So Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS has been out for a little over a week now, and though it’s arguably all you could want from a handheld smash brothers game, controversies and negative buzz has started to pop up around the game’s prolific character roster and the implementation of clones. And though clones have been subject of debate in Smash games of the past, this time it’s a bit more egregious.
To explain why let me say this first. Upset around a Smash Bros. roster is nothing new. Unlike many other AAA titles on the market that get sequels every year these days, the trend with Smash Bros. is one iteration every console generation. To put that in perspective, it’s been over 6 years since Smash Bros. Brawl, and that was 7 years on the heels of its predecessor Melee. The wide gap between these titles and the extremely high pedigree of the franchises represented within them (I mean this is Nintendo we’re talking about) is therefore understandably a big deal, and about 80% of the hype around a new Smash game is its roster.
Since Melee, “clones” have been added to Smash rosters. They’re usually perceived to be a last-minute thing by the developers because of deadlines. Falco, Dr. Mario, Pichu, and Lucas are typically the cited examples of blatant clones. In Smash 4, Lucina and Dark Pit, along with the return of Dr. Mario, have been put in the spotlight as the clones this time around. Dark Pit being the most offending because of what he is.
Note the picture at the top. Those are Pit’s color palettes in Brawl. The one on the far right is a black coloration with dark wings, and it was nothing more than that at the time. The director of the Smash series, Masahiro Sakurai, went on to develop a game for the Nintendo 3DS before Smash 4 called Kid Icarus: Uprising, of which Pit is the star. Now keep in mind that prior to Uprising, Kid Icarus was essentially a dead franchise, having had no new iterations in 25 years. Pit’s appearance in Brawl was a revival in both design and aesthetic, and it was a jab at bringing the series back to life.
In the story of Uprising, Pit has a mishap with a magic mirror and accidentally creates an “evil” duplicate of himself, called Dark Pit, who sports the dark wings and black toga that you see above. Now Pit is an upbeat, optimistic, humble and virtuous character, but Dark Pit is the reflection of that. He’s grumpy, crude, proud and trusts only himself. Over the course of the game (LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD!), these two butt heads multiple times, but then they start working together near the end when their goals of saving the world coincide. Director Masahiro Sakurai took Pit’s dark coloration from Brawl and made it its own character.
Then Sakurai directed Smash 4, and Dark Pit ended up being one of those last minute clone additions to the roster. In respect to that, Dark Pit is almost identical to Pit in function, aside from a few minor alterations to his special attacks. Unsurprisingly, this has caused an uproar. Grievances include him not deserving a character slot because he’s a borderline palette swap, significant bias on the part of Sakurai because he created Dark Pit (which is exacerbated by the fact that Kid Icarus gets A LOT of representation in Smash 4, more than some well-known franchises like Donkey Kong), some characters like Bowser Jr. have other characters represented through alternate colors (the Koopaling characters each represent Bowser Jr.’s would-be alternate colors) and just the perceived laziness of the presence of clones in general.
Sakurai responded to some of these criticisms, saying that the clones are considered extras; Anything that’s added as a clone would otherwise be nothing because they can’t invent and balance new characters in time for imminent deadlines. Furthermore he elaborated that Lucina and Dark Pit were originally going to be alternate colors like with the Koopalings and Bowser Jr., but he felt they needed their own characteristics thus getting their own slots was a necessity.
Response to his response has been divided. Some claim that Dark Pit’s presence especially is offensive since he’s the only clone that’s a literal color palette swap of what he’s a clone of, despite the fact that he’s become his own personality since Brawl. They’d rather have no character than Dark Pit even if he is an extra because they claim that redundancy hurts the sanctity of the roster, in addition to further accusations of Sakurai unfairly giving the franchises he’s worked on special treatment. Others agree with Sakurai and believe that a clone character is better than no character, and also appreciate their presence because of their unique personalities.
Though what’s done is done and Dark Pit is here to stay, it does make on wonder about characters in all-star fighting games, especially Smash. Does shoehorning in clones at the last minute create a slippery slope where “dark” versions of characters like Dark Link are thrown in left and right as their own slots? Does a character identical in appearance and almost the same in ability but different in personality deserve recognition as its own slot? Should clones of characters from underdog franchises be put in just to pad their representation? In the end It’s up for the developers to decide, but at the peril of the community. The response will surely shape their decisions for sequels in the future.