’ maps are primarily on flatlands and fields. (laughs) So tell me, have you played through a “Fire Emblem” game while keeping an eye out for maps with verticality so you can use them as stages?
Sakurai: I’ve done that before.
Wow, really? (laughs) So “New Donk City” is a stage with differences in elevation, but we really loved how you could touch the band members in each section. It was a nice addition.
Sakurai: So for that, we had already heard both versions of “Jump Up, Super Star!” with and without Pauline’s vocals while everything was still in development. We wanted to use both versions as songs in the game, but we wondered if we couldn’t incorporate them in a creative way. That’s how we came up with the idea. I think it’s kind of fun to put all of the separate portions of the song together. In order to figure out how to create the stage, we went to Nintendo while they were developing “Mario Odyssey” for some research, and they showed us a lot of interesting things. And so after going through several different stages, I thought about choosing New Donk City’s Town Hall while taking some screenshots.
Ah, so that’s how you went about making the new stage.
There’s a huge number of Spirits in the game; what was the selection process like?
Sakurai: I basically checked over what the Spirits team had picked and added/removed characters accordingly. Each characters’ ease of use and whether or not we had their original art also played a part to a degree. There were some characters that were candidates for Spirits that we ended up having to pass on just because we couldn’t find the artwork.
That really would have an effect on things, wouldn’t it?
Sakurai: Aside from that, there were quite a few characters from “Kid Icarus: Uprising”, so I had the team trim a few of them off. It’s a title I’m pretty intimately familiar with (laughs), and knowing the characters individually allowed me to clearly see any benefits of having them in the game as Spirits.
Did you ever include candidates from a perspective of how they’d function in-game?
Sakurai: We didn’t think that far ahead in the selection process, but by that point we can imagine how they’d function in-game.
While you were sifting through candidates, were there any characters where you thought “now who is this character?”
Sakurai: From time to time yes, but in those cases, I’d look into it immediately. Games like “Fire Emblem” and “Castlevania” have long histories, and even knowing the games I’d still find myself thinking, “where in the chronology does this protagonist come from?” That’s when I look back over the timeline.
The differences between the games themselves must’ve been a struggle to deal with.
Sakurai: It was a lot of fun though, getting to see such a variety of characters.