Plaform Fighters Enter the Ring!
by Tommy Delp | published Feb. 11th, 2022
Have you ever played a “Doom” clone? You know, a game where you use guns and other assorted weapons from the perspective of the main character, collecting items and fighting off bad guys?
While modern gamers might use the term first-person shooter to describe such a well-known and well-worn genre, for the first five-or-so years of its existence, it was inextricably linked to the breakout game that defined its earliest days, 1993’s “Doom.”
A video game genre’s journey from a singular hit to widespread relevancy is an interesting and unique one, no better defined than by one of today’s up-and-coming genres, the platform fighter.
Trial by Smash
Let’s start by defining what a platform fighter is. Basically, remove the boxed-in arena found in traditional fighting games and replace it with a stage made up of varied platforms and obstacles.
They are further established by their unique approach to combos and lack of traditional health and damage mechanics.
Hailey "Teridax" Mott, a fourth year Game Design and Development student who plays “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” (SSBU) competitively and is also the vice president of RIT Smash Club, summarizes these distinctions.
“In my opinion, a platform fighter is just a fighting game with more expressive movement,” she said.
The genre was popularized by 1999’s “Super Smash Bros.,” (SSB) which pitted iconic Nintendo characters, such as Mario and Link, against each other.
The game was an immediate hit and would go on to sell almost three million copies in the U.S. alone.
“[SSB] was the first game in the genre. It literally invented it,” Mott said. “There was nothing like it before, and most things afterwards took after it.”
For the next decade or so, just as with “Doom” before it, games in this style would be referred to as “Smash” clones.
This description was considered fair enough by many though, as sequels to SB's such as “Super Smash Bros. Melee” (SSBM) and “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” would continue to define the small and niche game type. SSBM, in particular, would be credited with creating the genre’s intense competitive scene.
A Developing Scene
Due to the complex movement options and various timing skills associated with platform fighters, the genre’s competitive scene would go on to be a big part of its success.
Even if a majority of gamers continue to play platform fighters for fun at college parties and family events, people like Jake "SaucySus69" Leonardi, another competitive SSBU player and RIT Smash Club’s president, enjoy the more challenging aspects of the experience.
“There’s a lot of creativity involved in how you can play these games, and there’s a lot of ways that you can do things in a platform fighter with how the mechanics work,” he said.
“There’s a lot of creativity involved in how you can play these games, and there’s a lot of ways that you can do things in a platform fighter."
It is in this form that platform fighters have a surprisingly large presence on campus, with RIT Esports having a team for both SSBM and SSBU.
Along with those official teams, RIT Smash Club holds some of the biggest tournaments in Rochester with numerous non-RIT attendees.
“Smash Club is basically a second family to anyone who likes ‘Smash’ in general,” Leonardi said. “We’re open to anyone and everyone at all skill levels, but we are competitively-focused.”
Just because the games are great doesn’t mean the scene is without its issues though. Nintendo, as the developer of all of the genre’s biggest hits, doesn’t always play well with its competitive fanbase.
While the company has dabbled in its own tournament-style events in the past, it has mainly used them as marketing tools for its brand and upcoming products.
On the fan-run side, the company has actively disputed and blocked certain competitive tournaments.
In an overwhelmingly-panned move by the community and beyond, Nintendo had a 2020 tournament cancelled for using a modified version of SSBM that allowed online play for the older game.
The only reason the mod was being used? A global pandemic that required the tournament be held online.
As the genre has grown bigger though, it has been able to stretch from its Nintendo roots into something akin to the beginning of a golden era.
Just in the last decade, games such as “Brawlhalla” and “Rivals of Aether” have scratched the hardcore competitive itch of players and welcomed the platform fighter community into the development process.
And games such as “PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale” and “Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl” have offered licensed rosters that could make even SSB blush.
Even better, these new entries into the genre work to increase its overall awareness, which in turn, leads to more new games.
“Every time we get a new game, it will get played by a lot of existing fans,” Mott said. “But we always see a bunch of new people who’ve maybe never picked up a game before too.”
“Every time we get a new game, it will get played by a lot of existing fans, but we always see a bunch of new people who’ve maybe never picked up a game before too.”
Nintendo is even starting to seem like it may finally understand the special spark of its long-babied creation.
In Nov. 2021, the company announced a partnership with well-known Esports brand, Panda Global, for an officially-licensed championship circuit for both SSBM and SSBU.
And on the horizon, even more new experiences are waiting to be explored.
This year, “MultiVersus” will offer a free-to-play experience utilizing the Warner Bros. library of characters, and “Fraymakers” will bring exciting indie game fighters into the genre with an unprecedented level of gameplay customization.
With all of this excitement, it is easy to get swallowed whole by the thought of how much money and creative capital is being shoveled into the modern platform fighter landscape.
Long-lasting genres aren’t built on trend chasers or a wealth of “content” though. They’re built off of a dedicated fanbase that supports these unique creations through their passion and drive.
On the community that platform fighters have cultured, Leonardi said, “Everyone's a little bit of a degenerate, but nothing is ever super personal. Everyone is there just to have a good time and do the thing that they love.”