Update: October 5, 2021 - I originally wrote this feature back on September 5, 2019. That sure does feel like a lifetime ago, doesn't it. A lot has happened, some of it good, some of it less so. On this day, I reflected back to my words on September 5, 2019 and that headline "We will never see a crossover like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate again." Looking back, those words ring truer today than they did when I first wrote them.
When I first sat down to talk about how we would never see a crossover on Ultimate's scale, it was fresh off of the reveal of Banajo-Kazooie. Look back and think about what a monumental reveal that was at the time. It's a tandem duo from Nintendo's past, but one that moved on to a new existence under the Xbox umbrella. Since the original Nintendo 64 release, Rare has become an acclaimed first-party developer for Microsoft, most recently putting out the swashbuckling Sea of Thieves. Rare had moved out of Nintendo-tropolis, taking all of its stuff with it. Only Donkey Kong, who Rare helped reinvent, remained and he's since been adopted by Retro Studios. There was no reason to believe that Nintendo and Rare would ever collaborate on anything in the future, nor was there reason to believe that a Rare property would ever grace a Nintendo platform again. Banjo-Kazooie represented more than a homecoming, it represented the limitless possibilities for the future. Oh, how little did I know at the time.
Since the bird and bear joined the fight, Nintendo added a second Fighters Pass. More characters were revealed for the roster, who would have been considered unthinkable just a few years ago. Steve from Minecraft, a first-party Xbox game? Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7? Fighting game staples Kazuya from Tekken and Terry from Fatal Fury? Nobody would have imagined these characters all sharing a roster, outside of a fan hack. That's without even getting into the Mii Fighter costumes, which pull from games like Doom, Fallout, Assassin's Creed, Devil May Cry, and other games that one wouldn't normally associate with a Nintendo mascot fighter.
That all leads to today.
For many Smash Bros. players, Sora was their last real aspiration for what would truly be an Ultimate roster. For years, however, those players were told that too many things had to come together in order to make it work. For one thing, Sora was the lead character in a Square Enix franchise, but the character was solely owned by Disney, a Disney that had largely soured on the video game scene. After initial disappointment that Sora hadn't been added to Smash Bros. in 2015 (the desire for Sora goes way back), a secondhand quote from John Vignocchi, working for Disney at the time, started making the rounds across forums. It asserted that Sora belonged to the Mouse, not to Square. This made his licensing rights a lot more complicated than if he had been solely a Square character, as was the case with Final Fantasy 7's Cloud.
To move this idea forward, all parties would have to be convinced that Sora would not only work on a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate stage, but that it would be worth Disney's time and money to make it work. However, the winds started to change since that September 5, 2019 date of this original post. As I pointed out earlier this summer, there was a newer vision in place within Disney's games department, one that could make the company money through lucrative licensing deals. We've already seen that vision at work through Fortnite, but the deal that would get the gaming world buzzing would be if Kingdom Hearts' lead hero would get that final roster slot. However, it helped that the right names were in place to make this work, including VP of Games for Disney's licensing department John Drake; Kingdom Hearts series director Tetsuya Nomura; the aforementioned John Vignocchi, now Nintendo's Head of 3rd Party Portfolio Management; and, of course, Sakurai himself. Their goal was to give that Smash invitation to Sora.
Today, Sora received that invitation, but it took a lot for him to get it. Even after the tireless efforts and negotiations between parties at Disney, Nintendo, and Square Enix, Sora has joined the Smash Bros. roster with a few caveats. The biggest of which is, there is no first-party Disney supporting cast. Heck, the only open Disney reference is the Mickey Mouse tag on Sora's Keyblade. Despite that, this still looks and feels like Sora, thanks to his move set, the Hollow Bastion stage, and the familiar soundtrack. (Sure, there are only nine songs, but that's a nitpick more than anything, at this point.)
Imagine the intense negotiations, give-and-takes, and concessions that had to be made to get Sora into this game. Now imagine those same negotations for characters like Steve, Banjo and Kazooie, Joker, Kazuya, and Sephiroth. All of them represent hundreds of man hours and communication across Japan and the United States. Even with these characters eventually joining the Ultimate roster, they could just as easily be aboard for a one-time ride.
That's why Super Smash Bros. Ultimate feels so special. It felt special back when I first wrote this. It felt special even before I first wrote this, back when Castlevania's Simon Belmont was first revealed. It feels so much more special today, bringing together a collection of beloved characters and mascots the likes of which we've never seen. And, yes, the likes of which we will never see again.
Super Smash Bros. will live on after Ultimate. The series will always be here. But, it will never truly live quite like this.
Original story (posted on September 5, 2019): Wednesday's Nintendo Direct proved to be an exciting one for the Super Smash Bros. fan base. Not only did Banjo & Kazooie release for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that very day, but Nintendo revealed more ambitious plans for the game's post-release schedule. Fatal Fury's Terry Bogard was unveiled as the next member of the DLC roster, which was shortly followed by the announcement of a second batch of DLC fighters. Wednesday proved to be an epiphany moments, one that many knew in the back of their minds, but haven't said out loud enough. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the greatest video game crossover of its time and it's a crossover that gaming will never see again.
"To me, it feels like the finish line is sliding farther away," Sakurai said during Wednesday's post-Direct edition of Mr. Sakurai Presents. "You may wonder, 'How much longer can be involved with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate?' But I'm also excited. Adding more characters into the game means that more game worlds will be addede to the series and ultimately, that means that there will be an even greater opportunity to delight the fans. At the same time, I feel that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is now representing so many characters in game worlds, that it's become an enormous game. Even if the Super Smash Bros. series continues moving forward, I doubt there will ever be an opportunity to bring this many characters together again."
