Nintendo's acclaimed fighting series Super Smash Bros. is undoubtedly fun but unbalanced, according to a recent examination by Uber Entertainment senior software engineer Forrest Smith.
In a detailed post on Super Smash Bros. Melee, Smith breaks down the rise and fall of character popularity in the last decade or so. Smith bases his findings on Tier Lists — rankings discussed and voted on over the years. To date, there have been 11 lists released in the last 12 years for Melee, Smith explains.
"What makes SSBM an interesting case study," Smith explains, "is that it's a console game which has never been patched [Here Smith notes that new discs have had minor bug fixes, but that there have been no balance side-effects].
"There have been no balance changes or fixes. However, even though the game hasn't changed since launching in 2001, the player perception of balance has. Significantly."
Smith includes a detailed chart that tracks the ranking of each character through the years. Of those listed, he makes a few interesting notes. Jigglypuff, for example, began with a ranking of no. 17 and rose to no. 3 in the game's eighth year. Peach, meanwhile, has enjoyed a rise to as high as no. 4, after which she's never dropped below the rank of no. 6. Other notable jumps for characters include Mewtwo, Donkey Kong and Ice Climbers.
"These discoveries didn't just take a little time," Smith concludes. "It wasn't days or weeks or even months. It took years to be discovered. In the internet age gamers flip their shit if a given character is considered overpowered or underpowered after a single week. Meanwhile in Smash Brothers it took half a decade for game changing depth to be found in Ice Climbers.
"I think a large part of what enables this depth to be found in Smash Brothers is that the game isn't balanced. It's not a small roster of perfectly tuned characters. It's a big game with lots of characters that creates a huge and unexplored problem space. It's up to the players to explore the nooks and crannies and see what treasures they can find. I find that incredibly exciting and compelling."