It's that last part of Sakurai's statement that feels the most impactful. To understand the gravity of what it means, it's time to look at the Smash Bros. Ultimate roster and see just how many characters have found their way in. Even if it was just restricted to Nintendo's first-party characters, it's one of the most ambitious crossovers of its kind, bringing together Mario, Link, Samus, and Pikachu, just to name a few characters. The series introduced North America to Fire Emblem for the first time. It gave a greater platform to overlooked characters and franchises, like Shulk and the Xenoblade Chronicles series. But Ultimate upped the ante in ways we may never see again.
The third-party star power is mind-blowing. Ultimate has not only assembled third-party characters from throughout Nintendo's storied history, but it's also wrangled in characters many would have deemed unthinkable. Look at Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, a game that for many years only graced a PlayStation console. Look at Joker, the star of a PlayStation 4 exclusive hit, whose inclusion stunned attendees at the Game Awards last year. Heck, look at Banjo & Kazooie, whose rights not only belong to a rival platform, but whose inclusion also have said rival platform actively excited for their arrival. If a picture can speak a thousand words, imagine the Dostoevsky-length novels that these images spout out.
Look at this image— DibzNr (@DibzNr) September 5, 2019
Look at it
Think about this image
This is real
This is a real video game that you can play pic.twitter.com/0JavEe9kPI
how the hell is this a real game pic.twitter.com/oMafVNgAX5— Bobby Schroeder (@ponettplus) September 5, 2019
How did this game happen? #SmashBros #NintendoSwitch pic.twitter.com/epYpmZT7ri— Ozzie Mejia @ Home (@Ozz_Mejia) September 5, 2019
For as much effort as Sakurai and Nintendo have put into assembling this all-star roster, it's paid dividends. It's set sales records, not only blowing its Wii U predecessor out of the water, but also breaking its own record as the top-selling fighting game of all-time, besting the Wii's Super Smash Bros. Brawl. But what happens when this much money is involved? Inevitably, more people are going to want a piece of the pie.
Imagine how much tougher negotiations get from here, in regards to the third-party roster and their Smash Bros. future. Given Ultimate's success, the inevitable next entry to the franchise (whether it come three years, five years, or even ten years from now) will have the highest of expectations attached to it. And if third-party rights holders are expecting a Smash Bros. game to make a certain amount of money, it stands to reason that they may up their price for the use of their characters.
The closest comparison would be the ongoing game of chicken between Disney and Sony over the film rights to Spider-Man. Yes, Disney and Marvel are making money hand-over-fist on these movies like nothing that has ever been seen before. But with the increase in revenue comes the desire to be proportionately compensated. With Sony seeing how much money was coming in, they inevitably wanted a bigger share, which has led to a standoff that continues as of this article's post.
Now imagine Nintendo wanting to move forward with a new Smash Bros. sometime in the distant future. Perhaps Konami will see how much money it could bring in, so it increases the price tag for Snake and the Belmonts. Square Enix could ask for a little more for Cloud. Imagine Capcom asking for more for Mega Man and Ryu, using both characters massive popularity as leverage. And if the next-generation Xbox helps Microsoft climb back to the console gaming mountain, do you think they'll be so willing to lend out characters like Banjo again? Not to mention, I'm not even talking about the fighters who are still yet to come. And I can guarantee, we haven't see the craziest surprise character yet. That's still coming! There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and when the restaurant is making this much money, the cost and demand for ingredients is inevitably going to spike.
A lot can and probably will change in the next decade. Bringing together this many popular characters is a magic trick that Sakurai, in all likelihood, will not be able to pull off again. He, himself, seems well aware of this and acknowledged it during Wednesday's presentation.
So as you pick up Banjo, Snake, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Ryu, Joker, Cloud, Bayonetta, Simon Belmont, or a Mii Fighter dressed up like Sans from Undertale, take a moment to reflect on what's in front of you. Take a good look at what you're seeing, as a Shovel Knight assist trophy buries your fighter or an Akira assist trophy punches you into next week. You're not going to see this again. You're not going to see Mario and Link trade blows with this many third-party characters. Look at how many things had to go right just to make this game happen. Going back to the Marvel comparison, they can keep pumping out movies, but you're never going to see anything like Avengers: Endgame again. That was a once-in-a-lifetime movie crossover and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a once-in-a-lifetime video game crossover.
Nintendo has never done like Marvel and claimed that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most ambitious crossover ever created. But the more time passes, the more it becomes apparent that it is.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, We will never see a crossover like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate again
In terms of signing new contracts, they might have to drop a few, but I think these companies must all realize that being in Smash is win/win with no downside. I wouldn't be surprised to see the characters be separate DLC you have to pay for again though.
Whether Nintendo is willing to do all this work to do "Everyone is here" for the next Smash game is another question. Personally I think there's no reason for them to start again from scratch next time. The assets from Ultimate are fine pretty much as they are into perpetuity, with some work to bring them up to 8k or whatever.
From a game development side, SSB has to be tuned to at *least* N^2 character interactions, N being the number of characters. I mean, I know that there are not 75^2 different routines for how character A punches character B, but there is a balance factor around that Nintendo has to test. And that's only considering 2 players, the game supports up to 4 (8?)
Licensing is more trivial than this balancing.